When hearing the word “worship,” our minds instantly go to a specific musical style, carrying familiar and straightforward messages. Admittedly, this is sometimes okay and necessary; we should expect simplicity of our Sunday experience, if we first desire to be united in praising God.
In the Psalms, however, I see a larger and more nuanced picture of how music glorifies the Lord. In addition to corporate anthems plainly singing God’s goodness, there are many intimate prayers, broken laments, and epic narratives infused with trumpets, cymbals, and harps. This kind of unusual yet heartfelt worship may rarely appear in formal church gatherings… but we can always collect such songs in our personal playlists, to fix our eyes on Jesus throughout the week.
In that same spirit, I invited the GUG staff members to share their favorite “worshipful” songs. Thanks to guidance from the Spirit, our picks came together in a way resembling that same depth and diversity of the Psalms. Fellow geeks, we hope these selections become a repeated encouragement – for whatever musical taste you prefer and spiritual circumstance you endure – to declare and remind yourself of our God’s infinite, multi-faceted, ultimately indescribable worth.
I became a Christian at 15, and because music was so important to me all my life, it was also one of the roughest parts of my transition. In misguided youth group fashion, I tossed all of my evil secular CDs into a fire. I loved metal and hardcore music, but all I could find on the internet (16 years ago) was Christian pop and soft rock that sounded a year or two behind the radio. Eventually, I discovered amazing bands – The Beloved, Underoath, As Cities Burn, August Burns Red and others – but even this lyrically “safe” music was often just general, angry yelling about the world (“righteous anger”), or whining about girls. That was the same as what I had before, and I wanted more.
Wolves at the Gate’s first album, Captors, changed my life. I had slid back into listening to music that wasn’t edifying. I’m not sure that was sin, but it was certainly a missed opportunity to worship God. Captors is heavy, full of breakdowns and screams, but it’s accompanied by melodic guitar work and clean vocals. It was the perfect mix, and most importantly, it was worship from start to finish. The song “Awaken” was played so many times during my wife’s pregnancy that it would actually comfort my newborn daughter and work as a lullaby. I had begun to simply “sit through” worship at church. That album reminded me how meaningful it is to worship our Lord and Savior.
In modern churches, we’ve distilled worship music down to a particular format, style, and mood. When I worship, I’m not subdued or reflective. I’m ready to shout, to praise him loudly and intensely, much like Psalm 150 describes. “Awaken” is a fierce, intense song, pulling from various Old Testament passages (Joshua 6:20, Jeremiah 10:6, Lamentations 3:22-23, Genesis 6:9-7:24). It affirms God’s mighty power at the outset. Then in one swift, loud verse, affirms His faithfulness, His presence, and His mercy:
Oh how you’ve proven that there is no one like you,
Ever faithful to such faithless men like us.
Oh, how you’ve shown me that this isn’t a blind faith in a distant God.
You went before me and you bore my sin.
Finally, finally, -finally- the metal genre is used not to express anger but God’s unfathomable love, so profound that we cannot help but scream.
I have been a huge fan of Adam Young and Owl City since I first heard his hit, “Fireflies”. Since then I went back to dig up his older work and have bought every album that he has released. What I love about his music is that it is always clean, always positive, and he has a fun and illustrative way of painting images with his words. Even his slower, more somber songs have a positive under-tone to them if only through a few lines of encouragement or a jab at his own awkward personality. A lot of his stuff includes surreal verbal imagery or dry humor woven in, but when it comes to his worship songs it’s very clear that it’s a subject he takes seriously.
While I was torn between two of his songs, the runner-up being “My Everything”, I had to go with his song, “Galaxies” from his “All Things Bright and Beautiful” album. “My Everything” exists in the very same playlist and while it’s beautiful and has Adam’s signature music style on it, there’s so much more energy and excitement in Galaxies that I couldn’t knock it down on my list. Galaxies was inspired by the tragic events of the Challenger and the crew that was lost when the space craft exploded. Adam thought about how he would react if he was face to face with God in an instant, but in the end he decided that regardless, God was his only North Star that guided the course of his life. The song has a lot of references to launching into space and it paints a picture: of both the excitement and the awe of the universe as a whole as it sits in the hands of God himself.
For me, the song illustrates the bigness of God and the endless possibilities of his design. Looking up at the night sky is a humbling experience. There are billions of stars and God knows each of their names. Humans can only ever hope to go as far as Mars. We profess ourselves to be so wise and advanced but we can barely set a toe outside of our front door in the grand scheme of things. As a fantasy writer, the line “He is the saving grace of the Galaxies” strikes a particular chord as well. In all the universes that we humans create, God is still God of those galaxies because all creativity comes from him– the original author, the original artist, and the original song writer.
I worship to understand my circumstances: what they mean in a grander scope and how they can strengthen my relationship with Christ. For that reason, my usual go-to’s have ponderous lyrics and are maybe a little angsty. Heh.
One that I like to sing in my time alone is “Faith Enough” – an oldie but goodie by Jars of Clay. I don’t have an easy time trusting God with outcomes; I waffle between total faith and absolute despair depending on the day.
Mercifully, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” – 2 Timothy 2:13. My prayer through the song is that what little faith I may have is met by God’s own perfect faithfulness. On my own, I’m too feeble, but in my weakness his strength is made perfect.
The song helps me to remember that even when our world is shaken, even when we can’t find any way forward – there is still rock-solid hope if our faith is in Christ. When we can’t do it, He surely can.
“Be still enough to finally tremble…See enough to know I’m blind.”
Over half of my music library is Christian Hip Hop, many songs could easily fall into the worship category. However, when making my pick I knew instantly what it would be. “Undefeated” by KB featuring Derek Minor. The song gives off an aggressive tone due to the hard beat and the way the artists deliver the lyrics, but that delivery helps bring a mightiness that suits the subject of this particular track.
The song itself was designed to be from the perspective of God himself. The lyrics are absolutely clever: both artists depict the power of the the Lord, through touching on subjects from creation to the resurrection of Christ. Some pop culture references are also thrown into the mix, such as sports, comics, and secular music. One of my favorite lines is, “If you like it you should’ve put a ring on it? I told Saturn that.”
This song is surely not your average worship song, but the artists are praising God for his power. The song ultimately encourages us to think about the fact that he created everything from outer space to putting us on this planet. The song is called Undefeated because throughout everything humanity has been through, people still continue to have faith and believe him. God is still Lord overall.
I remember my first time playing on a worship team– a Wednesday night, I was 14, and I came because my brother said they needed a bass player for the youth worship team. Up to that point, the closest thing I had to a band was playing with my brother and little sister around the house. In case you’re wondering, it was an awesome night of worship! The band clicked, God was glorified, and I’ll never forget the rush I felt contributing to that time of worship as part of the team. I had begun my musical journey as a bluegrass musician learning to play the mandolin, but later branched out to guitar, bass, drums, and piano. With new instruments came a new style, and then in addition to bluegrass, I became somewhat of a rock musician. The effects of pedals and loud music just excites me to no end, and this new playing style gave me new favorite bands. My brother then introduced me to a band called Switchfoot. I was immediately in awe as the distortion filled guitar riff of “Meant to Live” played through our stereo.
I’ve been a huge fan of Switchfoot ever since. I haven’t missed an album and when their newest one came out (Where the Light Shines Through) I was beyond excited. It’s become one of my favorite go to albums, to listen to no matter what my mood, and there’s one song in particular that stands out to me and made it’s way onto my worship playlist: “Hope is the Anthem.” It’s a song about the one thing the band said deserves an anthem, hope. As Christians, our hope is in the Lord; we put our trust in God knowing full well that He will take care of us no matter what. This song really hits me on such a personal level because it goes hand in hand with my favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 40:31 where it says that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. The chorus alone is beautiful. It goes like this:
My heartbeat, my oxygen
My banner, my home
My future, my song
Your hope is the anthem of my soul
Worship is an amazing thing. It’s a time when we put everything happening in our lives aside, recognizing God alone as the creator of all things and worthy of all the glory. Our hope in Him should be more common than oxygen, the very air that we breathe. Our hope in Him isn’t somewhere that we go in our time of need, it’s somewhere that we must live. It’s the anthem of the Christian soul.
I realize that after hearing our God glorified in everything from hip-hop to metalcore, “Further Up/Further In” may first appear anti climactic. Musically, My Epic subdues their sound in this track to mellow mysterious riffs and clean vocals, steadily building in volume and gradually bursting in emotion. It’s in the lyrics, however, that the song shines and needs minimal flair of instruments– familiar feelings of desire and regret are connected to the (often overlooked) hope that Jesus will return and restore all things.
The description of God in which “Further Up/Further In” begins is intensely personal: He stoops down into time and overwhelms the songwriter’s senses (though He completely transcends both), whispering an invitation to friendship and adventure in the Old Testament’s most tender language “come away my love.” Yet the chorus cries out “joy weakens me like a wound,” suggesting joy as C.S. Lewis understood it– a desirable state of longing tasted in stories or music or nature… but its true fulfillment is found in another world. There’s a confession, too; “I have wasted so much fear and devotion,” reflecting on vain efforts to seek satisfaction apart from the Creator.
Then, in answer to both yearning and shame, we see in the second verse a beautiful glimpse of the new heaven and new earth of Revelation 21:
In my dreams we throw all the mountains into the sea
And there’s no distance left, we all coalesce and sprint across the peaks
We have no blood to bleed, we need no sun to see
Time is dead, death has passed, the past is banished and forgotten. Long live the King!
That’s why the songwriter, though lamenting his years of being faithless, can still sing “there’s no time left for my regrets, when You’re calling me beloved!” It’s this line I find the most joy in singing along to. The Lord has already done so much for us – in creation, on the cross, and through His people – but the very best is still yet to come. My short-term mindset doesn’t always remember this, but “Further Up/Further In” is helping me think differently. One day soon… Jesus will bring ultimate victory over evil, eclipse our mistakes by gloriously restoring everything, and then we will stand together to worship Him as our eternal joy.
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About the Author
An ardent indoorsman, Taylor Charles Lewis's enjoyment and energy are primarily found in theology and storytelling. His favorite interests and interactions often involve the melding of the two— through reading, writing, and video games. He's lives in California, and when venturing beyond computers and books helps in youth ministry to see God's word written on human hearts.