By Ellen Nimmo
“Save your voices for worship.” I read that sentence in book earlier this month and was thumped into thinking. Stunned into silence. Mediated into meditation. And, I wonder, how does it sound to you – this idea of worship, of outward reverence and supplication?
Does it sound complacent? Uncaring? Cliché? Irrelevant? Dumb? Unconnected? Senseless? Or . . . like pure spring water to a thirsty soul?
Particularly as we contemplate our current moment. Our current moment meaning the past twelve months. The past twelve months meaning: pandemic, racial tension, political division, church discord, and frenzied media amidst a season of loss, change, uncertainty, and most recently, the violent and reverberating disputes echoing throughout our Nation’s Capital and beyond.
There are many things we could discuss related to this very uncommon sentence about worship, but I do wonder how it hits you. When I read it the first time it stopped me in my tracks and the compulsory examination that followed was a bit unnerving. It humbled me into contemplation, into research.
The Bible has a lot to say about the way and ways human voices ought to be used. And many times throughout its pages it gives stark warnings about the temptation, the recklessness of over-using our tongues, our mouths, our voices. Here is a small sampling:
- Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
- Proverbs 15:1 – A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
- James 1:26 – If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.
- Proverbs 12:18 – There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
- Proverbs 15:4 – A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
- Matthew 15:11 – It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.
- Proverbs 10:19 – When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
- Titus 3:2 – Speak evil of no one, avoid quarreling, be gentle, and show perfect courtesy toward all people.
According to the Bible, humans, made in the image of God, are to be thoughtful and exercise control over the ways in which we utilize the gift of speech, the miracle of communication, the power of words. Within the Book of James in the New Testament James, the brother of Jesus, makes use of several analogies to make this point to his readers saying in James 3, “3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.” Yes, words have this kind of power. After all, who among us hasn’t felt the blisters of a fire gone wild by words which, like a spark, set a whole wilderness ablaze? Or, as another analogy goes: you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Once words come stumbling out thoughtlessly, the damage is done, the toothpaste is out. Indeed, work can be done to clean things up (forgiveness), even salvage some paste in an old jam jar you have stowed underneath the sink (work to repair the relationship), but things can’t truly go back to how they were before.
We may not agree on all of this, but surely we all agree: words matter. The sacred use of our voices matter here, now, and into eternity. Which brings us back around to that strange sentence: “Save your voices for worship.” The contemporary mind naturally balks at the word worship. At least, mine does. But what if what the Bible says is true? That we’re made for it. Created to be creatures of worship. And the only being – the only entity worth worshiping – is the Creator of all. Charles Spurgeon echoes the Bible’s call for humans to worship by putting it this way, “God is to be praised with the voice, and the heart should go therewith in holy exultation.”
What difference, if any, would I notice if I took this strange sentence as good guidance and actually saved my voice, my heart, for worship? Not to make my point or try and sound smart or stir up strife or provoke quarreling or pervert truth to suit my own ends, but used it for worship. Which begs the question, a dear friend pointed out: What is worship? “It’s song,” he said, “and truth, and wisdom.” Worship can be many things, it’s the intent that matters. I think he’s right. There are lots of ways one can worship. Another way the Bible avails us is through the compelling cries of the Psalms. This collection of praises and prayers includes: hymns, laments, and psalms of thanksgiving. Do you think a desperate prayer of lament can be worship?
Watch this in Psalm 44.
Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not cast us off forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
For we sink down to the dust;
our bodies cling to the ground.
Rise up, come to our help.
Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.
This year I may stumble and struggle in many ways, but through the exploration of this one exceptional sentence, I feel prodded to move towards worship, despite circumstances. Because I believe that there is a Compassionate Creator who is fully in control, unwavering in His purpose for humanity, working to make all things new, I can, with a heart moved to holy exultation, say alongside the Psalmist:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.