A shortcoming of contemporary worship music is a frequent sense of overconfidence in one’s own worthiness. There is a severe lack of penitence and contrition among the popular spiritual songs of today, particularly in the mainstream. There are, of course, more excellent local and grassroot corners of the contemporary worship music movement that are much more biblical, especially Psalms-based, but you kind of have to know where to look in order to find them.
One of the issues this relates to is the idea of offering God worthy praise. There is a common assumption (usually taken up and reinforced) in contemporary music that our heart-felt worship is worthy of God. This falls apart at the definition of heart-felt, however. The human heart, the Scriptures tell us, is full of evil and deceit. No matter how much emotion and enthusiasm we muster up, our worship of God will always be imperfect, as long as we are sinners. Only the fully redeemed, sanctified, and glorified Church in Heaven offers God truly perfect praise. The Psalms are full of reminders of our imperfect praise: Psalm 51’s prayer “open my lips and mouth will proclaim your praise” shows that it is the Lord who opens our lips and enables us to worship him; Psalm 15 reminds us that only the sinless Saint is truly worthy to enter into God’s presence.
John Mason’s hymn Now from the altar of my heart is another example of this reality.
Now from the altar of my heart
Let incense flames arise;
Assist me, Lord, to offer up
Mine evening sacrifice.
Minutes and mercies multiplied
Have made up all this day;
Minutes came quick, but mercies were
More fleet and free than they.
New time, new favor, and new joys
Do a new song require;
Till I shall praise thee as I would,
Accept my heart’s desire. Amen.
Like many contemporary songs, this hymn expresses the desire to worship God in an honest heart-felt manner. But it also devotes its second stanza directly to the issue of our sinfulness – the need for God’s mercy was more frequent than the passage of minutes! To many modern ears, such an assertion sounds like an exaggeration… we’re not really that sinful are we? Regardless, the hymn ends with the acknowledgement that we desire to worship God for all his mercies, and asks him to accept what we do offer until we reach the point when we finally can and do worship him as we wish we could.
Give this some thought today, and perhaps pull it up to sing at Evening Prayer tonight?