The Heart of Worship

What is it about Matt Redman‘s song “The Heart of Worship” that makes two of my blogging friends, Alastair and Eddie, list it as one of “The Worst Worship Songs Ever”? I am glad that at least Lingamish has jumped in to defend it.

Matt Redman writes amazing worship songs, which are for good reasons very popular at my church. One of my favourites is “Blessed Be Your Name”, which is especially helpful for those who are going through a difficult time; as explained here, Matt and his wife Beth wrote this in part in response to the 9/11 attacks.

Now I can understand some of Alastair’s criticisms of “Heart of Worship”, and especially the irony of a song including the line “Though I’m weak and poor” being a favourite of “all those well-fed, Middle-Class White Christians”. But before he or anyone else criticises this song they should be aware of its background. I found an interesting short article on the history of this song. This, like “Blessed Be Your Name”, is a song which was written in a particular context, in this case of a church which was focussing too much on the musical and technical side of worship and tending to leave God out of it – something for which Redman and his congregation did need to apologise to God. This explains the otherwise strange lines which Alastair quotes. Presumably this song remains appropriate for use in similar contexts, which may be quite often, especially for worship leaders and bands who easily lose sight of the one they are supposed to be worshipping.

Of course the song has become popular not only where it is obviously appropriate to the context. Worship leaders may have chosen it because this message is needed for themselves and for their bands, so I can’t condemn them for doing so. But if it is being used inappropriately, that does not make it a bad song, but just one that does not fit the occasion.

So, what is the heart of worship? As Redman reminds us in this song, it is not the music, or the words, or the technical excellence of performance. Nor is it judging a worship leader or band, or a song writer, for deficiencies in any of these. Yes, we can all be distracted by a bad song or a bad rendering of it and start judging it, but this is not what we should be focussing on in worship. Instead, as Redman writes, “It’s all about You, Jesus”. The heart of Christian worship should never be anything but Jesus.

PS: Some of the sites linked to above may be breaching copyright; use at your own risk.

10 thoughts on “The Heart of Worship

  1. “The Heart of Worship” feels really wrong and creapy to me. Like putting a contribution in the collection and then announcing “Look! I put a lot of money in there! But I don’t want anyone to know about it because I’m really humble!”

    I’m not saying anything about Redman’s intentions. Maybe I’m saying a lot more about myself than about anyone else! It just feels like a double- and triple-guessing guilt game. I’m not sure whether it’s pride or it’s guilt, but whatever it is, it makes me feel further from God, not closer.

    That’s all a totally personal reaction and not a considered intellectual criticism of the song.

    I love ‘Blessed be your name’.

  2. Perhaps the problem with “The Heart of Worship” is that it was not really intended for congregational worship, it is more of a personal testimony song which has been taken over, not always appropriately, for congregational singing.

  3. I only came across Heart of Worship comparatively recently (as a product of a traditionalist Anglo-Catholic background all these modern “pop songs” were anathema). But I like it, it makes an important point. Most especially, when discussing it with my mother-in-law, who happens to be a Royal-College-of-Music accredited composer of choral anthems and such like, she pointed out something that should have already been obvious to me: why shouldn’t the Bride of Christ sing a song of intimate longing to the Groom?

    I too love Blessed be your name. And Doerksen’s ‘The River’… and a few others…. my musical education is proceeding apace!

  4. I too like “Heart of Worship” though it isn’t my favorite. I like to see it in the mix when appropriate. I would suggest that some worship leaders at least need to spend just a bit more time thinking about the music they use and listening to the Spirit.

    It seems to me that some leaders use a selection of the congregation’s favorites without regard to the message of the day. Others (such as our current worship leader at my home church) seem to be on a theme, coordinated with the message, and lead the congregation past some of their favorites.

    It seems to me like many of the complaints about “Heart of Worship” could be attributed to it being used when the time wasn’t quite right. I know I’ve heard it used precisely as needed, and saw it have great impact on my life and the lives of those around me.

  5. Peter, I agree, it is all about Jesus at the heart of worship. But I still think that the way we express worship matters. And I think that worship should be culturally contextualised: African tribes singing Western songs with Western instruments and Western rhythm just doesn’t seem right, to highlight an extreme example.

    I also love “Blessed by your name”, although confusingly I recently read a critique of the theology of “the Lord gives and takes away” by Greg Boyd, he tells us that Satan takes away, and the Lord gives.

  6. Thanks, Alastair. I agree with you about worship in Africa, although it should be for Africans to decide what is appropriate for themselves.

    I guess Greg Boyd had not read Job 1:21, quoted in this line.

  7. Pingback: Threads from Henry’s Web » Blog Archive » Worst Worship Song

  8. Henry claims that I am “discussing the “worst worship song””. Well, thanks for the link, Henry, but actually I am trying to stop discussion of the worst worship song. I have two objections to such discussions. One is that a song which is bad in some circumstances is probably good in others, so “worst” is meaningful only in a particular context. The other is that during times of worship people should not be judging the songs, but worshipping.

  9. “The Heart of Worship” is that it was not really intended for congregational worship, it is more of a personal testimony song which has been taken over, not always appropriately, for congregational singing.

    Yes, I can see it being very much more a personal testimony about a particular instance.

    I suppose if one is being really pendantic, there are a million times in worship when I’m thinking about things other than God in Christ. It’s just wierd to have such a sentiment being suddenly thrust upon one in a hymn slot – which is what usually happpens.

  10. “Yes, we can all be distracted by a bad song or a bad rendering of it and start judging it, but this is not what we should be focussing [sic] on in worship.”

    I agree with you Peter. But like everyone else, I’m a human that has the tendency to be distracted, too. What we are saying is that, composers, band players, and everybody else involved in leading the worship should ‘help’ us not to get distracted too easily and help us to be focused in God.

    I come from the Philippines where we speak English as our second language. Matt Redman’s song is a trap, especially the line that is almost always rendered as:
    “I’m sorry Lord for the things I made it.” It hurt my ear hearing and singing that badly structured line. Later, after checking the official lyrics, I found out that the ‘I’ there should have been an “I’ve.” Oh well…

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