Live or Memorex?


“And they sang a new song”

Revelation 5:9


Yup. I’m gonna talk about singing at church again. Apparently it’s one of the highlights of my week, eh? Which is a good thing, to be sure. I’m praising God, while acknowledging and being reminded of certain truths, and then I spend several days ruminating on some aspect of that worship time. I love ruminating. Maybe I’m part cow…


So last Sunday, we did a couple of Christmas carols, and a couple of non-Christmas songs. And one of them is a new favorite of mine. It’s called Amazing Grace, but it’s not the one you’re thinking of, though I love that one too. No, this isn’t the John Newton version, but a song written by Phil Wickham, a wonderful writer and singer that my whole family loves. And I’m going to talk more about my appreciation for Phil Wickham in a minute…


Now, this song is fairly new. It’s off of his newest cd, “Ascension,” which came out in late 2013. So our worship band probably starting doing it early this year and plays it every few weeks. It’s an upbeat, celebratory song; some people in church clap along, although I don’t. I’m really not much of a clap-alonger. But I do tap my feet, or even my fingers on the chair in front of me. Truthfully, most of the people in the building are kinda be-bopping along to the music. Kind of a funny effect music has on us, isn’t it? Almost an involuntary response sometimes.


Anyhow, after hearing this song at church a few times, I went on itunes to buy it for myself, and of course I listened to the sample that itunes provides, to hear the song and make sure it was the right one, and you know what I realized? Phil Wickham’s version is not as good as the rendition our worship band does!


Now here’s where I want to tell you how much I appreciate Phil Wickham’s music: I really, really appreciate Phil Wickham’s music. I’ve been listening to him for maybe ten years or so. We were familiar with his parents, John and Lisa Wickham, who were worship singers in Southern California for many years. So he had a reputation for us almost immediately, and we were fans. His voice is beautiful in and of itself, and when you add the band, it produces a sweet harmony. We saw him in concert once, and it was just him and his guitar, though, and I really appreciated how he uses his voice as an instrument. It was full and rich-sounding, even though there was no band.


In addition, his lyrics are beautiful, lilting, searching and intelligent. He seems to put new thought to old ideas of praise and appreciation, that makes my singing along feel genuine, not just automatic, ya know? And for the few of you who will understand this: I’ve never sung to more colorful lyrics. Words have vivid colors, if you aren’t aware, and his light up my imagination. Almost wakes up my spirit, if you will. I know this might all sound very hippy, but it’s the best I can do to explain it.  


So imagine my surprise when I listened to his version, and didn’t enjoy it as much as our church’s worship band!  I couldn’t believe it.  So I ruminated {there I go again} on why that might be.  Now, obviously, I don’t dislike Wickham’s version.  There’s just a certain style that the band has, I guess.  And of course, it’s probably largely that this is the version I heard first.  Very often the first version we know ~ whether it’s a song, a book, or a movie ~ becomes the standard by which all others are judged. 


But I also think it has a lot to do with the music being live.  It’s more than just a song on my ipod as I drive here or there, thinking about traffic and whatever errand I’m running.  It’s more than a song on my computer as I do dishes or do some work at home…. It’s an experience.  Odds are, if I heard Phil Wickham doing this song live, I’d be just as taken with it.  Live music is guitars and drums and maybe a violin.  And of course the singing.  A lead singer and maybe two or three backup singers, and some harmony.  Not to mention the congregation singing, too.  It’s full and powerful and frankly it feels more like praise when it’s with others.  Praise, in heaven, will be a chorus.  Many voices singing as one.


Scripture speaks of things that are “a shadow of the good things to come” and “a shadow of the heavenly things(Colossians 2:17, Hebrews 8:5 and 10:1) and in a way, I think that’s what praise is for us ~ only a glimmer of what it will someday be.


“they raised their voice to God with one accord”

Acts 4:24


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