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Posts Tagged ‘repeating the same phrase in worship songs’

I wanted to walk out of church last Sunday morning.

All because of a song.

During last Sunday’s praise and worship time at the church Kim and I have been attending, I became very uncomfortable because we kept repeating the same phrase while singing a popular worship song called “King of My Heart.”

Two Sundays ago, the worship team led the congregation in singing this song.

And I noticed that one phrase was repeated 22 times:

“You are good, good, oh” … which means we sang the word “good” 44 times.

Then last Sunday, they sang the song once more!  (As the song was starting, I turned to Kim and said, “Oh, no, not again.”)

Just in case singing this phrase over and over was an aberration, I decided to go online and see if I could find a video of a praise and worship band singing the song.

I did.

By my count, they sang the phrase, “You are good, good, oh” 24 times … and the phrase “You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me go” 16 times … in the same song.

You might like this … but it drives me nuts … so much so that I wanted to run out of the service, get in my car, and drive … anywhere.

I remember when praise songs first came from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa in the mid-1970s.  We’d sing a song twice and some older people would get upset, claiming that singing the song several times consisted of vain repetition.

What would they think now?

In a blog that’s usually devoted to resolving conflict, I may be creating more conflict than I’m helping to resolve … but I feel strongly about this issue even though some might consider me nit-picky, ungodly, or nearly heretical.

Since this isn’t the only song that relies on the repetition of certain phrases, why are Christians writing and singing songs with such repetitive lyrics?

I don’t know … so I’m going to make three guesses:

First, we need to repeat those phrases for God’s benefit.

But God knows He’s good.  He doesn’t need us to remind Him.

Yes, He likes it when we recite His attributes … whether in prayer or in song … but the biblical pattern is to recite many of His attributes at once, not just to focus on one.

For example, in 1 Timothy 1:17, Paul writes, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.”

Or in Jude 25, Jesus’ half-brother writes, “… to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord; before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen.”

But do we have biblical evidence that God doesn’t like His people repeating phrases?

In Matthew 6:7-8, Jesus said:

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

The song “King of My Heart” is certainly written as a prayer because it’s directed to God.   While I don’t think that singing “You are good, good, oh” necessarily rates as babbling, the constant repetition of phrases does seem to fall into the category of “many words.”

In light of Jesus’ instructions, can we at least think twice about singing so many phrases over and over?

We also have nearly zero examples in the Bible of such repetition during worship.  For example, we have 150 psalms, yet there is only one where I can detect a repetitive phrase … in Psalm 136 … where the phrase, “His love endures forever” is found at the end of all 26 verses.

But one example hardly a pattern makes.

I tell my wife that I love her all the time, and when I do, I try and do it with a degree of creativity.  But what would she think if I turned to her and said:

You are good, good, oh

You are good, good, oh

You are good, good, oh

You are good, good, oh

So why do we do that with God?  Could we even be boring Him?

Second, we need to repeat those phrases for our own benefit.

When we’re singing the phrase, “You are good, good, oh” repeatedly, I wonder if we’re doing it for ourselves.

Maybe we don’t really believe God is good, but if we sing it and sing it and sing it and sing it out aloud … and loudly … maybe we’ll start believing it.

But how many times do we need to sing that phrase before we do believe it?  8 times?  12?  16?

24 times?  Really?

I once attended a workshop led by one of America’s best-known worship leaders.  He told us that he would initially select the songs for the following Sunday, then submit them to his pastor, who would either approve his selections or cross out certain songs and replace them with others.

The worship leader told us that the previous Sunday, the pastor had crossed out all of the songs he proposed.

This is one I’d be tempted to cross out myself.

I think the song “King of My Heart” is an okay song (my apologies if it’s one of your favorites) … but if I were pastoring again, and the worship leader proposed that song to me, I’d say, “We’re singing the phrase ‘You are good, good, oh’ a maximum of 8 times, and ‘You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down’ 4 times, and that’s it.  If you can’t live with that, we’re not going to do it.”

I banned the song “Draw Me Close to You” at my last church because I felt the song didn’t appeal to men … and that leads me to my third guess:

Third, we need to repeat those phrases so we can feel something.

And this is what I think is really going on.

Without actually saying it, I believe that in many churches, the praise and worship time is considered to be the emotional time of the service, while the preaching is viewed as the intellectual part.

So during the emotional part of the service, it’s okay for any technique to be employed just so people feel that elusive “worship high” … an indication they’ve connected with God.

And repeating a phrase is one of those techniques.

On the video I watched online of a church’s worship band playing this song, I noticed that the song started quietly … built up to a place where the singers were nearly shouting, like in a power ballad … and then ended quietly.

Everyone had their eyes closed.  Some of the singers were going through various bodily gyrations with their hands raised.

The purpose of the song didn’t seem to involve reciting truth, but inciting feeling. 

Could we be using phrases like mantras?  Certainly transcendental meditation relies upon the repetition of words and phrases.

In his book Why Men Hate Going to Church, David Murrow contrasts “old worship” (the kind many of us grew up with) with “new worship” (what he calls P&W … praise and worship):

“The old worship was formal, corporate, and emotionless.  The new worship is informal, individualistic, and touchy-feely.  The old worship was about coming together to extol God; the new worship is about coming together to experience God.  The target of worship has fallen half a meter – from the head to the heart.”

Maybe, as Murrow says, I respond negatively to songs like this because I’m a man.  He believes that praise and worship music “has harmed men’s worship more than it has helped.”  Murrow writes:

“Before P&W, Christians sang hymns about God.  But P&W songs are mostly sung to God.  The difference may seem subtle, yet it completely changes how worshipers relate to the Almighty.  P&W introduced a familiarity and intimacy with God that’s absent in many hymns.”  (“In the Garden” being a noted exception.)

Murrow then summarizes his observations:

“With hymns, God is out there.  He’s big.  Powerful.  Dangerous.  He’s a leader.  With P&W, God is at my side.  He’s close.  Intimate.  Safe.  He’s a lover.”

Murrow then puts his finger on how many men feel … including me:

“The great hymns summon men to the battlefield – but many of today’s P&W songs seem to be summoning men to the bedroom.  Some contain man-love imagery that’s plainly uncomfortable for men…. Lovey-dovey praise songs force a man to express his affection to God using words he would never, ever, ever say to another guy.  Even a guy he loves.  Even a guy named Jesus.”

His conclusion:

“The Bible never describes our love for God in such erotic terms.  The men of Scripture loved God, but they were never desperate for him or in love with him.  Men are looking for a male leader – not a male lover.”

My own view of worship is that:

*Every song should start with biblical truth and that our emotions should be a response to that truth.  There should never be a time when we’re simply emotional without engaging our minds.

One passage that can give us guidance is 1 Corinthians 14, where the context is public worship.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 14:15, “So what shall I do?  I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.”

He adds in 14:19, “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.”

And then he adds in 14:20, “Brothers, stop thinking like children.  In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”

*The preaching time should also be characterized by biblical truth first, emotion second.  As Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones used to say, preaching may be defined as “logic on fire!”

I’ve heard some mindless sermons that simply tried to engage people’s emotions, but also I’ve heard plenty of sermons that espoused truth but lacked any semblance of passion.

We need truth first … followed by emotion … in all of our worship experiences.

I love many … not all … of the old hymns, and I also love many of the newer praise and worship songs … although I have a bias for the songs from the 1990s.

But as I get older, I have to admit, I’m leaning more toward hymns with rich theology … and away from newer songs that are more emotional and repetitive.

_______________

My wife and I recently perused the book Hymns: Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs, written by William J. Petersen & Ardythe Petersen.

I’d read aloud the stories behind the writing of some of the songs to my wife, and then without looking at the lyrics, we’d just start singing them … including some I haven’t sung for 50 years.

And we’d cry …. and barely be able to get through some of them.

We know those songs so well because we sang them so many times in the past, even if we haven’t sung them for decades.

But those songs rarely if ever repeated the same phrase over and over again … unless we were singing “Deep and Wide” while using motions.

How about you?  Do you like singing the same phrases over and over?

And if so, how much is too much?

I’m curious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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