Am I the only one who has ever let worship music shame them?
I don’t mean the kind of shame you feel after thinking – or saying – exactly how musically gifted you feel the worship team at your church is. I don’t mean that kind of shame.
You should feel guilty about that. (Kidding. Definitely kidding. We’re all friends here, aren’t we? I can joke a little, right?)
I mean, have you been shamed by the meaning of the songs; by the lyrics?
I’ve, literally, let glorious worship song lyrics shame me. (Okay, just so no one misconstrues, it was actually me doing the shaming. The lyrics were the unlucky scapegoats.)
Let me tell you the story.
When we first started going to church, about 4 ½ years ago, one of the things we loved the most was the music. It was wonderful and I enjoyed it as I would any other music. But, as the weeks wore on, and I began to learn the lyrics, something changed.
The meaning of the songs began to sink in. The music became restorative and informative, just like the message the pastor was delivering. But some of the songs struck me wrong.
I began to look around at others while singing. I would wonder what they thought of the lyrics.
I lay every burden down,
At the foot of the cross.
How can all these people be laying every burden down? I wanted to lean over to the lady in the row ahead and interview her on her burden-laying-down thoroughness.
Like, ‘Ma’am, are you sure you don’t have any burdens still to lay down? Any really terrible ones that you maybe pretend to lay down, but you’re really nurturing a tiny ember of self-pity about, deep inside?’
You’re altogether lovely,
Altogether wonderful to me.
Maybe it’s just my analytical nature, but these definitive words, like ‘every’ and ‘altogether’, were doing a number on me.
I started to think that maybe there were people who really felt that God was altogether lovely to them.
‘Either these people have never had trials, or they have no doubt; no questions’, I would think.
Because, to me, altogether means always and completely. And, I had many questions about struggle and hardship that I couldn’t fit into an ‘altogether lovely God’.
So, I sat in the third row, with hundreds of voices around me and decided that I had a really long way to go as a Christian. I figured that there must be some other newbies like me in the congregation, but that the vast majority probably had these lyrics down.
If our church kept hymnals on the backs of the pews, I would have opened one to see if anyone had made little check marks in the margins next to lyrics that they had mastered.
Before long, though, I kind of let it go. Because, well, I’m an achiever. I would catch up to them soon enough.
(Yes, please go ahead and laugh at me.)
In the time since then, though, the worship song and I have come to an understanding.
No one is singing, ‘Because of you my soul sings: I am free!’ to let other’s know that they have a complete grasp of what it means to be spiritually free. They’re not celebrating how their perfect freedom is playing out in their lives, completely.
Lyrics are mantra
I’ve long since realized that song lyrics are not a statement of fact or a declaration of the singer’s state of being.
Lyrics are mantra.
They’re like the line the teacher gave you to write out a hundred times at recess (in cursive writing, I might add). They’re your Bible memory verses, with a melody. And they have the same purpose.
Now, before anyone argues about the joy of the music or the way it touches their heart, I’m not saying the touchy-feely isn’t one of the purposes of worship music. It is.
But one of the other reasons we sing is to create the habit of faith.
C.S. Lewis spoke, very convincingly, in Mere Christianity, about needing to train the habit of faith. Now, I’m no neuroscience geek but I know what it takes to create a habit.
It is frequent repetition that produces a natural tendency.
– Aristotle, (Ross & Aristotle, 1906, p. 113)
And, if singing lyrics, boldly and slightly off key, even though you don’t 100% believe them for yourself yet is what it takes?
I say, go ahead and join me!
Let the music move you, not shame you. Let it soak into your heart and into your neurology. Those will never make good song lyrics, but they might just make a better life; a stronger faith.
And, I don’t think there’s any shame in that.