Should We Sing Hymns We Aren’t Living?

What happens when a worshiper recognizes a gap between the lyrics of a hymn or praise chorus and their own spiritual walk? A dear friend and church member raised this issue with me recently and I thought it was a worthy topic to address for others to consider. I was so thankful and blessed by my friend’s admission because it demonstrated a few things:

1. This person was paying attention to the lyrics of the songs and not simply singing out of habit.
2. This person was paying attention to their own walk with Christ while corporately worshiping with other believers.
3. This person is not interested in being a hypocrite.
4. This person desperately wants to worship with power and freedom, unhindered by their own shortcomings.

So what are we to do when our relationship with God does not reflect the lyrics on the big screen or in the hymn book? Here are the lyrics that shook my friend:

Hallelujah! All I have is Christ!
Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!

This Sovereign Grace song has had a profound impact on our congregation during a recent sermon series through the book of Colossians. It was brought to the pastoral staff’s attention by our student pastor, Drew Head, and God has used it in a mighty way. And yet, the final line of the chorus, “Jesus is my life” was the point of concern for my friend. “I can’t really say Jesus is my life right now…I can’t say he is everything, so I can’t sing it.” This was spoken with a broken heart.

So should they stop singing?

My best advise to my friend is no, you should keep on singing. Here’s why –

Every Christian experiences two spiritual realities. The first is what God declares true concerning his children and the second is our daily, practical experience in those truths. The first is constant and unwavering. The second has ups and downs. For what it’s worth, these two realities are essential for every preacher to keep in mind when preparing and delivering a message. If we only preach on the doctrinal declarations God has spoken over us and forgo the application, we leave our people ill equipped. Likewise, if we only preach practical sermons without the doctrinal foundation, we leave our people with a motivational speech.

For example, Colossians 1:13 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” There will be plenty of days in our Christian journey when we feel utterly alone and in the dark. There will be days and even seasons when that transfer seems less real and less powerful. There will be Sundays when we worship while feeling encapsulated by darkness and sin. Nevertheless, the spiritual truth remains – we have been delivered from the domain of darkness. The old hymn reminds us of this tension:

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I will prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

That stanza speaks of these realities. There is the daily, practical experience that sometimes results in “storms of doubt and fear” but there remains the spiritual truth that cannot fail, namely, the promises God has spoken over us. More often than not, hymns and praise choruses rightly focus on the declarations God has made to us in His Word. After all, we do not glorify daily experience, we glorify God alone, and we do that by correctly singing and proclaiming who He is and what He has done. Even songs that highlight the battle of daily living will usually (hopefully) return to the promises of God. For example, the Casting Crowns song “Voice of Truth” speaks of the many different voices a Christian will hear throughout their life – this is the daily, practical experience we have been discussing. But then, the song declares, “Out of all the voices calling out to me, I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.” There again is an example of resting in the declarations of God and not in our own experiences.

With that in mind, let’s return to the lyric that gives my friend trouble:  “Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!” Surely we can all see how difficult this verse would be to sing if we approach it from the reality of our daily experience. Not one of us has ever lived a single day in full, complete surrender to Christ. So how do I sing this lyric with confidence?

Because of Colossians 3:4.

When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in Glory.” Paul is describing our union with Christ, our new identity that comes by grace through faith. We are “hidden with Christ in God” and our appearing with Him in glory is conditioned not on our effort to make him our life, but on the fact that He is our life through faith! Now to be sure, we have a calling on our lives to become who we already are. That is the way we say “pursue holiness” at Graefenburg Baptist Church. To live daily with God tacked on as a “part” of our life or just a “priority” of our life is to miss who we really are in Christ. So, when singing this lyric, we are doing two things at a minimum. First, we are standing on the promise of what God has declared true about us. Second, we are acknowledging the race is still underway and we are still pressing on toward the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus.

So I say to my dear friend, sing on! Sing loud! This is who you are, so proclaim it to the world and to God! Jesus is your life! Jesus is my life! Neither of us are there yet in our daily living, but God has spoken it over us, and who can turn back the voice of God?

Dear friend sing…sing like never before.

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