I love to worship at the MOUNTAIN top, be called out upon the WATERS, praise God when the SUN comes up and there's a new DAY dawning, and watch God split the SEA so I can walk right through it, 'cos in OCEANS deep my faith will stand.
I love the nature metaphors we go back to time and time again in worship. Our Creator God made all this and it is definitely good.
But honestly, it's also lacking something. It's not a complete picture of my day to day reality. Nor does it reflect the day to day reality of most of my neighbours.
I guess I'd like something more in worship. Something grittier, something truer to my context...
As someone who lives in a city, among the poor, I've learned that where you stand determines what you see. When you stand with the marginalized and the poor, you come to worship from a different perspective. And sometimes it can be jarring to enter a worship space that is so far removed from everyday life.
So, for the handful of worship leaders and songwriters who haven't yet been offended by this blog, here are a few things I'd like you to keep in mind when you're writing or choosing your next song:
1. The majority of us are CITY-DWELLERS
I've lived the majority of my adult life in an urban poor community in an Asian capital city. I'm a city boy, more likely to be found in a roadside cafe than a seaside beach chair.
In fact, it's not just me - the MAJORITY of the world's population lives in cities, surrounded by people and concrete - not trees and oceans.
Teach us how to encounter God in our everyday context, not just the rare occasion when we get away from the city. We desperately need to learn to worship God in everyday smog-filled, car-horn honking life.
Imagine if we had a theology that taught us that God leads us out to "tred the streets" not just "out upon the waters". Imagine if we had a theology that encouraged us to worship God from a "high-rise" or "slum shack" as well as a "mountain top" or "valley-low".
Now that's something I could do everyday, instead of just once a year while on vacation.
2. We need to encounter God in CROWDS as well as solitude
A lot of our worship theology is tied up with encountering God in solitude (which is usually only found in nature - or suburbia). But times have changed, and we need new wine bottles (or new wineskins if you prefer).
I just got back from Hong Kong, and the crowds there blew my mind. The streets were crowded with people - both rich and poor. And each and every one of those people is made in the image of God. Isn't that an awesome opportunity to encounter God?
It's an invitation from Jesus to develop stillness in our heart, rather than stillness from our surroundings - which is quite unlikely in urban contexts.
And in fact, Jesus already taught us to encounter Him in other people, saying, "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for ME..."
I long for eyes to see God at work in the people around me. Yes, peace "like a river" does attendeth my soul very occasionally.
But frankly, where I live, I'm much more likely to experience God's peace from the gentle hug of a friend, on the street corner, in the eyes of a homeless man, or in the laughter of a foster child, than beside a flowing river.
3. God's heart is for JUSTICE
A lot of churches I know do celebration really well. It's fun. It's lively. It's exhausting. They're all about the trumpets and the joy and the triumph. They love to party in God's presence! And yes, celebration is GOOD. Sometimes it is wonderful.
But as Pete Rollins points out, a church that only knows how to celebrate can become like a spiritual crack house - a place we go to get our regular fix, our weekly high (which has to get more and more intense in order to give the same satisfaction). Then we come back down to the real world on Monday morning and wait desperately until we can get our next Sunday fix.
But that's not a healthy or balanced way to live our lives with God. God calls us to mourn with those who mourn - and sometimes WE are those who mourn. Sometimes the world is all messed up. Sometimes it's a broken, evil place and His Kingdom has not yet come in full.
Those of us who work with the poor know this deeply - there are days, even seasons, when we simply need to weep. And going to a party, when your best friend just died of cancer, just feels awful.
The Bible is fully one-third lament and yet sadly a lot of churches don't even know what that word means. When was the last time you heard a sermon about lament? I suspect a lot of us would be pretty uncomfortable if Jesus came to our church and wept.
So let's learn together to cry out to God in pain and brokenness, as well as celebrate and party.
Here's my friend, Tom Wuest, with a beautiful worship song of lament:
“O, this night is dark indeed
while we’re waiting for the light
for the nations to be judged
and the powers to be put to shame.
O Lord, spare your poor, save our soul
from our violence, oppression,
fear and anxiety.
Although I am weeping
Lord help me keep sowing
seeds for the day when Your
peace will arise with the dawn.
When the bombs we are dropping
And the guns I keep firing
melt in the face of the just
as Your Kingdom comes.
Now I sow in tears
That one day I might weep with joy
When the mountains drip with wine
And we beat, beat, beat our swords
I'd like to worship God from the reality of the world I live in. I'd like to learn how to see and connect with God while surrounded by people, not just nature. And I'd like to worship God through the tears I shed for the brokenness around me.
Perhaps you're longing for more in worship too? Or perhaps you've discovered some beautiful justice-infused, reality-based worship music you can share in the comments.
In the meantime, I leave you with this song - another one written by my friend Tom Wuest...