“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”
“Just sing hymns!” “Only do choruses!” “You can’t sing this; Do you not know who wrote it?” “That song is too emotionally driven! Doctrine—the music must teach doctrine!”
Worship wars! Will they ever end? As a young praise leader, I felt as if I was in a perpetual tug of war between congregants who approved of one style of worship music over another. But let’s be honest. For many, our objections to certain categories of songs are based on what we find familiar and comfortable. Let us cast off our predispositions for a moment, and explore a simple question—what kind of worship songs are Biblical?
Do not ask what you like personally. Forget your taste. Temporarily set aside the feelings you have fostered when you sing your favorite song. Let us dig into Scripture itself and see the examples of worship songs presented to us. Are you ready?
God Pleasing Song Style #1: Songs of Gratitude
“Oh give thanks to Yahweh, for He is good” (Ps. 106:1).
When we worship, one of the first characteristics of appropriate content that pleases God Biblically is thanksgiving. Whether you are in a time of triumph or trial, God is deserving of gratitude. There is always a reason to appreciate our Father in Heaven. Cast off your heaviness for a moment. Say thank you for what God is doing and will do.
God Pleasing Song Style #2: Songs of Repentance
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 51:2).
It is fitting to implore God to create in us a pure heart and to beseech Him for His grace. We have all sinned and need to come clean before our Maker. Musical worship is not just for congregational enjoyment; it is meant to be a time of introspective confession. Do not miss the opportunity to select songs that provide people the opportunity to repent.
God Pleasing Song Style #3: Songs of Deliverance
“Arise, O Yahweh; save me, O my God! For You have struck all my enemies on the cheek; You have shattered the teeth of the wicked” (Ps. 3:7).
We all go through stuff. We each have trials, and it is appropriate for us to present these situations before the Lord during worship. Songs that express to God our need to be saved from our enemies and grant us victory, for His glory, are critically important. For more examples read the heartfelt cries of Psalm 68.
God Pleasing Song Style #4: Songs of Remembrance
“He split the sea and caused them to pass through, and He made the waters stand up like a heap” (Ps. 78:13).
It is good to not only thank God, appeal, and repent but also to remember. Songs that magnify His deeds in the past do much for our faith. Several times, the Bible records that when the Lord moved mightily among His people, they responded in praise. These songs remind us of God’s former actions and teach doctrine best. We remember who He was before and still is now.
God Pleasing Song Style #5: Songs of Old and Songs of Now
The Psalms – Scripture’s songbook – includes tunes that cover a span of roughly a thousand years. That means that when the Psalms were compiled, there were some ancient works (Psalm 90—written by Moses) and some extremely young ones (Psalm 1—written after the Jews returned from captivity). The Bible urges us to sing to the Lord a new song (Psalm 96:1) but there is clearly a place for the old ones as well. Some churches include only the latest radio-played praise tunes, and yet others exclusively choose classic hymns. However, Biblical precedent shows us that both should be included.
God Pleasing Song Style #6: Songs of Various Lengths and Structure
It is thought-provoking that our Father set Psalm 117 (just two verses) and Psalm 119 (176 verses) so near to each other. Could it be that we ought not to be overly systematic regarding style and structure? There is a beautiful place in worship for a simple “We Exalt Thee” as well as an eighteen verse “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” Likewise, Psalm 136 shows us there is a place for repetition (“His love endures forever”), while Psalm 140 demonstrates a structure of simple verses with reflective instrumental interludes (selah). In various styles, God is glorified.
Most Important Factor in God Pleasing Worship: Spirit and Truth
Not long ago, I took my children to a church service completely foreign to what they were accustomed to. The service and songs were liturgical—packed with amazing depth. Infallible in accuracy, the music was filled with Biblical truth. However, when I later discussed the praise time with my children, my son expressed how it all struck him as inauthentic: “The people just repeated everything like robots. It was strange.”
In the end, doing the right kinds of songs is undeniably important. God desires us to worship in a way that is consistent with truth. Lyrics need to reflect who God really is—His character and requirements. But it is equally important that we worship Him in spirit. Our worship pleases our Creator when it is heartfelt and sincere. Anything else is just a halfhearted religious repetition.
May we perfect our art of worship by coming before our mighty God in both spirit and truth.
For further reading
Travis Lee is a Nashville recording artist and ordained minister of Hope Church in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. He founded Faithwalk Ministries in 2009 and has authored several books including DEEPER: Launching a Faithwalk with God and the children’s book series entitled Adventures of Fred and Sylvia. The Travis Lee Band currently tours the United States and abroad teaching God’s Word at churches, recovery groups, and prisons. Travis and his wife Allegra, minister together and travel with their six young children, Arrow, Sabre, Scythe, Lance, Dagger, and Mace.
January 8, 2024
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