By Rachael Varblow
After communion this Sunday we sang “Jesus Messiah,” by Chris Tomlin. I was trying to tame a wiggly toddler when the chorus began, entirely focused on Christ.
Singing it pulled me into worship (toddler and all), giving me a few moments entirely focused on Christ, drawing everything into perspective. The tune isn’t all that catchy, but the words are pure worship:
Name above all names
The rescue for sinners
The ransom from Heaven
Lord of all
Sometimes, as I go about my life, I ponder what makes a great worship song. “Jesus Messiah” brought these musings back to the surface. I sorted my thoughts and landed on four things that I frequently notice:
1. Great worship songs are often all about God.
“Jesus Messiah” encapsulates this. It focuses entirely on God and not on us. Songs that focus on God take us out of ourselves and help us to think on the character and being of God. Reflecting on the character of God will lead us deeper into our relationship with Him.
Think about some of the worship songs that have been most popular over the years: “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” “Shout to the Lord,” “Amazing Love,” “Mighty to Save,” and if we go further back, “A Mighty Fortress Is our God.”
These and so many others speak to us because they take us out of ourselves and put the emphasis on God, who He is and what He has done for us.
2. Great worship songs are often scriptural.
I love it when I’m reading through the Psalms and I keep getting sidetracked singing the songs that come to mind as I read the scriptures on which they are based. It’s such a natural segue into worship.
Take Psalm 121 for instance. I can’t even get through the first line, “As a deer thirsts for water my soul longs after you,” before I’m off and singing. (My kids found this less than charming when we were working to memorize that psalm.)
The Bible tells us all scripture is God-breathed. So, it stands to reason that scripture makes great worship songs.
3. Great worship songs often make you think.
Most hymns are very good at this. Just pick one. They are like poetry. You don’t get the full meaning the first time you read/sing/hear it, or the second, or the third. In fact, it seems that every time you come back to them something new pulls you deeper and closer to God. Pick any verse, any line of “A Mighty Fortress Is our God,” for instance:
And though this world, with devils filled,
Should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear,
for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
We tremble not for him.
His rage we can endure,
For lo, his doom is sure.
One little word shall fell him.
At first glance it hardly makes sense. You need to go back and work through ut, both what it is saying to you and what it is saying about God. In doing so you’re thinking about who God is and what he has done for you, and drawing nearer to Him.
Look at the first verse of “Jesus Messiah” as well:
He became sin
Who knew no sin
That we might become His Righteousness
He humbled himself and carried the cross.
It makes you stop and think and then turn back and worship.
4. Great worship songs are not often repetitive.
For this one I look to Psalms, the original worship songs. Some Psalms begin and end with the same verse. Some have a phrase or verse that repeats several times, like a chorus or refrain. But, we don’t see a lot of the same phrase continually being repeated. Some repetition can be worshipful, but too much can seem a bit mindless.
Think about an example from marriage: a husband comes home from work and says to his wife, “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
The next night he comes in and says, “I love you. You are so good to me. You got up early with the kids, and let me sleep in. You work so hard, and it really blesses our family. I know it can be difficult; I just want you to know how much I appreciate you. I love you so much, honey.”
I bet the wife would feel more loved the second night. Maybe God likes it when we put a little more thought into what we are saying to Him, too.
I realize this is a pretty subjective topic. Since God made each of us unique, and has a unique personal relationship with each one of us, it stands to reason that different types of songs will draw different people to Him in worship. I just wanted to get us thinking. What are some things that you find make a great worship song? Which worship songs help you draw near to God?
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Click to listen to the Real Jesus sermon from this Sunday Strong/Weak.