By Matt Redman
Last time I began this column with a public confession of a little weakness I have. I am a word freak. I’m ashamed to admit it, but something in me just can’t get over the fact that Britney Spears is an anagram of Presbyterians. Irrelevant? Ok, I admit it.
When it comes to using words in worship, relevance is a key issue. Are we carrying untarnished truth in ways that really convey what we had hoped to? Are we engaging with culture? Are we connecting with ‘real life?’
I recently sat in on an excellent seminar given by Mark Green from the London Contemporary Institute for Christianity. During his talk he challenged songwriters to find more relevant imagery and words for use in gathered worship. As he reminded us, nothing in the Psalms was abstract or alien. The Psalmist was a shepherd so he sang about sheep. The Psalmist was a solider so he sang about shields. He went on to discuss the use of the word ‘tower’ in our worship songs. Now, I’m guessing we all have an opinion as to how relevant a word like that is in today’s culture. But Mark Green’s point was this—in Bible times the word ‘tower’ was used as a symbol of strength. Yet, in today’s culture, with the tragic events of 9/11, it may not be the very best word to convey that thought. Right now, ‘tower’ (in particular, the twin towers) is an image more associated with vulnerability and weakness than with power and strength. I’m not for one moment suggesting that any scripture referencing this word is therefore invalid or impotent. Rather, that there may be other more helpful ways of expressing the same idea in this season. And, if we must use this imagery then we will need to highlight its meaning more purposefully. (And that may actually be impossible within the confines of a song lyric.)
9/11 gives us some further clues as to how the emerging worshiping church can engage with ‘real life.’ I was on sabbatical in the USA during the immediate aftermath of those events and visited many different congregations. I was so proud of the preachers. I heard many biblical and helpful responses during that intense season of questioning. But where were the songwriters? Week after week I waited for songs that would somehow encapsulate the mood of the time—especially with so many guests flocking to church. I longed for more compositions that would help us respond before God in a wholesome way. I did come across one extremely impacting response, but it was written way outside of the walls of the Church. Bruce Springsteen’s album The Rising interpreted the times in lyric and music in such a powerful way for a broken-hearted nation. Take, for example, these lines from the song “My City of Ruins”:
“The church doors blown open
I can hear the organ’s song –
But the congregations gone…
My city of ruins, my city of ruins.”
Followed by this cry:
“Now with these hands, I pray Lord,
With these hands, for the strength Lord,
With these hands, for the faith Lord…” 
It’s a song of lament, tinged with hope.
Lament is actually a key strand in keeping worship relevant—both to the lost and the found. Lament allows Christians to be real before God. And at the same time, it enables us to have solidarity with the pain of the world. Some scholars estimate that up to 70% of the content of the Psalms are soaked in this kind of heart cry. So it’s biblical to lament. All around us every day we encounter news stories and personal encounters of pain and suffering. So it’s relevant to lament. So why in God’s name (and I mean that) are we not lamenting more in our worship?
Lament allows Christians to be real before God. And at the same time, it enables us to have solidarity with the pain of the world.
A few years ago my wife, Beth, and I wrote a song called ‘Blessed Be Your Name.’ The song sets out various life scenarios, both painful and easy, and then borrows words from the mouth of Job to cry out: “You give and take away… Lord blessed be Your name.” Somehow the song seems to have connected with real life; we’ve received many inspiring reports back from unquenchable worshipers. These are people enduring some of the harshest, life circumstances I’ve ever come across, yet continuing to make the choice to trust and worship God.
Something happens when you connect the reality of the love and worth of God with the reality of a broken world—the mercy and might of God outweighing the mess of our lives. Now, that’s relevant worship for you.
This article was taken from Worship Leader Magazine 2005.
Matt Redman’s songs include “The Heart of Worship,” “Better Is One Day,” and “Blessed Be Your Name.” Matt has led worship at gatherings around the world and edits heartofworship.com, a resource for lead worshipers. As an author he has written The Unquenchable Worshipper and Facedown.