Hymns Are NOT Worship!
[For those under age 45, a “Hymn” is a song or poem of praise to God that is characterized by several scripturally-based verses about what God has done for us, each punctuated by a two- or three-line refrain usually forming an appropriate response to what God has done for us.]
Let me cut to the chase. Hymns are effective instruments for Christian worship. They attract our attention by their aural appeal. They enhance our emotions by the timbre and tempo of their tunes. They excite us, they unite us, they challenge us, they invite us. They point our hearts to God. Like a flower that reappears after a winter’s dormancy, hymns often burst forth days or weeks or months or years down life’s road, carrying with them the same spirit of praise or unity or comfort that originally inspired them.
But hymns themselves are not worship . . . any more than raising hands, clapping hands, or even holding hands (yuk!) are worship. All these gesticulations MAY be instruments of worship . . . but they also may be instruments of pride. When I sing hymns, am I marveling at the sound of my own voice? Am I thinking that the entire congregation has been cheated because I have not been asked to sing a solo or lead “worship”? When I raise my hands, am I doing so because I want the church (or the pastor) to see how “spiritual” I am, or so others will see the new Rolex on my arm or the ring on my finger? When I clap my hands, am I doing it because the pastor just scolded us for not “entering in” to worship and I don’t want to appear to be rebellious or unspiritual? Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). He also said, “See to it that you do not do your acts of righteousness before people in order to be noticed by them, for if you do, you will not have a reward from your Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
Scripture is clear: worship is an attitude of heart. It flows voluntarily and spontaneously from within. It is a posture toward God that embraces every aspect of God’s nature (holiness, love, etc.), character (kindness, forgiveness, etc.) and will (salvation for all!). Consider the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples to pray:
Our Father, who is in heaven.
Let your name (i.e., your nature and character) be held in high esteem!
Let your kingdom come (let everyone accept and embrace your rulership)!
Let your will be done on Earth as in heaven (let us love one another as you love us—that is, treating kindly, forgiving, etc.)
Give us this day our daily bread (provide today what we need for today)
Forgive us our debts, just as we forgive our debtors
Lead us not into temptation (cause us to not yield to temptation)
Deliver us from the Evil One (trust God for His salvation)~ Jesus Christ
True worship is NOT MERELY reciting this prayer or even singing it (or, for that matter, dancing to it!); true worship is LIVING it. Impossible, you say? Listen! What is not possible for us on our own is possible for us with God. God has given us his Spirit! He alone will enable us to worship Him in spirit and in truth!
NOTE: The hymnal pictured in this post was used in evangelist Billy Sunday’s meetings in Scranton, Pennsylvania ca. 1914.