Today, I will lift up my voice in praise.
For I know you are always there for me.
Almighty God, you are my all in all.
No matter what they say when trouble comes my way,
I will praise Your name.
The words above are the lyrics of a popular worship song I learnt while growing up. My earliest memories as a kid include my Dad leading family devotions every morning—a family tradition that has continued for over two decades now. I saw the importance of corporate singing displayed firsthand in my family. We still sing every morning. And a few mornings ago, we put melody to the lyrics presented above and sang to our hearts’ content. Except for one thing. The song had changed over the years. One word changed everything.
Words mean a lot. They are more than just another medium of self-expression. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Your words are often indicators of what you have stored up in your heart. What you believe. What you want. What you fear. What you love. Words make up songs, thereby making the act of singing more than just a means of relaxation. You sing what you believe. You sing your heart.
So much of our theology is expressed in songs. And songs display what we believe (or think) about God and ourselves. If we think ourselves responsible for our salvation, it becomes evident in our songs. If we believe God to be our loving Father, it is inevitably expressed in our songs. That’s why so much thought must be put into what we sing. As believers, we do not just sing. The battle for doctrinally rich and theologically sound songs must be fiercely fought in our day. We cannot afford to embrace songs that fail to display the God of the Bible accurately, no matter how beautiful they may be.
In the song in question, “Almighty God, you are my all in all. No matter what they say when trouble comes my way, I will praise the Lord” gave way to a modified version: “Almighty God, you are my all in all. No matter what they say when success comes my way, I will praise the Lord.” (Some churches still sing the original song, but many are leaving the former version for the latter which seems more “positive”.)
That singular change in the song was meant to modify what the Christian life is supposed to be like—it paints the life of a Christian to be one with victory assured here on earth. And while the songwriter had a vision of the infinite value of God to the Christian, even in the midst of difficult and trying times, other worship leaders and pastors had other things in mind—prosperity, sound health, no troubles. And the song was modified. It was modified in a way that, I believe, does a great dishonor to the intent of the songwriter.
The modified song makes three assumptions which I cannot help but disagree with:
1. The Christian life must end in material or visible success here on earth. I won’t argue that physical success is unChristian. (That argument itself would be unChristian!) God takes care of the needs of his people and can bless them materially, but he never promises that all of his children will end their lives on earth rich and healthy. The Christian is assured of his complete and eternal reward in Heaven. She is promised a reward where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.
2. Praising God will only make sense when there is success. For a period in my life, I saw praising God as a means of ultimately getting more stuff from God. I praised when I had much, in order to be blessed with much more—I praised for increase. I also praised when I had little or nothing, in order to get more—I praised in advance. Either way, I tied praising God with my past, present or future success. The new version of the song emphasizes just that: praising God for future success, as though future failures or trials will display God’s unfaithfulness. The result is that many believers actually get to see God as being unfaithful when they encounter failure or disappointment.
3. God’s worth is tied to how much I’m blessed. God is big because I’m blessed, many believers think. The modified song acknowledges that God is “all in all”, but only when his blessings are assured. This portrays a wrong notion about God. The song makes the assumption that God’s worth to the believer will only be clearly seen when circumstances result in their being physically or materially blessed. But the true test of God’s worth to the believer is often (not always) seen in the tough places. Is God infinitely greater than a well paying job, a happy home or monetary possessions? Job will definitely have a thing or two to teach us in this century.
When a song fails to accentuate the truth about God as portrayed in the Bible, I think it wise to completely abandon it. In my opinion, there are richer songs, and you probably won’t miss out on anything if you threw the defective ones away.
John Piper probably said it better, and I close with a quote of his from an episode of the Ask Pastor John podcast:
We live in a time of unprecedented wealth of Christian music, and there is no shortage whatsoever of older songs, newer songs, and fresh renditions of older songs that are rock-solid in their biblical content—creative, fresh, and powerful both in their lyrics and in their tunes.
[You] are never boxed in to using theologically defective or musically dated songs if [you] don’t want to. If you want to be theologically and biblically faithful. . . there is a wealth of old and new to choose from so that you never have to sing something theologically defective or misleading or unhelpful.