We sing a lot of hymns at Roots. Old hymns. New hymns. Old hymns put to new music. Joyful hymns. Lament hymns. (We also sing many songs that are not in the typical hymn form.)
And we do this for a reason. Matt Redman wrote a (non-hymn) worship song titled “Worship Starts with Seeing You.” The idea conveyed by that title is instructive. Worship is a response to “seeing” or beholding God.
Worship is not a feeling that we just muster up (although it should affect our feelings). Worship is not a state-of-mind that we have to be in. Worship is a response to seeing God.
And what many hymns do well is help us to behold God: his character, his promises, his love, his authority, his justice, his nearness. Hymns take us on a journey through various aspects of God’s character. They help us to consider the deep truths of God from various angles, kind of like turning a rock over and over in our hand.
Jared C. Wilson says this in a recent book: “In a strange way, the old gospel hymns affect us more emotionally by not dealing primarily with how we feel. There are plenty of emotional exclamations in the old hymns, of course–‘How marvelous, how wonderful…’–but these songs don’t make our emotion the primary point. They make emotion the response to something much sturdier–namely, the gospel.”
When we come together as the church, we don’t need to be told how we should feel. We don’t need an implicit expectation that we must feel _____ (insert an emotion: joy, thankfulness, humility).
We need to be reminded of the truth of who God is and what he’s done. Which will then lead us to joy, thankfulness, and humility, among other emotions.
This is a big factor in how we choose the songs we sing as a church, which leads us to sing many hymns (as well as any song, old or new, that helps us to behold God).