Category Archives: music

The Power of an “Amen!”

Back in 2006, I had the privilege to preach in a predominantly African-America Baptist church. My wife was with me and we had a very unique experience, at least unique to us. The service began with singing, a lot of singing. It started soft and slow, and got louder and faster as the songs changed and progressed. I remember looking at the bulletin and wondering exactly where we were in the order of service. After studying for a few moments and coming to the conclusion that the church had sung six or seven songs, I projected that it was about time for me to preach. Sure enough, a man got up to the podium to introduce me. Except, he didn’t. He welcomed everyone to the church. Stupefied, I looked back at the bulletin and realized we had only gone through the prelude. It would be another 30 or 40 minutes before I got up to preach. Maybe longer.

Let me tell you, I love to preach. I love to proclaim God’s Word and I seek to do it in prayer and in faithfulness. I enjoy preaching though sometimes if I had my druthers, I would skip passages as they are sometimes hard to digest. Like Ezekiel and John, taking in the Word can have a bitterness though it be sweet. But I digress. I love to preach. Yet, in this particular church on this particular Sunday, I had fun preaching. “Fun” is not the word I typically use for preaching. But it is the correct way of describing that pulpit experience.

Why was it so fun? I was encouraged to preach. This is not something that typically happens to me. Like I said, this was unique. Having preached for 20+ years, this was the only time I experienced this kind of encouraging. “Preach! Preach it! Amen! Bring it!” and many other comments came from the congregation as I proclaimed God’s Word. There seemed to be an excitement about the receiving a Word from God.

I don’t think about that time much, but I recently heard a conversation in which the idea of encouraging a musician through claps and shouts could be applied to encouraging the preacher through “Amens” and claps as well. That took me back to my experience 13 years ago. Since then, I have been thinking about the power of an amen, and I’ve come up with three empowering marks of an amen.

  1. It encourages the pastor/preacher. Imagine being a preacher who has prepared a sermon, having studied for hours. Words were chosen to be used and others thrown out. Illustrations were found or made and carefully put in the right place. He gets up to preach, believing he has what God desires for him to preach. He proclaims his message to people completely silent. He’s not sure if anyone is taking in what is being said or not. He’s not sure if there is silence out of respect and wanting to hear every word spoken, or if there is silence because no one is listening. An “amen” here and there tells the pastor that people are listening.
    Brian Croft has likened weekly preaching to a nightly supper. Most sermons are that way. They are nothing “special.” Try to remember what you ate for dinner last Wednesday. It’s not that easy. It was a meal. It nourished you. It kept you going, but it was nothing special. That’s what most sermons are like. Rarely do we eat a meal that is memorable. Rarely do we receive a sermon that is memorable. I like that illustration. But to take it a little further. At some point, in at least some of the meals, someone in the family will say as they are eating (as they are being fed), “this is delicious, mmmmm, wow! That’s good,” or something like that. It is a response to the goodness of what was received but it is also an encouragement to whoever cooked.
  2. Which leads to the second empowering mark: it is a response to the goodness of what has been received, but it is a response not only to the preacher, but to God. If the sermon preached is a biblical sermon, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit has been at work long before you heard any of it. He was at work in the preparation of the message and at work in the preparation of your heart to receive it for what was said. Thus, in saying, “Amen! Yes!” clapping or whatever, it is reaffirming the work of the Spirit in your own soul. One could say that it is a little prayer. “Amen” means “that’s true” or “truly” or even “So be it.” In this way, saying “Amen” is praying that what was said be seen and known as true in your life.
    At the end of Revelation, John quoted Jesus, “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’” Then he responded: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20, ESV). Amen. So let it be. Let me see it happen; come, Lord Jesus. There was an inward response that came out as a word: Amen.
  3. Lastly, just as it testifies to your own soul, it testifies to others in the congregation. Let’s face it, we all begin, at some point, to have our minds wander. Something in the sermon causes us to chase a rabbit of our own. An “Amen” can actually bring us back to the sermon. Something was just said that affected someone in the congregation. What did I miss? I had better pay attention. It tells visitors, non-believers, and others that God’s Word preached from that pulpit is alive and well. It is like a two-edged sword laying bear the soul. It just laid something to bear in your own soul. Everyone needs to know that the Spirit is moving in the service through the Spirit-filled preaching of the Word of God written by men who were moved by the Spirit.

I readily admit that this is coming from the perspective of a pastor who preaches on a near weekly basis. This is not an indictment on the church I am pastoring or any church in which I have pastored previously. It is simply an explanation of what I have been thinking about recently when it comes to saying “Amen” or something similar during the service. And these responses need not only need be during the sermon. If a biblically-sound song is sung and someone wants to say amen at the end, raise hands during, or clap when its over, I don’t know why that would be wrong.

I don’t think that services should become a circus or like a sporting event. You can read my thoughts about that here. But I do think there is something to be said about the power of an “Amen” or a clap of praise.

I’d love to hear form you, if you’d like to respond. Whether you agree or not, please leave a comment.

The Story Behind “Silent Night”

The story behind Silent Night is part legend and part truth. We don’t know every detail, but we know some main facts that are undisputed. I hope you enjoy reading about the story behind one of the greatest loved Christmas carols.

Orberndorf, Austria* had gone through some very difficult times in nearly every way. The Napoleonic Wars has taken their toll, having only ended 3 years before. Due to the wars, land was divided and the city was cut in half. Its new border was the river just south; it was the river that had delivered salt, one the main trades of Orbendorf to various parts of Austria*. During the war the salt trade had declined and it got even worse when the city divided. An economic depression had struck the city. To make matters worse, that same Salzach River has recently flooded and the moisture seemed to have gotten to the church’s (St. Nicholas Church–how appropriate) pipe organ, rusting it shut.

December 23, 1818 was upon the people. It was evident that there would be no Christmas music for Midnight Mass the next night. There simply was no time to have the organ fixed. Legend tells us that the priest at St Nicholas, Father Mohr was about to head home that evening when one of the parishioners (a carpenter) came in from the cold excitedly informing Mohr that the carpenter’s wife had a baby. He asked if Father Mohr would come bless the newborn baby, and Mohr was happy to oblige.

After blessing the new born infant, he kissed him on the forehead and uttered, “Sleep in heavenly peace.” As he walked home from the humble cottage, a poem began to form in his mind. By the time he got home he knew he had to write the words immediately.

What we know is that staying up all night, Father Mohr penned the words of Stille Nacht. Some would say that the poem was already two years old by this time. It could be that it was and additions were made, that it was slightly edited, or simply just found (remember the story above is part of the legend). However there was no music as the organ was not working. He took the poem to his organist, Franz Gruber, a local school teacher who took the poem and put it to music. Unbeknownst to the parishioners, as Midnight Mass started, without music, A guitar began to strum. Father Mohr and Franz Gruber began to sing for the first time ever, the wonderful carol. The original tempo was much more upbeat than we play it today. That, along with the reality of having music at the Midnight Mass, caused the people to rejoice, applaud, and have a very happy Christmas.

The original version in Silent night had six verse, but it was cut to three when translated to English. Bishop Young did the original three verses (1, 6, and 2) in 1859; it was not until 2007 that William C. Egan translated the latter three (3, 4, 5). Here is the song in its entirety (as we know it, and then with the extra verses)

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright,
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child!
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace!
Sleep in heavenly peace!

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight!
Glories stream from Heaven afar,
Heavenly Hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour, is born!
Christ, the Saviour, is born!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy Holy Face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!
Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth!

Silent night! Holy night!
Here at last, healing light
From the heavenly kingdom sent
Abundant grace for our intent
Jesus, salvation for all
Jesus, salvation for all.

Silent night! Holy night!
Sleeps the world in peace tonight
God sends his son to earth below
A child from whom all blessings flow
Jesus, embraces mankind
Jesus, embraces mankind.

Silent night! Holy night!
Mindful of mankind’s plight
The Lord in heaven on high decreed
From earthly woes we would be freed
Jesus, God’s promise for peace
Jesus, God’s promise for peace.

*originally written as Germany.