Does Stillness Have a Place in Modern Worship?

August 10, 2014

When I first started going to church with my husband, we attended a small Episcopal church. After the service, I would comment on my opinion about how the worship had gone that Sunday. Now when I said “worship,” I meant the selection of songs, music and singing during the portion of service where the congregation sang as lead by the worship leader. My worship experience in charismatic churches and working at Integrity Music for 11 years had framed my context. He seemed puzzled and would say that “worship” meant the entire liturgy or service, not one portion of it when we were singing.

This was a revelation for me. I had attended liturgical services for several years, but I had always made a distinction between singing worship songs and the rest of the service. I started rethinking my perspective, and realized that the entire service was worship, including, moments of quiet meditation, recitation of ancient prayers, the Nicene Creed, call and response, communion…you get the picture.

I believe that it is only in modern day culture that we have experienced this sharp delineation of singing praise in song as “worship” vs. the rest of the service, not to mention our activities between Monday and Saturday (Rom. 12:1).

So this challenges us with several questions. One of which I stumbled across today: “Does stillness and quiet have a place in modern worship.” When I read that question, if I’m really honest, I almost laughed out loud. My first thought was, “Of course! How else can we even begin to hear God, if we don’t allow some time and space for stillness in our own lives and in corporate worship.” But then I backed off from my sanctimonious pulpit, and let the question soak in a bit.

I think it’s wonderful that Nathan Gantz is addressing this earnest question in his recent article in ReThinking Worship.

A few days ago I was speaking to a couple of our young worship leaders. They were asking if a particular song was appropriate for congregational use. It’s a slower song, rather introspective and could make it difficult for some to engage. My response may or may not have been what they expected.

I asked them to step back and think philosophically about their question.  We began a conversation to decide if stillness and quiet have a place in the modern worship service. Our conclusion is that as a congregation collectively matures in their worship there is more liberty to engage with uncommon forms of worship. Stillness requires maturity because it has the capacity to make someone feel uncomfortable, agitated or nervous. Maturity is also required in order to find value in the contemplative because it demands the ability to focus on The Lord without external influence and motivation. Particularly for young people, this is difficult to do. My goodness, a teenager will barely brush their teeth without external motivation. Am I right!?

This serious discussion dramatically reflects our culture’s disconnection and dissonance heavily influenced by stimulation saturation. I commend Mr. Gantz for engaging the young worship leaders with an understanding of this generation’s milieu and using it as a teachable moment.

I also recognize that many young people I know have a deep-rooted longing for quiet, meditative times. As he points out, there are numerous scriptural references supporting the need for stillness and meditation, citing Ps. 46:10, Ps. 77:12 and Is. 30:15. Mr. Gantz goes on to say,

The Bible teaches us that there are appropriate times to be introspective, still and meditative. King David was consistent in his meditation; a process lost on many Americans. I find that Americans often believe meditation to only be a ritual of foreign religions, but it most certainly is not.

That being said, I recommend being still before The Lord in your personal worship. Be still before The Lord in prayer. And out of the abundance of your relationship with Jesus, lead the congregation in a moment of stillness. See what happens. You may have to preface the moment, but that’s ok. Say something like “We are going to take a moment and simply play. I want to encourage each of you to close your eyes and take a moment to think about the good things that God has done for you. This doesn’t have to be weird or uncomfortable. We will only take about a minute and jump right back into this chorus.”

All of us, young and old, are swayed by the barrage of today’s frenetic images, sounds and pace. There are a myriad of distractions vying for our attention and heart’s affections. God knows we have a deep need for quiet and stillness. He wants to bring us times of refreshing and restoration, and it is a gift to worship Him in spirit and truth, whether with a joyful noise or in quiet devotion as we wait upon Him. How do you make space for quiet and stillness in your life?

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