I’m hunched over the church’s laptop before the service beginsI had prepared the playlist with contemporary Christian artists. But as the pews begin to fill, I reconsider. I move the mouse to find the 200-year-old hymns in my iTunes library. With a click, the pianist inside the computer begins.

I nudge the volume two notches higher than I usually do for a church prelude. The notes of the cyber-pianist crescendo. Yes, I love contemporary praise songs, but my soul reverberates praise with songs of Katherine Hankey and William Fischer, Charles Wesley and Martin Luther.

For I Love To Tell The Story and I cling to The Old Rugged Cross. And I know the One who breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod, for He is the Mighty Fortress.

And oh! What a Friend We Have in Jesus!

An old farmer is sitting alone, at the end of an empty row. He lifts his head when the notes dance toward him. He looks my way, grinning. I return a smile.  He rises from his seat and shuffles toward me, while mouthing two words: Thank you.

I shake the hand of this man, who has sung these hymns for more than 80 years, right here on this same hallowed ground, and I think, “I ought to be thanking you, sir.”

We talk about how hymns carry timeless truths, and how it would be a shame for children to grow up without knowing them, and how these songs have withstood the centuries, bound in books and hearts. They were the songs of the slave, the grieving widow, the errant child, the soldier in the foxhole, the pioneering father, the circuit-riding preacher, the martyr and the missionary.

He points to the computer, and asks if I’ve got his favorite song in there somewhere.

“It starts like this,” he says. Suddenly, the song rooted in his heart becomes the overflow of his mouth. He sings it a cappella.

I grab a hymnal, and turn to hymn 474 because praise is contagious.

He’s singing right there in the middle of the aisle, while ushers hand out bulletins. His gruff voice wobbles:

Children of the heav’nly Father
Safely in his bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge ne’er was given.

I join him on the second verse, with my notes an octave higher.

I’m singing words printed in the hymnal. He’s singing words printed on a heart. He knows all the words, because he knows all the words.

We finish the second verse, and he launches into the third. A teenage girl and her mother stand beside us, as silent witnesses to worship.

I’m afraid the lump in my throat might just rise up, and I’ll never be able to hit that D with tears so close to the surface. We finish the song, and worship is about to begin. But for us with songs imprinted on the soul, worship has already begun.

That old farmer, week after week, follows the words on the screen with the flashing pictures and driving beats. We point, click, worship. He always worships with us, because he knows that worship is not about a style, or a song, or a beat, or a volume, or a guitar, or a pipe-organ.

Worship is not about a song at all. It’s about a Person.

Week after week, the old farmer sings the songs I play. But on this day, I sing his.

2 Responses to "What worship really is"

  • James Gerber says:

    A great article, and a great song!

    “Worship is not about a song at all. It’s about a Person.”
    So true!
    It’s a very important Person. One so important He offered His life on that old rugged cross. An atoning sacrifice for us, so that we may through faith be reconciled with our Heavenly Father.

    The “traditional” Hymns give great comfort to “the slave, the grieving widow, the errant child, the soldier in the foxhole, the pioneering father, the circuit-riding preacher, the martyr and the missionary.” because instead of focusing on catchy beats, simplified repetitive lyrics, our own works and self glorification…. the old Hymns are Gospel driven.

    The Hymns focus on God’s promises to us through Christ. Not what we have done or do…but what He has already done for us.

    No matter what tune you set the average ‘contemporary Christian’ song too, no matter how sad you can make the music sound… it will offer no comfort to a grieving widow, a slave, someone taking their last breath, and it will over no comfort to those who are saddened by the loss of a loved one, someone missing, or someone dying.

    They don’t want to sing about ‘how they want to Worship God, and praise Him, because He is Him or about how much they love Him’… They want to ‘hear the old, old story’ about God’s love for us. About how He proved that love for us in Christ. About what was accomplished on at old rugged cross.

    It’s the Gospel… and it offers great comfort in times of great difficulty.

    – James

  • Susie Larson says:

    Oh, Jennifer, how I loved this post!

    Your writing captured me so, I was right there with you with my hand on the pew, singing quietly in unison, in worship. Thank you for honoring the sweet, faithful farmer, and even more so for honoring God with your beautiful gift. May God continue to expand your territory.

    Bless you, my dear!

    Susie

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