Categories
singing Uncategorized worship

Singing With The Understanding–Miscellany* 

Neal Pollard

We are a diverse group who gather to sing for worship. We vary in age, education, religious background and literacy, race, and doubtless other factors. Some of us have been singing the same hymns for decades, while others may be seeing those hymns for the first time.  There is a mutual responsibility, one for the song leader and one for the participant. Yet, I would argue that the leader has the greater obligation to assist the participants in offering better worship. Mindless participation is the fault of the participant, but being led to speak and teach words they don’t understand is not.  What can the song leader do to increase the effectiveness of “singing with the understanding.”

Engage In Thoughtful Preparation. When picking out songs to lead, opt for simplicity. Archaic or technical words can hang up and distract the worshipper. It is fruitful to ask the question, “How will this be comprehended by the average participant?” Does the song read like we speak today? If we’re not careful, we can tend to speak through song in mystical terms that help disconnect the mind and the mouth. Do we know what it means to “vanquish all the hosts of night”? Do we know what “cassia-dipped” garments are? Do we know what’s referenced “where Eden’s bowers bloom”? How do I “launch my bark”? These are lyrics from songs that are sung every week in congregations across the land, but words I’d venture to say that many, if not most, do not comprehend. We must give thought in preparation.

Engage In Adequate Explanation. Something that can help in song leading is to point out words or expressions we’re about to sing, defining and explaining them. This does not necessitate a second sermon, but as part of preparation we should be ready to clarify obscure or difficult words. For example, from songs we often sing, we find:

  • “Repining”–To feel or express discontent; to fret
  • “Guerdon”–A reward
  • “Warble”–To sing (especially used of birds)
  • “Fain”–Gladly
  • “Trysting”–Meeting 
  • “Essay” (as used in I’ll Never Forsake My Lord)– To attempt
  • “Cloven”–Divided
  • “Garish”–Bright and gaudy
  • “Fen”–A swamp

While some songbooks, like Praise For The Lord, have footnoted some of these difficult words, many worshippers don’t pay attention to them. So many of us project our hymns in worship. The onus (i.e., duty) is on the leader to explain.

Engage In Balanced Variation. Everyone has their favorite type and genre of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Song leaders are no different than worshippers. How important it is to balance out old and new hymns, considering the typical “audience” present to participate. 

Engage In Heavenly Petition. Anyone who leads in worship should season their preparation and participation with petition to God. Pray about doing what you’re tasked with doing as effectively as possible. 

What a blessing to have willing, talented worship leaders. We have a powerful opportunity to show God’s wisdom in singing according to the authority of the New Testament (cf. Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19). Let’s capitalize on that by putting everyone in the optimal position to sing with proper spirit and understanding!

*–Miscellany–A group or collection of different items; a mixture

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 10.56.34 AM

Categories
cross singing Uncategorized

Singing With The Understanding: “Beneath The Cross Of Jesus”

Neal Pollard

Most of us have favorite songs and hymns. My favorite category of hymns is songs about the cross. I love the somber, dramatic feel of Beneath the Cross of Jesus, a hymn penned right after the close of the Civil War by Elizabeth C. Clephane and one set to the music we sing with it by Frederick Maker a dozen years later in 1881. The cross of Calvary is treated as a metaphor of protection for one in a wilderness. One might envision the wandering Israelites making their way to the Promised Land and apply that, figuratively, to our journey through this world of sin toward heaven. But the song will change scenes multiple times until, in the last verse, it is a most personal challenge to each of us to be faithful disciples of this crucified Lord.

The first verse introduces the foot of the cross as a shadow of a mighty rock where we find relief and a home to rest in from trials and difficulties while pilgrims in a weary land (the world). We might easily think of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Some songbooks have a notation to define “fain,” a word used in the first line. It means “gladly.” I am happy to shelter behind Christ’s cross in adversities.

The second verse builds upon the metaphor of the first verse, then subtly shifts to an event from the book of Genesis. The cross is, again, a shelter and refuge. But, then, he shifts to an allusion to Jacob’s dream (Genesis 28:10ff). He has left his father’s house and his brother’s wrath and beds down near Haran. He lays down, using stones for a pillow, and falls asleep. Moses writes, “He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.  And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants” (12-13). This is where God reaffirms the promise He had made to Jacob’s grandfather and father to make of them a great nation. It symbolized hope, reward, and heavenly assistance. The song writer says the cross is just like the ladder in Jacob’s dream, except that I ascend to heaven by way of the cross. Again, Clephane uses a poetic, if obscure word, in this verse: “trysting.” The word means “meeting.” At the cross, God’s perfect love and justice meet. His love is shown and His justice satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice.

The third verse becomes a straightforward look at a literal remembrance of the graphic, horrific suffering of Jesus on the cross. She focuses on what our reaction should be–a smitten heart, tears, and a proper conclusion. How great is His love! How unworthy I am that He would demonstrate it to me (cf. Romans 5:8).

The last verse is the challenge to respond to that sacrifice. We are to live in the shadow of the cross, daily reflecting upon it and letting it affect how we live. We are to ignore all else to focus on Him. Clephane seems to allude to Paul’s words in Galatians 6:14, if ever so subtly. Too, there’s a challenge to not be ashamed of Jesus and the cross, but reserve our shame only for the sin in our life that made the cross necessary.

It is beautifully and intricately woven. Despite some unfamiliar, even archaic, poetic words, it is powerfully written. What a great song to prepare our minds for the Lord’s Supper or to sing when our motives gets clouded and our priorities get muddled. May we take the time, when we sing it, to consider the truth it teaches and the challenge it contains.

shadow-205510_960_720