The hospital smelled of death and disinfectant.
Before my grandfather passed, my family gathered to be with him in his final hours. The details that float to the top of my memory from that day are scattered and random. It was a Sunday afternoon. I parked on the wrong side of the building and got lost trying to find his room. I ate some mediocre Chinese food in the cafeteria. You know. The important stuff.
The pastors from my childhood church joined us and ministered to my family as we walked together into the darkness.
And we sang.
It wasn’t fancy. By most estimates, it probably didn’t sound good. (My grandfather’s roommate could back me up on that, I’m sure.) Regardless, we crowded into his tiny hospital room and sang hymns together. We were reminded of God’s faithfulness in the midst of our sorrow. We were reminded of His great love for us. And we were reminded that, for those of us who are in Christ, death doesn’t get the final word.
Perhaps this is a familiar scene for you. If you haven’t been in a similar scenario before, just give it time. You will soon enough. And when you find yourself there, it is my sincere hope that you have been well prepared.
You see, most of the songs my family sang that day were emblazoned into my memory from when I was a small boy in church. I had been training for that day for over 32 years.
There is a line in the old hymn “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” that has been a faithful traveling companion to me for many years: “Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.” That afternoon at my grandfather’s side, sitting in death’s shadow, those words loomed large in my mind. Someday it will be my turn and I’ll be the one in the bed. Between now and then, I want to prepare with the end in mind, so that, when I arrive there, I might hear the Lord say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”
As a worship pastor, I have the privilege and responsibility of readying not only myself but our congregation as I cultivate the corporate worship of our church. I am certainly not the only one who decides which songs the families of Coram Deo Church will sing during those defining moments of their lives, but, by virtue of my role, I get to have a large influence on it.
Songs have a unique ability to shape us. The theology that we sing sinks in deep and settles into the nooks and crannies of our souls, molding our view of God, His world, and each other. And as we walk through both the darkness and the light, it is often the songs we have sung that come first to mind, calling us back to God and His promises.
The theology that we sing sinks in deep and settles into the nooks and crannies of our souls, molding our view of God, His world, and each other. And as we walk through both the darkness and the light, it is often the songs we have sung that come first to mind, calling us back to God and His promises.
There have been times when my soul has been distressed and I’ve felt unable to pray, as though I didn’t have the necessary words to even know what I felt, let alone how to describe it to someone else. Yet, in many of these moments, a song has come to mind and given me words to offer up to God when my own words failed. Singing has helped me to pray both when prayer hasn’t felt possible and also when the joy has been too great to contain.
On a recent Sunday morning, I looked around the room while we were singing together and I was struck by the different people that were present:
- A young mom, in the middle of battling yet another round of cancer.
- A woman who had been tragically and unexpectedly widowed.
- A husband and wife who struggled for years with infertility, passing their newborn daughter back and forth between them.
- A man who had recently begun to experience freedom as he waged war against addiction.
- A wife lovingly guiding her aging, dementia-stricken husband forward so that they could continue to receive the Lord’s Supper together.
- A once wayward son finally worshipping alongside his long-suffering parents who prayed for him faithfully for many years.
- My own children dancing in the back of the room, slowly being formed by a consistent rhythm of worshipping with our church family.
The list could go on and on. As we worshipped God together that morning, I felt my faith being built up by theirs. The Lord ministered to me, encouraging and admonishing me as we sang of His faithful, steadfast love. It was a beautiful moment, though an incomplete one.
When the Church gathers for worship, we get a small taste of a future glory yet to come. Like hors d’oeuvres served at the beginning of a great feast, corporate worship offers us a taste of the splendor that awaits God’s people in His presence. As we tell and retell the old, old story, we long for the day when all our sad and broken stories will come untrue. As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, we look forward to the great wedding supper of the Lamb who will come to claim for Himself a bride. And as we sing, we hear our melodies joining with the distant chorus of the saints who have come before us and who will come after us crying out: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God!”
The songs that we sing together in worship have eternal significance. You were made for glory. It’s in your very bones. We are each preparing, not simply for the moment when we will finally see our Savior face to face, but for the infinite number of moments that will follow when we will be praising Him among the great cloud of witnesses for all of eternity.
In a series of posts over the next several weeks, I’m going to unpack how I choose songs for our church. Many of my thoughts are theologically driven. Others are more practical. And in all of it, I’m striving to be as biblically faithful as I possibly can be. I am writing in hopes that I can be helpful to you, dear reader, as you seek to walk faithfully with the Lord as well. Together, may our hearts be tuned to sing of His grace and proclaim with full assurance, “Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.”