We often talk about how words have the power of life or death, but I’m not sure we actually believe that the words we say really matter all that much, at least when it comes to worship. For if we did I think we’d say (and sing) very different things than we often do.
I’m often bothered by what I call the “me” focus focus in worship While it’s not something I’ve written on lately – actually, in a very long time – it is still something that I spend much time contemplating and praying about. I struggle with trying to change people’s focus and help them to see that while they may feel like they are worshiping God because they are having a very real emotional experience, their words would suggest otherwise.
Take, for example, a popular worship song I hear on the radio and in churches: Healer. Now before I make it sound as if I hate the song or if the song should never be sung in a church let me assure you I don’t hold to either of those beliefs – I’m simply going to use this song as an illustration to a larger point I want to make (specifically, that words matter). If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a video of it so you can watch (and listen to) it.
Did you catch the chorus?
I believe you’re my healer, I believe you are all I need, I believe.
I believe you’re my portion, I believe you’re more than enough for me. Jesus you’re all I need.
What could I possibly have wrong with those words? It’s really quite simple: it’s the first two words “I believe.” Go back and listen to the song again – it starts as a direct proclamation to Jesus (“You hold my every moment…”), but then instead of proclaiming truth we start talking about what we believe. Too bad in our society and culture what we “believe” doesn’t seem to hold much water anymore – it’s understood by most as nothing more than an intellectual ascent to an idea, but whether that idea (or ideal) has any impact in our everyday lives is pretty much up for grabs. Do you think I’m over-stating this? Tell me, what would your spouse (parent, child, friend) say if you looked at them and said, “I believe I love you.” What kind of statement is that? You believe you love me? Why not just tell me you love me?
And I have to wonder if that’s what Jesus thinks and feels when he hears us utter these words of “belief”. Why can’t we just say to him, “You are my healer. You are my portion. You are enough for me.” rather than infect them with the words “I believe”? I understand the intent here is probably to make it personal so that we perhaps “own” the words and internalize them. But the fact is that’s now how our minds work – in our culture to say “I believe” is a way to distance ourselves from the idea and weaken it; it’s a way to say say that what we are talking about is really just our perception of reality while acknowledging that our perception may be false. Let’s get political for a moment to illustrate the point: which is more offensive in today’s culture – to say, “Gay marriage is wrong” or to say “I believe gay marriage is wrong”? It’s the former – because it makes a claim as fact, while the latter is simply my own belief, or preference, or interpretation. Or let’s flip it around… “Gay marriage is right and should be allowed legally” versus “I believe gay marriage is okay and that we should allow it legally”.
Are you starting to see the difference? One allows for argument because it claims a truth while another simply subscribes to a personal opinion.
Ironically, even the secular world realizes this. Check out the following advertisement about the power of words:
A friend of mine recently told me of a blog post with the title, Stop Singing Oceans which reinforces this idea that our words matter. And I can’t disagree with him (or the author of the post)!
So how does this words matter stuff related to what I’ve called the “me” culture in worship? Simple. The focus of the words in the song Healer I quoted above have a very clear focus: the person singing. The lyrics themselves do not point to the healer (well, at least not for all but the last phrase of the chorus), they focus on the one holding the belief. And that, dear friends, is a huge difference. If our focus should be on Jesus – who he is and what he has done – then why would we allow it be infected with any hint of us? The Bible has a very clear definition of anything that we place before God – it’s called idolatry. Call me a cranky old-timer if you want (though I’m certainly not old :)), but I just get so tired of listening to Christian radio and singing songs in worship services that seem more focused on us than they do on God.
Words matter – they literally matter. Not just because they are both a reflection of what we are thinking but also because they direct our thoughts. But even more than that, words matter because they have a spiritual life to them. Must I remind you that Jesus was called The Word? Must I remind you that God created the entire universe by speaking it into existence? Or that the Bible is called God’s Word? Or that we are told that “The Lord gave the word“?
And just in case you’re still doubting me, I challenge you to try something. For the next week when you talk to other people – whether Christians or not – instead of using the universal (and often less-offensive) term “God” try actually using the name “Jesus”. What you’ll most likely find is that if you don’t speak Jesus’ name verbally very often but rather default to “God”, “Lord,” or some other generic term, that saying the word “Jesus” is uncomfortable and feels strange. Why? Because there is power in the name of Jesus, because our words matter – the literal, individual words we choose. And our enemy knows this. He knows that as long as we don’t use the name “Jesus” there is ambiguity in our speech. He knows that when he convinces us to talk about “our beliefs” that he has disarmed us because we no longer claim The Truth but rather A Truth.
And that, my friends, is not a place I want to be.