In our previous post, we considered the biblical precedent for the modern “praise chorus,” or “7-11 song,” as it is pejoratively-known. We also looked at what makes for a useful praise chorus, one that has the greatest potential to benefit the assembly. In this post, I want to consider two key benefits of praise songs in the assembly. In the next post, we’ll look at practical ways of using these songs in the worship assembly.
Throughout this post, I’ll be using “praise song” to refer to any song in worship that has an economy of words, with or without repetition of key phrases, whether or not it is a song of direct praise. Under this definition, even a song as old as the Doxology (“Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow”) qualifies as a praise song.
Rapid Learning and Memorization
As I’ve written before, one of the purposes of a chorus in a “normal” worship song is to give a repeated line that can be learned quickly, even if one doesn’t know the words to the verses. When the entire song is effectively a chorus, the entire song is easily memorized. Consider, for instance, “Awesome God.” I realize that the full song has verses and that we generally only sing/publish the chorus, but in the version I normally see, we say three times, “Our God is an awesome God; He reigns in heaven above with wisdom, power and love. Our God is an awesome God,” with that core thought being expressed two or three more times at the end for good measure. It probably doesn’t take more than a couple of singings for most people to have the words stuck in their heads.
I realize that longer songs can be memorized, as well. There are quite a number of songs in the more traditional repertoire that I have completely memorized from years of singing and leading, and I know at least one of the songs I’ve written about recently from the effort involved in writing. But not only are these shorter songs easy to memorize, they are less intimidating to sing as a memorized song. I might routinely lead “It Is Well with My Soul” from memory (though I check to see whether my sins are nailed to “the” cross or “His” cross), but most people want a book, even if they really already know it. On the other hand, the congregation I grew up at has no problem singing songs like “Alleluia” or “God Is So Good,” as I witnessed when visiting there last week and the song leader led both of them immediately following a baptism, without announcing either number.
Songs that are memorized are songs that stay with us. If scriptural, they are manifestations of God’s word written on our hearts.
Concentrated Statements of Faith
Staying on the subject of “God Is So Good,” we might (perhaps rightly) dismiss a statement on the order of “God is so good; He’s so good to me,” or “He saved my soul and He made me whole” (the latter being an iconic clichéd rhyme among hymn writers), but consider what is being said in those lines. God is good to us. Jesus is real. Jesus saved my soul, therefore I praise His name.
I’ll grant that Aaron Dicus was a bit more elegant when he penned, “There is a God. He is alive. In Him we live and we survive. From dust our God created man. He is our God, the great I AM.” However, “God Is So Good” paints a much simpler picture that doesn’t evoke images of God hiding in the ceiling (as I pictured as a child), doesn’t leave us trying to figure out what exactly is being said in verse 3, and doesn’t make us wonder whether the end of the fourth verse is miscapitalized or grammatically incorrect.
One of the things that I suggested makes for a better praise song is a strong, focused message. When this happens, we are able to express our core beliefs clearly and concisely. We may not use formal creeds, but we do express our beliefs congregationally through our singing (in fact, many of the modern hymns written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty were written to express some part of the Apostles’ Creed).
As one brother has rightly pointed out, a limitation of praise songs is that because they don’t say much, they don’t offer a huge potential for deep teaching. However, I think we benefit from the reminder of simple truths as much as the teaching that comes from fuller declarations of God’s will. In fact, in our next installment, we’ll consider the blending of these two general styles of songs and the effective integration of praise songs into the musical worship of the assembly.