Heal Us, Emmanuel, By Margaret Sprow

In the last few years, our church has formally stated our desire to see our church body become more diverse, and we are actively seeking to find more ways to reach out to our neighbors. We believe this is a biblical mandate from Scripture and that diversity models the heavenly Kingdom of God when all of God’s people will together praise Him. 

I know a greater diversity will mean change and will affect us in many ways we cannot foresee. However, here are five changes that I do anticipate as the Lord grows our church to better reflect His glorious creativity and diversity.

1. There will be a greater mix of musical styles. 
At a time when many churches have a traditional and a contemporary service, we have made the decision to combine different musical styles in all of our worship services. Rather than uniting because of our musical preferences, we believe that singing a mixture of songs, hymns and spiritual songs that are true, scriptural and musically excellent unites our church body in Christ while encouraging diverse expressions of praise. This diversity of styles will naturally increase as the Lord increases the diversity of our church family.

2. There will be a greater use of different instruments.
I have been around long enough to remember when our church rarely used any other instruments besides piano and organ. Now we regularly hear a variety of different instruments in our worship. As the Lord brings diverse church members with diverse musical gifts, I anticipate that the diversity of instruments and players in our worship services will grow.

3. There will be a greater emphasis on music of devotion.
Our music is very word centered. We recognize that we have 52 Sundays each year to sing our theology together and we want to make the most of each Sunday. We regularly sing hymns and songs that are word-dense and have four or five stanzas dealing with complex scriptural themes with no repeated lyrics. However, after participating in the choir at a diversity conference, I was reminded of the great emphasis on music focused on devotion seen in many other denominations. These songs are characterized by their simplicity: simple words and music sung several times. These songs can also contain many scriptural themes and references.  Here is an example of one by Shane Barnard called Oh Lord to You, with biblical references I have added in parentheses.

We will seek You first, Lord (Matt. 6:33)
You will hear our voices
Early in the morning and late in the night (Psalm 5)
We will sing Your praises
Giving You the glory
Offering our lives to You, a holy sacrifice (Romans 12:1)

May our praise arise as incense (Psalm 141:2)
Oh Lord, to You
May our worship be a fragrance (Philippians 4:18)
Oh Lord, to You

4. We will have more opportunities to practice the law of love.
We all have preferences in music, and one type of music will not equally be preferred by all. Our biblical model for handling these differences is found in the law of love. Out of love for the family of faith, let us ask the Lord to help us rejoice when our brothers and sisters are encouraged and built up by a particular kind of music that may not be our personal favorite.

Worship is integrally related to evangelism and outreach. Authentic corporate worship that is Spirit-driven, excellent, earnest, selfless, and truth-centered is a powerful, living witness to the watching world. Popularity must not be the primary concern in formulating our worship. Our primary concern must be to communicate biblical truth and assist the congregation in passionate worship. Music used in worship must engage the culture but also challenge it. By our worship, we desire to communicate that humankind’s greatest need is to give up a lifestyle of focus on self to serve and worship the one true God through Jesus Christ.

This spring our Sanctuary Choir partnered with the Worship Team to sing “Heal Us, Emmanuel.” This hymn was originally written by William Cowper, close friend of John Newton and writer of the hymns, “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” among many others. It has been put to music by Lucas Morton and Kevin Twit, RUF pastor and founder of Indelible Grace and the re-tuned hymns movement. Set in a gospel style, these hymn words have found new life and a soulfulness that beautifully portrays our souls’ longing for the Lord to heal our wounds, our sin, our feeble faith and our unbelief.  

This hymn is on the Indelible Grace CD, Look to Jesus, and the recording has a special story of its own. It features students from Jackson State University’s RUF. See the whole story here. You can listen to a portion of our version of “Heal Us, Emmanuel” here.

Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! Psalm 133:1