The (True) Heart of Worship

What is the true “Heart of Worship”?

According to a popular song by the Contemporary Christian Worship Music composers at Hillsong, it’s all about Jesus.  But what does it mean to be “all about Jesus?”  Good question!  Let’s take a look.

First, take a listen to the song. . .

[media width=”400px” height=”325px”  link=””]

On first pass, the song rightly states that worship is “all about Jesus.”

The song rightly acknowledges Jesus’ “endless worth” and points to Him as the source of everything we have.  Very rightly, the song expresses lament at the fact that we have often made worship about us rather than about Jesus.  Using Psalm-like imagery,the song describes how God looks “much deeper within.”  He looks past the surface postures and outward show of the worshipper and desires that we worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  As the song says, God looks into our heart.

Unfortunately, that’s all the song says. It expresses a deep human longing to have our acts and ourselves accepted by Him. It gets right to the heart of the matter – that we have made worship more about us than about Him.

At the same time, the song hypocritically overturns it’s main point.  The main lyric states, “I’m getting back to the heart of worship and it’s all about You, Jesus,”  and this is absolutely true.  “Worship” is all about Jesus – who He is, what He has done to save us from sin, and what He continues to do to give us faith to believe in Him as savior and preserve us in that faith until our death or His return.  Yet, rather doing what would be expected if it is a worship song that is “all about Jesus;” namely, rather than talking about JESUS, and His person and work, the song points us back to ourselves and what we have failed to do. It never answers the question of HOW or WHY worship is all about Jesus nor does it say anything more about Jesus than a brief reference to His “endless worth”.

Why is He worthy?  What has He done to be worthy?  What does He continue to do to be worthy of our worship, glory, honor and praise?  Instead of talking about these things, the song focuses on the worthiness of the heart we bring to God in worship.  This is the song’s fatal flaw.

Some have pointed to I Samuel 16:7 as the basis for the lyrics.  In this text, Jesse, King David’s father, is presenting his sons one-by-one to the prophet Samuel to whom God will reveal who it is that God had chosen as the second king of Israel. As God is rejecting David’s brother, Eliab, God says, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

If this is the basis for the song, it clearly takes the text, “but the Lord looks on the heart,” deceptively out of context. In Scripture, the statement that, “the Lord looks on the heart” is tied to the rejection of David’s brother, not to God’s acceptance of David.

David’s acceptance is simply tied to the sovereign choice of God. As each son of Jesse is brought to Samuel the prophet, the refrain is, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” It is God’s choice and God’s decision that makes David worthy.  While the heart of Eliab make him unworthy, it is false logic that leads one to conclude that David’s heart makes him worthy.

God’s choice and decision are tied to God’s action not man’s situation or state. It is God’s work that makes a person acceptable. When God’s choice of David was revealed, David received the gift of the Holy Spirit which “rushed upon David from that day forward.”  It is the work of the Holy Spirit within David that changes his heart to make him worthy (see Psalm 51 – a psalm of David written after he repents of his sin with Bathsheba [cxref 1 Samuel 11]).

It would be speculation and conjecture apart from the Word of God to connect David’s acceptance with something in his heart.  In fact, such an interpretation goes against numerous clear scriptural passages about the heart of man and its disposition toward God.

This idea of bringing something before God (whether a song or our heart) as our act of worship pervades much of Contemporary Christian Music.  Another song by the very popular Contemporary Christian Worship Music composers at Hillsong, entitled “I Give You My Heart,” makes this connection very explicit. The lyrics (without apologies to early 80’s English rock band “the Police”) say: “Lord, I give You my heart, I give You my song, I live for you alone, Every breath that I take, Every moment I’m awake, Lord, have Your ways in me.”

[media width=”400px” height=”325px”  link=””]

Now, it is to be clearly stated that the person converted by the power of God is turned to Him in love.  One whom God has converted and changed is given a new “heart of flesh” (Ezek. 11:19).  A person converted by the power of the Holy Spirit will, on account of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (a gift or seal given by God [2 Corinthians 1:22]) seek to bring Him glory, honor and praise.  But such a view does not remedy the errors in this song.

If we consider how Scripture speaks about the human heart, one has trouble understanding what the song even means and how God could or should in any wise accept the heart we would give to Him.

How Scripture talks about the Human Heart

Without God acting to change our heart, it is in rebellion against God. According to God, the human heart is “evil” and the root of wickedness.
        Genesis 6:5 – [in the lead up to the flood] – “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
        Genesis 8:21 – [in the aftermath of the flood] – “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
        Matthew 15:18-20 – [Jesus said:]”But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person.”
        Mark 7:20-23 – [Jesus said:]”What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
        John 2:23-25 – “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs He was doing.  But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

It is God’s work to create a new heart the fears, loves, and trusts Him.
        Jeremiah 24:5-7 – Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:  . . . I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord and they shall be my people and I will be their God for they shall return to me with their whole heart.”  (Note that the “returning” in this passage is AFTER receiving a new heart from God.)
        Jeremiah 32:39-40 –  “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel . . . I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and for the good of their children after them.  I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.  And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.  I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.”
        Ezekiel 11:19 – “I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take out the stony heart of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh.”
        Ezekiel 36:26-27 – “A new heart I will put in you and a new spirit I will put within you and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and will give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
Hebrews 10:22 – [Tying this work of God to our baptism:] let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Psalm 51:10 – [After he is brought face to face with His sin with Bathsheba, David says:] Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.


Based on the quotes above, it is difficult to see how lyrics that indicate that we “give our heart” to God can be talking about giving praise and worship to God as if our own heart – the one with which we were born – is acceptable to Him.  As seen above, that would be abominable blasphemy because “every intention of the thoughts of [the heart of man] was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).

The most generous interpretation of phrases speaking of “giving our heart” is that it is a poetic statement that says, “I give you a sacrifice FROM my heart.”  In this way, it would be speaking of our “sacrifice” of praise and worship.

The basic problem with this understanding is that scripture clearly teaches that a sacrifice of praise and an offering of worship is not what God desires.  Psalm 40:6 specifically states, “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted“.

In future articles, we’ll look more closely at how Scripture describes “worship” by looking at Psalm 40 in more detail and also examining what God inspired St. Paul to write about the corporate worship of the congregation in 1 Corinthians 14.

7 thoughts on “The (True) Heart of Worship

  1. After a brief off-line conversation about the contents of this note, I need to make something very clear. The comments here apply very specifically to the context of the corporate worship service of the church. I was reminded by a dear friend that these songs carry a lot of meaning for many who sing them, and my comments can be offensive to them. That is not the intent of this post.

    It was for this reason that the original version of this article was offline for a while. It has since been slightly reworked and broken into multiple parts.

    As to the question, “Are these songs INHERENTLY bad?” There is great difficulty in answering that question. The problem is that these songs really do not contain enough actual meaning to say whether they teach true or false doctrine. They certainly IMPLY a false understanding of the heart and the relationship of the worshipper to God, but they are not overt. Therefore, a determination on whether the lyrics are “bad” theology or not becomes dependent on the context in which they are sung and what the singer understands and means. It becomes a situation very similar to food sacrificed to idols spoken of by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 8.

    This is what makes it problematic to use these songs in public worship. For a fuller discussion on this point, see the later blog post on 1 Corinthians 14 that begins to explain the uniqueness of the time set aside for the public gathering of the congregation and the unique aspects of that context which make these songs inappropriate there even though they may be appropriate, possibly even edifying, in different contexts for some people.

      • Thank you for the link! I watched the video. I don’t doubt Matt’s sincerity, the problem is the focus is wrong.

        Toward the end, Redman clearly articulates his own desire for the music he writes (about 4 minutes in):

        He’s asked the question, “[When writing a song for congregational worship] what do you focus on, do you focus on Scripture, that congregation, what do you do?”

        I think the interviewer inately puts things in the right order. First and foremost, what happens in the service on Sunday morning should be God speaking to his people and Him putting words into the mouths of His people. The purpose is to frame our hearts and minds and our real life experiences in the broader narrative of God’s mercy and grace for fallen humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

        But notice Redman’s response . . . “First, it has to be real to me.”

        Redman immediately goes to his personal experience and his own thinking and perception of what is “real” to him. The problem is, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them,” as St. Paul says (1 Corinthians 2:14). Whether it’s “real” to Redman or not, truth is truth and God’s truth comes from outside of us and is delivered to us through the Word He speaks through the Law and the Prophets and the Word that He spoke to the Apostles and commanded them to preach and teach and comes down to us through the Scriptures.

        Yet, Redman doesn’t start with GOD’S Word, he starts with “what’s real to me”.

        The problem doesn’t end there. While He does “want it to reflect God well,” it is not his expressed desire that it clearly convey the truth revealed by God, rather, he wants people to say, “Oh yeah, that’s describing the God we read about in the Bible.”

        But Church isn’t about “describing the God we read about in the Bible,” Sunday morning is the inbreaking of that God through His Word and Sacraments into our lives here and now. It is where the Holy Spirit (working through that same Word and the Sacraments) creates within us so that we trust and believe all that Jesus has done for us through His death and resurrection. If Redman want’s to describe “the God we read about in the Bible,” He needs to do more than simply say that Worship is “all about … Jesus,” He needs to actually describe and discuss who Jesus is – that He is God who entered our world born as a real human being – suffered and died in our place to take away our sins – and after His resurrection from the dead, this man, Jesus, was exalted and is the “right-hand-man” of God – exercising power and dominion, working in the world even today, having sent the Holy Spirit to create faith whcih is accomplished not through the emotional response we have to pretty words and a catchy tune, but is accomplished through the Word that Christ commanded to be preached, and the sacraments He commanded to be administered.

        Jesus did not say, “Sing cool songs that remind you about me,” Jesus said, “Take, eat, THIS IS MY BODY, given for you. Take, drink, THIS IS MY BLOOD, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. DO THIS in remembrance of me.” He also did not say, “Make disciples by having cool light shows, fun, entertaining, gritty, and emotionally stimulating music with lyrics that ‘touch your heart.'” Jesus said, “make disciples by baptizing in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to treasure all the things I have authoritatively spoken to you.” (Note – which treasuring implies that obedience will follow).

        So, far from changing my mind (though, as I said, I do not doubt Redman’s sincerity), the interview confirms my theological assessment of the song as woefully inadequate for the task of corporate Worship. Great to sing in the car on the way to church – but it accomplishes nothing that God instituted the Church to accomplish. Therefore, it is not what Paul means when he speaks of “Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs” as part of the corporate gathering of the church that receives God’s forgiveness – which is the purpose and focus of our gathering to “worship in Spirit and in Truth.”

        — Matt

        • good insights but to be honest, i think you are taking the song too literally.

          in its very essence, songs have a creative license and speaks with emotions.

          and that my dear friends is the problem with a number of Christians – you take everything so literal, even Scripture! you miss out the symbolism and the true message of the content!

          i sure hope you don’t believe that adam and eve really ate an apple!

          • Scripture doesn’t say that Adam and Eve ate an apple. It says they ate the fruit which the Lord commanded them not to eat. What kind of fruit? I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter since the tree was probably wiped of the face of the earth during the global flood that God sent in order to keep unbelief from overwhelming Noah and his family so that God could fulfill the promise given to Adam and Eve that one day “the seed of the woman” would be born to crush the head of the serpent (i.e, Jesus would be born to dethrone Satan, whom Adam had placed on the throne over the earth by his obedience to the voice of the serpent instead of the voice of God).

            The real historical individuals Adam and Eve were placed in a real historical garden and sunk their teeth into some form of real fruit that God, literally commanded them, “you shall not eat of it.” Yes, I believe that literally happened.

            Now, there are many places in Scripture where the author was inspired to use symbolic language – and the text itself makes this clear either by the genre or other textual clues that convey the reality that, “this is not to be taken literally.”

            On the whole, I do not object to a song using “creative license” and “speak[ing] with emotions,” except when the assertions made by the creative license and emotive speech contradict the clear Word of God and therefore causes people to question or doubt the voracity of God’s Word.

    • In the case of this particular song, I’d be happy if it explained ONE of those concepts (who, what, when, where, how, and why). The song says that worship is “all about Jesus” but says absolutely NOTHING about who Jesus is, what He did, when He did it, where He did it, How it came about, or why He did it! I’m not saying it has to include ALL of it, I’m saying this song includes NONE of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *