This question was sent in by Larry:
Yesterday, I was listening/singing to the song, ‘I Will Glory in my Redeemer’ [by Steve and Vikki Cook]…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.
What is the place of lyrics like these in our songs?…Do you ever struggle with feeling 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?
Thanks for a great question, Larry. I’ve heard people struggle with this a number of times.
Let me begin with an analogy. I’ve been married to Julie for thirty years. I have no longings for another, and I’m truly satisfied in her alone. But there are times when my mind or heart drifts. I don’t love her as passionately at one moment as I do another. I get distracted. I find myself drawn to find fulfillment in other things. I imagine I will have that struggle until the day I die.
Is it wrong, then, for me to tell her that I have no longings for another? Or should I always express my commitment with a caveat, a misgiving, a disclaimer? Should I tell her on this coming Valentine’s Day, “Julie, I want to love you alone, but I’m not quite there yet. I sure hope I’ll do better in the coming year?”
I hope the answer is obvious. My expressions of commitment to my wife both express and strengthen my love for her. They remind me of our vows, my desire to be faithful, and the superior joy I find in loving her alone.
Our relationship with God is similar. The Psalms contain numerous examples of expressed commitment which seems hyperbolic if not downright hypocritical. For instance, Asaph says in Psalm 73: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25). David says, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Ps. 34:1). Really? Except when he saw Bathsheba…More professions of faithfulness and desire are found in Ps. 16:2; 52:9; 75:9; 119:33.
These expressions help us align our hearts with what God has done in us through the Gospel. We have been made new creations, and have turned from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9). They remind us of our need for God’s grace and his faithful promises. The only reason we can even say these things is because God has produced new life in us through his Spirit. They bring great delight and satisfaction to our souls as we remember that nothing can satisfy us like God himself, no one else is worthy of our obedience, and we exist for none other than God. In A Guide to Prayer, Isaac Watts said, “We can never be too frequent or too solemn in the general surrender of our souls to God and binding our souls by a vow to be the Lord’s forever: to love him above all things, to fear him, to hope in him, to walk in his ways in a course of holy obedience, and to wait for his mercy unto eternal life” (p. 28). Amen!
Those are the benefits. Here are two concerns. First, if we are singing words of commitment while engaging in unrepentant sin, hoping to impress others or “fool” God through our spirituality, we’re deceived. God wants us to repent so that we can sing those words with joy and faith. Second, expressions of unwavering commitment should be mixed with regular requests for God’s grace to fulfill them. Otherwise we can fall into an “over-realized eschatology,” thinking that our struggle against sin is already over. No, we haven’t arrived yet. But we can be sure that God has written his law upon our hearts (Jer. 31:33), and our love for him is something he himself has placed in us through the Gospel. So let us sing with profound gratefulness and amazement, “I have no longings for another; I’m satisfied in him alone.”
My major concern is with leading a congregation in making these declarations. Songs which focus on God’s glory can be sung by anyone at any time, but a line like “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth “, while biblical, shouldn’t be taken lightly. Often visitors can just be encouraged to join in; if a song contains any such declaration then a worship leader carries the responsibility of ensuring that the congregation knows where they are being led. We must say something like “these are serious words.”
Looking to the psalms leads me to ask another question: are we often “lying” emotionally by only generally expressing happiness in our worship. The psalms are full of pain and confusion – “my enemies surround me”…”Why have you forsaken me” etc… When so many of our songs only express devotion it can leave people feeling dishonest by missing out many of their true feelings.
After all, which gives more glory to God – a happy person saying “I am happy and God is good”, or someone with real struggles expressing their pain and then saying “yet I WILL praise the lord and trust in him”?
Great post & thoughts.
Our worship pastor has addressed this same issue, and said something like this (his tongue is more velvet than mine, so bare with me!)
When we sing such a bold statement, “I will do so and so” – it’s not only a declaration, it can also be our desire – our prayer to God for His grace to carry it out.
I.e., “I will glory in my Redeemer – though I don’t always – help me, Lord, to glory only in you, and not another…” or “I love you Lord and I life my voice…but oh how I long love you more…”, etc.
So Bob’s marriage illustration is helpful in understanding this.
Thanks for the response; it helped to clarify some things for me. As Dave mentioned, your response also reminded me how important it is for worship leaders (and preachers for that matter, as I am)to spiritually prepare people for worship, thinking critically about what we are singing.
I agree that it would be very appropriate to tell my wife, “I am completely satisfied in you.” In the same regard, I would not choose to say to her, “In all I do, I honor you.” One is a statement of affection that reflects the attitude of the heart. The other is a definitive statement of perfect obedience. It seems to me that the same logic applies to congregational singing.
Thanks for such an excellent and thought provoking post.
This is a very encouraging post, because this is something that I’ve had to step in the ring with and box it out for quite some time.
My question is, how can you discern between desire and proclamation with very direct statements (such as “I will give you all my worship” or “It is well with my soul”, etc.)?
If Christians make these kinds of worship vows when they do not feel them in there heart, it seems dishonest and a false vow. They should search their souls and find people who can mentor them and pray with them. The same would be true if a spouse were having trouble with a desire to keep their marriage vows. Possibly they got married for the wrong reason? Just stating a vow in worship as if it will change you turns into some kind of mental empowerment or mantra chant.
“In all I do, I honor you”
Which is why I slip in the little word “may.” In all I do, may I honor you.
Agreed Keith. To sing, “In all I do / I honor you” sounds more like something Annanias and Sapphira might have been humming to themselves just before the lights went out :-/!
I also have to respectfully take exception to the author’s “wife analogy.” -What man in his right mind would volunteer that kind of “honesty” to his own wife? It seems to me Mr. Kauflin himself answers that question quite succinctly when he states, “I hope the answer is obvious.” ;-)!
Mr. Kauflin does “redeem himself” mentioning Sir Isaac Watts, however ::: smile :::: – here’s something I found @ songsandhymns.org :
Once as a child, he reportedly got in trouble for making rhymes out of everyday language. Scolded for this, he replied,
“Oh, Father, do some pity take,
and I will no more verses make.”
In closing (and while we’re on the subject anyway), I do wonder what what our esteemed hymnwriter from so long ago would have thought of the following two articles…
Open Thou Our Lips! The Great Hymn Controversy
Mission Praise and Contemporary Song Books
Michael J. Penfold
Keith and Carl,
I agree with you. Sometimes I can sing exaggerated words in a Christian song, and sometimes I can’t.
Great post. I have to admit that a lot of times I am, lying when I sing. But in all honesty, there are times when I cannot sing. Nothing comes out, words are suitable. This past Sunday was one of those times and I know the reason why.
I was saturated through the week with the Gospel. Meditating on Scripture, reading Gospel-soaked books, and declaring Gospel tidbits through my blog and tweets (@kenzuk).
Then when Sunday morning came around…and deep Gospel songs came up on the screen…no words. Tears, but no words. I felt like I was mute.
Oh how I want those moments of worship all through my week rather than singing with a forked tongue!!! God, help me!
When I sing “ideal” words like that I am also praying “Spirit, make these things true in my life. Make up the the gap between these holy aspirations and the reality of my life”.
I’ve often followed up a song with words like that with a prayer like that. “O Lord, we have expressed our total devotion do you, and yet we need your Spirit to make these word true in our lives. Help us to live these words.”
I don’t believe that God is up there playing gotcha with us. If we get hyper-legal in our interpretation then we could never sing “I love you” to the Lord, since our love is never perfect.
Geoff, excellent comment. Thanks.
Agree with you, Bob, and Geoff, your comment above was also right on. Our devotion to God is woefully imperfect, and that is why we need such a great Savior. It is also why we need to preach the Gospel to ourselves, and rest in the perfect life, the sufficient sacrifice, and powerful love of Jesus Christ. And if some of the people in the congregation don’t know Him and we are leading them to sing such songs, it is up to worship leaders and pastors to explain what the Gospel is all about.