Expressing Love to God

Someone coined the phrase “God is my girlfriend songs” to describe contemporary lyrics that express love to God with words that are romantic in nature. They include phrases like “embrace me,” “let me feel your touch,” etc. While this isn’t the first time in history congregational songs have been labeled as sensual (John Wesley had some problems with Charles Wesley’s lyrics at times), it’s an issue that still needs clarification.

Why does someone write songs that can be sung either to God or a human lover? The reasons vary. Perhaps the writer is simply a poor lyricist and doesn’t know any better. It might be an attempt to stretch the boundaries of poetic lyricism. It could also be an attempt to write “cross-over” songs that are applicable in Christian or secular contexts. The problem is that our relationship with God is a bit different (can you say infinitely?) from our relationships with each other. Another group bases their use of romantic imagery on the Song of Solomon – “Let me know the kisses of your mouth, let me feel your embrace.” However, there’s no indication outside of the Song of Songs that God intends us individually to sing words like these to our God and Savior. (For a more literal interpretation of the Song of Solomon as a celebration of marital romance, I encourage you to check out Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God, by C.J. Mahaney).

I was happy to find pick up the latest copy of Worship Leader magazine (Nov/Dec 2005) today and find Matt Redman addressing this very topic in his article entitled “Kiss Me?” He seeks to answer the question: “Is romantic imagery appropriate in congregational expressions of worship?”

As I expected, Matt’s thoughts are humble, clear, helpful, and most importantly, biblical. He shares an experience of listening to a CD of worship songs within earshot of a non-Christian. The potential for evangelism encouraged him until a song came on with a string of romantic-sounding lyrics. As he hit the pause button he realized, “I wasn’t ashamed of Jesus, but I wasn’t one hundred percent convinced of the way we sometimes draw near to Him.” Later on, he adds, “Sometimes within the walls of the church we fall into the habit of saying or doing things we would never do if we were really in touch with the world. And yet that is really only the secondary point. The primary one is whether or not we are writing and choosing songs that are a true echo of the pattern of Scripture.”

As with most things, discernment is wiser than simply banning the use of certain words such as “beautiful” or “embrace.” However, singing or writing words to God because they “express my feelings” turns out to be a misleading standard. God cares about the words we use when we approach Him, and our words must be a “true echo of the pattern of Scripture.” Do we relate to God for who He has revealed Himself to be, or in a way that our culture finds comfortable? Do our songs describe God as He is or seek to make him more like us?

We find the balance of transcendence and immanence in Is. 54:5: “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.” This verse shows us that in our desire to celebrate how God has brought us near through the cross, we can never forget that He remains exalted above all creation. He is not our girlfriend; He is our God. Our songs should never be vague about the difference. As Matt reminds us, we need to be “constantly giving thought to the ways we address our amazing God.” For He truly is amazing.

For more on this topic, download the following free messages from the Sovereign Grace site:
Beholding the Glory of God’s Supremacy by Bruce Ware
Principles of Songwriting by Stuart Townend
Choosing Songs Wisely by Bob Kauflin

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29 Responses to Expressing Love to God

  1. Scott Aniol November 22, 2005 at 6:51 PM #

    Hey, Bob. Great comments here. Much needed and well-stated.

    Would you apply these same principles to the musical forms of sacred music as well?

  2. Ray November 22, 2005 at 7:30 PM #

    Bob,

    I just wrote about this at my blog… I heartily agree, and glad to see you address it…

    Also, great blog, I enjoyed your series for Crosswalk…

  3. Travis Seitler November 23, 2005 at 12:35 PM #

    Bob,

    You quoted Isaiah 54:5, and it sort of addresses my thoughts here. I mostly agree with you, and quite a bit of what’s played on “Christian radio” threatens my gag reflexes. Still, I wonder if we’re going too far in the opposite direction?

    “the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called.”

    This seems to be the focus of certain songwriters these days (you and others within Sovereign Grace Ministries, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin). Still, that’s only half the quoted verse.

    “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name;”

    Perhaps this side is overdone these days. Perhaps it is done carelessly. But are “girlfriends” the only ones who earn such songs?

    I wonder if, instead of cheapening such delight by dragging it down to the level of casual romantic interests, we ought to seek a “higher” level of such expressions? Perhaps a “God is my husband” sort of lyric?

    If your wife wrote a song to you, how would it go? That’s what I’m trying to think through here…

  4. Tim Porter November 29, 2005 at 10:07 AM #

    A few years ago, I wrote a paper on this topic for the regional meeting of the Midwest Evangelical Society. I have posted it on my blog for those who might like to see some more work on this. Thanks, Bob!
    http://alreadynotyet.blogware.com/blog/_archives/2005/11/29/1426974.html

  5. Naomi December 13, 2005 at 4:28 PM #

    thank you for this post.. it was very encouraging. I seem to be constantly frustrated by music that is popular, but not Biblical in nature. But then I remember that out of the heart, the mouth speaks. If such songs are sung in our churches (generally speaking), I wonder about our relationship with God and our view of Him. Are we using God to fill emotional needs when we should be content with Him filling our most desperate spiritual need-the atonement for our sin?

    And for me, my course of action is to be more diligent to pursue the writing of Biblical songs that wholly glorify God, instead of simply feed the soul.

  6. Curious December 29, 2005 at 2:26 PM #

    Bob,

    With a desire to have my iron sharpened, I’m wanting to get more of your perspective on this type of songwriting, since a large number of postmoderns seem drawn to it.

    Psalm 16:11 states, “at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Last year, I heard a well-known and respected speaker discuss this Scripture in light of the many worldly pleasures our sinful flesh is drawn to (alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.). The impression I got from his message was that to know Jesus far exceeds any other pleasure we could experience in this world. This also seems consistent with what is written in Psalm 16:11, and it is a vital aspect of the believer’s life.

    In light of these conclusions, the comments you made in your post seem to indicate that expressing one’s feelings for the Lord is not a biblical form of worship. Could you clarify your position?

    Also, considering the vernacular Jesus engaged in when speaking to the common man of His day, how is it not a factor of the makeup of the local fellowship or community (and ultimately, the pastoral leadership) as to whether a song containing such lyrics is appropriate for that venue? (E.g., “Friend Forever” contains a lyric “more intimate than lovers” that you won’t catch me using on a Sunday morning in a Bible Belt congregation. However, a friend of mine observed that in a highly securlarized society like England, where the song originated and a small percentage of the population actually attend church, this type of lyric could be and has been effective in engaging that culture with the gospel message.)

  7. anno January 28, 2007 at 11:36 AM #

    How can we express love to God otherwise?

  8. Sherry February 10, 2007 at 6:34 PM #

    Enjoyed reading your article. Thank you for addressing this topic in current contemporary music. I have heard this teaching has been taught by a ministry on TV. It takes the Christian’s relationship with the Lord to an unbiblical level. Thank you for addressing it on your blog. Blessings

  9. Yandea May 8, 2007 at 7:44 PM #

    Hi,
    I sing and write love songs to the Lord all the time.
    Is it biblical?…Matthew 22:37 (New King James Version)
    Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
    Does anyone have an intimate relationship with Jesus?..has he ever revealed himself to you as your husband?..as your Father?..as your friend?…As your GOD?
    Saints of God, I pray that you have not missed out on the greatest gift ever..and that is being reconciled to God through the shed Blood of Jesus Christ..the lover of our souls.
    I’ve been through good times and bad times in my life..and Jesus has been my everything..yes that includes the healer of my emotions.
    Why is it not biblical for me to worship him in song for being all of those things?
    Is it wrong to say to Him…your warm embrace keeps me through my lonely nights.
    Is that wrong? just be careful that you don’t treat people who show their love for the Lord in passionate ways the way that Mary was treated for pouring her oil on His feet, along with her tears and wiping them with her hair.
    That’s what I do to Him with my words everytime I worship.
    and after all only God knows our hearts..and one thing that I do know is that He loves when I worship Him..in spirit and in truth.

    May we all come to realize that we are the Bride of Christ. Jesus Loves you!

  10. Nathan Allcorn November 14, 2007 at 3:57 AM #

    This is an interesting point. I love Jars of Clay’s “I want to fall in love with you” and yet there are many people I have come in contact with who would feel awkward singing those lyrics. Are they free of societal influences in respect to love and affection? When writing a love song to an awesome God, one must be aware of what cultural influences are impacting the words. Many of the men I have worked, such as in construction, landscaping, and maintenance, would find it difficult to sing about “touching and feeling” God. However, pushing lyrics that signify battle and adventure would capture them. I believe many Christian songwriters should begin to write from a different point of view. While they may have a feeling of closeness in their relationship with Christ, others may not – but they will still need a way to praise him in song. Giving them songs that would tug at their heartstrings is what would allow them to fully praise God. However many of the simple lyrics we have cannot do this.

  11. Tara December 6, 2007 at 8:32 PM #

    I think this blog brings up so many things that I have thought of or have been concerned about before. There is one song in particular that I do like, but I wonder sometimes if I am not singing to my boyfriend. “You are my obsession, I wait for you through the night. In the morning when I rise, I ache for you, You are my obsession…” Anyways, those are some of the lyrics and while in one sense someone could truly be singing them about their Lord Almighty I do wonder if we’re trying to make our Contemporary Christian songs, or even any Christian songs, in line with the world somewhat. I can only imagine how hard it is to right a song to show our expression to God of His worth, but at the same time can only see how it is only worthy when it is Biblical and we realize His differences from us. He is God, we are human. There is a difference.

    Great thoughts though. Thanks!

  12. Katie Snoddy December 8, 2007 at 4:41 PM #

    I’m slightly torn on the subject. I desire an intimate relationship with God, but also see Him as the Almighty One. I am scared of Him, but I want Him to hold me when my world seems to be falling apart. I agree that singing to God words reminiscent of the Song of Solomon is inappropriate, and I think it’s creepy. I have no desire to make-out with God. I’m pretty sure that God created marital-affection to satisfy our physical need for “Eros” or erotic love. I don’t think that when Jesus is called the Bridegroom, that the honeymoon is what He’s thinking about. We are lovely to God when we obey Him, that’s how we show our love and devotion to Him. I do, however, think that the Holy Spirit being called our “comforter” and “counselor” speaks to the idea that we may know God on the level we desire to know our spouse . . . spiritually. I don’t think that it is God’s greatest desire to “love on us,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he can’t show plutonic affection toward us, does it? “Love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength.” Nothing sexual or creepy about that, and that’s the way I think it was meant to be. Love Him fully, not foolishly.
    I think that The article, “Dating Jesus” from Christianity Today may be helpful or interesting to those wondering about this subject. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/december/17.56.html

  13. Melyssa Vaswani December 14, 2007 at 3:16 PM #

    I believe the younger generation is being led by sensual lyricists into a time of worship. I can’t stop to think why?

    Why has worship turned into a time of intimacy with our Sovereign God? Has this redefined worship?

    Yes, we are called to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind but I strongly believe this is beyond our own feelings. I’m sorry to say but”that” intimacy will soon run dry if worship doesn’t turn away from ourselves.

    I have one simple statement, “God is not our boyfriend, he is our God, in this he deserves all the Praise”.

  14. Michael Otto December 19, 2007 at 1:14 PM #

    I believe that there is a certain limitation to how we can express our love for God, and it is also agreeable with Redman that we shouldn’t treat Him as we would with our relationships here on Earth. His love is uncontainable and immeasurable, contrary to how we view love with others presently, sometimes it containing catches and strings attached, which is actually opposite of how we are supposed to love: UNCONDITIONAL love. There needs to be a median of on one hand showing and displaying how we view God and His correlation to us, but also not treating Him as our ‘girfriend’, it’s all about being obedient to His Word and the Holy Spirit.

  15. Sam Hargreaves December 28, 2007 at 1:37 PM #

    Hi Bob, excellent site.

    In case you are interested, I did my London School of Theology dissertation under the title ‘Jesus is my girlfriend?’ on this very subject. I got the title from a throwaway comment by doctrine planet-brain at LST Graham McFarlane, and I think it is his unique creation, so he should take any credit for that term!

    Anyway, top stuff, keep it up. I’ll be recommeding this site to lots of people!

  16. Kelvin Mutize, Zimbabwe February 7, 2008 at 9:12 AM #

    Thanks Sir
    Foe such a lovely website, what you are adressing is purely true i share the same sentiments, When you write a love song for God, U write it knowing that God is in For me three parts.
    He is God, Father and friend, so wen you write a love song it should be a love song.
    Circular Love songs focus on how the feel and not how deep they love someone, with God it should be I Worship because i love God and not like I worship because i feel like it.
    If its love let it be purely love and not feelings, because feelings can change

    WOW
    Thank You So much God Bless

  17. Valerie Munoz March 3, 2008 at 12:09 AM #

    This is a very interesting to me and I cannot help but to laugh to myself because my husband and I have been discussing this matter latly. I think that the words we put into our songs need to be as biblically and doctrinally sound as the words that go into the sermon/lesson. We would all find a pastor who claims to have had an intimate physical “moment” with God, such as kissing or touching, to be weird. Therefore I heartly agree that our Christian songs should be purposeful with their words and intended meaning, even if it does not draw in a crowd.

  18. glenn davis May 1, 2008 at 11:49 AM #

    well put. when starting out reading just the title, i wasnt sure if you would be able to present a case on this that actually convinced me, (because i agree) but you did. I especially appreciate that you used the example of hearing it from a non-christian perspective. it also hit me at the core that you talked about lyrics that say things that we dont do… that’s why i dont sing parts of songs sometimes, because i’ll probably never do some of those things! i think you hit on a great subject that needs to be addressed in every congregation and i agree. well done.
    -glenn

  19. Jordan Roberts May 3, 2008 at 8:15 PM #

    Bob,
    I agree with your post. I like reading the comments as well.
    “Psalm 16:11 states, “at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Last year, I heard a well-known and respected speaker discuss this Scripture in light of the many worldly pleasures our sinful flesh is drawn to (alcohol, drugs, sex, etc.). The impression I got from his message was that to know Jesus far exceeds any other pleasure we could experience in this world.” – Curious
    I agree with Curious on this point and if I might add on to what he has to say…it really puts things into perspective. When we think of worldly pleasures (Sex, drugs, and rock and roll) we have something tangible to look at. When we hear that Jesus is more pleasurable than any one of those, we can’t imagine…seriously. I can not imagine something that is not tangible (in this sense). So it brings up the question…does our worldly definition of love even come close to God’s definition of love?

  20. kimk October 3, 2008 at 4:47 PM #

    I don’t believe we know what real love is. God has to reveal it to us, before we can truly love others or Him. What we think love is, does not last or is more emotional and comes from a feeling. I love to hear praise and worship songs at church and in my car, and love to sing them to God, but sometimes doubt myself to whether I am just wrapped up in the feeling I get from the song. I am still seeking for Him to show me how to truly worship Him the way he wants me too and that deep personal relationship He want us to have with Him. The more He reveals, the more I’m in awe and just another reason to praise Him. So when it comes to music, God wants us to worship in spirit and in truth. He wants our whole heart in our worship.

  21. Blaine February 7, 2009 at 3:30 PM #

    I would like to add a bit to the concept that ‘outside of the Song of Songs, that there is “no indication that God intends us individually to sing words like these to our God and Savior.” In some sense I can see how this could be seen to be true, but would add a bit. All throughout the Old Testament, Yahweh identifies Himself and His relationship to His covenant people typified in married love (See Deut., Isaiah, Jer., Ezek., Hosea, etc.). So much so, that Paul states in Eph 5 that a marriage relationship between a husband and wife is but a dim reflection of Christ being married/joined to His Church.

    When understood in its proper light and given its appropriate weight, this ‘identity’ of the Church as His bride is seen throughout the New Testament (Matt. 22, Matt 25, Eph 5, 2 Cor 11, Rev 22:17). Seen through this lens, we have a strong precedence to utilize the language of married love (as a dim picture) to sing to our Beloved just as much as we do to sing to Him as Father, Deliverer, Healer, Savior, or Glory, if not more. All of the human language points to a far greater reality only fulfilled and answered in deep relationship with Him. Singing to Him as our well-Beloved does not consist in imagining ourselves in a wedding gown and kissing literally kissing Jesus (help us Lord). Knowing and relating to Him as our Bridegroom, Beloved, and Lover is about glorying in an ‘access’ that He has opened to the deep places of His heart (1 Cor. 2) , that He shares with no other in creation except His bride, that is the knowledge of God.

    Concerning the Song of Songs, history testifies that the PRIMARY interpretation (not only) has been allegorical rather than a covenantal marriage between husband and wife (though I believer there is room for both/and versus either/or). At the turn of the 19th century to modernity there has been a movement to mostly make the Song of Songs seen primarily as a married love relationship between humans. This perspective adds little ‘weight’ against those in history who have seen it otherwise. Here is a small list of those who interpreted and taught the Song of Songs from an allegorical standpoint, it may surprise you.

    Patristic Christians: Tertullian, Hippolytus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Athanasius, Gregory Nazianzen, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Philo, Jerome Cyril of Alexandria, John Chrysostom.

    Midieval: Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas.

    Reformation and Beyond: Martin Luther, John Calvin (he actually exiled Reformer Sebastian Castillo from Geneva for not believing in the allegorical tradition of the Song), Westminster Assembly, Theodore Beza, John Knox, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, John Owen, James Durham, Jeanne Guyon, Matthew Henry, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley.

    Modern: Charles Spurgeon, J. Hudson Taylor, Franz Delitzsch, F.B. Meyer, R.A. Torrey, Arthur W. Pink, Watchman Nee, Henry Ironside, Richard Foster.

    Simply because modernity has lost its appetite for the surpassing glory of the language and allegorical interpretation of this Song (of all songs mind you, the highest superlative) does not by any means invalidate it, especially in light of history.

  22. Luan Els January 4, 2010 at 7:55 AM #

    Hi bob,

    Great blog. I love and just singing love songs to God when i worship Him on my own and what the Word says about His character.

    Blessings

    Luan

  23. Marcus E. Huffman October 28, 2010 at 9:49 AM #

    Bob,

    I’ve read your book, Worship Matters, and am certainly intrigued by this particular blog. In reading it, I felt the need to define the word, “husband,” as used contextually within Isaiah 54:5. The word as defined causes one to view God as our Master, which is clearly within the parameters of the names and characteristics of our God. I echo the comment by Katie Snoddy; “I don’t want to make-out with God.” I’m drawn to John 15, where God, as the husbandman of Jesus the true vine, demonstrates his desire to master the vine by pruning it in such an effective way that we, the believers that represent the fruit of the vine, become effective disciples of Jesus, producing more and more fruit within the confines of our relationship with Jesus. In worship, both corporately and privately, our responsibility to God should be to laud Him for who He is and who He can be in our lives. Though some do depend on God to fill the emotional void created by the loss of a spouse or the absence of that type of tangible love in their lives, I agree that we must not become so engrossed in our emotions that we view our Master as some sort of a cheap physical lover. God, as provider, created woman to satisfy man’s need for physical attention, and women also enjoy the physical satisfaction that men offer.

    The solution to the problem is complex. The English language certainly limits the way we can express our love to God. I don’t expect every Christian lyricist to offer an appropriate definition of love in every song he or she writes, either. I’m certain that the biblical concept of loving God is superior to our love for a spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend; we aren’t able to properly express love to a significant other without a through understanding and demonstration of an effective love relationship with God. Because God is our Master, He deserves our total allegiance in every area of our lives, which enables us to submit ourselves complete to a spouse, to whom He joins us in order to fulfill that physical aspect of our being. We shouldn’t expect a spiritual God to fulfill that physical need personally; we MUST, however, petition and expect Him to provide us that outlet, which is a God-ordained marriage.

    I pray that God continues to enlighten His people as to how He wants us to love Him!

  24. Fred Freed January 11, 2011 at 7:28 PM #

    I firmly believe that there are some thoughts, expressions, songs, phrases that are appropriate for me in my personal worship to God that are not meant for corporate worship. Some of the intimate and romantic sounding phrases I believe are okay for my personal worship because God is to me altogether lovely and, beautiful, and an intimate friend. And I love Him dearly. But some of these phrases are not necessarily appropriate in a corporate setting, and we must remember that as Bob has said so clearly, God is our God – not just our lover and companion. God is holy above all, and we must never relegate Him to a human level or want to bring Him down to our realm of expression or understanding. Yet both are true – He is my God, and He is my dearest and most intimate friend. It is a parallel track, and we as worship leaders must have the integrity and understanding to know the difference, and which is approriate in what setting. I can say some things to my wife in private that I would never say publicly, and I can say some things in private worship that should not be set forth in a corporate setting. That is why we emphasize so strongly that our private worship is priority – and our corporate worship should just be an overflow of what we have experienced privately in our worsip and relationship to God.

  25. Jessica September 29, 2011 at 11:56 PM #

    This was a very helpful article and also the comments too. What helped me see Song of Solomon in a new light was the book Union and Communion, a old-ish book, probably from the early 1900’s. It changed my view of everything and brought me back from backsliding.

  26. David November 1, 2011 at 1:43 AM #

    John ‘s Book of Revelation is Gods Word. If the Church is the Bride of Christ and there is to a marriage ceremony, there has to be a parallel to earthly marriage relationships or the analogy is meaningless.

  27. Deb January 2, 2013 at 1:34 PM #

    Just this morning, during my time with God, I was asking Him to help me to learn to worship and love Him even more. I don’t want to worship Him out of a sense of “what it will do for me”. I want to worship and love Him because of who He is. As my love for Him grows, so does the desire to “love on Him”.

  28. Mark August 24, 2013 at 10:20 AM #

    Great article. In teaching a class on Gospel Worship I was asked this question. Does the Song of Songs of Scripture provide a biblical basis for singing these types of songs as worship? My answer is no, for the following reasons.

    1. While the Song of Songs is poetry, it is romantic imagery that is an allegorical expression of Christ and the Church meant to express beauty and love as literature and not song. Not all poetry is appropriate or wise to be sung as worship. While the Song of Songs may cause us to personally worship God for the beauty of sex in marriage and the love of Christ for the church, there is no indication that the romantic imagery is a pattern for gathered worship.

    2. Worship is communication to God of who He is and what He has done. Our words of worship matter because they are sung to God. Lyrics of romantic imagery tend to diminish the majesty of God by bringing him down to a human level, making Him more like us.

    3. Romantic songs used in worship are often more about our feelings than the God we sing about. Our expression of feelings toward God in worship should be a response to what we sing about, not what we sing about.

    4. Our songs of worship should be distinctly about God, His Son, and the redemptive story of Scripture. Worship songs that are void of these characteristics proclaim nothing to the lost who gather with us or the great truths about God from His word.

    5. Singing songs of worship that are absent of truth is a slippery slope. The songs typically being justified by such rationale are often secular songs or those that are absent of sound doctrine. Once you absent sound doctrine and truth from worship, you can sing about anything. The Word of God must be the measure and standard for the Church’s gathered worship.

    • Bob Kauflin August 24, 2013 at 4:16 PM #

      Great thoughts, Mark. Thanks for commenting.

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