Dear Randpark United friends,
The passing of Billy Graham led to a flurry of publishing ink appraising his ministry. As with Madiba, many people have an all-or-nothing view: he either ‘walks 6 inches off the ground’ or he is a ‘villain who politicised the Gospel’. In all the noise, however, is a little gem of insight where Mr Graham answers a question with circumspection and wisdom.
Here is the question addressed to Billy Graham and republished in the Kansas City Star:*
“DEAR BILLY GRAHAM: Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but from time to time our church’s music director introduces new songs into the service, and I don’t care for them. I like the old hymns, and wish he’d just stick with them. Should I complain to our pastor? — E.W.
“DEAR E.W: I know this has been a controversial issue in many churches, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers, especially since I’m not particularly musical! But we have a singing faith, and God has given us the gift of music to praise him. The Psalmist declared, “With singing lips my mouth will praise you” (Psalm 63: 5).
“Instead of complaining to your pastor (or anyone else), I urge you to ask God to help you be grateful for all music that points us to God, new or old. No, you may not like some of it, but others do, and God can use it in their lives to encourage them and bring them closer to Christ. Remember: The old hymns you like were once new, and someone probably didn’t like them, either!
“Sometimes, I’m afraid, a hymn can become so familiar to us that we sing it without even thinking about the words. But this is wrong, because then our singing becomes empty and meaningless. Don’t let this happen to you, but meditate on the words of the songs you sing, and even turn them into a prayer.” – Billy Graham <end>
And there you have it, folks.
The “old hymns you like were once new, and someone probably didn’t like them either!” says Mr Graham. And he acknowledges that we don’t have to like everything, but we do need the humility to recognise that the same thing you don’t like can be edifying to a sister or brother in the next pew. In other words, if you can’t sing it for yourself, and you can’t sing it for God, maybe try to sing it for the person it does edify. To my mind, this sounds like someone with a mature faith who can lay aside their displeasure and sing a hymn or song for someone else.
The bigger issue is that the church isn’t about “Me/Myself/I”. The church is about all of us together, which is why the New Testament describes the church as “the Body”. Humility, or as Jesus described it, “the first shall be last”, enables me to feel that even if I don’t personally like something I can still recognise that someone else may like it. Or need it. And then defer my own preferences to another. This sounds more of a Christ-like attitude.
Honestly, if a hymn or a song causes you to rile up perhaps it is a spiritual maturity problem within you more than it is all about the type of hymn/music/song? We all need to examine our attitudes – “why does this peeve me so much?” is a great question – because self-awareness is the first step towards transformation. And transformation of our minds, spirits, lives, behaviour is the work of the Holy Spirit and the purpose of the Gospel, what Wesley called “sanctification”. Transformation – ‘spiritual growth’ – is so much more important than how many bible verses one can recite. Real transformation makes us more joyful, more peaceful, more hopeful, and more loving over time. Christ doesn’t want disciples who merely ‘know’ stuff, he wants disciples who live stuff! According to Acts, the first Christians were called ‘people of the Way’.
So if you find yourself getting into an ungracious spirit over the type of songs or hymns chosen for worship, then there are some things to consider: (Thanks, Billy Graham)
1. The church is not all about your personal preferences. It is a Body. A Community.
2. Showing grace means finding something to gain out of every ‘dislike’.
3. All new things require some adjustment – either time or attitude.
4. Make the best of the moment you’re in. You’re there to serve God.
5. The work of transformation doesn’t require us to click “like” but to give ourselves to it.
6. Ask yourself what a particular song or hymn may be pointing you to that is meaningful.
7. Meditate on the words, even turn them into a prayer.
8. “With singing lips my mouth will praise you” (Psalm 63: 5).
Sunday worship is a “service”. This means you’re offering yourself in ‘service’ to God and other members of The Body. Don’t let a grudging attitude steal that from you.
May you feel blessed, no matter what type of music is offered.