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25 October 2007

The Noise and Impact of Worship

This Sunday I'm planning on singing the song "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble" in our morning services. The first time we sang it congregationally, my friend Christy justifiably asked me to explain what was meant by the phrase "dancers who dance upon injustice." Here are the lyrics to the chorus in question:

Open up the doors and let the music play,
Let the streets resound with singing.
Song that bring Your hope, songs that bring Your joy,
Dancers who dance upon injustice.

by Martin Smith, (c) 1994 Delirious? Music UK, CCLI Song# 1097028

Every time we sing this song I find myself reexamining the lyrics. It's one of the more metaphoric songs that we sing, and as such I want to make sure that it's theologically sound.

As I searched for references to "justice" in the Bible (again), I saw that out of 135 references, when the word is defined within a passage, it typically doesn't refer to making sure that right wins out over wrong (as in our court systems, which is likely what we're inclined to think of when we consider the word). Rather, it tends to communicate, whether by inference or direct statement, helping people who are physically or emotionally disadvantaged.

Zechariah 7:9-10 summarizes it well: "Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.'"

The song contains a beautiful description of the ideal actions of the Church. It speaks of at least a couple of things: 1) the Church worshipping and singing (either literally or figuratively) together in a unified voice so loud that its worship and its genuine joy is felt everywhere ("Did you feel the mountains tremble? Did you hear the oceans roar when all the people rose to sing of Jesus Christ, the risen One?"), and 2) the healing that can be found in bearing one another's burdens ("And all the streams flow as one river to wash away our brokenness").

However, the most important line of the song, for me, is the one in question: "Dancers who dance upon injustice." All the happy-happy singing within the Church doesn't amount to anything, and is arguably harmful, if our joyful worship doesn't spill over into everyday actions of justice.

"To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice." - Proverbs 21:3

How comfortable are we, being able to put a few dollars into an offering plate, thereby sparing ourselves the indignity having to get out and help real, live, hurting people? As I write this, I realize that I'm not writing it for you, but myself. The cry, "Let's put actions to our words!" is one that, as I look at history, I see every young generation trumpeting, and as they (and I) get older, the cry weakens, the desire for action wanes, and the drive for personal comfort wins out.

Do you know of any Scripture that states we're to help needy people only if their situation is not of their own making? I don't. In fact, the words of Benjamin Franklin in 1757's Poor Richard's Almanac, "God helps those who helps themselves," are in direct contrast to the Word of God.

How many wars have been fought in the name of "God?" How many church congregations bring shame on Jesus Christ by inner fighting and division? How many fellowships are apathetic and complacent, perched in the middle of hurting communities and not lifting a finger to help, but instead singing songs one day a week about how good it is not to be a part of the riff-raff on the outside? Isn't it time we redeemed ourselves by our actions? If we want to be culturally relevant, let's be a part of the culture!

Just as the song says, let's make our noise of worship be heard by singing it with our lives.

UPDATE: In the interest of being perfectly clear, I fully advocate tithing through your local church fellowship. Not only is this Scriptural in that it directly supports those who preach and minister, but many denominational (dare I say the word?) organizations such as the Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program enable monetary contributions to be distributed in a manner that is typically far more effective than compartmentalized contributions to individuals or organizations. I also loudly applaud those church fellowships, one of which I'm a part, that are engaged in helping the needy around them by offering food, financial assistance, and other help without obligation.


Jan Owen said...

God has dealt with me alot in the past few years on this topic. IMO, the ultimate end of worship should be action, obedience and going out of the church. If we truly encounter God in worship we should hopefully, slowly begin to have a heart that beats for what God's heart beats for. I - radical thinker that I am - think that while worship and communion with God makes us more contented in HIM, it should really make us more discontented with the mediocre state of our lives. My own LACK of passion indicts me more than anything else and in the presence of God, I shouldn't just "feel good" but be convicted and perhaps even appalled at my lukewarm, complacent self and the state of the world. This continual hunger to see the Kingdom of God furthered here on earth grows as we "taste and see" more of God in our times with Him. Hopefully as we lead worship we won't just encourage people to only think of it as a time to draw near and sit, but also as a time to hear the invitation of the Lord. And as we draw near to Him, may our hearts be burdened for what His heart is burdened for. Worship is about spiritual formation, right? According to Robert Mulholland in "Invitation to a Journey" this becoming like Christ is for the SAKE OF OTHERS, including the world outside our doors. As Dean said, it's indicting. Who wants to take their worship teams on a mission project? Let's talk!

Tony M said...

note: this is not my original thought, but a re-post of someone else's thoughts

This line: "How many fellowships are apathetic and complacent, perched in the middle of hurting communities and not lifting a finger to help, but instead singing songs one day a week about how good it is not to be a part of the riff-raff on the outside?" reminds me of the song "Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows" by Petra (please edit/remove this if I've violated copyright here; that is not my intent; the lyrics can be found at here); this is one of my favorites that they have done:

Rose-Colored Stained Glass Windows
Words and music by Bob Hartman

Another sleepy Sunday safe within the walls
Outside a dying world in desperation calls
But noone hears the cries or knows what they're about
The doors are locked within, or is it from without

Looking through rose-colored stained glass windows
Never allowing the world to come in
Seeing no evil and feeling no pain
And making the light as it comes from within
So dim...So dim

Out on your doorstep lay masses in decay
Ignore them long enough maybe they'll go away
When you have so much you think you have so much to lose
You think you have no lack when you're really destitute

Jonathan said...

This is one topic I definately have thought about a ton. My first thought is God's perspective of justice, is so differnt from ours. In fact we use our definition of justice as an excuse to ignore God's desire for us to take care of the needy. For example Ive heard countless people say taht the poor are most likely lazy drug addicts, so we dont need to help them because their situation is their fault. I really havent found the verse that says help the poor as long as they havent made and arent making any mistakes in lifestyle choices.
This is sort of veering off topic, but I just wanted to throw out there, that I believe one reason we ignore the hurting in our communities, is because some people in church are focused on the wrong things. People complain and preach about what clothes youre wearing, drinking, cussing, the list goes on. They focus on these very grey (very clear from my perspective) that cause division and bitterness in a church instead of trying to remember that hundred of US soldiers are dying each day, we have a very real homeless community that needs our help and love, we have sick folks who need love, we have hurting families that need love. And its not a seperate sort of love, its not an Im different than you but Im going to help sort of love, its a beautiful communal love that means we're just supposed to love people no matter who they are no matter where they come from, because in reality we're all the same and nobody deserves any lesss than you or I have. We're all supposed to love other believerslike that as well. Instead of subtly beating the crap out of each other of picky, grey, and useless areas, we should get with the fact that this world is hurting, and if God is love, we better be doing some of that too. The beatles were right on all you need is love, God definately seems to follow that idea.

Ralph said...

I also have found the phrase "dancers who dance upon injustice" really strange. Even after reading your blog, I still don't get it.

However, this post brings an interesting question to mind.

"What way is the best way to help someone that is dealing with the consequences of their own sin?"

We are to help. This is clear. For tomorrow, each one of us could have our own "little" private sins revealed and the consequences of these sins could lead to some serious problems. Besides, isn't that the essence of Jesus's mission?

However, what is the best way to help? Where is the line between compassion and enabling? For my experience is that most people (especially me) only learn stuff the hard way. We only stop speeding when we get the $200 ticket, not when a friend does. How are we to help people recover from their sin without taking away the pain that would lead them towards God?

I do not have an answer to this question. I do know that many churches err too far on the side of not enabling, when I think we would be more effective as a church body to err more on the side of too much compassion. However, ultimately, there is no pat answer to give.

One thing that is clear to me is that we should drop the entire concept of some sins being ok and some being unacceptable. For example, look at Jim Baker years ago. Was the church more upset about his illegal money stuff, or his one night stand with Jessica Hann?


Leroy said...

Great comments!

Dean Lusk said...

I agree with Leroy/Baba... These comments are great!

Regarding Ralph's statement, "I also have found the phrase 'dancers who dance upon injustice' really strange. Even after reading your blog, I still don't get it."

Sorry. I guess I explained it poorly.

The idea communicated to me through that phrase is that the church is to be actively expressive in our worship (through singing and dancing to the Lord), and an integral part of that is to see that "justice" is done around us.

It presents worship (an internal function) and outreach (an external function) as a unified action rather than two individual concepts. I can't think of another song off the top of my head that presents this unity of purpose quite so well.

Of course, other songs may not need nearly as much explanation. :)

Ralph said...

Yeah, but that "dancers who dance upon injustice" phrase just comes out of left field in the middle of the song. I ain't too sure no how that that there is good English... To me that is the biggest thing. Not the spiritual side, but the sort of left field side in the song.

It's almost like ,Jesus was born of a virgin, having a completely different thought ,how long did it take two turtles to get up the ramp into the ark, and did Noah just give up and carry them?, in the middle of a sentence.

Cecily said...

I had a tremendously insightful comment written, but hit the "back" button by mistake and now it's gone.



No time to rewrite it now.

So, I'm just gonna say -- great comments everyone!

Leroy said...

If the outside looking in sees the inside looking out, then we can meet in the middle and make this a much better place to live.

christy said...

Again I find myself amongst extremely deep thinkers. The only reason I questioned the phrase "dancers who dance upon injustice" is b/c I didn't like the rhythm used during that phrase! It just simply annoys me! Also, I like to give Dean a hard time during choir rehearsal! :)
Sorry to stir up somethin' over nuthin'...

Dean Lusk said...

Christy: you mean I've spent a year or more searching my Bible for nothing?! :) Actually, I'm thankful you asked that question. It helped me a ton!

Ralph: this is why the words make thematic sense to me...

"Open up the doors and let the music play" - Kick the doors open! Let our praise be heard outside the walls of the church building.

"Let the streets resound with singing" - Now we're outside in "the world," not wearing our religion on our sleeve, but taking worship with us.

"Songs that bring Your hope and songs that bring Your joy" - Not just songs of personal joy and hope, but the idea of taking that joy and hope to others.

"Dancers who dance upon injustice" - Where the words of worship translate into tangible compassion and love.

Cecily said...

Type in: What does "Dancers who dance upon injustice" mean? in the Google search bar... you'll find lots of bloggers out there talking about this and how they interpret it. It's definitely a phrase that has generated a lot of discussion.

Pretty much all agree that it's calling us to put feet to our faith -- our worship isn't to be contained within the four walls of the church, and we aren't called to help only those within our body, but also those who are in the world, hurting.

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