Grace and Peace
Most Christians who read the Bible notice that “grace” and “peace” are mentioned quite frequently—not merely in isolation, but together.
In fact, in the New Testament, the terms are paired together seventeen times. Grace and peace are mentioned together in Romans,
1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Peter, and eleven other New Testament books. Clearly this pairing is not incidental, but speaks to what we as believers need in our everyday walk with Christ.
First, we need grace. Christians believe that God’s grace saves us, but we sometimes forget that God’s grace also sustains us and sanctifies us. From a biblical perspective, it’s not that God saves us by grace, and then we manage everyday life through our own strength. God’s grace continues to save us. For that reason, worshipers must be encouraged that God’s grace will help—not only in the past, but in the present.
Second, we need peace. For many modern believers, busyness is a badge of honor, and hectic lifestyles have replaced personal piety, so we can easily neglect the importance of peace when choosing songs for worship, especially if we ourselves are busy or when our own lives are going well. But the reality is that our worshipers gather for public worship with a wide range of emotional states. Some might be joyful and happy, while others could be confused, worried, or grieving, and still others could be somewhere between those extremes.
Because grace and peace are mentioned so many times in the New Testament, particularly as a blessing for congregations, we might wonder: How are we encouraging grace and peace in our song selections?
“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Grace in Congregational Song
Many of our songs speak of God’s grace—from classics such as “Amazing Grace” Newton, LUYH 691, GtG 649, PsH 462 to contemporary songs like “O Praise the Name” Hastings/Ussher, CCLI Song # 7037787. Our faith is built upon the belief that grace alone saves us. The challenge, of course, is to keep God’s grace as the central message throughout the entire service.
As worship leaders, we should avoid implying that God needs our efforts in order to meet us in worship. Many churches view worship as calling for God’s presence, forgetting that God is the one who makes the first move. Whether we think in terms of prevenient grace or sovereign grace, it is important that we acknowledge God’s invitation to worship. All of our worship—not merely a song or two—starts and ends with God’s grace extended to us.
One danger for worship leaders is to assume that all songs equally speak to God’s grace. Some songs generally mention God’s love or care, but do not explicitly refer to the foundation of such grace: Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. We must make sure that our worship is distinctively Christian and not transferable to any other religious context that talks about divine love. We are Christians, after all. Of course, not every song needs to cover the entire Christian narrative, but worship leaders should ensure that the songs sung in their entirety—whether sequentially or thematically—faithfully echo the narrative of salvation.
Peace in Congregational Song
Over the past few decades, worship services have increased in volume to the point that energy is valued more than peace. That’s not to say that distortion, percussion loops, or subwoofers should be avoided, but we also need space for quiet and even silence. Embracing “open space” in worship is a kind of fasting for our ears. We live in a world filled with noise—from beeping horns to office copiers—and taking time for silence can help us hear from the Lord. After all, worship is not a one-way conversation, but a dialogue between God and God’s people.
Of course, peace means much more than a specific sound or the absence of sound. We can be quiet in a physical sense yet still have an unsettled spirit. What human beings ultimately need is the peace of Christ, who calms our souls. So worship leaders need to foster communities of peace where people can find rest in Christ rather than worldly sources. After all, worship gatherings are a reminder that Christ fulfills us in a way that nothing else can.
When planning worship, consider the importance of our Great Shepherd. The words of Psalm 23 resonate with believers for a reason: we need guidance from the Lord. Older hymns such as “He Leadeth Me” Gilmore, LUYH 440, PsH 452 or “Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer” Williams, LUYH 43, GtG 65, PsH 543 capture this idea well, but we also need modern expressions of shepherding imagery. Our current generation needs guidance just as much as the older generations, and worship leaders must guide worshipers to the “still waters” where God calms us and provides for our needs.
Singing about God’s grace reminds us that we are imperfect and that, uncomfortably, we are confronted with our weakness before God. Singing about peace requires us to slow down, forcing us to admit that we rely on God for and in all things. We do not have a natural inclination to sing songs of grace and peace. We are only drawn to grace and peace by the Spirit as we are receptive to divine leading.
Ensuring that grace and peace are central to our worship requires sensitivity and intentionality. Worship leaders should regularly slow down and evaluate whether those important New Testament values are being reflected in corporate worship services.
Here are a few questions to ask when planning worship:
- How does this worship service focus on God’s grace?
- Do any parts of the service (songs, readings, sermon, etc.) depart from a total reliance upon grace?
- At any point do we approach God without acknowledging that God first called us?
- Is the cross or the sacrifice of Jesus specifically mentioned in any of the songs we sing or the context in which they are sung?
- Does peace play a role in this service, or is energy the primary objective?
- How will this service encourage worshipers to find satisfaction in Christ alone?
- In what ways will these songs help those in the congregation who are hurting?
- Do moments of peace (such as silence) last long enough, or do we rush through those?
Our worship should reflect the New Testament’s repeated blessing of grace and peace. The fact that grace and peace are so commonly paired together in the New Testament—especially in reference to congregational life—should encourage us to highlight those themes in worship. Used as a guide for corporate worship planning, grace and peace can serve as a simple rubric for evaluating the effectiveness and faithfulness of our gatherings.