by Matthew Bassford

Synopsis: “Mindfulness” is “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something,” or “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment” (Oxford). What implications does this concept have on our worship?


In Matthew 22:36-37, the Lord tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. If we succeed in this, everything else in our spiritual lives will be sorted out. Sadly, this also gives the devil a clear avenue of attack. If he can keep us from loving God with either our hearts, our souls, or our minds, he can separate us from Him altogether. Spiritual imbalance in the way we love is a recipe for ruin!

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of song worship. People intuitively seem to understand that worship should be heartfelt and soulful, but they object to the notion that it should be mindful too, especially when it comes to a mode of worship or a song that they love. “God knows my heart, and that’s all that matters!” they retort.

Well, no. That’s not all that matters. Saul of Tarsus was a sincere, passionate man with a lack of understanding. His bold ignorance led him to persecute the church! The devil is subtle and crafty, and if we are not thoughtful in our worship, he will exploit our thoughtlessness to corrupt and debase it. Let us, therefore, consider serveral ways in which mindfulness must impact our worship.

Mode of Worship

First, we must be mindful of the means that we use to approach God. This is a problem first identified by Isaiah in Isaiah 29:13-14, and Jesus explores the issue further in Matthew 15:7-9. The rendering of Isaiah 29:13 in the Christian Standard Bible presents the difficulty most plainly: “The Lord said, ‘These people approach Me with their speeches to honor Me with lip-service, yet their hearts are far from Me, and human rules direct their worship of Me.’”

These Jews of Isaiah’s day were people who believed that saying something that sounded good was all that mattered. Notwithstanding, they weren’t personally invested in their worship, and they offered their worship according to the rules that they made up rather than the rules that God handed down. In verse 14, God reveals His response. They thought they had everything figured out, but in His wrath, He was going to show them that they didn’t.

All of us would do well to heed this sober warning! In our day, there are all too many people who have used their human wisdom to figure out how to worship. For example, they advise churches to imitate the sounds of popular music so that they can draw in the unchurched with fleshly appeal.

Whose rules are these? Not God’s, clearly! Nothing in the law of Christ tells us to take such an approach. Nor is the will of God evident in churches that point to their liturgical tradition as justification for their worship practices. If we think to follow God’s rules instead, we will find ourselves imitating the simple singing of the first-century church.

Approach to Worship

So too, we must be thoughtful in choosing our approach to worship. Jesus identifies a potential problem here in His discussion of prayer in Matthew 6:7. He warns His disciples not to pray like the Gentiles, who thought the best way to get the attention of their gods was to babble on endlessly. Solomon offers a similar admonition in Ecclesiastes 5:1-3. He tells us that prolixity in worship reveals the heart of a fool. It is far better, he says, for us to speak a few words only.

The true problem identified here, though, is not length. At times, Jesus spent all night in prayer, and we should not imagine that His prayers ever were babbling or foolish! Instead, the actual issue is thoughtfulness. Both the Gentiles of Jesus’s day and the fools of Solomon’s thought that they could win God’s favor through rote, mindless prayers that were offered in vast quantities. One is here reminded of the joke about the Chinese buffet: “The food isn’t any good, but at least there’s a lot of it!”

Both song leaders and prayer leaders should be wary of this check-the-box mentality. We have not necessarily pleased God because we sang seven songs or prayed for seven minutes, especially if the leader in question has not taken much thought for the content of those seven songs or seven minutes. Nor should worshipers think that singing seven songs while operating on spiritual autopilot has won His favor, even if all seven were completely a cappella. It is far better for us to offer one hymn thoughtfully than to offer seven thoughtlessly. The former is the sacrifice of a thankful people; the latter is the sacrifice of fools.

Content of Worship

A mindful approach to worship also will lead us to adopt mindful content in worship. If we don’t want to offer the sacrifice of fools, we will think about what we say, and that in turn will lead us to choose hymns with something to say. The Scriptures leave us in no doubt about what the content of our singing should be. Though Colossians 3:16 is famous among us as an a cappella proof text, that isn’t really the point of the verse.

Instead, Paul is concerned in Colossians 3:16 with content issues. Our song worship ought to begin with God’s word dwelling richly inside each worshiper. Because of that rich indwelling, we will use our singing to teach and admonish one another as we glorify God.

Obviously, this verse warns us against false doctrine in our singing. Less obviously, it also is a warning against lack of doctrinal depth. Few of us would accept “feel-good TV-preacher preaching” from the pulpits of our local congregations, but too often, we turn to “feel-good songs” that don’t have any more to them than does a typical TV preacher. In defense of these songs, we too often accept emotional arguments that we wouldn’t tolerate in any other area of worship or service. We like to sing them, so we do.

The only cure for this spiritual disease is to compare our hymn repertoire to the depth and richness of the word of God. The greatest hymns have enough meat to them that they could be sermon outlines. “Give Me the Bible”, for example, is built around Psalm 119:105. It explains that God’s word is a lamp and a light for us all, offering enlightenment when we are sorrowful, when we are tempted, and when we are dying. If I heard a sermon with such content, I would count myself richly fed. I feel the same way when I finish singing “Give Me the Bible.” Ideally, every hymn we sing in worship should attain to this God-honoring standard.


Certainly, worship should be a time when we pour out our hearts before God. Yet, as the example of Cain shows, we should not expect that merely offering what we want to offer will be good enough. None of us would be permitted to approach the Holy One on our own, so all of our worship necessarily takes place on His terms. When He tells us, then, that we must involve our minds as well as our hearts, we ought to listen!

As in all other things, God’s instructions in this area reveal not what is best for Him, but what is best for us. Our worship is most powerful when it involves our whole selves. It best glorifies Him and best transforms us. It lodges truth so deeply in our hearts that even the devil will have to struggle to get it out.

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