Out of Context Worship Songs

Surprisingly the post that has received the most comment or response lately is the one about worship songs.  But far be it from me to tread an easy path and I’ll once more go where fools fear to tread and say some words about a Matt Redman song: Blessed Be Your Name. Before you start reaching for your keyboards to compose replies, let me quickly say that there is nothing wrong with the song in itself, but rather with the context in which we sang it at church this morning.

We’d just listened to a sermon on Job during which we heard that when we are pain it is ok to question God and to ask him what is going on. It was a bit of a surprise then to follow up the sermon with a song that says that whatever is going wrong in my life I will cry out Blessed be the name of the Lord.  As I say, there is nothing wrong with the song and in the right context it could be powerful – but it did rather see to contradict the theme of the sermon.

Even better: as we started to sing the song, the service leader announced that we would be taking up the offering while the song was sung. For those who don’t know the song, the second verse contains the line When there is pain in the offering. Yes, I know, I should grow up, but I just love juxtapositions like that one. Had me giggling all the way through the song.

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10 replies on “Out of Context Worship Songs”

Why do you think that questioning God and praying for the honour of his name need to be mutually exclusive. Job did question God and yet he chose to continue praising him apparently at the same time. I don’t think Job said “thankyou for the pain” but he did choose to believe in God’s unfailing goodness even while questioning God’s purposes. Christianity Today gives a brief ‘story behind the song’.

This is probably more befitting a discussion thread on Facebook than comments on a blog… mostly because everyone has an opinion, but also because the response is never going to be brief.

My experience from leading the service on Sunday night is that the range of songs we have for selection are fairly narrow in what they express, especially the more modern songs. However, we are all called to praise God, regardless of the situation we find ourselves in. Occasionally we have to praise God even when we don’t automatically want to because of who God is. There are enough occasions in the Psalms when the Psalmist commands his soul to praise God, even though he doesn’t feel like it.

How we do it today? I think we need to get away from songs being the focal point of our expression of praise. Music is hugely influential and expressive emotionally, but singing enforces a corporate praise and we need to find ways of allowing individuals to praise God.

And when it comes to songs… maybe it’s time to accept that the songs we think are rubbish some people really like and some that we really like others are going to think are rubbish. Also, we should be encouraging those within our churches with a talent for music and lyrics to write about their experiences.

From my point of view, I appreciate some of the stuff that we sing at church, but the songs that have really touched me are more contemporary (and more country) so we would never sing those as a congregation and I’m just about willing to accept that.

I would agree with you Paul, but the song does not reflect the whole of Job’s experience – only the upbeat positive side. At least to my mind it undermined the message of the sermon which took the broader pserpective.

It might be worth noting that the sermon itself (I preached it!) finished with reflection on (what I take as) some of Job’s most startling expressions of faith which came out of some of his most anguished expressions of grief and questioning – as Paul shaddick rightly says, the two seem to go together. In that context I thought the song was a good choice. In any case the verses both include references to trusting God in the harder times and the ‘bridge’ includes the agnonised words “you give and take away”.

Thanks for the comment John. (By the way you can listen to all of John’s Job series on the Above Bar website.)

I agree with you, the song does accurately reflect where Job ended up, but I don’t think, despite the words of the bridge, it really captures all that Job went through. Then again, I can’t think of any other worship song – contemporary or otherwise, which does that either. I think probably the best is ‘When Peace Like a River’ but the tune makes that more or less unusable in a current setting.

Do you want to launch a Facebook discussion, Phil? There was quite a bit about songs on the Above Barbarians wall a few months back. For my part, I’m staying out of discussions about songs for a while.

ps – sorry if this reply comes out of order, but Phil’s comment and Paul’s were both identified as SPAM for some reason.

Paul M, I’m surprised that anyone would consider the lyrics of Matt Redman’s songs to be “nonsense”. The ones I know well are very meaningful, if sometimes a bit too specific in meaning to be appropriate in all the contexts in which they are used. Some other modern choruses (actually from my experience more the 1980’s ones than more recent ones) may have “nonsense” lyrics. And lyrics sung in the wrong context or without being properly understood may seem “nonsense”. Does Nick Page actually classify any Matt Redman song lyrics as “nonsense”? If so, I would be interested in some examples.

I have sung that song in contexts where I was glad for the reminder and opportunity to offer praise to the name of the Lord even when there was pain in the offering. But, I must say, in the context of a semantically different “offering” taking place while singing the song, I probably would have forgotten about the praise AND the pain and just started laughing.

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