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Meaning What We Sing January 15, 2007

Posted by larrylaz in Random Musings.
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Joe,

Good to hear from you, brother. I have been trying to keep things rolling here, but I must confess that I am looking forward to your getting connected to the web so I can count on you for some more posts! I was hoping to get your opinion on what follows below, but since that was just a “check-in”, I’m not sure when you are going to read this. So I will hope to get some feedback from some of the other readers and get their take on this.

I have been giving some thought in the last day or so to the words that we sing in our worship songs. It is possible to sing right, true, beautiful words and yet not be truthful in our singing? I trust you will say ‘yes’, and while I have thought about this in the past, I really started grappling with it yesterday morning during my private devotions when I was listening/singing (really whispering is probably a better description, since I don’t want to freak Jeff out as he is next door in the office!) the song, ‘I will Glory in my Redeemer’. Now I love that song, I have posted the lyrics to the song in its entirety in a previous post. But yesterday I was struck especially by these words,

I will glory in my Redeemer,
My life He bought, my love He owns.
I have no longings for another,
I’m satisfied in him alone.

How wonderful it would be if those words were true of my heart. But sadly, they are not. I have no longings for another? I am satisfied in Him alone? Just yesterday as I walked into the office I really struggled to not turn the computer on and check to see if the Eagles won before getting into the Word and prayer. Mercifully God spared me from elevating sports above His Word, but the desire was still there.

Is it appropriate then, to sing to God that I have no longings for another? Like I said, I wish it were true. I long for the day when it will be true. But even my longings for the day when it will be true seem oftentimes to be weak and faint. Either way, I know that right now it’s not true. If it is true for any person still in a body of flesh, I would like to meet that person! I would much prefer if these words were stated as a prayer: “Give me longings for no other, make me satisfied in Him alone…” or something like that. That seems less hypocritical to me.

Then in church yesterday, the first song we sang was called, “You’re Worthy of my Praise”. I have to say that I don’t like this song nearly as much as I will Glory in my Redeemer. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I just can’t say it grips me very much. But we sang a lyric that said, “You alone, I long to worship…’ After church Michelle, without even knowing that I had been struggling with this yesterday morning, said to me about that lyric that she felt like she was walking into church and the first thing she did was lie to God. Because her desires, like mine, seem to be at war with one another, and we do not always long to worship the One who we ought to.

So my question is this, and I would really value the feedback of our readers on this: what is the place of lyrics like these in our songs? Are they really true of you? Do you feel like you are lying to God when you say things like these, even if in your heart you have a desire that they would be true? Is it hypocritical to sing them knowing that they are not a true reflection of your heart? Should we discard songs with lyrics that, as well meaning as they might be, are just not representative of our hearts’ true experience? Okay, that is more than one question, but I’m giving our readers a lot to work with here!

Really, I would value knowing what everyone thinks about these musings. I think the lesson for me is that the bulk of my singing ought to be full of declaring God’s excellencies, not my feelings. Leave a comment, and let me know what you all are thinking!

Larry

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Comments»

1. Re - January 16, 2007

O, man, I wish I had the time right now but you have hit a cord that has been SCREAMING in my heart for months..FINALLY I see someone other than me that feels this…I have been praying w/ Mark about JUST this in our 4:45AM meeting time…I will be back with more comments but for now I will say that I NEED to sing them, read, meditate on them, if only in my head, so that I can eventually have it SATURATE my thoughts and become my everyday.

2. Gino - January 16, 2007

Larry,

I’ve been meditating on your thoughts before I responded. I have often found myself not singing certain lyrics because for fear of being a hypocrite. This comes from two scenarios: 1) I didn’t agree with the doctrine declared or 2) I know in my heart that I am not living it (as in your example).

While I am aware that I am not always “satisfied in him alone”, I often find that through worship (in all its forms) God does give me glimpses of being satisfied in him alone. Is it possible that there are times when these words are appropriate to sing and other times when they are not? I am not speaking from an emotional standpoint alone, but from a heart status. I don’t really know. Sadly, I find that it is more honest for me to sing the lyrics you rewrote than the ones from the song I too love so dearly.

Our worship of God here on earth is far from perfect. I pray that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor. 3:18) And look forward to being in glory with you when we can truly sing these songs of worship without an concern of being hypocritical for our affections for the Lord will be perfect like His love for Jesus. Until then, I will struggle along with all of you and pray that God continues to grant us grace.

-Gino

3. Gerry - January 16, 2007

Hi Lar,
Thanks for twisting me into even more of a pretzel this morning :) I am filling in for Ben F. (leading worship)on the 28th and I have been pondering, well maybe more accurately obsessing, over what songs to pick. I have a list of potential songs about a mile long, alright a slight exaggeration, but long nontheless and I would say 99% of the songs on that list are hymns. I know there are some very good contemporary songs with real good lyrics but my sin and shortcomings get in the way of me singing them with a pure heart. Two examples, one contemporary song, one hymn. I have had discussions with others from the church about our problems with these two songs, again not the song itself but the sin in our hearts and the desire to be truthful to God.
1. The song Breathe – The line “I’m desperate for You…”
I always think when we sing this, and I give credit to one of our pastors for pointing this out, have I ever been truly desperate for Jesus Christ? I know some people have and some are right now but am I being truthful with God when I sing, ” I’m desperate for You”? As you pointed out, the things we sing we would like to be able to say but those things aren’t always true. I would rather sing “Please Lord, by Your great mercy make me feel desperate for You because right now I’m not.” I don’t think that those words would fit with the musical phrase however.
2. The hymn I Surrender All – ” All to Jesus, I surrender, all to Him I freely give…I surrender all…” Again I have to ask myself can I really say that I have surrendered all to Jesus Christ’s authority. As a friend in church said to me, “I’d be happy if I could say that I have surrendered a couple of things in my life…but ALL, I don’t think I can honestly sing that.” I really do desire to surrender all to Christ because I know that He would be most glorified and I would be most satisfied, but sadly, I still am far from the statement “I surrender all”.

I want to sing to God and praise Him because He is worthy of all of my worship. I also want to sing songs that declare Him and His attributes as well as cry out to Him for His mercy and that He would restore to me the joy of my salvation.

Shout for joy to God, all the earth: sing the glory of His name: give to him glorious praise! Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.”

Psalm 66: 1-4

Sorry for the rambling…thanks for the thought provoking post, brother.
Seeking His truth ,
Gerry

4. Gerry - January 16, 2007

I’m really sorry I left this out of my post…I am praying that God would reveal to me and lead me in the song selection for the 28th. This is a given but after rereading my post I realized that I didn’t communicate this truth. Please forgive me
Gerry

5. larrylaz - January 16, 2007

Thanks for the feedback; you three are the commenting warriors on this blog!

I appreciated all your thoughts; it is interesting to think that, as both Gino and Charisse mentioned, the experience that we are singing about can actually come through our singing. You are right, Gino, in saying that there have been glimpses of being satisfied in Him alone, and they often do come in private or corporate worship.

Gerry, I am glad you added that you were praying about what songs to sing on the 28th; that is going to prove much more fruitful than only obsessing about it! I am disappointed I won’t be there on the 28th, as we’ll be away on our Koinonia retreat.

Thanks again guys (and girl); keep the comments coming!

Larry

6. Re - January 16, 2007

ahhhhh, just consider me one of the ‘guys’…LOL!!!

7. Re - January 16, 2007

….another small thought….when I realize that it is not about the ‘feeling’ and if the words I am singing are what I believe to be true from the Word then as CJ wrote in Living the Cross Centered Life I need to “confess openly (and possibly sing openly) before God that I will believe the objective truth of His Word, regardless of how I feel…then ultimately you (I) will indeed experience it, and you’ll (I’ll) feel the effect of it.” If it is backed up biblically “There’s heart-transforming truth in the Scriptures (words of a song), but you (I) won’t encounter it by first trying to feel it” …quotations and parenthesis added by me….my final thoughts for now…PEACE and rejoying in song…..”It is the cry of my heart to follow You….all of the days of my life”….let it be so!

8. Catherine Hartel - January 16, 2007

I have often thought about this very thing, and I too have remained close-lipped through lyrics that made me feel hypocritical. Sometimes I’ll even throw in a couple quick words that more accurately reflect the current state of my heart. Using Gerry’s example, my version would sound like “I (want to) surrender all…. I (want to) surrender all…..).

I’m not convinced that this is the correct response though. To give an analogy, I think of a young child who looks up at his parent with adoring eyes and says, “I love you.” Within the next few minutes, the same child blatantly disobeys the parent he was just adoring. Should the child, then, never express his love because he can’t love and obey perfectly? Is it more appropriate for that child to say, “I really wish I could love you the way I’m supposed to and the way you deserve my love, but I can’t because I’m a wretched child.” The latter statement may be a more accurate depiction of the child’s heart, but I can’t accept that it’s a more appropriate response.

God is all too familiar with our shortcomings, but He deserves and requires worship and praise although none of us can live it out perfectly. That is where grace and Jesus Christ come in.

9. larrylaz - January 16, 2007

Catherine —

Thanks for your insight, I hadn’t thought about it from the perspective of a child with a parent, that was helpful. The theme I see running through these comments is that when we acknowledge that these realites are not necessarily in our hearts, that guards us from the hypocrisy of singing in vain. Even if we don’t express the acknowledgment by changing lyrics, removing songs, etc. but our hearts genuinely feel contrition over the gap between our experience and our songs, there is virtue in that.

The real problem is when people sing these types of lyrics without even thinking about the fact that there is a dichotomy between their experience and what they sing. “My heart’s one desire is to be holy…”? If we know we aren’t there and are singing the song as a prayer asking God to do it, amen! But are there not a lot of people singing these songs who have never once considered that their affections are nothing like what they sing?

It seems to me that a worship leader will serve his/her people well by pointing out these types of lyrics when they are present, to help the saints prepare for singing in a manner worthy of the Lord.

What do the worship leaders among us think?

Larry

10. Jim Weidner - January 17, 2007

Larry and all,
I haven’t yet chimed in on this, because my thoughts are so overflowing, and I’m trying to figure out what, if anything, is worth adding to the discussion!
So,here goes:
Some things I’ve learned as a worship leader.

1. Proper worship through music offers up to God a banquet of praise. I think this principle goes hand-in-hand with the Colossians 3 principle of singing to the Lord psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. I won’t go into the breakdown of what a psalm is, a spritual song is, and a hymn is, but I think they each have their purpose. Our worship, corporate or private, is less appetizing when we sing a steady diet of one to the exclusion of the others. That is not to say that Gerry may feel led to lead a service of hymns only; that’s OK when God has laid that on his heart. But if every song we sing every week in church is a hymn, there may be a legitimate problem with that. Just like we wouldn’t eat steak every meal, three meals a day….

2. I won’t like all the songs that are sung. This seems obvious, but a song that to Larry may be discardable, to Gino may be precious. And that’s OK too, as long as we are careful to consider the preferences of our fellow brothers and sisters who are sharing that banquet with us. I’ll tell you what’s hard as a worship leader — to choose to lead a song that I don’t really prefer, but to do it anyway because I believe it will resonate with the Body. Songs are that way aren’t they? They cut right to our hearts. God must have made us this way. I can’t explain it.
So, just like I don’t like cooked carrots, that doesn’t mean I should never serve them to my guests at a meal. (Back to the banquet analogy)

3. I don’t have to sing every song. This has been touched on. When I can’t mean the lyric that is before me from my heart, I (sometimes) won’t sing it. Thank the Lord that all of you are pondering the lyrics that much. I imagine eighty percent of the congregation that I stand before on any given Sunday is not in that frame of thought. That grieves my heart, especially knowing that I have been in that group myself at times.
Banquet-wise: Avoid eating what is unhealthy.

4. Some songs are more fluffy than others. By fluffy I mean, devoid of deep doctrinal truths. These songs, like the song “Breathe” — admittedly not one of my favorites — are a cry of the heart, a feeling song, they arise from that deep ache within — by Colossians standards, would that be a spiritual song?
A banquet has many courses, some more filling than others….

Well, I could probably go on. More to your point, Larry, I don’t have as much trouble singing “You alone I long to worship…” because I can sing that truthfully; whether I’m doing it or not on a day-to-day basis, that IS my heart’s deep longing. I have more trouble with the line “I will give you ALL my worship…” which is a clear declaration as opposed to a statment of intent. I don’t have as much trouble singing “I’m desperate for you” because whether I realize it or not, I AM desperate for Him, as is every creature on this earth. (Though you could argue it may be more accurate to sing “I’m desperate WITHOUT you.”) But I, like Gerry have trouble singing, “I Surrender all to Thee,” because that’s a vow I may not be able or willing to keep, for various reasons.

One song I cannot yet sing in church is “Please take from me my life when I don’t have the strength to give it away to you, Jesus.” Flippantly, I ask whether that is the Christian suicidal ideation/euthanasia song or what! But seriously, I know the writer has an intent; I just don’t (yet)know what it is. And if it is truly to take me away to glory if I am not giving my all to Christ, I can’t honestly pray that. Would to God that I could be so bold.

Our Bridegroom takes us to the banqueting table (SS 2:4), and it is a foretaste of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb that we so look forward to. And that is one reason that we must continue to always meet each Sunday, offering up a banquet of praise.

11. Gerry - January 17, 2007

Thanks Jim, I always appreciate your thoughts about worship and your heart for Jesus.

12. larrylaz - January 17, 2007

Jim,

Thanks for your reflections; I can’t believe Joe is missing out on this discussion, he will be really heart-broken! As Gerry said, your insights on worship have been a blessing to me and I love the way you take pains to lead others in a manner worthy of our great God.

With regard to your point 2, I agree wholeheartedly that we all may not be fond of the same songs. I think (and I believe that you would agree!) that whether the song will resonate with people is of lesser importance than whether the song is declaring truth. An example would be the decision to remove ‘Above All’ from the playlist; that song has the power to resonate with people big time, but it is rooted in a conviction about Christ’s thoughts on the Cross that is questionable at best.

Likewise in the area of singing the more “fluffy” or “feeling” songs, my desire is for rich truth to be what resonates in my heart and stirs my affections. Again, I trust you agree with this. I am not saying that singing ‘Breathe’ is therefore a waste of time; but I know that for me personally, singing a song like a Mighty Fortress is our God or Fairest Lord Jesus or In Christ Alone produces much deeper affections in me than a song like Breathe or I Could Sing of Your Love Forever. I don’t claim that to be a point of virtue on my part, but just to point out that theology is capable of stirring up the affections in mighty ways. I think that is the pinnacle of joy for me in this life: when theology and doxology are wedded together in worship.

Thanks again to everyone who has commented; this has been very helpful to me in thinking through all this stuff.

Larry

PS — You are right about the song You’re Worthy of My Praise; the line that I mentioned in the first is more the expression of a prayer than the one which you mentioned. Although, if the future “will” is regarded as our heavenly state, then it is indeed true. Somehow, I don’t think that is what’s intended though.


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