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A fortnight ago, we looked at the place and importance of singing in our worship. Today, we read in verse 23, “Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” What’s going on here, and what does this injunction of God’s mean?

Well, let’s just be clear about the context of Amos’s prophecies. He was prophesying in Israel in the middle of the 8thcentury BC during the reign of Jeroboam II. 2 Kings 14 tells us that he did evil in the sight of the Lord in just the same way as his distant ancestor, Jeroboam I, had done some 180 years earlier. So what evil was being committed? Well, it was really twofold: first, their worship had become ritualistic and meaningless. Oh, they were doing all the right things, celebrating the religious festivals, offering all the different sacrifices which they were supposed to offer, singing their psalms; but there was no reality to it; they were doing it all for the sake of doing it. And second, what God expected of them was not being lived out in their lives. He was looking for justice and righteousness but wasn’t finding it in his people, who were doing no more than paying lip service to him. Coincidentally, Micah was demanding exactly the same in Judah prophesying at the very same time during the reign of Uzziah.

Amos is the first of the prophets to talk about the Day of the Lord, a phrase which came to refer to the end of the age, the day when God would restore all things to himself and deal in judgment with his enemies. According to Amos, the Israelites were claiming to look forward to that day when their enemies would be dealt with, but God challenges them as to why they should be looking forward to that day because, in view of their evil ways, that day would be a day of judgment on them as well. Indeed, if they didn’t change their ways, he promises in verse 27 that they will be sent into exile, a prophecy which was to come true only 20 or 30 years after Amos’s words.

So God is looking for two things: he wants worship which is real and authentic, and comes from a heart which is genuine in its praise, rather than simply paying lip service to God; and he wants worship which leads to an expression of that devotion to God through just and righteous living.

So his question to you and me this morning is simple but challenging: why am I here? Is my worship of God simply what I’m expected to do as a matter of routine or am I here because Jesus means so much to me that I genuinely want to be here to worship him? In other words, how sincere is my worship?

And it’s in the light of that challenge that I want to come back to Amos’s, “Away with the noise of your songs!”

  • We can find ourselves worshipping the worship

I’ve been at Spring Harvest, where I’ve stood with 3,000 Christians and sung some great songs for half an hour led by a brilliant set of musicians and I’ve described it as a great time of worship. But what have I actually found great? I sometimes wonder if I was worshipping the worship rather than the one to whom that worship should be directed: it’s as if it’s become like a performance, like a gig where I’ve been to watch my favourite rock band and I’ve been enjoying the talents of the musicians. Now I’ve also been at the other end of the scale where I’ve been in a church with such poor musicians that I’ve been completely distracted from worshipping because the music was so awful. I believe what we offer as musicians and singers should always be the best we can to glorify God; but we are not a performance. When those leading worship become so concerned about their performance, and try to be like a professional band, then there is a real danger of giving glory to the band rather than to God.

  • We can be moved by the music rather than the words

I said a couple of weeks ago how music can move us; and that’s all right, because God wants us to be wholehearted in our worship, and that embraces our emotions. But music is an incredibly powerful emotional medium, and many of us can be deeply moved by a piece of music because of the particular emotion which it evokes: that can be joy or sadness depending on the skill of the composer and the performers. Consequently, we can be so carried away by the music that the words of the song we’re singing get lost.

  • We can sing without understanding

Let me give you a few lines from songs that we sing quite regularly:

  • “Thine eye diffused a quickening ray”
  • “These are the days of Elijah”
  • “Take us to the mountain;

Lift us in the shadow of your hands.

Is this your mighty angel

Who stands astride the ocean and the land?”

  •  “My anchor holds within the veil.”

These are all from songs that we all know, and we all sing them, but when we remove the music, and we simply read the words, what do they mean? What is “diffusing a quickening ray?” in what sense are these the days of Elijah? Who is this mighty angel astride the ocean and the land? Is it some obscure reference to the book of Revelation? And what does the veil refer to? Now I know that some of you will explain these without difficulty, but I’m confident that we don’t all know what these sentences are all about.

The other problem is that we sometimes sing expressions of theology which some of us, but not necessarily all of us, would disagree with if we stopped to think. In the song Indescribable, the second verse begins, “Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go.” Now do you actually believe that God determined every single lightning bolt and decided where it should land? In other words, he chose last week to kill over 80 people who were struck in various places by lightning! In the hymn In Christ alone, we sing, “Till on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The idea that God’s wrath was satisfied is a theory of Jesus’s atoning death known as penal substitution, a doctrine which is questioned by many Christians. We couldn’t sing that a couple of Easters ago in the market place service because of disagreement between church leaders here in Sleaford. Again, it’s easy for this problems to be clouded by the music and other lyrics which make this in many ways a great hymn.

However, this singing without understanding is less serious than my final point:

  • We can make unthinking promises

I want to remind you now of some of the things we’ve sung together just this morning:

  • “Though I’m weak and poor, all I have is yours,

Every single breath.”

  • “Now my heart’s desire is to know you more.”
  • “Oh to know the power of your risen life,

And to know you in your sufferings.

To become like you in your death, O Lord,

So with you to live and never die.”

  • “Lord I give you my heart, I give you my soul;

I live for you alone.

Every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake;

Lord, have your way in me.”

  • “Let your Spirit make me new.”

We sing our songs, and of course we believe what we’re singing, but the music can easily distract us from the weight of those words. So all of us this morning have sung that everything we have is God’s, our heart’s desire is to know him more, we want his Spirit to renew us, and we want him to have his way in us every moment of the day. Now, I wonder if we all realise exactly what we’ve said? Those are all words of serious personal commitment, and the danger is that we sing them very easily when, without the music, we might think much more seriously about them.

This is the thing: God wants the worship of our hearts, worship which arises from a genuine love for him and for all that he’s done for us and means to us. He wants us to sing our praises to him: he doesn’t want to have to say, “Away with the noise of your songs.” He wants us to worship with our hearts and minds: and worshipping with our minds means thinking about what we sing as well as being swept up in the music and emotion. We’re urged by Paul to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, and our final song is going to be a combination of all three! It’s a new hymn, written by the authors of In Christ Alone, and it’s a modern setting of Psalm 100. Let’s really think about the words as we sing it.

  • Psalm 37:4

    “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

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