On the value of repetition in worship

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 10.05.21 AMIf you grew up in more conservative evangelical circles like I did, you can have a very particular reaction to music played in church or on the radio that includes repeating lines or phrases over and over again.

Oh come on,” you might say, “This is just meaningless repetition or shameless emotionalism!  What does this have to do with worshiping God?

Well, as it turns out, a lot actually!

I won’t include every example here, but even a brief survey of the Scriptures shows us that repetition is a powerful tool used frequently both for emphasis, as well as for the embedding of a truth in the hearts and minds of God’s people.

Deut. 11:18-21 provides clear instruction to both state and restate the truths of God over and over and in every circumstance of life in order to (amoung other things) bring about generational worship of the one true God.

Ps. 118 is an obvious example of repetition in worship. “His steadfast love endures forever,” following vast and varied truths of the God of heaven and earth.

Phil. 4:4 sees Paul giving a simple command to rejoice in the Lord always, and then – in the same sentence – repeating the command to emphasize its importance.

And in 2 Peter 1:12-13, Peter seems to find no problem repeating and reminding the church of things he says he knows they already know.

And those are just a few examples!

Where this all came to great clarity to me was a few months back driving out to Langley for one of my MDiv seminars.  I was listening to the song “Everlasting Father” by Elevation worship from their new album “Only King forever.”  During the bridge, the music quiets, and the female singer begins to sing a simple line,

I am loved, I am loved by my Father!  I’m forever Yours!”

Over the next minute or so of the song, she repeats this very same line as the music dynamically builds to an awesome crescendo.  And I’m listening to this song – and I know this part is coming – and I start to have that same “conservative” reaction I spoke of to the song.

But then – Cinephile that I am – I think the Spirit brought to mind that powerful scene from the film Goodwill Hunting when the late Robin Williams character says to Matt Damon’s character (Will) of the abuse he suffered throughout his childhood at the hands of his father,

Hey Will, you know what?  All this [pointing to the case file that documents the abuse he suffered]; all this sh*t: it’s not your fault.”

goodwill

And then, in the very same way (though without the sweeping band behind him) he just repeats the same line, “It’s not your fault,” over and over and over again; each time he says it, the truth that Will has never confronted and certainly doesn’t believe to be true, presses deeper and deeper into his heart, to the point where he even violently lashes out at the counsellor, to push away the healing balm he is steadily applying to his deeply wounded soul.

And as I thought of that powerful scene, all of a sudden I start hearing,

I am loved, I am loved by my Father!  I’m forever Yours!”

over and over again … and now I almost have to pull the car over I’m weeping so hard; overwhelmed by the staggering truth that I am both known and loved by the God of the universe; that I am His child forever and He is my eternal Father.

Can repetition in worship be overdone – even abused?  Sure it can.  But it can also be a powerful tool to press the truths of God and His word deep into the hearts of His children whom He has set His eternal love on.

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4 thoughts on “On the value of repetition in worship

  1. As long as the repetition has a specific idea in mind, as the biblical citations quoted (Not sure Phil. 4 belongs in this list, the Psalms definitely do), then I am OK with it. I would also be OK with it if used in moderation. I also think that for folk like me, there was a period (1970’s and 80’s) when the CCM of our day took a shortcut to emotionalism and lazy writing by using repetition. Repetition fit the same categories then as repeating the third and fourth verses of “just As I Am” in order to guilt someone to come forward at the end of a Service. Or the repetition was used to incite an emotionalism that would lead to a faux charismatic response. If we can avoid these pitfalls, I would be happier (not my usual cup of tea though. 😉 )

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