The Words I Sing


Does God really care what words I sing in praise to him? Where does the line between artistic license and heresy fall? Isn’t it enough that my desire is to worship him?

Let me take a moment to clarify that this is not a discussion about salvation. I am not saying that singing theologically poor lyrics disqualifies you from the kingdom of God. Jesus will judge if he knows you or not. This blog is an attempt to warn and teach for our edification, not point fingers.

“God is spirit, and those that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” – John 4:24

We are in a time when the number of “worship songs” are numerous and shared across culture and denomination. We even sing songs written about a man or a woman but direct them towards Jesus in public worship gatherings. Is there anything wrong with this?

Worship is not synonymous with singing. Worship is something that happens in the heart and comes out directed towards something or someone. Worship is constant,  but the direction may change. Communal sung worship is a focused direction that aligns our hearts together in worship of the same something or someone, much like the call to prayer does for Islam or a chant of MVP at a sporting event. I use quotation marks around “worship songs” because we are always worshiping. Our worship is not confined within a song.

What is the key factor then for communal sung worship to be something God delights in? Is it that it unifies us?  You may notice that the other examples I used, very deliberately, very much create unity. The Islamic call to prayer is communicating the same theology everywhere. It both forms what they worship, and calls them to worship.

On the way to the airport in BC recently for an early morning flight, my Uber driver was tuned in to the Call to Prayer. It struck me that the experience was much like the casual way I might put on a playlist while I drive somewhere.

For many, sports are a religion. Some are more faithful to their team than anything else. The chant of MVP is the elevation of a player within the sport they worship, almost like Zeus being praised on the throne of Mount Olympus. I say this only to illustrate that zeal and unity are not enough for worship to please the heart of God. Our words matter.

“Worship songs” play a huge part in the formation of our theology. Studies show that melodies added to words make retaining and recalling information easier. It is why we sing the ABC’s with children. Even I can’t remember the colors in the rainbow without singing them. Have you noticed that  most children’s battery-run toys contain insanely catchy melodies as a learning tool? I still have songs running through my head from my young nieces’ toys from my recent visit. 

“Worship songs” do this for Christians. With biblical illiteracy rates increasing, worship songs more than anything else have become the grounding source of theology for the average believer. As much as we love a good teaching, a song will be remembered more frequently than the content of the sermon. We are in a similar situation to the time before the Gutenberg Bible, where the main role of singing in church was to teach theology.

False theology creates false gods. When we call on these gods, it falls on deaf ears, much like it did when the Israelites called on the golden calf while waiting for Moses to return from communing with the living God. Singing words that depict a false god is worship, but not to the living God. A false idol replaces the true God.

In some worship expressions, leaders go off script and begin singing spontaneous verses. This can be a wonderful experience, but requires a level of maturity and theological discipline. The singer is singing from a heart of desire which has the potential to conflict with scripture, potentially moving from worshiping God to what the singer wants in their God, and bringing everyone else into that desire.

God repeatedly reminds the nation of Israel of His holiness in His walk with them. “There can be no other gods,” he tells them. His rebuke and discipline is often for adding other gods alongside Him. Similarly, Jesus scolds the Pharisees for elevating their own requirements to the same importance as those the Lord gave them and ultimately disregarding some from the Lord, even missing Jesus himself.

“I am the Lord, and there is no other,

    besides me there is no God;

    I equip you, though you do not know me,

 that people may know, from the rising of the sun

    and from the west, that there is none besides me;

    I am the Lord, and there is no other.

 I form light and create darkness;

    I make well-being and create calamity;

    I am the Lord, who does all these things.”

–        Isaiah 45:5-7

Is it hard to comprehend why God who is both gracious and compassionate would care so much about the words we sing to him? Why would it matter to God if we get a partially wrong idea about him if he is so gracious?

To gain some understanding into this, let us look at the early church’s struggle to accept that God would include the Gentiles in his redemption plan (Acts 15). Many believed God required conversion to Judaism to be received into his kingdom. We know this to be false. What if their songs praised a God who came to save the descendants of Jacob alone and held to the law of Moses? Trust me, some wanted these songs. Would they be worshiping the one true God? Where would this worship lead the church?

Did a church exist that worshiped a god who wanted death to the infidels, leading to crusades and all manners of horrors? Would  this be God or a false god they worshiped? Would God truly be worshiped and glorified? Would those words matter?

Let us look now at songs we sing that don’t explicitly teach false theology, but are received as such. How must such a scenario be stewarded?

“You are never going to let me down” are lyrics widely sung. Does it create a belief that God will uphold me no matter how sinful I am? How are we stewarding those lyrics to be sung in spirit and truth? Or the line referring to Jesus, “you are a man of your word”. Does it suggest that Jesus was both of flesh and nature (man’s nature being fallible) man in his time here? These are both examples of poetic license which I believe come out of a theologically correct heart but can potentially mislead those who do not have a biblical foundation.

Then there are the songs that depict potentially false circumstances. “It may feel like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by you.” What if we have sin that has caused separation from God? Will praising God while ignoring our own posture, and his words do anything? Is it an enemy you are surrounded by or just the result of a sinful life? Does this song lead us to repentance or potentially just falsely passing blame to the enemy?

Some songs are written to a false God but the words are used to worship the true God. What do we do with that? Does singing those songs encourage those under our care to go home and listen to the rest of the album, or maybe even a sermon from the church that spawned it?

This may sound like a lot of work. You may be thinking that songs may become stale if we are required to so diligently screen everything we sing. I believe this diligence is an act of love and service to both God and those under our care. Some of your worries may be well founded, but how does that compare with the task the Lord has given the leaders of his church to fend off wolves and false teaching?

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand,  and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.” – 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

The zealous protection of God’s name for his glory is a reflection of his jealously wanting the best for us. Not every false teaching is sourced by a wolf seeking to devour the sheep but is often a confused or misled individual. At times, however, God will inform us of wolves that need to be removed for their hearts are like their god, the devil, who seeks to kill and destroy. Coming to the defense of who God is must be done with His same compassion and mercy. We do this because we love and because God has asked it of us.

Examining the corporate words we sing is an act of love for those under our care as it protects them from turning their eyes away from Jesus and looking to a false idol. It can impact their eternal salvation and their immediate need. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

Stewardship is a word I use often. It describes the role every man and woman has to understand what is tasked of them by the Lord in a given season, like Adam and Eve were tasked with ruling over creation. Stewardship questions a worship leader might ask include: When worshiping through song are you, and those you are leading, elevating the one true God? Are the words sung in Spirit and in Truth?Do any of the lyrics create confusion or false theology? 

I believe poetry and creativity has a place within the realm of worshiping God. God is the Creator and made us in his own image. We must discern, however, what pushes the boundaries of what is beneficial in a corporate setting, what is outright false, and what should only be used as a part of our worship in private, or in mature company.

Why not gather with some mature believers and work through the songs you sing and listen to? Assess together the conclusions formed through the lyrics. Ask: Is God being worshiped, or a false idol? Use scripture as your grid. Look at the entirety of scripture rather than conclusions formed from a single passage. Take time. Don’t rush it. Use the results to steward the flock well. Confess to others if you have contributed to forming false idols and lead them into truth. Remove the songs that are misaligned with who God is. Shelve those that are misleading a few due to ambiguity, even if you love them the most. 

Do what is needed to worship God in your community in Spirit and in Truth. If you are not a church elder, do this for yourself. If you have a family, do it for them. Suggest it to your elders as something for them to use as a discipleship tool with the church musicians. Be good stewards.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

The King’s Steward


As a warning, this blog will be far more rewarding with a passable knowledge of the works of J.R.R Tolkien but it should be life-giving regardless. As a follower of Jesus, Tolkien’s work often reflects the teaching of Jesus in dynamic ways, bringing truth to light in remarkable ways. To be honest, I think life itself is more rewarding with a familiarity with the works of Tolkien.

The concept of stewardship has too long been relegated to the area of finances,  falling short of the full calling of being a steward. The idea of stewardship started long before there was currency in the world…  even before sin came into the world.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’” – Genesis 1:26

At the moment of our creation, mankind was chosen as steward over all God created on the Earth. It was part of our fabric when he made us. This didn’t mean God was absent or distant in the garden or anytime thereafter. We were simply given the responsibility to rule with his authority.

The fall brought about a separation between man and God but the purpose and call as stewards remained. Everything that was given by God; the creation around us, the gifts we have, our position in life, our privilege, wealth, authority, even the breath in our lungs was given to be stewarded. Humans were created as the King’s stewards on earth.

The earth and everything in it is not ours to possess but to tend to. This is a difficult concept for us to grasp in a world telling us to accumulate wealth, possessions and experience for our own gain. It is very difficult to grasp this concept when we grow up with privilege. There is an entitlement bred into us through circumstances. Unlearning selfishness and pride is a difficult feat. A parent’s role is to model and train their children in the way of a steward, whether they have much or little. Those we consider privileged, however, inherit a more weighty responsibility.

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.” Luke 12:48

Jesus made this statement during his explanation of a parable (it is worth reading the whole thing) instructing his followers to always live in readiness. In other words, there is never time off from being the Lord’s stewards.

I was rereading The Lord of the Rings a few years ago and was struck by the character Denethor. He is the Steward of Gondor for most of the series. We are introduced to him first through the internal conflict of his sons who resemble aspects of their father’s character and beliefs, but fall short of the presence he carries. It has been many generations since the last king of Gondor left a Steward in charge before dying in battle, leaving a succession of Stewards in his wake.

Denethor is a strong leader, who most consider a good man. The zeal with which he defends against the armies of evil is applaudable, and his tactics have protected all of Middle Earth. But he has lost sight of the position he holds as Steward. He is not the King, but managing with the authority of the King.

“I am Steward of the House of Anárion. I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart. Even were his claim proved to me, still he comes but of the line of Isildur. I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity.”

        The Return of the King, LoTR Book 5, Ch 7, The Pyre of Denethor

I read this, and my heart ached. It didn’t ache just over the story I was reading but in light of the parable of the tenants, seeing how easy it is to claim what is given as our own.

9 And he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. 10 When the time came, he sent a servant[b] to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 11 And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ 15 And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Surely not!” 17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected

    has become the cornerstone’?[c]

18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

        Luke 20:9-18

This is such a sad commentary depicting the story of Israel rejecting God’s servants sent to call Israel back to their role of stewards and ultimately rejecting him. It is also a glimpse into what happens when anyone called by his name loses sight of what they are called to. It is the same thing that occurred in the depiction of Denethor. Like the religious leaders in Israel, no one could question Denothor’s zeal. But they all forgot whose throne (or land) it was when the messenger came.

We may not be sitting in a seat of power like the examples above but we all have something entrusted to us, even if it is just the breath in our lungs, revelation, or our own hands. We must ask ourselves the question: How am I stewarding what has been entrusted to me? Since it was entrusted to me by God, am I making the decisions he would? Am I treating what was entrusted as though it is for my own fulfillment or my stewardship? Am I equipping those in my charge to live as faithful stewards rather than entitled children?

If you think about it, we all, like Denethor, come from a long line of stewards for we were all created with that intention by the Lord. Over time, Denethor came to the point of forgetting this and claiming ownership over what was entrusted and rejecting the rightful king. Israel did the same thing in rejecting the messengers of God and even God himself.

How will you respond to Jesus’ return to take control? Will you cling to what you currently hold? Or will you give it over?

I was in Winnipeg recently visiting family. My papa has for a long time been the standard for me of what it looks like to be a good steward. I asked him the question of what has marked this season of his life and he said stewardship. It looks different in this season for him, but it is always the lens with which he views his life.

For a long time in his retirement he spent hours a day investing a set amount of his wealth on his own. He was part of a club where they would do it together. He would get great joy in doing this. I understood the reward and rush of the challenge and competition, but it always struck me as strange until I learned on this trip everything he made from it, he gave away. The more money that came in, the more he was able to give away. The source of his joy was in his faithful stewardship of what was entrusted to him. I am so thankful for this rich example. I continue to learn from and be blessed as his Grandchild. From season to season of his life, he has understood and walked out the rich example of being a good and faithful steward.

I wish to take inventory of what has been entrusted to me, including the gifts, possessions, people under my care, and each breath in my day. I want to see myself as a steward of everything found on this list rather than an entitled owner. I want to remember I was created to Steward what God has made and given to me for however long the season may last.

Surrender is paramount in this process. It is what the wicked tenants in the parable failed to do. They knew who the land belonged to and refused to surrender it back. Taking inventory and offering our thoughts and possessions back to the Lord is a practice reminding us we are stewards and not god’s unto ourselves. Not only does this process relinquish control but involves letting go of what was not given to us, but we took for ourselves,  so God can place it in the hands of another.

God knows what is good for us to steward and what should be for another. He knows our capacity far better than we do. To quote yet another Lord of the Rings character in Gollum, we don’t want to find ourselves saying “It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious”. In a western world filled with entitlement and chasing after what we want, we stray further from the peace that comes in stewardship and the joy that follows. It is time to flip the script.