Youthful Wisdom

So you have probably seen this title and maybe freaked out a little. Here we go again, the youth thinking they know it all.   Hopefully by reading on, you will find that I think nothing of the sort, however, I also don’t think we are plain dumb either.

Youth Arise!

Let’s consider the Methodist revival really quickly. George Whitfield was twenty-six when he became a preacher and John Wesley was just eighteen. These two men, along with many others were young adults when they started in ministry, and these two arguably saw one of the greatest revivals ever! Later, Charles Spurgeon became the pastor of the biggest Baptist church in London aged nineteen, the prophet Jeremiah was a little squirt when he became God’s mouthpiece, and David was a shepherd boy when he fought Goliath. Yet God used the youth to help people see the light! Now hopefully you will see where I am going with this article.

I often hear the argument that young people need to listen to their elders and listen to their wisdom. Now I do not dispute that the more mature of Christians have wisdom that they must share and we as youth must listen. However, at the same time, I think that it’s dangerous to just go along with something because ‘so-and-so’ says to.

If the Wesley’s and the Whitfield’s’ had done the same then it could be argued that the revival may never have happened. Of course God is in control and He may have used someone else to accomplish the same aim. Young people have ideas, we can be enthusiastic, we can be passionate and we can be energetic. This is great and should be encouraged, not frowned upon!

The Wesley’s challenged the old views from the Church of England. They were enthusiastic, they travelled the country, they wrote hymns, they preached the word, and they cared for the poor. In many ways, they went away from what was expected and did what youthful wisdom does, they followed their hearts and were led to places God wanted them.

Let’s look at Jeremiah again, what did God say to him? It’s worth quoting in full:

“The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

 ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’

‘Alas, Sovereign Lord,’ I said, ‘I do not know how to speak; I am too young.’

But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, “I am too young.” You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’” (Jeremiah 1:4-10).

The point of this short article is this: Do not let your youthful energy and vigour go to waste, do not let your ideas go unheard! Share them, act on them, be passionate about them. Being young does not make you stupid, in fact you bring a fresh approach to things that haven’t been discussed for years. Challenge the older people in your congregations, don’t cower away. We are like Lions if we are in Christ.

My favourite biblical verse on this is 1 Timothy 4:12:

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

‘Health warning’

Now, so far it sounds as though I am saying youth beats everything else. That would be foolish to say the least. Saints before us have been through the same experiences of youthful eagerness. It is up to them to guide us, to help us; and down to us to go to them. Older folk, I urge you to encourage young Christians in their ideas and talents; guide them like Christ guides all of us through life, be there and who knows what God can do?

Remember, do not shy away from listening to people, and taking their advice, but remember to pray and seek guidance from God. Before acting on any idea, pray, ask that God shows you if it is the right thing to do, and then pray that he uses it for his Glory. Worship him before you start anything, and never think you are alone. God is with us, and he will use us if he wants. Do not let people say that you are young deter you from doing God’s will. Time and time again, God has proved He will use the youth to shame the older generations, ‘out of the lips of babes, you have ordained praise.’ Time and Time again, God has used the young to shine his light.

Always remember Paul’s words, on our relationships with our brothers and sisters, to the young pastor Timothy:

“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1-2).

So brothers and sisters, be encouraged, and may God use every single one of us. Now if you don’t mind I’m going to write some more songs, and think and pray on how we handle Church unity.

Discerning God’s Will: When decisions need to be made…

Before you read the rest of this, let me just tell you a bit about myself. I am a final year student studying to be teacher. I have approximately 5 weeks left before I have finished uni for good (not that I am counting of course!) I currently do not have a job lined up or a house organised for next year. With the end of uni looking, things are getting pretty serious, particularly on the job front.

Unsurprisingly, I have recently been thinking a lot about what God’s will is for my life and how I can find guidance. Something to do with the fact that within the next couple of months, I need to have got myself a job, figured out where I am going to be living, and basically have figured out what I want to do with my life! Or at least that is how it feels at the moment. Like I need to sort out the rest of my life right now, because if I don’t, I’m not really sure I’ll ever get it sorted. There just seem to be a lot of major life decisions that need to be made at the moment, and I really want to know what God’s will is for me in all of this. Where does he want me to work? Where does he want me to live? Is teaching really what he wants me to be doing for the rest of my life? What should I do over the summer?  As you can see, loads of huge decisions to be made!

The aim of this post, then, is to try and figure out how, as Christians, we should make these important decisions.

Overwhelmed?!

When I look at all of the things that I need to do, it can get quite overwhelming. There is just so much to sort out, but the truth is that I don’t need a comprehensive life plan figured out right now. I don’t actually need to know whether teaching is going to be a permanent thing for me or not. I don’t need to have my life all mapped out, and the chances are that, if I did, it would all get turned upside down anyway! God is the one who has a plan for my life. We are told in Proverbs to ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.’ (Proverbs 3 v 5-6) Basically it means that I don’t need to have it all figured out. My life is in God’s hands and he will guide me every step of the way. That is definitely an encouraging note to start on.

It is also a challenge for me, because I am a planner. If I have an exam coming up, you can guarantee that I will have a colour coded revision schedule. If I have a placement coming up, there will be a meal plan, time plan, any other kind of plan you can imagine.  Basically, I like things to all be planned out. So I’m still learning to accept that life doesn’t work like that. Walking with God seems to be more about placing our trust in him each day and seeking his guidance. Trusting that whatever is going on around us, good or bad, is a part of God’s plan.

What I don’t think this all means, however, is that we should never make any plans, or never make any decisions! In Psalm 32 v 8 we read that God will ‘instruct you and teach you in the way you should go’ but I don’t think that means we never have to actually engage our mind and make decisions. One of the ways that God guides and teaches us is through his word, which means engaging with the Bible and trying to make sense of what it says to us. There are going to be times when we have to make decisions. So as much as I know that I don’t need to have it all figured out now, I shouldn’t just sit around waiting for a job to be handed to me on a plate! We do have a part to play.

What is God’s will for me?

So how do I, or any of us, work out what God’s will is for us? The more I read the Bible and see how God’s will was revealed in it, the more I wonder if we spend too much time trying to work this out. We imagine that there is only one specific path that we have to take. I’ve been tempted to think that there is only one right option, whether that is looking for a job, some sort of missionary opportunity or even a holiday! I admit that I’m pretty bad at making decisions anyway. I tend to feel the need to be absolutely certain about something before making a decision. When it comes to spiritual matters or bigger life issues, I worry that I might possibly ‘wreck’ God’s plans for my life. Even whilst writing this, I see how stupid it sounds! If we could ruin God’s plans by making the ‘wrong’ decision, then God wouldn’t be God. We need to be reminded that God will always work out his plans.

So maybe I should worry less about working out what the best decision would be and just get on and make a decision! Obviously we need to be careful but if we spend so much time worrying about what to do, we end up not doing anything. We are not on our own when trying to work these things out either. God has given us his word to guide us. Again, that doesn’t mean that if I open my Bible, I will find out exactly which school I should be working in and the address of my new flat!

The Bible gives us general principles to work with. In Micah 6 v 8, we read that ‘He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’ 2 Corinthians 5 v 9 tells us that ‘we make it our aim, whether present or absent to be well pleasing to him.’ In Matthew 28 v 19 we are commanded to ‘go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.’ In those three verses, we get some idea of how we should live. Living for God and obeying him should be our priority in any decision making. So if any decision we make goes against God’s commandments, it is a wrong decision. If the decision seems to be in line with God’s will, as revealed in the Bible, then it can at least be considered a possible option. Then I think we are allowed to be practical. Take the example of looking for a job. Say I have three schools lined up that I am interested in. Teaching in any of these would not be going against the Bible, so I am OK there. Do I then wait for some divine revelation to make it clear which of the three is ‘right’? Not necessarily; God has given us the ability to think and to reason. So if I go into a school, like the ethos and feel supported there, then I can choose to apply there. Throughout the process there should be prayer that we would know which route is best for us, and God will guide us. Though sometimes it may seem to be an unconventional route.

I don’t think working out what God’s will should be some weird sort of mystical experience. We shouldn’t necessarily expect a flash of light, a vision or a spoken word but I do believe that sometimes we will be aware of God’s guiding- that might be something as simple as a sense of peace about a certain decision, or a constant nagging thought. I was definitely aware of God’s guidance during my Gap year. I knew that I wanted to spend some time serving the Lord in mission work of some sort before heading to university. An opportunity came up to go out to Peru. It wasn’t something I really felt I wanted to do at first, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. First one person would mention this team to Peru that they had heard about, then another! Once I had decided to go, I really did feel a sense of peace that this had been the right decision and it was truly a blessed time. Looking back, I don’t know why I took so long to figure this out!

Concluding thoughts

So there we are; just a few rambling thoughts about guidance. It is never going to be an easy issue I don’t think, because God’s will isn’t always clear to us. But we have to act as best as we can in accordance with what God has chosen to reveal to us in his word, rather than getting bogged down trying to discover the full plan that God has not chosen to reveal to us.

“Show me your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; on you I wait all the day.” (Psalm 25 v 4-5)

Old Hymns, weird words: Is ‘traditional’ worship stuck in the past?

Welcome to, what is intended to be a three-post series on music worship in and out of church. Essentially, our two styles of worship today can be broadly labelled ‘traditional’ or ‘modern’. The aim of these posts is to explore both, and to address certain divisions which differing worship styles have caused. My aim is not to merely bash both of them, but to look at what best glorifies the Lord and helps us to grow as believers. We start off focusing on traditional worship, mainly hymns and psalms unaccompanied or with an organ or piano.

I must stress that no offence is meant to anyone, but that a dialogue may begin, and perhaps we can listen to each other. I feel I have been led by the Spirit to talk about such things, He has laid unity on my heart and I feel a burning desire to write this.

Before we move on, let’s just get a bit of focus – what is the purpose of worship? It is to glorify God and His Son, our mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ. Along with the Bible and prayer it is a primary means of growing in Christ, by His grace.

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!” – Psalm 150:6.

“O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!” (Psalm 34:3)

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Ephesians 5:18b-20.

Worship of course is not just music, it is our lives. We are meant to delight in the Lord, to live out lives that represent Christ.  But in terms of music, it’s meant to a celebration, a joyous occasion, a spiritual praise to God and thanks to Him who has done so much for us.  It’s there to help us focus our eyes on Him, to get us engaged with Him.  Worship should be about praising Jesus and the Father, lifting them all up above the noise of the world regardless of our situation.  In doing so, we should also feel closer to God, and feel his presence.  Worship should not be based on ourselves, on what we are used to, or what we have grown up with, it’s not to be stuck in the past, but should be continuing to edifying Jesus.

The problem with the modern day church is that music has become one of the most divisive issues of our times. We argue, we have become arrogant and it’s ridiculous.  Let’s put Jesus back into the heart of everything we do.

Traditional Worship can be great

Traditional worship is perhaps best represented by the hymns of Wesley, Newton, Cowper and Watts, men greatly blessed by the Holy Spirit, in their teaching and hymn writing. Their lives show a real passion for Jesus and this can be seen in their works.  In some ways they were the Chris Tomlin’s, the Matt Redman’s, the Lloyd-Jones’ of their times.  Their lives are an inspiration to us, but of course through it all it was God using them, like He uses people today.  When we look at their hymns, we should realise that it is God speaking to them, to us, that the words in their hymns are rich and can benefit us as believers, in our blessings and in our sufferings.

Traditional worship should never be ignored or shelved. The deep and powerful words of an old hymn really allow us to learn more of our God.  Hymns help us to explore God and to understand what He’s all about.  In sum, most hymns feed us a little bit of doctrine and that is good.  They help us grow in faith and in our walk with Christ, acting as watchwords for our lives.  The same can be said with psalms, which are of course found in the Bible.  Their richness should never be underestimated, and should be welcomed by all churches, even those with a more ‘modern’ outlook on worship. They are great blessings which should be treasured.

When we look at the style of music typically used in ‘traditional’ worship, a simple piano or organ allows us to focus on the words, it’s a less instrumental form of worship and one that can be very effective. Even today in modern churches, the piano is still an important instrument!  The difference being is that traditional worship favours it being played unaccompanied with no worship leaders, guitars or drums.  The focus is put onto the congregation and their voices lifting God up.

 

Traditional worship can be not so great

So far, so good, but traditional worship has its flaws, and hopefully by bringing them to your attention, the church can address the issues. By not addressing them, we risk alienating younger folk, as well as missing out on rich spiritual blessings.

Most of the hymns in traditional hymnbooks come from roughly between 1700 and 1900. Common criticisms are that the language is askew, the tunes old hat and the joy of the Lord, which is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10b), in the congregation seems to be lacking.

Sometimes when you look at some of the wording, you feel like you need an eighteenth century dictionary just to understand it! Or sometimes the tune is so slow or hard to sing and that it just does not stir the heart. The singing is poor and halting; everybody sings in low monotones. Does traditional worship really engage the congregation anymore?  Do we focus on this style because of tradition?  And why do we insist of only having a piano/organ instrument?  What did the church do before this invention?  It must have been very hard for them! I wonder how the early church coped without Charles Wesley’s hymns and their hymn books; perhaps they used music and songs from their own time.  The problem with today is that tradition has been added to Jesus and our worship stifled.  It’s got to the point where we think that if Christians sing modern choruses or songs they are backsliding or not true followers of Jesus.  We puff ourselves up, desiring wordy songs and head-knowledge and putting others down, not realising that choruses and modern worship can be just a blessing as the old hymns.  The beauty of worship is not in the eloquence of the words sung but in singing from the bottom of our hearts! Whether we’re singing a shallow chorus or a deep hymn, this is what really matters. Words are important however; this is something we shall consider in another article.

We must be careful not to keep ourselves in the past and decline to engage with our own time. Hymns are great, the words inspiring, but our failure to modernise, the failure to see past tradition, the failure to really sing aloud from the heart, and the fact that we’re not ‘allowed’ to enjoy ourselves in song can make worship boring and tedious.  The failure to recognise that worship is to God, and Him alone, is dangerous; we are swayed by words and traditions, and not by adoration of Jesus.

People often moan at modern-day tunes (which I shall come to next time!), about how the focus is on the tune and the instruments. What they fail to realise, however, is that they do the exact same thing with traditional music, they covert a tune, they covert the instrument and at the end of the day, are like their modern counterparts. Not dissimilar to that of the heavily-harmonised Latin chants (which sound great but are in a foreign tongue), which were very prevalent until the Reformers and men like the Wesley’s unlocked worship for the masses. Well-known tunes combined with powerful Spirit-inspired words – the result: a spiritual explosion!

If we don’t modernise and worship God in the language of our day, then surely we’re no better than those who read and sung in Latin!

 

The ‘Psalms only’ camp

I have always been confused by certain churches which only sing psalms. They are indeed a rich blessing to those who read or sing them, even many hymns and spiritual songs are based on them.  However, they restrict worship, like traditional worship in all its forms, puts God in a box and says this is how you like worship because it’s all I have known.  Paul in the New Testament likely quotes songs that were sung by the early church in his letters (e.g. Ephesians 5:14, 2 Timothy 2:11-13,Revelation 19:6-8). People were constantly writing new songs and poems to praise God.  So we should understand that music in all its forms can be praise to God.  Do not put God into a box, and don’t judge your brothers and sisters in Christ by their music tastes. Read Psalm 150!

Why do we in church, stand so rigid, sing out of key, and generally looked tired or bored? One reason is maybe we stayed up to late the night before, but another reason is because we never let God stir us.  Our emotions should represent what our heart fills.  In the church, we stand to attention, arms folded, without flinching a muscle.  We certainly are not celebrating Jesus and his life.  It can be such a sad sight, and one that is not encouraging.  Christians, we need to be awake in worship, our forefathers never did this standing-rigid nonsense.  It certainly wasn’t like this.  We have let society, our culture; expectation and pressure make us like stuffed animals.  Wake up!  Come to life! Sing with gusto the wonders of His grace!

Yes, but it’s what people want

Finally, hymns are sung because people expect it, because we think their looking for a ‘traditional–style’ church. If we are making ourselves ‘fashionable’ to a type of person, we are doing it wrong.  Our focus should always be about praising Jesus and God, giving Him our praise. Everything else is secondary.  We should never do something because people expect it (itching ears anyone? [2 Timothy 4:3-4]); but because we love Jesus.  If we focus our lives and worship on Christ and lose ourselves in praise and adoration, then surely God will work in us and revival will come.

I think we may find that modern and traditional worship should go hand in hand. But as I conclude this post on traditional worship, let me remind you to look at the old stuff, read it, engage with it.  Modernise the tune if you must, but we can learn so much from them if used correctly. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what tune we use, what tongue or language we worship God with, English, Swahili, even bird-song. He will be glorified, and ultimately, one way or another, every knee will bow to His name.  At the same time, traditional churches, do not be afraid of modernising, and do not rely on traditions, do not add things to Jesus.  I think when I come to the concluding series, the word ‘balance’, as is key in all the posts found on this blog, will be used and I think in worship we need to find this balance.  I love traditional worship, my background is mainly in traditional worship, but I believe we are missing out.

To modern worship leaders, open a hymn book; be inspired by the words that you read. Include hymns in worship; lead the congregation in amazing praise to Jesus, the father and the spirit.  Do not be stifled by tradition, but let this be a new era for the church, where old meets new, where the Lord is lifted high, and where we can reach a greater level of unity and not trifling differences separate us.  However we worship: if Christ is central and God is glorified, praise Him!