A Garment of Praise

Garment of Praise image.jpeg

I have had many conversations with family and friends about physical expressions of worship, the fear of being inauthentic, and what to do with our feelings and emotions.

Thoughts and questions like these: 

“What if I’m having a hard time believing the words I’m singing?” 

“Isn’t it hypocritical for me to sing about joy when everyone knows I’m grieving?”

“I felt like I wanted to lift my hands in worship, but I was worried about what others might think.”

“What if I’m only responding because I’m being influenced by everyone else?” 

These thoughts come from a desire to be genuine, which is a good thing! They are very normal questions in our journey as worshippers. Unfortunately, some of these concerns and questions cause confusion, and they can lead people to the idea that it’s better for them to just observe.  

So, let’s talk through some of these things. We’ll start with the first two questions. 

“What if I’m having a hard time believing the words I’m singing?” 

“Isn’t it hypocritical for me to sing about joy when everyone knows I’m grieving?”

In 2 Samuel 6, we remember that King David danced with abandon before the Lord. And rightfully so! He brought the Ark of the Covenant, the host of the Presence, back from the house of Obed-Edom into the City of David. Can you imagine the joy for David and the members of this city? The Ark contained the Ten Commandments, Aaron’s rod, and a pot of manna - all pieces of the Jews’ history where God had shown up in powerful and miraculous ways. In this moment, they were anticipating the blessings that would come from the Ark being back in their city. So it seems appropriate that David cut loose a bit! He said, “I will become even more undignified than this!” I love it! This story will forever be a beautiful representation for the Church of what it looks like to lose all concern for your own dignity as you are completely consumed with the desire to offer everything in praise. But what was more common in David’s life and ministry was the conscious choice to surrender himself in worship despite his feelings. 

In 2 Samuel 12, David pleaded with the Lord for days to spare his friend’s son’s life. On the seventh day the child died. David got up from the ground where he had prayed. After he had taken a bath, put on lotions, and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshipped. 

In Psalm 63, when David was stranded in the desert of Judah, he says, “Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”

In Psalm 57, when David had fled from Saul into a cave, he writes, “I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed… My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music.”

In Psalm 43, David speaks to his own soul and says, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

You see, sometimes our worship is an overflow of how we are feeling towards the Father. We are overcome with joy or celebration, and it’s almost as if praise is exploding out of us. It’s easy and effortless. What sweet moments those are! But more often than not, worship becomes the path that directs our feelings in the way they should go. Worship is the place where we meet face to face with Jesus, the One who is so very acquainted with grief. Worship actually helps shift our feelings of hopelessness (specifically, feelings about God and His character). Because let’s be honest, we cannot always trust our thoughts and feelings to lead us well. In times of anxiety or grief or fatigue, we make the conscious choice to open our mouths to sing or raise our hands in praise, and we watch as our thoughts come in line with truth. My friends, this is not hypocrisy. This is us making the choice to stay the course! This is us waging war against the enemy and the lies he is throwing at us. This is how we fight our battles. 

Here are a few scenarios that could be relatable:

My friend was just diagnosed with cancer. I also know God is good. So I will sing and declare His goodness over my situation until I believe it. Faith begins to rise.

My spouse just lost their job and we have 4 children. I also know God is Provider. So I will sing and declare His provision over my situation until I believe it. Trust begins to rise.

I have just made the biggest mistake of my life, and I’m filled with shame. I also know God is Redeemer. So I will sing and declare His grace over my situation until I believe it. Hope begins to rise. 

I am walking through a divorce. I also know God has never left my side. So I will sing and declare His love over my situation until I believe it. Peace begins to rise. 

Catching on yet? 

Also, I need to add this: We are not to be afraid of our emotions, tears, or feelings of disappointment. We have to be aware of what’s in our own hearts, because God actually lives there! It is, in fact, impossible to be intimate with God without being aware of our emotions. We don’t worship to avoid our feelings. We worship as a way to process through them with a loving Father. 

Let’s look at the next couple thoughts.

 “I felt like I wanted to lift my hands in worship, but I was worried about what others might think.”

“What if I’m only responding because I’m being influenced by everyone else?” 

If I could encourage you with one thing regarding the fear of what others think, it would be this: An offering of worship is solely about you and the Father. It’s not about the songs being played. It’s not about the style of music or the denomination. It’s about this sacred moment in time where we have gathered to honor Him. If you were face to face with Jesus in the flesh, what would you give Him - physically, verbally, sacrificially? What would you talk to Him about? What would it look like if you walked into a worship setting and your only concern was encountering Him?

So, it’s time to ask Him what He desires of you. And if you don’t feel the freedom to respond in the way He is calling you, why is that? Have you created rules for yourself? Maybe it’s time to surrender those limitations. Also, if you’re wondering what this is supposed to look like, we have the perfect example right in the Word of God! He paints a beautiful picture of what worship looks like privately, corporately, and in the throne room. There will always be new songs and styles, but I believe our response should look the same as it did then. And my favorite part is this: He has given us this gift of worship because He longs to connect with us. He wants to spend time with us, to be close to us, to give us hope. What a good Father! 

Here are a few verses that can show us how to participate with Him in worship:

Ephesians 5:18-19 - Be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 

Psalm 100:1-2 - Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth! Worship the Lord with gladness. Come before him, singing with joy. 

Psalm 149:1 - Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people. 

Psalm 95:6 - Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

Psalm 149:3 - Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

Psalm 47:1 - Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.

Psalm 134:2 - Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.

Friends, my prayer is that you begin to take hold of the weapon of worship that is available to you. May you offer your whole hearts every time there’s an opportunity to worship, and watch as your surrender in song and posture lead you into the heart and mind of Christ. We long for more of you, Jesus.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Isaiah 61:1-3

-Emily Davis 

Have We Lost Artistic Expression In Church Music?


Church music always has and always will be a hot topic in church culture. The expression and execution of music in the church has become one of the largest dividing factors within denominations. Regardless of whether a person holds contemporary or traditional preferences, it seems that most have heard of or discussed the prevalent allegations that contemporary Christian music is “dumbed down” or too “cookie cutter.” If you’re a church musician, you know as well as I do that as long as you can play I, IV, V, and vi (maybe a ii) chords in any pattern, you’re good to go. This same statement is true with modern pop music as well. I’m not here to discuss modern music culture as a whole, but rather, I’d like to address the following questions: have we lost the art in church music, and what are the primary goals of worship music?

    If you study music history, you know that the church, up until the last half century, has been the trendsetter for music. Many of the best composers, musicians, and venues were commissioned by the church. If you wanted to hear good music and hear it performed well, the church was a great place to do so. However, during the Reformation, Martin Luther realized that church music was not congregational and fought to redefine worship by writing choral hymns in the vernacular instead of Latin. Even during the Counter-Reformation, it is said that the Council of Trent worried that music for the Mass had over complicated itself. Legend has it that the famous composer Palestrina tried to save the polyphonic writing style in the church by simplifying his musical composition of The Pope Marcellus Mass to not distract from the lyrics. But have we swung too far in this direction? Has worship music lost most of its artistic expression and resulted in a far too simplistic music genre?

    As a musician who has played in church for 20 years and led worship for almost 15 years, I have developed my own set of goals that I’d like to achieve within a worship set. My wife Emily and I always have trouble nailing down a song list each week for our church, not because we procrastinate, but because we care deeply about the songs and lyrics we sing over our congregation. We are always analyzing the message of the lyrics, making sure the melodies are singable, deciding whether or not it’s a song our band can pull off, and if we simply resonate with the song. One of our greatest desires and goals for a worship set is participation from the congregation. 

    I remember when the song So Will I (100 Billion X) by Hillsong United came out. I sat listening to the artistry of the arrangement and the depth of the lyrics. My connection with the song ran deep. However, I thought that because of the wordiness of the melody, it would not translate well into a congregational setting. Through the leading of the Holy Spirit, we decided to play the song on a Sunday anyway. Before we started the song, someone from the congregation came up and gave testimony of what the Lord had been revealing to them that week. Through some difficult circumstances, the Lord had brought comfort and revelation to them through the song So Will I which we were about to introduce. Because of this story being shared about the song, there was an instant connection between the congregation and the song that was not expected. On the contrary, we’ve introduced songs in the past that we thought would connect instantly but that never really stuck. 

    A few years ago, I had the privilege of having a Q&A lunch with the band All Sons and Daughters. I asked Leslie, the lead vocalist and guitarist, what she thought made a song congregational and how they implemented it in their songwriting. I remember her response being something along the lines of, “I don’t think it’s just the structure of the melody or what chords you put to the song. We write songs about stories that come out of our church.” I think her point was, their church had ownership of the songs because they came from their experiences. Regardless of the song’s complexity or simplicity, people worship to songs they feel connected to or that make them feel connected to God. So, give people a connection point. Share the story behind the song or why it draws you to a place of worship. 

It is very common for a contemporary worship song to repeat the same phrase over and over, compared to a hymn that has recurring melodies, but varying lyrics verse by verse. This is another common complaint I hear about modern worship songs. My defense to this is that sometimes we have to say something over and over before we actually believe it. Singing the lyrics, “You are good, good, oh” over and over seems “surface level” and “dumbed down.” However, actually believing that God is good in every circumstance is a hard thing to grasp. These simple phrases or melodies in songs are not only easy to catch on to, but they’re usually built around a simple recurring progression. This makes it easy to build upon. For example, when Emily and I are leading worship, we are constantly praying and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what needs to be prayed over the room. If He reveals the theme of peace, we will sing a new improvisational melody over the recurring progression. It’s in these moments that we’ve found true breakthrough in our worship and invited the prophetic ministry of the Holy Spirit to be active. It’s easier to do this when it’s a recurring, four chord progression compared to the chordal, counterpoint style with a sixteen-bar, double period phrased progression often utilized in hymns. Please don’t misunderstand and think that I am against hymns. I love their rich theology and the historical heritage they offer. I am only trying to point out that just because a melodic phrase is simple and recurring doesn’t mean it has to be “surface level.”

    From a functional standpoint, many modern worship songs are written to be easily played by non-professionals. In the past, you needed an accomplished pianist or organist to accompany hymn singing. Now, it’s a lot easier for someone who is a beginner to jump in and at least strum a few chords on a guitar for the accompaniment. However, this should not eliminate the need for accomplished musicians in the church or lower the standard of excellence. It should simply open the door for more participation from musicians of all levels.

    Just because a song is built upon a four chord progression doesn’t mean it has to be musically boring or uncreative. I’ve heard amazing musicians build complex and beautiful melodies over top just one or two chords. Yes, a modern worship song can be led by a beginner guitar student strumming only the downbeats of each chord, but it can also be led with a creative arrangement played with a six piece band where each instrument has detailed, intricate parts to offer. The same goes with a hymn. I don’t have to play Amazing Grace by reading the music straight out of the hymnal. I could simply strum three chords on my guitar for accompaniment. The arrangement of a song can be as creative as you want it to be, regardless of the progression.

    My prayer is that musical preference will no longer prevent people from being able to worship or participate in a congregational setting. Let’s check our hearts. We need to find a way to connect with the Father and declare His worth even when it’s a song or style we don’t enjoy. Whether it’s hymnal singing or the most cutting-edge worship setting, let’s make the choice to overcome our preferences and set our hearts toward Him.

- Aaron Davis