Why We Worship on Repeat

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Repeat? Again?

Many a modern church-goer has been miffed by repetition in corporate worship.

The Information Age is conditioning us for new content, fresh ideas, new data. Why re-read what we’ve already read, why rehearse what we’ve already heard, when new information is available like never before?

But do we know what our unprecedented access to novelty is doing to us? All indications are that it’s threatening to make us shallower, not wiser and more mature. Running our eyes across the page and mouthing words to a song are not the same thing as experiencing the reality in our hearts. Our hearts simply don’t move as quickly as our eyes and our mouths.

Which makes corporate worship such an important elixir for what is increasingly ailing us today.

Learn to Feel the Truth

Take Psalm 136 as a flashing red light from the divine that our newfound intolerance for repetition is out of step with what it means to be human. The psalm is 26 verses, and each verse ends with “for his steadfast love endures forever.” It rehearses God’s goodness and supremacy, his wonder-working and world-creating, his delivery of his people from slavery and provision for them in a rich land.

Twenty-six times the psalm repeats this refrain—and not one of them is wasted. With each new verse, another attribute or rescue of God is celebrated, and then our souls are ushered deeper into his steadfast, ever-enduring love with each glorious repetition.

The goal of the song is not to make his steadfast love old hat, but to help us feel it afresh and at new depth. The dance of each new verse, with each return to the refrain, is designed to bore the central truth about God’s resilient love deeper and deeper into our inner person. The psalm is not a treatise on the unwavering, persistent love of God, but what we call a meditation—less linear and more circular—crafted to help auger the reality of his love from information on our mental surface down to an experience in our hearts.

If you come away bored (unaffected), you’ve missed the point. But if you come away with God bored deeply into your soul (tasting afresh the strength and sweetness of his love), you’ve been carried by the Holy Spirit.

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David Mathis
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.

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