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The Worship Wheelbarrow



Author: Graham Gladstone
Worship Category:

Posted April 5, 2016 by


here’s a tricky balance inherent in worship music: we strive to make beautiful music, not for the sake of beauty, but for the purpose of helping people love God more.

This is where I find the ‘worship wheelbarrow’ metaphor helpful.  Here’s the elevator pitch: worship music is like a tremendously beautiful wheel barrow, gorgeous to behold, breathtaking, inspiring – but – it’s still a wheelbarrow.  It has a job to do, and that is to deliver the worship of grateful hearts to the King of kings.

Worship music is beautiful, breathtaking, gorgeous to behold…
It is clear from the Bible that music is integral to worship and the Psalms call for exuberant praise:

3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre,
4 praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.
(Psa 150:3-5 NIV)

The object of worship – the Triune God of the Bible – is the most beautiful, most gracious, most magnificent Being in the universe; He deserves the most magnificent music possible.  Such spectacular music can’t help but stir the soul.  Music moves us in powerful ways as melody and poetry come together to touch us intellectually and emotionally. 

It’s very appropriate then that worship leaders work to make music that is excellent and beautiful and breath-taking.  God deserves it.  We ought to practice and prepare so that we offer powerful music that enables people to think and feel and sing: “God is good and His mercy endures forever” (see 2 Chronicles 5:13).

So in one sense, worship music is indeed a beautiful work of art for our glorious God.  But let’s pause for a moment to consider the nature of art. 

When people stand in front of a beautiful painting or sculpture and marvel at it, they are enjoying it for the sake of the artifact.  An art lover enjoys VanGogh’s ‘Starry Night’ for ‘Starry Night.’  You marvel at Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture’ for the sake of the ‘1812 Overture.’  You appreciate the art for the art.

Not so with worship music.  We can appreciate the artistry of a worship song, but if we stop there, we are missing out – big time – on the even more beautiful, breathtaking God or gospel truth that that song communicates.  A worship song can inspire awe but it should ultimately point not to itself but to God.  The glory in ‘Starry Night’ is found in that painting.  The glory of a worship song is ultimately found in God.

But it’s still a wheelbarrow.
This is why the ‘beautiful wheelbarrow’ metaphor is particularly helpful.  It acknowledges that yes, worship music is rightly artistically beautiful.  It also reminds us though that that artistic beauty is not its final goal.  It has a job to do, namely, to carry the praises of God’s people to the utterly beautiful, utterly breathtaking God who has saved us and made us His people.

Music is particularly well suited for this job – it allows a large group of people to join together to say things to God in a way that group readings never could.  That convergence of melody and poetry allows us together to really powerfully respond to God for the grace He has shown to us.  It is inherently participatory – we can do it together and actually enjoy doing it! 

Here is where preparation becomes especially important.  Yes, the song should be performed with excellence, but that’s not all.  If a song is to be enjoyed for the song, it doesn’t matter what key it’s in.  If a worship song though is meant to carry the praises of the people (who really don’t sing that often six days of the week), we need to make sure that the key and the rhythm are in fact singable for even non-musicians.  The worship wheelbarrow has a job, and we need to make sure that it will be able to do that job. 

As we think about worship music, ‘servant’ language is appropriate: worship songs serve the greater purpose of enabling the congregation to glorify God.  I hope that the ‘worship wheelbarrow’ is a helpful image to you in thinking about the songs you use.  They’re like the most beautiful wheelbarrow that you’ve ever seen, but they’re still wheelbarrows, intended to carry the praises of the people to the God who loves them deeply.

Graham Gladstone is a worship leader and consultant currently serving Lincoln Road Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario.  An M.Div. graduate, he is passionate about corporate worship shaped by careful biblical reflection and heartfelt Spirit-led prayer. Connect with Graham at jbdomusic.com or @gwgladstone.



    Hi Graham,

    Even while reading I felt something odd about the metaphor. I use a wheelbarrow almost daily (wood burning stove & wood pile way in the back yard). Sometimes the wheelbarrow is light and easy to push other times it is difficult to move: tire stuck, load off-center, I’m weary, etc.. I have found that worship emerges through song. It is not something I can push (well I can, but then I’m working and not worshipping). This is my discomfort with your metaphor.

    The one aspect you didn’t add is that divine presence or anointing (some call it) that comes in worship. I think in that time, in His presence, beauty is generous. The sound and prosody of the song could be amazing or not quite, but beauty flows just the same. We begin to play, the song begins to sing (we sing for those we serve), and then the vehicle of worship begins to emerge. I see the song more like a bobsled.

    I just watched “Cool Runnings” with the family. The Jamaicans had to get the whole team into the sled to qualify. We are like that. We have to get the whole family (or body) into the sled. It’s as if the sled miraculously grows as the body enters in. I think it is like the light cycles in the movie “Tron.” The riders got into position, and the vehicle appears. We get into position and a giant, light bobsled appears, but it keeps growing and growing allowing each one a place toward the finish line (Holy Spirit’s presence). Whoa !! That’s cool 🙂

    Sorry, I just finished preparing for our service in the morning – perhaps I’m over thinking this, but imagine 🙂

    Terrie McKelvey

    Interesting that you mentioned Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Ever notice in this painting that the sky is full of lights and every house has light shining from within. The only object in the painting without light is the church. It is a sad commentary on the church. If the songs we choose are distracting in quality, difficult for the average person to sing, or if the set is primarily unfamiliar, then the music portion of our worship time is like the darkened church in the painting and the worshipper must wait for the opportunity to worship through giving, communion, prayer, and hearing the Word, those things in our worship gathering that bring light to their hearts and allow them to see, know, and praise God.

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