Should we ban the use of he pronouns “you,” “I” and “me” in our praise and worship songs?
Of course not, but the songs we sing on Sunday are full of them and they shouldn’t be. They reveal how we understand God and others and the world, but they also reinforce the self-centeredness that comes so naturally to us. Rather than lead me into a reality where I am not the centre of the universe, many songs carry the same message as television commercials.
Let’s start with “you.” There is no inherent problem with this word. But there is something we’ve lost along with the word “Thou.” It’s not really the word “you” that’s the issue, but a tone of familiarity and intimacy that I am wondering about. I think some of our songs consistently reflect an intimacy which might be going a little too far down the continuum, toward the “Jesus is my girlfriend” extreme. On one level, the intimacy is appropriate because the Holy Spirit is within us. But we can’t lose the idea that we are also addressing the almighty creator and sustainer of the universe.
“I” and “Me”
As for “I” and “me”–one of the main idols in our culture is individualism and we are hardly aware of our ritualized devotion to this false god.
In the West, everything comes to us through the filter of individualism. It would be a very good idea for every Christian to become very intimate friends with someone from a non-individualistic culture (traditional African and Middle Eastern perhaps) and listen very carefully to how they understand the Bible.
I am barely aware of my own devotion to the god of individualism. But I catch a glimpse of it in many praise and worship songs.
[click_to_tweet tweet=”I am barely aware of my own devotion to the god of individualism. But I catch a glimpse of it in many praise and worship songs. #PraiseandWorship” quote=”I am barely aware of my own devotion to the god of individualism. But I catch a glimpse of it in many praise and worship songs.”]
Worship should be God-focused, so it follows that worship songs ought to be focused on God and not on me. So then the question is, how often ought we see the pronouns “me” and “I” in song set? Notice that even if I am singing a line that says, “I love Jesus,” I am still singing about myself, or more accurately, my feelings.
Keith & Kristyn Getty & Stuart Townend wrote a song called “Come People of the Risen King” which is sung as a people of God, rather than a person of God.
Come, people of the Risen King,
Who delight to bring Him praise;
Come all and tune your hearts to sing
To the Morning Star of grace.
From the shifting shadows of the earth
We will lift our eyes to Him,
Where steady arms of mercy reach
To gather children in.
Rejoice, Rejoice! Let every tongue rejoice!
One heart, one voice; O Church of Christ, rejoice!
Come, those whose joy is morning sun,
And those weeping through the night;
Come, those who tell of battles won,
And those struggling in the fight.
For His perfect love will never change,
And His mercies never cease,
But follow us through all our days
With the certain hope of peace.
Come, young and old from every land –
Men and women of the faith;
Come, those with full or empty hands –
Find the riches of His grace.
Over all the world, His people sing –
Shore to shore we hear them call
The Truth that cries through every age:
“Our God is all in all”!
This is not to say that there is no room for a song that communicates a personal response to God. Of course, there is. Nor am I suggesting that we can’t sing songs that use the words “me” or “I.”
I am suggesting that when we are selecting songs to sing in collective worship, we need to primarily focus on God and not ourselves or our feelings toward him. This shift in focus will be reflected in the pronouns.
In my series The Poetry of Worship, offer ways we can improve the lyrics of the praise and worship songs we sing. More importantly, I explain why we ought to.
One of the main reason why I got out of being a worship in song leader at church was because of this subject and the apparent contradiction of people singing about “their” love of God while being lifeless and semi-participatory. The bulwarks around individuals sitting in seats (see Charles Taylor’s, A Secular Age, for more) leaves us with many individuals, some pious some not, sitting side by side without a true understanding of communion and congregation. Scrap the cheesy Jesus love songs and put Communion at the center of the gather, of the singing, of the “sermon” and focus on how we pray. “Our Father” is why we gather and no guitar riff or light show is going to sustain our attention better than this.