Our goal as we worship at my church is that the time of worship would be effective. "Effective" means producing a definite or desired result, efficient. What is your desired result when you come into a worship service?
The Bible is full of references to praise... times when people offered praise through song, through sacrifice, etc. The Bible also teaches us HOW to praise... when to praise... what praise is and more. We want to give God our best praise, so we need to dig in and learn more about it so we can do it effectively!
Our acts of praise and worship are not only songs as we often think, but also include our actions, our giving, our speech, and so forth. For this post, we will look specifically at our praise through singing.
In Eph. 5:18b-19 (NLT), the apostle Paul writes "...be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
So this notes three types of songs to sing as we make music to the Lord in our praise and worship. Also note that this is referring to corporate times of worship. Paul writes this same thought in Col. 3:16 as well. So if we look into the original language and translations from the Bible, as opposed to our opinions and modern thoughts, what are these three types of songs??
1) PSALMS - "psalmos" - a striking or twitching with the fingers on musical strings; a sacred song, sung to musical accompaniment, a psalm.
This passage is not referring specifically to singing direct text from the book of Psalms in the Bible. It is more general and is a sacred song, sung with musical accompaniment, or even just instrumental music.
2) HYMNS - "humnos" - a song of praise addressed to God. Usually people think a hymn is defined as an older church song that is bound in a hardcover book found in their church pew. However, we find that it is really a general label for a song of praise to God. So based on what a hymn actually is, regardless of what some may think, we see that every song that we sing at my church is a hymn! :) All of the songs found in traditional hymnals are still good and have their place... I am not dismissing them... but we should choose to sing songs based on what we believe God is leading us to do, regardless of how new or old the song is, who wrote it, or what book it can or can not be found in.
In the New Testament, there are times where the "Psalms" from the Old Testament are referred to as hymns in general. For example, the Last Supper as we read about in Matt. 26:30 (NIV) says "When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives." Contrary to popular belief, they didn't sing "Amazing Grace" or "There Is Power In The Blood". While those are great songs... this is just saying that they sang a song of praise. It was likely something found in the book of Psalms, possibly something from chapters 113-118.
3) SPIRITUAL SONGS - "ode" (song) "pneumatikos" (spiritual). Songs that are sung in or by the aid of the Holy Spirit. See 1 Cor. 14:14-16 (NLT).
Spiritual songs could be spontaneous or prophetic in nature. They could be a song sung by the worshiper to God... or could be a song sung by God THROUGH the worshiper. When God sings through a believer, He prophetically reveals His heart to his people. This is done to bring edification, exhortation and comfort to the church. "Spiritual Songs" are often referred to by people as prophetic worship or free worship. In the Bible, I believe often this is referred to as a "new song".
Psa. 96:1-4 (NIV) "1 Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth..."
Psa. 40:3 (NIV) "He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God..."
Psa. 98:1, 4-6 (NIV) "1 Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things..."
Psa. 149:1 (NIV) "Praise the Lord. Sing to the Lord a new song..."
What is a "new song"? A prophetic song of praise to the Lord. Prophetic... a song about the future? No, not necessarily. Prophetic is not just about revealing the future, but it is more about revealing Jesus. It is the word of the Lord coming forth through a willing vessel, saying what He wants to be said. Giving direction. Giving correction. In the realm of worship, the prophetic could be anything that further reveals Jesus.
This could be...
...a spontaneous song done at the leading of the Holy Spirit that speaks what the Father's heart is saying to the body.
...a moment of waiting quietly, maybe silently, as God speaks to our hearts.
...a moment of free worship where we just play and sing freely unto the Lord with no structured song, but just flowing from our hearts, and the Spirit speaks through the worship leaders a message or a prayer that reveals God's heart for that moment.
...an instrumental break where a musician worships through his/her instrument and that anointed music... without even words... reveals Jesus. The presence of the Lord is being ushered in, just through the playing of that instrument.
We see a couple of examples of this in the Old Testament with Elisha in 2 Kings 3:15 and also with David in 1 Samuel 16:23.
Prophetic worship doesn't have to be spontaneous though. In preparation for a service, God can lead the worship leader or pastor to do a specific song, human video, maybe something that's very old, maybe even write a brand new song... and it might be used just in that service and never again. It's for that time.
As I stated, our goal as we lead worship is that the time of worship would be effective... producing a definite or desired result. The goal and end result should be to connect with God.
Stepping out in this realm of worship is scary. What if no one else goes with me? Sometimes I will have a simple leading to change gears and go in another direction. It may be a specific song... but it may just be a line or two to sing out. But then what? As the leader, I have to be willing to step out and see where God leads from there. Or I can stay in a comfort zone and miss out on what God wanted to do at that moment.
The truth is that when a leader steps out like this, we likely do not see the full picture. We don't know exactly where things are going... and may not even know the extent of what happened in that moment until people share and testify later.
The purpose of singing psalms, hymns or spiritual songs is not for anyone's entertainment or to make any individual look good, but it is for effective praise and worship to God.
Rev. 5:9-13 (NIV) talks about the four living beings and the 24 elders around the throne in heaven... "9 And they sang a NEW SONG, saying: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.' 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying: 'Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!' 13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: 'To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!'"
Lord, may our praise and worship be effective and pleasing to You! As we sing to You a new song, come and inhabit our praises... take us further as we move deeper into Your presence!