Prepositions are mighty big, little words. In just 2 or 3 letters, they can change the meaning of a sentence. Or a paragraph. Or a whole conversation.
If you’re a sports fan, you’d much prefer your team be in the championship game than at the championship game. How much more for those on the team!
If you’re in love with the guy you hope will pop the question, you’d rather hear “You’re the one for me” than “You’re the one with me.”
These mighty little words can help us understand how we worship, too.
TO —Who are you singing to? There are two primary options: you’re singing to Godor to each another. Which way does the text go? Are the words directed to God? (Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee; How Great Thou Art; Great Is Thy Faithfulness; I Love You Lord; Open Up the Heavens) Or are the lyrics directed to one another? (O Worship the King; To God Be the Glory; Blessed Assurance; In Christ Alone; No Longer Slaves)
This little word (to) has a good bit to do with where our eyes focus. Are they looking to the heavens, where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father? Or are they catching the eyes of those around us, encouraging… spurring one another on?
FOR —Closely related, and a place I have much sin to confess… Who are you singing for? When I first discovered I could sing—back in high school—I would sing for the people around me. Always and only. I would do my best to demonstrate to everyone within a few seats of me just how talented I was. I was singing for the praise of those around me. I was, perhaps more accurately, singing to others for my own gain. But these days I try to sing for the edification—the building up—of those gathered to worship. And, on the days I get it right, only for the glory of God.
WITH —Who are you singing with? This is one of the reasons I love being part of a free-church, or non-liturgical tradition. There is a beautiful, powerful, Biblical emphasis on being together. Being family. Being the Body of Christ. We often think of this in the ways we serve alongside each other outside of the worship gathering, but when we meet with God, we are still the Body. We need each other. (“The eye can’t say to the foot, ‘I don’t need you.’” - 1 Cor 12) Many of the pronouns in our lyrics remind us of this. I don’t sing in a box all by myself, or even with other people in boxes. We are joined. We worship together. (O God Our Help in Ages Past; Everlasting God; How Great Is Our God; We Will Remember)
OVER —Who are you singing over? Perhaps this is a new one for you. But when you lift your voice, there is a benefit for those around you. I don’t mean that they hear how well you sing (or grimace when you miss a note). I mean something happens when praise leaves your lips… when worship goes beyond your personal space. It blessed others. I suspect you know this is true because you’ve been on the receiving end. Someone near you, perhaps behind you, has sung their joy and it lifted your sad soul. Or someone has lifted their hands in praise and it straightened your slumped shoulders. There are times your singing ministers to those who are too broken to sing on their own. When you can’t lift your voice because of your hurt, your brokenness, even your sin, we want to sing for you.
OVER, part 2— This is my favorite. Who is singing over you? God! I’ve known this for decades. I’ve had the honor of teaching this from pulpits for years. But the words of Zephaniah 3:17 never grow old:
"The Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With His love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs."
Got any to add?