I had been in church music publishing for years and had learned to appreciate a wide variety of styles and songs. But there were some songs I just didn’t respect, to the point that I hesitated to include them in publications. For example, I read the words to Mosie Lister’s “Where No One Stands Alone” and the Gaithers’ “There’s Something About That Name” and found nothing substantial. Yes, there was emotion, but what were the songs saying? All I saw was sentimental drivel.
Then one day I realized that when I examined a song in that way, I was only experiencing half of it. I wasn’t hearing the praise that arises from the hearts of believers for whom these songs are poignant expressions of faith. I wasn’t hearing the genuine worship these songs release when sung from a heart of worship. In the mouths of many God-fearing, Bible-believing brothers and sisters in Christ, these simple, sentimental words become powerful expressions of faith and praise to the Living God.
“Where No One Stands Alone” becomes a profound and moving statement of our loneliness without God and our deep, inexpressible hunger for Him. (It also helps to know that the song was inspired by Psalm 51.)
“There’s Something About That Name” verbalizes that indefinable attraction we feel for the man Jesus Christ.
A song is just marks on a paper or a sequence of sounds until some believer brings it to life and lifts it as an offering to God. Then it becomes a prayer or praise. Only part of it can be read on paper or heard on a recording. God often uses very humble means to speak to people and do His work. He often chooses lowly expressions of childlike faith to glorify Himself. Almighty God continues to confound the wise and to break out of whatever boxes we put Him in.
As a young person starting in music publishing, I was very negative about southern gospel music. I watched its performers. I was annoyed that so many of its songs harped on a very few emotional themes, like heaven. They made the whole style seem shallow and artificial. But working with gospel songwriter Mosie Lister, I began to appreciate southern gospel as true folk music. Its strength was its simplicity and natural exuberance. I learned to look beyond the seeming shallowness of some of its practitioners and see its tremendous potential for ministry.
On the other hand, some evangelicals hear more liturgical styles and write them off as cold, boring, and emotionless. What they don’t realize is that these believers want to hear God and exalt Him just as much as evangelicals. But they seek truth that is deeper than emotion. They long for thoughtfulness in worship. They want to taste the mystery of God. For many, quietness brings God nearer than does wild emotion.
As a hymn-lover and hymn-leader, beware of pride and narrow-mindedness, no matter what your educational level or musical style. Remember, God calls all His servants to minister with humility and compassion, to be people-centered and people-sensitive in all they do. Like Paul, we must be willing to be all things to all people so that we might reach as many as possible with the love of Jesus Christ, which crosses every boundary.