The Lies We Sing

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The Lies1

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.

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    24 comments on “The Lies We Sing

    1. Great word, Gary! I love the open and honest assessment of our wayward hearts.

      One question:
      Do you think David lied in the Psalms when he said things like “For God alone my soul waits in silence… He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken?” (Psalm 62)

      There are probably much better examples in the Psalms that might sound like the “impossible commitment” type lyrics you referenced.

      • Great point. Those kinds of verses juxtaposed with some of David’s other more raw comments make this paradox even more interesting and challenging.

    2. I’ve thought this before and I appreciate you typing it out more eloquently than I could speak it. One particular song that was briefly popular with our minstry had the line “Break our heart for what breaks yours.”

      I still ponder this occasionally; do we really even want this? It’s certainly a nice sentiment but I’m not so sure we could handle it. In fact, I am of the belief that if our hearts were broken by what breaks the Lord’s heart, we would be incapable of moving.

      What I eventually came to think is that, like you said of the Bible, our life necessitates lofty expectations. How would we pursue purity unless we knew there was a greater standard? How could we desire to be like God except that Jesus commanded us to “be perfect, like your Father in Heaven is perfect.” I believe we need these lyrics, not as any authority, but to be an addition to Scripture to remind us that we have fallen short, we need to endure, and that God is who He says He is.

    3. I always sing those songs with the mindset of, “please Lord help me be more like that”.

      I have returned from week 2 of Spring Harvest in Minehead. I could not bring myself to sing some of the songs, as they suggested that if you are a Christian everything will go right in your life and the Lord will give you all you ask for (without reference to His will!).

    4. Gary I both agree and disagree (how’s that for a fellow worship leader’s answer?), and as you said, this applies to hymnody as well. This of course applies to all lyrics, not just our own actions. The spiritual depth of lyrical content in all genre’s can possess a spirituality that is beyond our ability to attain or even understand. While calling it “lying” to sing these words without full participation or even understanding is certainly technically accurate, I do not believe that what we do as we sing merits the term. To lie is to do so with intent. If I sing “you’re all I want, you’re all I’ve ever needed” with a focus on God and an intention to sing to God what I hope for then I am not lying simply because I cannot achieve that without the help of the Holy Spirit. The truth is there is not a single goal in living set forth by Jesus’ example that I can achieve on my own. So should I bring condemnation on myself because of that or should I strive for perfection while trusting in God’s forgiveness and grace? The world often judge’s Christian’s apparent hypocrisy in words versus deeds because it does not understand that Christian’ are still sinners. While we may desire to do what is right, we will surely fail and when we do there will be someone there pointing and saying, “hypocrite.”
      I agree with you that we should have a clear understanding of lyrics we sing and be aware of our shortcomings, but I do not believe that we need to change the lofty goals expressed in our music, rather we should aspire that they might be true. Many people have said that congregational worship is actually heaven practice. In that case I can sing these lyrics in confidence that one day in His presence they will be exactly true.

    5. Pingback: The Lies We Sing | Worship Leaders

    6. Below is an article from stevenfurtick.com that was very helpful to me.

      A MAJOR WORSHIP OBSTACLE
      March 21st, 2011
      One of the biggest obstacles for many people in worship comes when it’s time to sing a song or a line they don’t fully mean or haven’t fully lived up to.

      Lines that declare that we’re ready to sacrifice everything, when giving 10% of our income feels like a harder sacrifice to make than martyrdom.
      Songs about God’s glory being our greatest passion, when it’s usually our greatest afterthought.

      Some choose not to sing these lines or songs at all. They wouldn’t dare sing something they don’t mean or live. Others sing them, but feel like they’re being hypocritical.

      Both of these groups miss an essential truth of worship:
      Worship isn’t an assessment of my performance but a statement of my intention.

      If I had to completely mean and live every word every time I sang it, I would never sing. Nobody would. Even the men who wrote the Psalms.

      By still singing, we’re not being hypocritical. We’re training our flesh to submit to our spirit. We’re stating our intentions. We’re saying, “Make this true, Lord. I want my life to catch up to the truth I’m singing.”

      I want your glory to be my greatest passion.
      I want to be willing to sacrifice everything for you.

      It’d only be hypocritical if we had no intention of living up to these declarations.

      And consider this: even if you had your act completely together, you’d still be just as unworthy to sing a single syllable. But God has commanded you to worship anyways. And that’s because your performance and feelings aren’t the admission price for true worship. Jesus’ blood is.

      So continue to sing. Continue to worship. Let the discrepancy between the words you’re singing and the life you’re living be an engine for repentance. Not a cause for shame or silence.

    7. Leading between the songs is just as important for worship leaders as making sure our vocals and guitars are in perfect (?) tune. So, when we sing a song that may be a stretch for us to fully feel/want for ourselves or even for our church, hopefully we have an intimacy with our congregations that allows us to voice those stretches and challenge them and ourselves to always be seeking a closer relationship with God. With these songs that paint such “perfect” pictures of what are, in reality, very personal and different faith journeys, we as worship leaders have the opportunity to help with the spiritual growth of our churches by voicing these stretches and bringing peace to those who may struggle to sing such lofty words. In doing so, we help faciliate a worship space that is honest, challengeing, and authentic. We have to be open and honest enough to share that none of us are there yet…but that there is ALWAYS room to grow.

    8. Every time I read articles with similar viewpoints, I recall the time when worship songs in church weren’t all about the ‘new’ and recent songs from the songwriters. Every simple hymn or worship song from recent times weren’t perfectly crafted, but most served to lift the faith the the singers to greater heights in God, greater concepts than their emotions or knowledge. Scripture choruses were easy to sing and more testimonial or gospel songs told the story of redemption and changed lives because of faith in Jesus. “Saved, saved, by His power Divine!” being one example. Thank you all for your talent and dedication to the music of the church!

    9. With all due respect and appreciation for your honesty in this article, I’m wary of your suggestion to quit singing “lies” because it seems like you might be suggesting the church should write/sing songs out of the flesh, as opposed to out of the spirit. This suggestion just does not seem biblical or in line with how Christians throughout all generations have worshiped. Perhaps people can sing, read and worship to the rich Psalms and Spirit-inspired worship songs of more recent generations even if they don’t believe them. Maybe people should sing these songs precisely because they don’t believe them, until one day, by the great grace and mercy of our God, they do find themselves believing them, by the power and filling of the Holy Spirit.

      For example, the creeds (e.g. Nicene and Apostle’s creeds) have been recited in Christian worship since the early church, and have been instructive and helpful for training new believers and non-believers in the beliefs of the church and the basics of Christianity.

      A student in a seminary classroom once asked a visiting lecturer, “What am I to do…when I have difficulty affirming parts of the Creed…? The Orthodox theologian’s answer: “You just say it. Particularly when you have difficulty believing it….”

      The student, again: “How can I with integrity affirm a creed which I do not believe?”

      The priest replied: “It’s not your creed, it’s our creed,” meaning the Creed of the entire Christian church…”Eventually it may come to you, for some, it takes longer than for others” (Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, 64-65).

      The creeds we recite, the songs we sing, the prayers we pray in Christian worship are not about what we as individuals believe, they reflect what the church, the body of Christ universal, believes. And “beholding is becoming,” we become what we celebrate and what we focus on in our worship.

      As long as the songs we are singing reflect the beliefs of the ecumenical church, or, in the words of the Nicene creed, the “one holy catholic and apostolic church,” then how can they be “lies”? Christians can be filled with the Holy Spirit, and they should and can desire God with all of their beings.

      My prayer for the church is that the Spirit would continue to inspire songs/psalms and that the Bride of Christ would continue to pour out praise from the overflow of our hearts just as the psalmist does in this beautiful expression of desire and trust in Psalm 73:
      25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
      And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
      26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
      but God is the strength of my heart
      and my portion forever.

      • Thx for your thoughts and efforts for the kingdom. If nothing else we’re all going to be more aware in our worship leading.

    10. At the beginning of the last paragraph, the author wrote “All I know is that I don’t want to lie any more.” In the spirit of this article, is that really all you know? :)

    11. I like your thoughts here. Making declarations that aren’t yet true or haven’t yet come to pass is a great part of the Christian experience ….even in worship. We worship a Holy God who desires that we too become like him, so on my journey of doing just that I want to shout out to him, that he is all I want and work on myself enough so that at some point my heart will actually catch up to what I sing and say.

      Great article. Thanks for sharing.

    12. I am a trained musician and pastor who has served the church in music and preaching ministries for some 20 years now. I’m also a singer-songwriter, and my 4th full length CD has just been released by the Tate Music Group. I have toured across Canada and around the world, singing and speaking about worship, and much of what I see and hear disturbs me greatly. I think it would be wise, when choosing songs for worship and certainly when writing new music for the church, to keep a few critically important things in mind.

      1. We worship to glorify God, not to please ourselves. It is GOD who is to be enthroned by our praises. How the worship makes US “feel” is not the primary goal, nor should we who lead be patting ourselves on the back because the people were “really into the worship today”. They might be “really into” alcoholism or porn too. Just because it feels pleasurable to the people doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re doing something good!
      2. God gets the strong verbs. Biblical worship reminds and rehearses the story of the gospel from Genesis to Revelation in word and melody, offering God praise for his transformative actions in human history, and anticipating with hope what is yet to come in God’s still-unfolding plan.
      3. Worship is Trinitarian. When’s the last time you thought about song selection based on whether the dynamic relationships between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were represented? We offer back to God a reflection of who God is, and God has revealed himself to be the holy, eternal three-in-one.
      4. There is a HUGE difference between a concert gig and a worship set. Worship is meant to be musically simple enough for an average person in the pews to be able to sing along. Easily. Make the music accessible for untrained people. It’s an ASSEMBLY of the body, not a stage performance by the “professionals” on the platform who entertain the poor peons in the pews. Worship is something the church is meant to do TOGETHER as the body of Christ. Save the long instrumental riffs, vocal embellishments, and the smoke machine for special events or other locations. For Sunday worship, the congregation sings the glory of God together.
      5. We need to repent, and turn again toward songs that worship God for who he is and what he has done, instead of majoring in telling God what to do for our benefit. The church is supposed to be outward focused, loving neighbours, strangers, and enemies. I wish I heard less about “me, myself and I” among the congregations I visit, and more about how the congregations are prayerfully engaging and supporting a broken, hurting world.

      These are the burning issues on my heart. And I realize that I’m generalizing, and not every church is guilty of these things. I’m also sure that I regularly fall short of the mark. But worship, when engaged with a sense of humility, prayerful dependance on God, and with as much thoughtfulness and musical skill as we can muster, can be a beautiful, holy encounter with the living God. After tasting the real deal, everything else seems like sawdust to me. So I keep working, crafting, repenting, and carrying on. I think, like the author, that this is a both/and situation. We set the bar high, but we also need to acknowledge that we can’t attain it on our own strength. It is God who enlivens our worshiping and our living. Blessings, Lisa

    13. For me personally, I am able to sing them because in my heart there is a deep longing to feel that way and act that way, even though I can’t attain it totally on earth. However, some day in Heaven, I will be able to. I think God puts that longing in our hearts, and God can use those songs it that moment of worship to give us a glimpse of how it will feel and how it will be. I find it very uplifting.

    14. Yeah! Thanks for saying this. We need to get real with what we are singing and with what we are asking thinking, intelligent, people to sing. This is loving God not just with our hearts but also with our minds.

      Another way this comes in is when we proclaim we are doing physical gestures.
      “We stand and lift up our hands …” “We bow down and worship him now…”
      “I’m falling on my knees..”
      Really? Are we?
      It’s not a huge thing, but like mentioned above, an obstacle for some.

    15. It’s interesting to then reflect on songs, lyrics, and thoughts you have had over the years. It’s like watching a video of various events and times in your life, seeing what God was saying to you, what He was doing in your heart and life. It also gives a sense of the progressive revelation process that is happening, how your understanding of God and following Him and living for Him is developing and changing.
      One song, My Father’s Business, sings, “(I’m) gonna take time for the Lord every morning” could both be meant as a resolution to start meeting with God regularly each day and (then later for me) to transform into the reality that God wants us to spend time with Him ALL the time and in EVERYTHING and not just in the morning for a quiet time.
      The songs we write become a musical journal of our journey with our wonderful God, Creator, Father, Savior, Friend, Counselor, Judge, and Eternal Companion–the One to Whom all of our praise and worship is due!

    16. The answer to this seemingly complex problem lies in what we believe worship songs are and should be. To even answer this question we need to ask ourselves, what is worship? I wrote a blog article AUTHENTIC WORSHIP to answer this question last month here:

      http://ohpeekay.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/authentic-worship/

      It is when we understand what AUTHENTIC WORSHIP is, that is when we will be able to understand the purpose of worship songs. Worship songs are not supposed to suit how we feel or where we are in our walk in Christ because worship songs are mediums we use to glorify the name of the Lord; they are about God and not us! Therefore, if we don’t feel like the songs don’t correlate with our lives, then it is not the songs that should change, it is our lives that need to change. Once the songs are based on the Word of God and are inspired the Holy Spirit, then they should not be changed rather WE need to allow the Holy Ghost to work on us. What we don’t realized is that Worship songs written based on the Word are powerful because we are saying the Word (through singing) over and over again and when we do that, we build our faith. Faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). That is what happens when you sing Worship songs written based on the Word and inspired by the Spirit. So even if you don’t feel you are “worthy” to sing it, by the time you are done singing (genuinely), your faith should have been built up to have the strength to live for Christ so that the next time you sing the song, you mean it.

      We need to go back to what real worship is because it is not about singing of songs. That is when the songs we sing will not just be about how we feel or don’t feel. Worship songs should be an outflow of what we feel towards God (glorifying His name) and not us trying to make ourselves feel better or to appease our consciences by the songs we sing..

      Shalom!

    17. Thanks for this very challenging and thought provoking article!! You’ve inspired some great discussion here in the music ministry office at Times Square Church in NYC. We even devoted an entire hour on our Music with a Mission podcast to a discussion that spun off from this article. You can listen to the podcast here (dated August 9, 2013 “Do You Believe the Truth You Sing?”): http://www.tscnyc.org/music/radio-podcast.php

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