For better or worse, I came of age in an era where simple praise choruses were all the rage. Of course, as many of their detractors were quick to point out, both the musical complexity and the theological depth of these choruses often left much to be desired, which is an accurate reflection as far as it goes. And yet, I often couldn’t help but feel that these offerings of song were being judged by the wrong criteria. They weren’t intended to give doctrinal instruction or to challenge the church choir. They were written to express the “heart cries” of those who live in relationship with the Lord Almighty.
Take, for example, this little number, which I remember singing over and over again with the college Christian fellowship that played such a big role in my faith journey:
I will call upon the Lord
Who is worthy to be praised
So shall I be saved from my enemies
The Lord liveth and blessed be the Rock
And let the God of my salvation be exalted
Written by Michael O’shields • Copyright © Universal Music Publishing Group
It’s worth noting, perhaps, that these words come more-or-less straight from the Bible and are, in fact, an adaptation of today’s reading from the Psalms (Psalm 18:1-19). So at the very least, they serve the purpose of planting God’s Word deep in one’s heart. And for those who are willing to read these lyrics in their original setting, there’s the added benefit of learning some meaningful theology — the truth about a God who hears our cries for help and acts in power to save. But perhaps as much as anything, it’s the experience of singing this song that I remember. Sitting out on the front lawn of the Baptist Student Union at the College of William and Mary — surrounded by friends and singing of God’s power and salvation — I wasn’t just mindlessly repeating some all-too-simple words. I was planting and nurturing and expressing a faith that sustains me still. And many are the days when I wish I could be back in that same place — with those same friends — singing those same songs again.
Of course, my faith has been enriched by more than praise choruses. I’m grateful for the oratorios of J. S. Bach, the hymns of Charles Wesley, the gospel songs of Kirk Franklin, the Christian rock of Stryper, and almost everything in between. But in the end, ours is a faith that sings; and we tend to be at our best, I believe, when we’re carrying a song in our heart.
What are the songs (and the experiences of songs) that you remember? What words and tunes give expression to the twists and turns of your faith journey?
May the Lord bring a song to your heart today; and may we look forward to that day when we’ll sing those songs together – to One who about whom and for whom they were written.