Bobby Gilles reminded me of this truth recently: Worship songs should say far more about God’s love for us and far less about our love for God. Certain strains of modern worship are prone to what some call “triumphalism”…the “I can do it,” “I give it all,” “I will live my whole life for You,” “I’ll love You forever,” “I’m running after You,” etc. This language is not all bad. In fact, it’s reflected somewhat in the Psalms:
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek You;
I thirst fo You; my whole being longs for You,
in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
In more sophisticated liturgical terms, such statements are the language of consecration— setting ourselves apart for God’s work in us. Frances Ridley Havergal’s famous hymn typifies this sentiment:
Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee
Take my moments and my days
Let them flow in ceaseless praise
However, we as worship leaders and worshipers must think about the content we sing in terms of “spiritual diet and nutrition.” Just like too much of a generally healthy food can lead to certain problems, so it is with triumphal and consecrating language. We can end up thinking too highly of ourselves. We can end up believing the lie that, within us, we have what it takes to please God. We can let the beauty of the good news of Christ’s finished work on our behalf float away from the center of our affection. In short, we can slowly walk away from the gospel. Let’s not forget that just before God gave the Ten Commandments (a summary of how we live love unto God), He expressed his redeeming love first:
I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt,
Out of the land of slavery.
(Exodus 20:2; Deut 5:6)
When I ask my little boys what this verse means, they now give me the spoon-fed answer, “Grace comes before the law.” I’m pretty confident that they don’t know what they’re saying (yet), but the seed is planted for understanding the cause-and-effect relationship between God’s love for us (cause) and our love for God (effect). “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
If we’re thinking of diet, then, we’ll limit isolated expression of how much we love God. When we do express love, which pleases the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:5), it is best done in the context of God’s love for us.
What does this mean for worship planners and leaders? Does it mean that every worship song about our love for God must contain statements of and reflections on God’s love for us? No, not necessarily. But it does mean that, in a worship service, we want to balance that song with other songs or elements (Scripture readings, Confession-Assurance progressions) that clearly reveal where the Source from which that love comes.