Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

Text: Ephesians 5:18-21

“There are two ways to commit idolatry: worship something other than the true God or worship the true God in the wrong way.” – Ligon Duncan. When we gather as the people of God, the aim should not be to keep as many people happy as possible but that our worship be pleasing to Him.

7 Biblical Purposes for Music

California – original source here.

The music program in the local church is vital, and it’s impact—for good or bad—on a church service is immeasurable. While some may view music as simply a form of entertainment and emotional conditioning, godly music plays a much larger role in a church.

Scripture gives at least seven purposes for Christ-honoring music. Use these principles as a gauge to evaluate the biblical soundness of your music ministry:

1. The Purpose of Worship—“And all the congregation worshipped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded: and all this continued until the burnt offering was finished” (2 Chronicles 29:28).

2. The Purpose of Thanks — “Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God” (Psalm 147:7).

3. The Purpose of Rejoicing — “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the Lord with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm” (Psalm 98:4–5).

4. The Purpose of Consecration — “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). (Spoken in song!) “Praise ye the Lord. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1).

5. The Purpose of Edification — “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).

6. The Purpose of Evangelism — “And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).

7. The Purpose of Preservation of Faith — “One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts. I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works” (Psalm 145:4–5).

May the music of our churches bring glory to the Lord and lift our hearts in His praise.

Elements of Reformed Worship

Text: Psalm 100

God cares about our worship and about how we worship. He does not receive all worship. Some worship is corrupt and greatly displeases Him. So what kind of worship does in fact please Him? How can we know for sure?

Worship in Word and Sacrament

Scripture indicates that we are to worship God, yet much of what passes for worship today is merely a thinly veiled attempt to entertain men. In this message, Dr. J. Ligon Duncan will explain how a biblical understanding of the basic elements of Christian worship should inform the way in which we approach God.

Is Music Worship?

Dr. John MacArthur on the theme of music and the role that it plays in the church:


“The first misconception is that music is worship. That is not true. Music is not worship. They’re not synonymous. Music is music, and and worship is worship. But, typically, you hear people today say, ‘We’re going to worship,’ and then immediately that is essentially defined by music. Music is not worship. Music is a means to express worship, but it is not worship. Worship is the heart going up toward God in gratitude and thanksgiving for all that God has done: that’s worship. Worship is acknowledging God to be who He is revealed to be in Scripture. It is acknowledging what God has done; and in particular, that He has saved us, redeemed us, given us eternal life; and it is expressing gratitude to God. There are many ways to do that; music is one of them. But music is not worship. Music is a means by which a worshiping person expresses his thanks.”

Secondly, a misconception is that music motivates worship, music induces worship. That’s not true either. That is not true. It gives expression to love; it gives expression to adoration. But the motivation for that has to come from somewhere else, not from music. Music enhances and enriches. But the motive for all of our songs is not a sound, it’s a truth.

Another misconception is that when people have trouble worshiping, music will create worship, music will create the mood for worship. Worship is not a mood experience. That needs to be said loudly and clearly. You go to many ‘churches’ and you’ll be in the dark, and there will be sensual kind of music that appeals to the flesh at one level or another; and there will be lights flashing in all kind of directions. That has nothing to do with worship; and, frankly, does the opposite of inducing worship. It simply induces a fickle feeling. It’s a false substitute for true worship. See, true worship is a permanent attitude. John 4, ‘We worship in spirit and truth.’ That’s who we are. God seeks true worshipers. We are true worshipers. Philippians 3, ‘We worship in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.’ That’s a way of life. Our way of life is gratitude to God for who He is, what He’s done, and for our salvation and all of its blessing. We don’t need a mood created by some form of music that basically shifts – in many cases shifts the mind into neutral and generates a kind of neutral, empty, vacuous feeling. That’s not creating worship. It is true, there is something that creates worship – this will shock people – it’s preaching the Word, or reading the Word, so that when you know the truth, your heart reaches forward to God to express praise and gratitude.

Another misconception is this, that non-Christians aren’t going to come to church unless we import their music. Music so dominates our culture. It is so ubiquitous that if we’re going to appeal to nonbelievers, we’ve got to change our music. We’ve got to do the kind of music that they like and somehow baptize it if we’re going to reach out evangelistically. That’s not true. Never, never in Scripture is music ever, ever stated to be used as an evangelistic technique in some direct sense. In an indirect sense, it is because we’re singing of our Savior, right, we’re singing of salvation. But we’re singing to God, not the world, and not the unbeliever. There’s no mandate for the church to make its music appeal to the sons of Satan. So music is not worship. Music does not induce or motivate worship. Music does not somehow enhance worship by certain style and mood, nor is music ever intended for the satisfaction of nonbelievers as if that’s some entry into understanding the gospel. Continue reading

Knowledge in Worship

In this excerpt from a Ligonier conference message, Alistair Begg reminds us of the importance of knowledge in worship:


“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands.”

We know…we know.

The Christian faith engages our minds. This is something that we ought to keep reminding ourselves of, so that we don’t allow our minds to fossilize, and that we continue to be sharpened and to make progress.

I was at a church in California just a few weeks ago now—back in August I think it was, time flies—and I went there. I had a Sunday free and I was staying with friends, and I went down to the church and I was excited because I get to go now, and I don’t have to do anything at all except do whatever they tell me to do. And so I sat there and I waited for it to begin. And it was quite fascinating actually. They had big screens, and they had a clock on the screens. And when I got in it said “5 Minutes” and I had only been in about 2 seconds, and you won’t be surprised, it said “4 Minutes, 58 Seconds.” And then it counted down, and eventually it counted down, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6…”. And just right on the moment of time, the band began…and I was waiting for David Letterman at that point. I didn’t know what was going to happen next. And then eventually the band did what it did, and then the person who was to lead the praise, his opening gambit was this, “Hey! How do y’all feel this morning?” Well that was enough for me. We could have had the benediction right there that was so good. I thought, what kind of New Testament question is that? How do y’all feel this morning?

If I told you how I feel, especially in light of the last 5 minutes, you would question whether I was even a Christian at all. So don’t ask me that question. Ask me what I know. Ask me what I know. Don’t ask me what I feel about myself. Ask me what I know about God. Ask me what I know about His Word. Ask me what I know to be of verity that can deal with my soul. That’s what I need. Don’t make me sing songs about how I feel. Don’t! These silly repetitive songs again and again, ‘I just want to praise you, lift my hands and say I love you, you are everything to me’. Goodness, at half past eight on a Sunday morning I’m barely ambulatory. I can’t start there. And you want me to say that? I just kicked the dog. I don’t even have a dog. I got in an argument with someone because they took my parking space. I spilled my coffee, I didn’t read my Bible, I’m a miserable wretch, and now you want me to start here—‘how do you feel?’ I feel rotten, that’s how I feel! What do you got for me? The answer, nothing. I got nothing for you.

That’s why you have to get yourself under the control of the Scriptures. That’s why it is what we know—the verities of the Scriptures which fuel our hearts and our emotions, and lead us on. Hence, ‘praise my soul the King of heaven, to His feet thy tribute bring. Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven. Who like thee His praise should sing?’

Okay, now we’ve got something to sing about, for we have been reminded of truth. You have been ransomed; you have been healed; you have been restored; you have been forgiven. You’re looking away from yourself now. You’re looking out and to Christ. And it is in this that we have something that fuels our praise.

Lamb of God

“Lamb of God” Music and Words by Jason Hansen, Bob Kauflin, and David LaChance, Jr. © 2015 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)

Lead Vocal: Rebecca Elliott
Piano: Bob Kauflin
Cello: Bethany Payne


O Lamb of God, all worlds obeyed Your will
From dark and void their being came
O Lamb of God, Your glories echo still
Creation sings its Maker’s praise
Eternal God, One with the Father
Before all time You dwelt in love
Eternal God, unlike all others
Yet You descended unto us

O Lamb of God, in filthy manger lay
In humble dress You entered earth
O Lamb of God, Creator bows to save
The needy ones, helpless from birth
Incarnate Word, gift of the Father
To take our place and bear our sin
Incarnate Word led to the slaughter
You conquered death and rose again

O Lamb of God now reigning on the throne
The Judge of all, faithful and true
O Lamb of God, You’ll make Your power known
When all Your foes receive their due
Victorious King, when history’s fading
You’ll call Your Bride to take her place
Victorious King, Creation’s waiting
For Your redeemed to see Your face

© 2015 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)

From the album, Sooner Count the Stars: Worshiping the Triune God

Why the “original” version does not work

Andy@Musicademy has written a very helpful and practical article entitled “10 reasons why the ‘original’ version of a worship song won’t work in your church.” He mostly from an album or a live version from a conference on YouTube. But most of the time these arrangements have at least one element that makes them completely unusable for normal churches. So here are a few ideas that’ll help you make songs more usable.

They are in the wrong key for your congregation
Let’s start with the single biggest reason why your congregation won’t be able to sing an ‘original’ version. Album and even definitive live versions of worship songs are arranged in keys that suit the lead singer’s or the artist’s voice, NOT the congregation’s range. Albums have to be great to listen to and the vocal has to be the strongest it can be, therefore from a listening perspective it has to be in the artist’s strongest key, which 9 times out of 10 isn’t the most suitable key for a congregation because the key needs to be a compromise between stereotypical male and female vocal ranges. Broadly speaking, songs with male vocals are often 2-3 semi tones too high and songs with female vocals are (less) often 2 semi tones too low.

Octave jumps simply don’t work
Octave jumps are great tools to make songs dynamically exciting. They work great for radio where you need a big lift to keep the listener interested, BUT, whenever a song has an octave leap you alienate one or other gender in your congregation and 50% of them will either stop singing or sound like they’ve inhaled a helium balloon. So, if you genuinely want to encourage participation, don’t do octave leaps. That will probably mean moving the key down a minor or major third, but if you want more participation make it more singable for more people, more of the time.

Intros are too long
There are lots of worship songs with 8, 16 or even 32 bar intros that build a sense of dynamic anticipation. These can work at huge conferences and worship concerts but let’s remember the entire point of congregational worship is maximum congregational involvement. If they have to wait around while the band enjoys a long intro they will disengage. Then the intro really becomes much more about the band’s enjoyment rather than the congregation’s participation. Try to make intros as succinct as possible just to establish the tempo, groove and where to come in. So most of the time 2 or 4 bars is plenty. Continue reading

Worship in Heaven

Blog article: tribe, people, and language—will gather to sing praise to God for his greatness, wisdom, power, grace, and mighty work of redemption (Revelation 5:13-14). Overwhelmed by his magnificence, we will fall on our faces in unrestrained happiness and say, “Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Revelation 7:9-12).

People of the world are always striving to celebrate—they just lack ultimate reasons to celebrate (and therefore find lesser reasons). As Christians, we have those reasons—our relationship with Jesus and the promise of Heaven. “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Revelation 21:3). Does this excite you? If it doesn’t, you’re not thinking correctly.

As I share in my book Heaven, I find it ironic that many people stereotype life in Heaven as an interminable church service. Apparently, church attendance has become synonymous with boredom. Yet meeting God—when it truly happens—will be far more exhilarating than a great meal, a poker game, hunting, gardening, mountain climbing, or watching the Super Bowl. Even if it were true (it isn’t) that church services must be dull, there will be no church services in Heaven. The church (Christ’s people) will be there. But there will be no temple, and as far as we know, no services (Revelation 21:22).

Will we always be engaged in worship? Yes and no. If we have a narrow view of worship, the answer is no. But if we have a broad view of worship, the answer is yes. As Cornelius Venema explains, worship in Heaven will be all-encompassing:

“No legitimate activity of life—whether in marriage, family, business, play, friendship, education, politics, etc.—escapes the claims of Christ’s kingship. . . . Certainly those who live and reign with Christ forever will find the diversity and complexity of their worship of God not less, but richer, in the life to come. Every legitimate activity of new creaturely life will be included within the life of worship of God’s people.” [1]

Will we always be on our faces at Christ’s feet, worshiping Him? No, because Scripture says we’ll be doing many other things—living in dwelling places, eating and drinking, reigning with Christ, and working for Him. Scripture depicts people standing, walking, traveling in and out of the city, and gathering at feasts. When doing these things, we won’t be on our faces before Christ. Nevertheless, all that we do will be an act of worship. We’ll enjoy full and unbroken fellowship with Christ. At times this will crescendo into greater heights of praise as we assemble with the multitudes who are also worshiping Him.

Worship involves more than singing and prayer. I often worship God while reading a book, riding a bike, or taking a walk. I’m worshiping him now as I write. Yet too often I’m distracted and fail to acknowledge God along the way. In Heaven, God will always be first in my thinking.

Even now, we’re told, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). That God expects us to do many other things, such as work, rest, and be with our families, shows that we must be able to be joyful, pray, and give thanks while doing other things.

Have you ever spent a day or several hours when you sensed the presence of God as you hiked, worked, gardened, drove, read, or did the dishes? Those are foretastes of Heaven—not because we are doing nothing but worshiping, but because we are worshiping God as we do everything else.

In Heaven, where everyone worships Jesus, no one says, “Now we’re going to sing two hymns, followed by announcements and prayer.” The singing isn’t ritual but spontaneous praise (Revelation 5:11-14). If someone rescued you and your family from terrible harm, especially at great cost to himself, no one would need to tell you, “Better say thank you.” On your own, you would shower Him with praise. Even more will you sing your Savior’s praises and tell of His life-saving deeds!

[1] Cornelius P. Venema, The Promise of the Future (Trowbridge, UK: Banner of Truth, 2000), 478.