Let It Be Sung Over and Over
Repetition in worship music has been the topic of conversation for many years. Why do we repeat? What's the purpose? When worship began shifting from hymns to choruses, there were those who struggled with simpler and, many times, single themed songs. Some felt the "new" way of worshipping was less thought-provoking therefore it lost it's theological integrity. Others felt less was more. Did we really need more words in order to get the point across? Fifty years later, the dialogue continues.
Recently, I received a letter from a congregant questioning why we had to repeat lyrics so much in our worship songs. She let me know that our congregation was not "illiterate" and, therefore, didn't see a need for repetition. She's not the only one who has asked that question. In fact, one man thought it would be creative to let me know his disapproval by giving me two pool balls. The two numbers? 7 and 11. He called our worship "711 worship" because we sing the same seven words eleven times. You may find that humorous or offensive. For me, I'm thinking the jokes on him, he now has an incomplete pool ball set!
It's interesting how the lady who wrote the letter paralleled repetition to illiteracy. As if our repeating of phrases in songs assumed a lack of intelligence. It was more than a question. I had insulted her intellect.
The short answer is, repetition does a few things. It helps commit the words to memory. It reinforces truths that we need in our lives. It keeps things simple and gives more opportunity for everyone to join in. It helps us stay focused on one or two themes that the song is written around. I think we would all agree that these are strong arguments for repetition but the best of all is that we are follow God's example in scripture.
Not only is there repetition in the scriptures but it is laced throughout the Bible, both Old and New Testament. God repeated himself many times in order to make his point. We find his promises repeated over the span of several books in the Old Testament. In Psalm 103, why did David feel the need to repeat "Bless the Lord, Oh my soul." Because he needed to settle in to that truth. Why did Jesus repeat himself when talking to Peter? "Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep." Three times in a row Jesus repeated this. That may not sound like much but we know that Peter was hurt that Jesus would keep asking. However, Jesus knew the responsibility Peter would be assuming in his leadership of the Church. He was emphasizing the need for Peter to care for God's people. The New Testament is filled with the same stories told multiple times in the gospels.
So why are some opposed to repetition? Why do we equate it to a lack of intelligence? If God uses repetition in his Word, why wouldn't we use it in our worship in order to help make a point or to further cement truth in our hearts?
You may wonder how I responded to the man who gave me the pool balls. Well, I didn't. Instead, I have continued to use Revelation 4:8 as my example.
"And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings,
are full of eyes all around and within,
and day and night they never cease to say,
'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!'"
The same 16 words spoken around the throne, not just in a 4 minute song but for eternity. Does God ever grow weary of his people singing the same words over and over? Does he feel it is less educated and therefore less acceptable? Absolutely not.
Far be it from us to think that our human intelligence has anything to do with God accepting our worship. No matter how many words we use or how many times we repeat the same words. No matter how educated or elementary our language. No matter if our songs have five verses that never repeat or one verse sung over and over, God inhabits the praises of his people.
So whether you are one who loves to express your worship through the use of many words or one who wants fewer lyrics that merely point you in a direction, both are appropriate and have power. Neither one is inferior to the other.
When we take our eyes off of ourselves and what WE want and put the focus on God and what HE desires, it puts to rest our frivolous arguments and points us all in one direction toward Christ and unity.