The Direction and Meaning of Songs

Featuring John Telman Posted on July 29, 2008

It's no surprise to anyone that songs have direction to them. Some songs are vertical, meaning that God is addressed as “you”. There are also songs that are horizontal songs that may speak about God as “he” but are directed to another. The apostle Paul told the Colossians to “sing to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16)  As worship leaders, we do well to notice the difference between these songs.

Unfortunately, there are also songs that are mixed in their direction. The verse may be directed to God and then the chorus is directed to others. This has the potential to bring confusion, unless one does not pay attention to the words they are singing (which is problem in and of itself).


We must not only sing, but sing with understanding! It's not just a matter of singing good songs. It's a matter of doing so with clean hands, a pure heart, and with knowledge of what we are doing.  Words mean something!

In John chapter four, Jesus encountered a woman who wanted to talk about worship. Jesus impacted her life in such a way that she became a great witness. He conveyed the message that religious actions are not enough. Worship must be done out of relationship, with the spirit and with truth. Jesus said, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” (John 4:22,23)

Standing in church on Sunday morning and allowing the voice to utter words is only the starting point. All worship leaders desire to bring a supernatural connection in song between the transcendent God and the corporate body of believers. It is done effectively when we sing with full understanding and a conscious understanding of what the song means. We don't turn our minds off before we enter the church.

Songs that we sing to each other are still songs that should magnify who God is. I avoid songs that talk too much about my intentions (whether vertical or horizontal). Making declarations are good and needed but I seem to recall Peter making some grand declarations and falling on his face in shame.

Both vertical and horizontal songs are most effective when they very much focus on God; who he is, what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do! These are the songs of Colossians 3:16. These are the songs that build faith in him and strengthen the heart's resolve to follow him with no hesitation. Visit this link for an example.

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