Out of Words

I heard a preacher on the radio the other day who used a tootsie roll pop to illustrate sitting through a worship service to find Jesus.  I have heard numerous preachers say that even good illustrations break down at some point, but this thing started out badly in my estimation and went downhill from there.  I kept thinking, “Did this brother not consider the flippant nature of stepping down this path of drawing parallels between an experience with the Savior of the world, Creator of the universe, the Giver of life itself, and a two-cent piece of child’s candy?  I hope you will understand my sentiment when I say that it was actually painful to listen to this attempt at connecting with an audience.  To his credit, the speaker tried to clarify that he was not saying Jesus was like candy.  Some of his lengthy pauses indicated to me that he might have had second thoughts even as he tried to explain the metaphor to the listeners.  To avoid becoming cynical over the whole thing I eventually changed the channel. 

Have you ever found yourself trying to express something that you feel deeply or believe firmly, only to discover that words have a hard time measuring up?  I mean, how do you articulate just how much you love God?  Can you really put it in words?  In bearing a witness to someone, how do you explain your faith in Christ?  What makes it even more difficult is that while struggling to find an adequate word to express a conviction, you may begin to feel like you are sending a wrong message implying that you cannot think of any words at all to convey that conviction.  When it comes to words for worship it is not always simple to find verbiage that appropriately expresses what is in our hearts, much less what would be appropriate to represent the respect, praise, and glory due Him to reflect something of Who He is.  You may think this lack of verbiage is a bad thing, but I want to invite your consideration of its value.  Being at a loss for words causes me to take pause.  When writing I often get stuck, and have to just get up and leave the computer for awhile – returning later to see that the cursor is still blinking in the spot where I was stuck.  Sometimes the very fact that I lack words that seem adequate to express worship for God reminds me that He truly is “Holy Other – wholly other.”  Our inability to describe our faith, much less describe Him adequately, can point us to the sense of mystery that surrounds Him.  And yet…Sunday’s comin.’  Sermons must  be preached. Songs must be sung.  While hopefully they are not coming to take a lick on a toosie pop, people will be at church on Sunday and you have to select music to sing; words to place on the lips of the people.  Those words are to serve the purpose of worship; to express something of who God is; what He has done, and how He can change lives.  If we will let it, that sense of the inadequacy of words can push us to find the best words.  If a metaphor feels inadequate to express attributes of God, it probably needs to be sidelined.  I may have to dig a little deeper to find something.  When a song lyric seems to come short in expressing praise appropriate to the worship, there may be a better one to be found.  I firmly believe that for the worship planner, the digging and the finding become worship.  As always, our first place to look for right words is the Word itself, the Holy Bible.  Whatever I choose for worship must lineup to the teaching of scripture.

Most musicians are familiar with the anonymous quotation, “for heights and depths no words can reach, music is the soul’s own speech.”  We like that phrase because it helps validate our art.  The same musicians would have to be honest to say, however, that we can be just as lost for a musical phrase to express our heart in worship as we would be for words to convey it.  In evaluating music for worship expression we are left, perhaps, to our own sensibilities about what is “good” and appropriate to the context in which we serve.  There is not room for that discussion here, but suffice it to say, it can be a very good thing to take pause when selecting music for worship to ask similar questions as with the words for worship,” Is this an appropriate expression?”  Do I need to keep digging to find a more fitting song?

Worship planners and leaders, take heart.  Your sense of inadequacy can remind you of His sufficiency!

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (1 Cor 12:8-9)

Two song texts from two hymnals compiled by Baptists come to mind.  One is from the new Baptist Hymnal – Lifeway, and the other is from the Celebrating Grace hymnal.

“There is none like you.

No one else can touch my heart like you do

I could search for all eternity long and find

There is none like You”

Lenny LeBlanc ©1991 Integrity

Baptist Hymnal #109

“Too splendid for speech, but ripe for a song:

The wonders of God to whom we belong!

What tune can we sing? What rich chords can we play

To honor the potter who formed us from clay?”

Thomas Troeger ©1996 Oxford Press

Celebrating Grace Hymnal #18



Explore posts in the same categories: Leading Worship, Singing Worship, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts

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