KEEPING TIME IN CHRISTIAN WORSHIP

Metronome  Sunday begins Advent. A very popular song from the late 1960’s went like this:

 Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?
If so I can’t imagine why
We’ve all got time enough to cry

The group Chicago recorded the hit song, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, written by keyboard player and lead vocalist, Robert Lamm. The top ten song called into question a kind of mindless obsession with the clock. Indeed, the frazzled lifestyle seems a far cry from the spirit of the psalmist who said, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

There is a kind of tyranny in the busy-ness of our world. Christians far too easily get caught up in a push to monetize all resources God has given us, or worse yet, forget that each moment is, in fact, a gift. We can easily find ourselves no longer using time, but rather being ruled by the clock. Sadly, many believers seem ill-equipped to deal with the conflicting worldviews that shape values associated with time. Dorothy Bass offers an illustration of Christians sitting around talking about how much work they have to accomplish through the weekend. Each one lamented they would be unable to join in Sunday worship because of their workload and deadlines. She says it hit her they were planning to break the command, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” She noted she could not imagine sitting around hatching plans to violate other commands, “I’m planning to take God’s name in vain;” “I’m planning to steal something;” “I’m planning to commit adultery.” Missing out on regular worship, however, seems to be an anticipated, almost “acceptable” sin. It strikes me that we even build our sanctuaries, our houses of worship, anticipating that at least half of our congregation(s) will not be present for regular gathered worship on any given Sunday. Hebrews 10:24-25 calls for better participation in regular repeated gatherings.  

The Bible shows us God’s care for time very early in its revelation of the grand story. By separating darkness and light He created day and night. Dorothy Bass says that in the hymn of Genesis 1:1 – 2:4, time’s first measure is counted out: “a first day, a second day, a third day,” and so forth. Continuing the musical metaphor she says, “On the beat, God creates; on the offbeat, God pauses to see that what has been created is good. Indeed, after the last beat, at the end of the sixth day on which God has created animals and human beings, the work is declared very good, and on the seventh day, the Sabbath, God rested. There is no pause, because all is pause.”[1] And yet, even in the Sabbath rest there is an understood pulse that keeps marking time.

A steady beat is the foundation of good rhythm. As a music leader I can tell you that making music gets tough when some of the music-makers lose their sense of rhythm. If someone gets the time signature wrong, drags the tempo, or drops a beat, whether it’s the director, organist, pianist, drummer, or singers, it becomes a challenge to stay together. Instead of serving as an encouraging inspiration, music can become a source of frustration and discouragement, rather quickly. We would say that it is important, especially for those leading the music, to keep time. But keeping time in worship has to do with much more than just making music, and the responsibility extends far beyond those up-fronters who give leadership.

Christian worship is built upon steady rhythmic pulse. There is a pulse in the alternation of Revelation and Response within the liturgy of worship, whether formal or informal. There is a pulse in the repeated steady beat of weekly worship, Sunday by Sunday. There is a pulse in the recurring cycle called the Christian year that pulses with the seasons that celebrate the major events of the Gospel story. Repeated patterns of regular worship together keep us in time with what God desires to do in the world. Measures of beats go together to form sections of the song, if you will, that remind us of what God has already done, while at once helping us anticipate what He will do in coming days. The season of Advent incorporates both.

Recognized as the beginning of the Christian Year, Advent prepares us for Christmas and also refreshes our anticipation of Christ’s return. The observance and celebration of Advent holds great opportunity for spiritual emphasis in our homes and church congregations through the reading of scriptures, the re-telling of the nativity, and through the imaginative anticipation of what is to come when Christ returns. More and more evangelical churches have an Advent wreath in their sanctuary and observe the four Sundays leading up to Christmas by the lighting of candles, enhanced by scripture readings and carol-singing. The same kinds of activities in the home can strengthen the message and anticipation of Christmas and may help our families understand that we are a part of God’s grand story. Leaders do well to encourage this kind of home worship by providing Advent worship guides for home, posting links for Christmas songs listening aids, as well as preparing special musical and social events for the church family and for outreach in their communities announcing Joy to the World! Maintaining and refreshing these traditions help us keep time in worship. Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come!

[1] Dorothy C. Bass Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time (San Francisco: Josey-Bass 2000) 47.

Explore posts in the same categories: Choir Ministry, Church keyboard players, Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Private Worship, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship

One Comment on “KEEPING TIME IN CHRISTIAN WORSHIP”


  1. […] MusicianWhat Does it Mean to Be a Christian MusicianWhat Does it Mean to Be a Christian MusicianKEEPING TIME IN CHRISTIAN WORSHIPChristian songsWhat Does it Mean to Be a Christian MusicianWhat Does it Mean to Be a Christian […]


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