3.09.2011

Filling In Empty Music (1 of 3)


I'm involved in the children's worship ministry at our church and I'm always looking for new, solid songs to teach and sing with our children. I often find some songs with a few good lyrics, but get discouraged because the rest of the song ends up being repetitious or empty or just...not great.

I remember reading Leonard Payton's chapter entitled, "HOW SHALL WE SING TO GOD?", in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, John H. Armstrong, gen. ed. (Chicago, Ill.: Moody, 1996). You can actually read it online here. He spoke of the failure to hold tighter to Scripture when writing songs. He says,
Consider the well-known chorus, Bless His Holy Name.

     Bless the Lord, 0 my soul,
     and all that is within me
     bless His holy name.
     He has done great things.
     He has done great things.
     He has done great things,
     bless His holy name..

It is true that the opening sentence of the chorus is a verbatim quote of Psalm 103:1, and that is to be applauded. Beyond that, however, the remaining twenty-one verses of Psalm 103 are compressed into a scant eight words that give the vague notion that we should bless the Lord because of the great things He has done. What those great things are is left to the imagination, not the plain teaching of Scripture. The problem is that true, biblical gratitude must have its basis in objective facts or doctrine. If it doesn’t, it is mere sentimentality.

Worship music teaches whether or not we want it to do so. It behooves us, therefore, to approach the writing of worship music texts with as much theological clarity and as much
linguistic skill as possible.

Ever since I read that over 10 years ago, I've tended to lean toward the strict side of passing judgement on songs that just didn't cut it. Since then, I've not only tried to be a bit more forgiving, but to also take the advice Isaac Watts' father gave him when he complained about the songs (Psalms) they always sang in church. His father said, in effect, "If you don't like them, write something better." And Isaac Watts did. And so did I. But his are better.

Take for example, "Thy Word", written by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. The chorus is Psalm 119:105 verbatim. But then, even though the song is titled, "Thy Word," they choose to write something that's not necessarily unbiblical, just not as clear as the chorus.
When I feel afraid,
And think I've lost my way.
Still, you're there right beside me.
Nothing will I fear
As long as you are near;
Please be near me to the end.

I will not forget
Your love for me and yet,
My heart forever is wandering.
Jesus by my guide,
And hold me to your side,
And I will love you to the end.
Again, not bad - certainly not heretical - you could probably even find some other verses in Psalm 119 to "support" some of the lyrics (wandering heart - vs. 176; loving to the end - vs. 112 perhaps).

Well, I thought I'd tweak it a bit and so I found a few other verses in this great, 176-verse chapter of applied bibliology and wrote two replacement verses:
Verse 1
Teach me Your Commands
I will keep them to the end
Give me understanding
How can I stay pure?
By the keeping of Your Word.
All day I will meditate.

Verse 2
Open up my eyes
And make me realize
Wondrous things from Your Law, O Lord.
I have gone astray
Like a sheep and so I say,
I long for Your salvation, Lord!
It'd probably be easy to come up with several other verses if one would give it some time. After all, including the original chorus, this only covers Psalm 119:9, 18, 33-34, 97, 105, 174, and 176. There's still 168 more verses to work with!

Tomorrow & Friday I'll post a couple of other songs that I worked on.
(Edited & reposted from 2007)

2 comments:

Gary said...

Voddie Baucham has a great message on worship... He quotes a seminary instructor (Leafblad)who defined true worship thus: "true worship happens when we set our minds attention and hearts affection on the Lord and worship him for who he is and what he has done." I believe ( Don't hold me to that though) he preached the sermon out of psalm 119.

I didn't know it you were an aspiring poet...

Phil said...

Good thoughts, and I like the new verses to "Thy Word!" Doing this sort of thing is very John-Piper-like ("I Love You, Lord"). Thanks, and keep writing more (and copy Todd and me on them!!).
-pk