A problem with communal singing and communal praying and any form of communal liturgy is that at some point someone is saying or singing things they don’t mean. In church. I’m not sure I would call that lying in church, but I’m not not sure either. Maybe most of us have told worse lies than that we’re “waiting here for you,”when we’re not really waiting or that “We raise our white flag. We surrender all to you,”when surrender just isn’t happening at the moment. Or “Holy Spirit, you are welcome here,”when we would prefer the Holy Spirit not meddle so much in our business.
But maybe this fits with our whole approach to church—we put on our best clothes and our best facade and pretend like we are better than we are. Many of us are educated, whether through Sunday school or seminary, far past our level of obedience. We are better pretending than we are obeying. So why would we not expect to sing songs that make us sound like we are more godly than we are?
If we’re honest this isn’t just our approach to church. Many of us are in a constant tension between expressing who we are and expressing who we wish we were, and we have the tools to filter and photoshop our expressions into better versions of ourselves.
Are our worship songs like our Instagram filters, helping us express ourselves in a manner that is, well, better than we truly are? Are these songs that may be true of Charles Wesley or the Torwalts but are way beyond our level of spiritual maturity or commitment? Maybe. Probably.
Or maybe they are something else. Worship is certainly at times expression. We get that. Many of us have sung things like, “Spirit, lead us where our trust is without borders”or “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love”and meant them as much as we have ever meant anything. They were true of us in the moment.
What may be less obvious is that worship can also be formation. Throughout the Bible we see instances where things change when God speaks—people healed, light created, hearts changed. But maybe some things change when we speak too. Maybe singing of God’s greatness allows us to experience it. Maybe singing of God’s grace helps us receive it. Maybe confessing our proclivity towards sin helps us to repent. Maybe singing of the joy of the Lord helps us overcome our depression. Maybe singing a song of hope helps deliver us from despair. Maybe singing that we were blind and now see actually helps us to see, and singing that we surrender all helps us to let go.
Maybe we need to lie in church with the hope that one day the words we sing might be true of us.