I come from a very musical family. When I was a child, my brother and I formed a guitar trio with our dad. My mum jokingly referred to us as The Von Sketts, but we were eventually named by one of the people in our church as Los Skettos. I know – cringe.
There's something powerful about music. It is present wherever we go, from the background music in the local supermarket to the off-key renditions of 'Don't stop me now' sung on the dance floor at wedding receptions. It would be perfectly normal to ask someone you've recently met what kind of music they're into – and probably abnormal if they were to reply, 'I'm not into music really'. Insert shocked emoji here.
We all sing. Whether or not we do it well is a separate issue. We don't all sing in public; for some people, singing is reserved entirely for their shower time. Some people sing all the time, and others sing only occasionally. My brother is someone who will sing wherever he goes, while my dad mainly just sings jingles whenever someone uses a phrase from the advert. However or whenever we do it, singing is hard-wired within us as a way of expressing ourselves.
I used to wonder why singing was such a big part of church gatherings. I've always enjoyed singing, but it did seem odd to me. It wouldn't be normal anywhere else. But what I've discovered is that it kind of is normal. In fact, in other areas where people gather the singing is more passionate than it is in church sometimes. If you've ever been to a football match or a night club you'll know what I mean.
Sung worship is a vitally important part of Christian life. There's something powerful about voices together, praising God through songs which stir the heart with the truths of Scripture. Football fans sing about the merits of their team, or how awful their rivals are; clubbers sing mostly about sex, it seems. Christians sing about the Creator of the universe, the One who flung the stars into space and who knitted us together in our mothers' wombs, the saviour who chose to die a criminal's death so that we could come into relationship with him! Just take a moment to let that sink in and remind yourself of the glory of the God we worship. In the light of all that, how could we not sing?
Singing has been part of worship in the church since the very beginning. Jesus and his disciples sang together (Matthew 26:30); Paul and Silas sang together in prison (Acts 16:25); Paul directed believers to sing together regularly (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16); hymn singing was a regular part of early church worship (1 Corinthians 14:26).
Graham Kendrick is one of my personal heroes of the faith. He wrote some of the most powerful, biblical and uplifting songs I've ever sung in church. He defines worship like this:
'Worship is for God. He is our Creator, and the worship of his creatures is both his right and his pleasure. Worship is first and foremost for his benefit, not ours, though it is marvellous to discover that in giving him pleasure, we ourselves enter into what can become our richest and most wholesome experience in life.'
I find that definition really helpful. We all know on some level that worship is not about us, but far too often we make it about us. Maybe you've heard people say things like, 'I don't feel like worshipping today,' or, 'I can't engage with this song.' I remember hearing one pastor respond to statements like this very bluntly, 'I didn't realise it was all about you!'
The Anglican liturgy contains some wonderful truths. One such truth is found in the second eucharistic prayer, which reads, 'It is right to give him thanks and praise. It is indeed right; it is our duty and our joy at all times and in all places to give you thanks and praise, Holy Father, Heavenly King, Almighty and Eternal God, through Jesus Christ your only Son our Lord.'
Worship is both our duty and our joy. Our joy over what Jesus has done for us on the cross expresses itself in worship, sometimes spontaneously and certainly emotionally. However, we all have times when we're just not feeling it. Perhaps we're tired, or ill, or grumpy, or going through a difficult time. It is in these moments that duty kicks in and leads us to worship. It is through our sense of duty that we understand that worship is not about us, and God deserves our worship even when we don't feel like giving it.
So what is worship? It is a lifestyle – an attitude – which seeks to give pleasure and glory to God. We express our worship to God through singing, playing instruments, giving our tithes and offerings, cooking a meal for someone, speaking life to people, doing our work, prayer, loving our neighbours, raising our kids and many other elements of life.
Worship isn't simply about what happens on a Sunday. As followers of Jesus, our whole lives are lived as an act of worship to him. Since God is interested in every single area of our lives, we can choose to view all those areas as opportunities to worship him.
How will you worship God today?
Rev Jack Skett is associate pastor at Elim Church, Selly Oak. He is the author of 'A Better Kind of Intimacy: The Price of Porn and How to Overcome it', published by Instant Apostle. Follow him on Twitter @jackskett. He also blogs on his website, jackskett.co.uk