Verticality: Why We Need To Sing Songs TO God, Not Merely ABOUT God
1. God is Able
2. Made to Worship
3. Holy, Holy, Holy
4. How Great is Our God
The selected songs above serve as a generalized setlist you might expect to see in a typical North American evangelical church on any given Sunday morning. Now, amuse me for a moment. What if I told you the above setlist was tragically and fundamentally flawed? Not because of bad theology, or shallow doctrine, or a failure to incorporate both old and new songs. But because the above setlist lacks a key element—verticality. Verticality is worship directed to God, not simply about God. In the above example, every song is horizontal—about God. In fact, in Made to Worship, worshipers actually sing to each other—a testimony song. A lack of verticality in much of the worship song selection of our day has created a tragic loss of perspective and focus.
In his book, Vertical Church, Pastor James MacDonald presents the following scenario to encourage worship leaders to carefully consider verticality in their preparation. He says,
When you or I stand in a circle speaking about someone who suddenly enters the room, we intuitively stop talking or immediately welcome the person into the center of what we are saying. What you would never do is continue talking about the person when you know he or she can hear you. Instead we either stop speaking or we speak directly to the person. If we believe God is present in our worship as He promises to be, then we must frame all language of worship as to Him and not merely about Him. Otherwise our worship effectively ignores and potentially offends Him by talking about Him as though He is not present.
The last thing any worship leader desires is to be offensive to the God we seek to honor. But we must honestly ask the question, how often do we offend God by our failure to address Him directly? Whether it’s from a lack of preparation or just thoughtless inconsideration, we often treat the Lord as if He’s not in the room. In considering verticality in our setlists, I offer three important reasons worship leaders must make this a priority.
1. Verticality addresses an audience of One
Worship leaders often quip, “We sing to an audience of One,” but do we functionally practice that reality? Do we intentionally evaluate every song in this musical journey we call a worship set, to discover whether or not we are truly addressing the One whose presence matters most. If God is our audience of One, a ludicrous result of our worship would be to gather in His name, sing lofty songs about Him, but fail to ever speak to Him.
“Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth” (Psalm 96:1).
“Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth” (Psalm 42:10).
2. Verticality opposes and resists a deistic view of God
What do I mean by that? Deism says that God is like a clock maker who winds up the world and then leaves it to its own devices—that He has removed Himself from the intimate details of human beings’ lives. Deism could not possibly be more antithetical to the gospel message that says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1). Intimacy between God and man was purchased through the incarnation. Philippians 2:7–8 says, “(Jesus) made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Failure to direct our worship to God can foster a clock maker theology in which worshipers, knowingly or unknowingly, view God as hands-off, uncaring, and untouchable. I’m certainly not suggesting Holy, Holy, Holy does not have a place in a worship set. Songs like Holy, Holy, Holy, How Deep the Father’s Love For Us, and countless others help us develop grand thoughts of God, and as A. W. Tozer rightly said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Instructional songs can certainly assist in developing a robust theology; however, the overwhelming majority of our songs should facilitate communication to God as though we truly believe He is in the room and beckoning us to draw near to His heart.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).
3. Verticality fosters confidence to enter the throne room of God
Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” On any given Sunday, we have people enter our churches feeling condemned, judged, dirty, and discarded. The farthest thought from their mind is the notion they can approach God’s presence with boldness and confidence. And God forbid we would send the message that access to God is limited and constrained by our absence of verticality. Verticality places the emphasis not only on personal access to God, but also forgiveness of sins, intimacy with the Savior, and grace to help in time of need.
Because grace is a “gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast,” God has inserted a protective boundary marker to help prevent us from veering into his presence irreverently (Eph 2:8–9). Bob Kauflin cautions worship leaders to examine songs carefully for distortions of true intimacy. He says, “Sometimes a song refers to God or Jesus as our friend in a way that makes God sound like our buddy or a sensual lover. That misses or distorts the biblical perspective.” A biblical understanding of our desperate condition and God’s redemptive grace serves two purposes: 1) to provide confidence as we enter His presence, and 2) to hinder us from entering with irreverence, “for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). The very reason we can draw near “with a true heart in full assurance of faith,” is because we have had “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22).
As you prepare to lead your people this weekend, consider the audience you are addressing. Is God your audience? If so, don’t forget to speak to Him. Consider the picture of God you are painting in the minds and hearts of your people. Is it one of intimacy? Or is it one of indifference or alienation? Consider the reasons you can approach Him with confidence. Have you been forgiven? Have you been redeemed? If so, worship Him with a reverent confidence and demonstrate to your people they can too.