Archive | May, 2014

The Heart of Worship

12 May

“The Heart of Worship” is a song by Matt Redman. If you’re unfamiliar, lyrics here, and youtube here. Here is some backstory on its origin.

I’ve had occasion to sing this song a few times over the weekend, and I am going to offer, not quite a critique of the song, but a philosophical critique of the underpinnings of the song.

Ostensibly the song presents itself as a song of repentance for making worship “a thing”, and promising to bring “more than a song”. These simple and earnest words, in my opinion, set the song withing a paradoxical frame that it struggles to escape.

Verse 1 says

when the music fades / and all has slipped away / and I simply come / longing just to bring / something that’s of worth / that will bless your heart.

Besides the jargonesque phrase “will bless you heart”, the key element here is “something that is of worth”. It characterises an attitude about worship, specifically musical praise, that it is an act of offering in which believers give something to God that ought to be of a value commensurate to the receiver.

I’ll bring you more than a song / for a song in itself / is not what you have required

In the next lyrics, the singer promises to bring “more than a song”. A song is not seen as sufficient, as valuable enough. God requires “more than a song”.

I suspect that this song is operating out of a framework that reifies singing as worship and treats this idea of ‘worship’ as a “thing”, a thing that we offer to God that is comparable to OT sacrifices. We bring a “thing” and we offer it to God, hoping that it will be regarded as acceptable. Worship is a “thing” that we actually do, it has an external, almost ontological, existence.

The song is actually struggling with this reality, but trapped by it. What more does God require? The language of sacrifice in the New Testament is applied by Paul in Romans 12:1 to the presentation of the body as a spiritual act of worship, and after lengthy reflection on the relationship between Old and New Covenants, the author of Hebrews says we offer up a “sacrifice of praise to God” (Heb 13:15. I want to suggest that these passages:

1. Present worship as an offering of the whole self to God throughout life (Romans 12)

2. Recognise that praise is a speech-act in which we thank, glorify, and honour God.

In this sense, a song is what is required, because the very act of saying thanks is thanksgiving. The very act of praising God is praise. The very act of worship is worship. There isn’t something ‘more’ to this. There could be something less – there could be dishonest thanks, unfelt praise, false worship, but there isn’t something ‘more’.

There’s a profound irony in Redman’s song, in that I have often criticised songs that seem more about singing than about God. Here we have a song that is about what’s wrong with making it all about singing, but it is itself a song that merely perpetuates this self-referentiality. One may sing this song, feel great about how it’s not all about singing, missing the irony that one hasn’t, in this song, actually moved beyond singing about singing.

The chorus is the best element of this song:

I’m coming back to the heart of worship / and it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus / I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it / when it’s all about you, it’s all about you, Jesus.

As a Christian song, “Heart of Worship” is actually quite good. As a congregational worship song, it strikes me inadequate. It’s as if we have come together to sing about how inadequate our singing is, but the song itself struggles to move past this. If our repentance is because we reified worship as singing into an offering of something that is fit and meet to God, this song is an attempt to offer something ‘more’, something that is more worthy of God as an offering, rather than a recognition that this very reification is itself problematic, that there is no offering to be made.

Verse 2 seems to recognise this problem:

King of endless worth / no one could express / how much you deserve. / Though i’m weak and poor / all I have is yours / every single breath

There is indeed no fitting offering that matches the worth of God, and so the offering of the whole self is the only act of devotion left to the believer. But then we are launched back into the pre-chorus, which states that we will bring ‘more than a song’. The tension is complex precisely because the song is asking us to offer all but then devaluing that very offering.

Is this a bad song? Probably not. But it’s a song with philosophical problems that struggles to escape the objectification of worship as real offering even as it critiques the failures of that reification.