Spot the difference

A brief moment of self-disclosure. A while back, I had a decent collection of Christian artists in my iTunes library, most of which were worship/praise songs–i.e. nearly all of the Passion albums, a fair amount of Vineyard songs, and a smattering of others from similar contexts. A few years later, I made the (tough) decision to delete all of these, and I did this for a number of reasons–ones that I will not get into right now. As a way of supplementing this loss, I added more particular Christian artists to the mix, ones that were not necessarily worship/praise related–i.e. Third Day, Jars of Clay, David Crowder (who might be an exception in some cases), Derek Webb, Rich Mullins, Casting Crowns, Grits (yes, I admit it), etc.

I now have just over 1600 tracks in my iTunes library.  In comparison to a friend of mine (Jake C.), that number is just getting started. Every now and again, I will shuffle the entire list and then just hit play as I carry on about my work. Given that there are over 1600 tracks and that it would take more than 13 days to listen to the entire library, I’m pretty much guaranteed two things: 1) I have no need to worry about repeating songs, and 2) I might hear something I haven’t heard in a long time. Recently, the second of these two occurred and I was quite surprised because it was a song (one from the worship/praise genre) I thought I deleted long ago.

The song was, “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” by Delirious. It took me until the chorus of the song to realise what was playing. (I tend to have music playing as “white noise” while I work). So I started the song over to make sure I was hearing it right, and sure enough I was. At first I laughed because I thought it was deleted, but it clearly was not, and also because it brought back memories that have been long since forgotten. I then decided to listen to the song all the way through, mostly for nostalgia sake. As I did, I realised why I thought I deleted it, which is also mostly why I deleted all the others. Here’s the reason and I’m sorry for the crassness: it was annoyingly repetitive and had very little substance or meaning. Here are the lyrics (taken from this site):

Over the mountains and the sea,
Your river runs with love for me,
and I will open up my heart
and let the Healer set me free.
I’m happy to be in the truth,
and I will daily lift my hands:
for I will always sing of when
Your love came down. [Yeah!]

I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever,
I could sing of Your love forever. [Repeat]

Oh, I feel like dancing –
it’s foolishness I know;
but, when the world has seen the light,
they will dance with joy,
like we’re dancing now.

What the lyrics don’t tell you is that the chorus of “I could sing of Your love forever” is repeated after the final verse ad infinitum (or, until the desired affect is achieved in a worship service). Three things about these lyrics should be apparent–at least they are to me. First, singing that you could sing of God’s love forever is not the same thing as forever singing of God’s love; it’s merely repeating that you can do it. Second, and connected with the first, sheer repetition of something is a poor substitute for meaningful content. (That, and the repetition just gets old after the 100th time through). Third, and this is more of a question: isn’t the point of worship/praise to glorify God and not to describe meagre sentimentalities and modes of personal expression? Worship/praise is about God and what God has done, not how we feel about it. Or, put another way: worship/praise is about surrendering to God and doing the things that God would have us to do regardless of how we feel about it. This song would suggest the opposite.

Now, for the sake of contrast, consider the words (and content) to an old hymn:

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love

Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee;
Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King

Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee;
Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold

Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise;
Take my intellect and use
Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose

Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine;
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne

Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasures store;
Take myself and I will be
Every, only, all for Thee

The difference(s): it’s primarily about God, it’s about full submission to God regardless of the cost; it’s about surrendering to God’s will and desires, again regardless of the cost; it speaks of theology lived out for the sake of God’s glory; and, more importantly (at least for me), it doesn’t have meaningless, incantation-like repetition. A large majority of modern worship/praise songs (though, certainly not all of them) are not any of these things; they tend to be about the individual and how the individual feels. That’s not what worship/praise is about.  The hymns of old, especially those from Martin Luther and Charles Wesley, are enormous windows through which we can see what it means to worship/praise God.