n. the anguish experienced after significant loss . . .
(American Psychological Association)
I find myself grieving at many worship services. Nothing wrong at these services. The sermons were Bible-based and spoke to me. The worship leaders were sensitive to the Spirit and led the congregation into the presence of God. But I grieved because I miss singing hymns. Hope springs eternal and I hope a worship will start with an anthem like “Holy, holy holy,” or “Crown Him with many crowns,” or “Praise to the Lord”. Why do I grieve the missing hymns? A few reasons at least.
First, these were the songs we sang when I first followed Christ 50 years ago. Singing them again taps into my spiritual memory and reminds me of both my salvation and how God has sustained me through the years.
Second, singing hymns from other eras reminds us that God is the God of history. If we only sing modern songs, we may unconsciously see God as only the God of the present and not the God of history. Especially in tough times, we need a vision of a big God that has carried His people through the years. If we sing only contemporary worship songs, we may end up with a smaller God. God is the God of the hills and the valleys (1 Kings 20:28). He is also the Lord of the past, present, and the future.
Third, and this is a generalisation I know, many of the modern worship songs are subjective, arising from our personal encounters with God. The older hymns tend to be more objective, praising God for who He is rather than singing out of experience of Him. There is a place for testimony type songs — God is so good because He is so good to me. But God is God and way bigger than my knowledge of Him that arises purely from my experience of Him. God is good, period. So, whether I am happy or sad, God is always God. Singing hymns that declare who He is helps me reorientate my feelings to be in line with His reality and His character.
I am not against modern worship music. There are great new hymns like “O Praise the Name”. Neither am I against songs that sing of my experience of God, like “Lord I Offer my Life”. I am not asking for an all-hymns worship service. The difference is not between old and new music but between good and bad music.
There is also the issue that some worship leaders today don’t choose hymns because they don’t know them. We were at a church camp once where the worship team was young and led us in many good new worship songs. I noticed the older members trying their best to follow. I suggested to the worship leader to start off with “Holy, holy, holy” at the next worship service. I also suggested that if they don’t know the hymn, to go google it. The worship team was kind, and they started the next worship service with the hymn I had suggested. I looked at the congregation to see all the campers, young and old, singing the hymn with gusto.
I think it is a kindness to choose worship songs that mean something to followers of all age groups. I also believe older believers should learn the best of the new worship songs. It would be a shame to ignore the heritage of worship music the Lord has given the church through the years. In the meantime, I look forward to a worship service where I don’t have to grieve the absence of hymns.