The Lies We Sing
By Gary Sinclair
A few years ago there was a popular worship song in vogue whose main lyric was, You’re all I want, you’re all I’ve ever needed. It was a powerful song with a beautiful refrain. No doubt thousands sang it over the years.
Then just this weekend I actually played and sang in our worship team and we did a newer song that declared, With everything I will shout forth your praise. Many embraced it with great passion and enthusiasm. Its words and melody were captivating and flowed easily from the mouths of those in attendance.
But it is songs with words like these that also trouble me. No, not because they contain some blatant Scriptural error or that the melodies are trite or have lyrics that merely repeat the same thing over and over. Rather, I simply know I can’t sing those songs and totally mean what they say.
Jesus is not all I want much of the time. I want my kids to live near me, a job that provides and good health the rest of my life. I long for people to love me, for my wife to think I’m wonderful and for my ministry to go well.
In addition I can say that I rarely praise God or serve Him with everything. I still hold back parts of me that I don’t easily offer up for His kingdom or glory. And in this life I don’t know that I ever will.
The better or more authentic lyrics, though not particularly poetic or singable, would be, You’re a lot of what I want, but there are still many things that tempt me. Or, With most of my being I’m trying to praise you right now, but I can’t get rid of the everyday temptations that fight for my attention.
Put bluntly I lie to God when I sing these worship songs. They’re just not true for me. I want them to be but they are not in everyday life. I wonder how many others do the same.
So the question is, Should we write and sing songs with similar lyrics that suggest impossible amounts of commitment to God in the first place?
As both a pastor and former worship leader I would answer with a resounding yes and no! (Sounds like a pastoral answer doesn’t it?) I say “no” on the one hand because we probably need to spend more time helping people to be authentic and real about what they say, hear and yes even sing. Congregations have been singing hymns by rote for years without grasping the full magnitude or multiple implications of what they sing about.
The title and content of the great hymn I Surrender All come to mind.There are hundreds more just like it.
Perhaps those of us who write songs should consider penning more lyrics that put our struggle, challenge and humanity in context. We could provide more permission to wrestle with the tensions we face trying to become like Christ in this life but not getting there. I John 3:3 suggests that someday we will be like him, but implies that we’ll never totally be there in this life.
Worship leaders could more readily reject songs whose lyrics are off the charts in their blatantly inconsistency with real Christian living.
But on the other hand I also add a guarded “Yes” to still writing and even singing some songs that give us a high standard and a lofty goal to shoot for as a Christian .
The Bible does this, doesn’t it? Consider the standards for church leaders in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. The lists of leadership qualities there are long and yet there isn’t an elder or deacon alive who is all of those things all of the time. But the challenge is there.
In the same way I do need to be reminded that following and serving Christ requires that I become more like Him and that I should want Him and Him alone. I do need to be urged to worship Him with everything and to gradually lay aside the chains that slow me down.
Perhaps what we need from worship leaders and pastors is a greater awareness and more readily spoken word to our congregations that we do recognize we’re simply not perfect yet. We are still becoming. Maybe our songs can then more regularly become anthems that rally and encourage real change, a greater passion for Jesus and a new desire to exalt the Father from the depths of our being.
All I know is that I don’t want to lie any more. I don’t want to pretend that everything is fine. Too many think we Christians don’t mean what we say in the first place. Maybe we can do some practical things in our worship for starters to prove them wrong and live real, genuine authentic lives before them.
Gary Sinclair is currently a teaching pastor and the Director of ACFcares at Austin Christian Fellowship in Austin, Texas. He is a keyboardist and singer as well and served as a worship leader for eight years at Grace Church in IL before becoming senior pastor. He writes two blogs, loves the mountains and is grandfather to four grandsons.