Love songs to Jesus…June 30, 2009
Reflections on a trend in contemporary worship
by Pastor Kenny Burchard Email Me
I love you, Lord… and I lift my voice!
Over the past few years I have found myself in a number of worship settings (besides our own Sunday gatherings), as well as times of listening to worship CDs or even worship songs on Christian radio stations where I have noticed an often-recurring focus… “My love for Jesus” and “Jesus’ love for me.”
One of the first songs I ever learned as a new believer (saved in 1986) was the chourus that says…
I Love You Lord, and I Lift My Voice
To Worship You – Oh My Soul! Rejoice!
Take Joy, My King – In What You Hear
May It Be A Sweet, Sweet Sound In Your Ear
There is something about singing our Love to God, and singing about God’s love for us that is incredibly fulfilling, healing, comforting, and assuring. From the perspective of God’s worthiness, singing of His love for us and our response of love for Him is incredibly appropriate. Even this morning as I went for my morning jog, I spent time listening to worship songs on my mp3 player that emphasize the love of God and love for God.
Redeeming Love, Romantic Love?
But I have noticed two thematic approaches to lyrics about God’s love in many of the worship songs heard in churches today. The first attaches the love of God to the Biblical concept of redemption, and the second attaches the love of God – and love for God - to the concept of (and there’s no better word for it)… romance.
The biblical doctrine of redemption teaches that before we were God’s children, we were children of wrath. We were enemies of God. We were fallen and out of relationship with God. We were not God’s children, and we were bound in sin – lost, and destined to spend eternity outside of the presence of God (hell).
But God showed mercy to us, reached out to us through Jesus Christ, took the penalty for our sin upon himself, and demonstrated his love for us by dying in our place as an offering to God for our sins (redemption). His love, then, is expressed through the self-sacrificing act of redemption on the cross.
This “redeeming love” now gives us a father-child relationship with a God who was formerly our enemy. It grants us undeserved forgiveness, and the promise of eternal salvation – ultimately and finally expressed and experienced in heaven.
The concept of romance is expressed by idealized love, passion, strong emotion, attraction, affection, and the sensual, physical, verbal, and dynamic means by which these emotions are expressed. (more interesting definitions here). Romance stories and songs always include the powerful overtones of strong emotion, beating all the odds to be together, and passionte exchanges of affection and mutual pleasure.
Aaaaaaand… Cue the Journey Song…
To illustrate a correlation between lyrics in secular romance songs, and many worship songs, the title of a famous Journey song comes to mind… “Lovin’ Touchin’, and Squeezin.” In other words, many worship songs contain the concept of God “lovin’ and touchin’ and squeezin’ us – and us lovin’ and touchin’ and squeezin’ God.” That may seem like an offensive comparison, but listen to some of the lyrics of some oft-sung worship songs of recent days…
“Just to feel your arms around me, just to know Your grace has found me / Just to hear Your voice surround me, Calling my name.”
Jesus, I am so IN love with you. (“In love” carries a romantic connotation. Think not? I love my son, but I am not IN love with him. I love my dad, but I am not IN love with my dad! Is any man IN love with His dad!!?).
“So Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy, wet kiss, And my heart turns violently inside of my chest…” (Uh – sloppy wet kiss? God’s kiss? The God of the Bible, right? Sloppy wet kissing? The Biblical God? Gonna need a verse for that one.).
“Nothing else could take your place / to feel the warmth of your embrace.”
Jesus, the Ultimate Boyfriend, and the feminization of worship…
In romantic worship songs, the congregation is the twitterpated girl, and God is the chivalrous man who comes in and passionately embraces his woman. He touches her, she touches him. They embrace. She is comforted by his caress, and she responds with whispers and kisses and she clings to his arms and puts her head against his chest. Jesus is the “boyfriend,” and the congregation is the girlfriend who is responding to him, longing to “feel His arms around me.”
This approach to singing of the Love of God, though there may be a place for it (to a limited degree, in my view), has worked to feminize contemporary worship, so that in order for men to engage, they have to sing about God as though they are the woman in a romantic relationship.
The American infatuation with… infatuation and romance, I think, has served to push Christian lyricists down this path. Why would it not? The whole concept of love that is promoted through movies especially presents love as an idealized and passionate romance between two people. Worship leaders are caught in this tension and may resort to using language like “God is crazy about you” as synonymous with “God loves you” believing that the phrase “crazy about you” somehow helps people to understand the depth of God’s love.
There is also a strong push in our culture to feminize men by attempting to get them to respond in relationships like a woman, and this has seeped into the lyrical content of many worship songs where romantic language is used to express “love” for God.
Eros – Phileo – Agape… Love
There are many words for love in the original texts of the New Testament scriptures. Eros (from which we get “erotic”) speak of a sensual love that is based on strong emotion, passion, and even sexual attraction. I want to push a little on what I’ve been saying by stating now that many worship songs that contain romantic love references seem more like “eros” than other concepts of love. Eros is based on sensory responses and emotion, and what the bible calls “sensuality.” Needing to “feel” everything and “touch” everything in order to give and receive love is very connected to the idea of eros.
Phileo-love is related to the idea of “filial love” or “familial love” or “brotherly love” which is the love that a brother feels for his brother, or a father feels for his son, or vice-versa.
Agape-love is love that gives out of fulness and demands no response or reciprocal gesture. It is often called “unconditional love.” It is not based on the need to feel anything. It is completely based on being filled up, and wanting to pour out upon another without wanting anything back from them.
In worship, our response to God’s unconditional love for us (his redeeming love) is expressed by “declaring back to God” what He has done for us through Christ’s sacrifice. In that sense, the most Biblical connection to God’s love for us and our love for God is not romantic, but redeeming love.
Hey! The Church IS a Bride, and what about Song of Solomon?
It is true that the the relational analogy in Scripture between Christ and the Church is that of a bride related to her bride-groom. The Old Testament book, Song of Solomon, depicts the romantic elements of such a relationship in vivid detail.
But Paul’s metaphor of the Church as Christ’s bride is specifically characterized, and the meaning is clarified as Jesus “giving himself up for her,” and “nourishing” and “cleansing” and removing her “spots, wrinkles, and blemishes” before the wedding day. Beloved, that is a reference to redeeming love – not romance. (see Eph. 4:25-30). It is a reference to the atoning work of Jesus which yeilds forgiveness and cleansing for God’s people.
I love God and He Loves Me – In The Book of Psalms
The Bible contains a book of 150 worship songs. It is the Psalter of Israel, and there are several psalms that mention God’s love for His people, and occasions where the psalmist sings of His own love for God. In fact, in the whole book of Psalms there is not a single lyrical reference to romantic love and feelings for God, or from God toward us. For example…
Psalm 5:11 – But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You.
Psalm 116:1 – I love the LORD, because He has heard My voice and my supplications
Psalm 31:23 – Oh, love the LORD, all you His saints!For the LORD preserves the faithful, And fully repays the proud person.
Psalm 40:16 – Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You;Let such as love Your salvation say continually, “The LORD be magnified!”
Psalm 70:4 – Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You;And let those who love Your salvation say continually, “Let God be magnified!”
Psalm 78:68 – But chose the tribe of Judah,Mount Zion which He loved.
Psalm 91:14 – “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
Psalm 97:10 – You who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the souls of His saints; He delivers them out of the hand of the wicked.
Every reference in Psalms that references God’s love toward us points to his mercy and salvation. Every reference of love from us to God points to a thankful heart – having received God’s mercy, grace, provision, and forgiveness. Psalm 119 alone contains dozens of reference to love for God’s word, and a willingness to obey it as a response of worship to God.
From God – redeeming love.
To God – love that flows from gratitude and a commitment to obedience.
God loves me! I love God!
The Bible is clear that God loves us. The greatest commandment is that we love Him. But listen to the Biblical framework for characterizing this mutual love.
Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 John 4:19 – We love Him because He first loved us.
John 14:21 – He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.
According to Romans, God’s love is expressed through the death of Jesus on the cross; not through an embrace, a touch, a tender caress, or any other romantic act of intimacy. The cross is God’s ultimate demonstration and manifestation of His love. It is redeeming love. The way we express love back to God is obedience.
In worship, then, God’s redeeming love should be magnified and expressed lyrically. Commitments to follow and obey, as well as simple words of thankfulness and praise for God’s love are the best lyrical responses to God’s love — which flow from us back to Him.
Listen to Tommy Walker’s “Thank You For Loving Me” for an incredible example of this approach to “Jesus Loves me and I love Him” lyrics. Here’s a you-tube version of it. These lyrics strongly emphasize God’s redeeming love, and a powerfully thankful response to His love. Enjoy!
For another great article on this topic, check out Jannel Williams Paris’ work HERE.
I’d love some feedback if you care to leave it. I’m sure that the subject will provoke a number of interesting responses.
The Oasis Foursquare Church, Hanford, CA