A Subtle Shift in Modern Worship

I have been listening to the new song, “More Than Able,” almost on repeat for the past few days. This morning I woke up with the chorus ringing in my head. Later this morning, I watched the music video for the song, which displays a congregation passionately singing the lyrics. It brought tears to my eyes, but not in a good way.

As I watched hundreds of young people (where are all the older people?) sing this song together, I saw the faces of dozens of young men and women singing the lyrics like their lives depended on it. But I began to cry when I reflected on what they were singing. Here are the lyrics that were sung when the people were most impassioned:

“There’s so much more to the story 
You’re not done with me yet 
You’re not done with me yet 
You’re not done with me yet 
There’s so much more to the story (C’mon) 
You’re not done with me yet (Say) 
You’re not done with me yet (After this, there will be glory)”

Is this worship music? Are we worshipping God when we sing about us? “You’re not done with me.”

Many of these young people are depressed and anxious. Statistically, that’s without question. When these poor young people sing, “You’re not done with me,” what is the point of this lyric? It’s that something good will happen to me. That is hopeful. But that is not worship. This me-centric focus is emphasized later:

“Just ’cause it’s not on my resume 
Or just ’cause I don’t have it, doesn’t mean He can’t do it 
Oh, who am I to deny what the Lord can do?”

The point is that the Lord can do things in our lives that others think are impossible. You do not have the experience on your resume (“Just ’cause it’s not on my resume”). The Lord can get you the job. You do not have the financial means to attend college (“just ’cause I don’t have it”). The Lord can get you a scholarship. You do not have the courage to face tomorrow. The Lord will give you joy. The song title is “He is More Than Able,” but the question is, “Able to do what?” If the ability we sing about is only regarding our future prosperity, we are not worshipping God; we are getting excited about what God will give us in the future.

Is it any wonder that all these young people are in tears singing these lyrics? They are worshipping their own prosperity! They are depressed and see life as meaningless. They sing a song of hope for the future, and it brings them great joy. But God is not the joy; their future is!

I am not saying the authors of this song or the people singing it are not Christians. Many people may sing these lyrics meaning that God is able to save sinners, defeat the devil, and restrain our sin so that we might know Him more. But, I am saying that these lyrics lend themselves to self-emphasis and not God-emphasis. Worship must be centered on God. When we focus on ourselves, we will get emotional. When people are in a church, singing a song labeled as worship, and they have tears in their eyes, of course, they will think they are passionate Christians. But what if they string together a few great months where they feel great and get promoted? Will they feel the need to come to church and sing this song? What if they stand before the Lord on the last day, and He says, “You sang about your future and what I can do for you, but did you ever sing about me?”

Some may think this is overly critical. Why do we not assume that the passion behind this song is the desire to see the Lord glorified? There are reasons to doubt that, especially when considering the church from which this song springs. Rather than playing spiritual detective, we can compare it to older worship songs. Vineyard Worship was the Elevation or Hillsong of the 80s and 90s. Vineyard music is now dated (guitar and drums with flutes and 80s synthesizer). However, when you compare the lyrics of yesterday’s “popular Christian” music to “More Than Able,” you will, hopefully, cry too. Compare the lyrics above, which have zero mention of God’s glory or our sin, to “All Things Rise” by Vineyard Worship:

“God, how beautiful Your holy word
That formed the worlds in such goodness
O, the shame that we would spurn it all
To turn and fall into darkness”

Perhaps you think I am cherry-picking. Let us look at the album “25 Top Vineyard Worship Songs.” Vineyard ostensibly put this album together, and it includes all the old “outdated” songs that no one wants to listen to anymore. But remember, this was the Elevation or Hillsong of yesteryear. Let us look at the first lines of the first three songs without any other criteria for selection than that.

  1. Come Now is the Time to Worship“: “Come now is the time to worship. Come now is the time to give your heart. Come just as you are before your God. One day every tongue will confess you are God. One day every knee will bow. Still the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly choose You now.”
  2. Your Name is Holy“: “You are the Sovereign’ I AM.’ Your name is Holy. You are the spotless Lamb. Your name is Holy. You are the Almighty One. Your name is Holy. You are the Christ, God’s own Son. Your name is Holy. In Your name there is mercy for sin. There is safety within. In Your holy name. In Your name.”
  3. Lord Reign in Me“: “Over all the earth You reign on high; every mountain stream, every sunset sky. But my one request, Lord my only aim, is that you’d reign in me again. Lord reign in me, reign in your power. Over all my dreams, in my darkest hour. You are the Lord, of all I am. So won’t you reign in me again?”

It is very subtle, but many modern worship songs have been slowly changing the emphasis in their lyrics from God saving us to God helping us. Without clearly explaining how God helps us, many will think of their careers and happiness, but God is not in the happiness business. He is in the ministry of holiness.

-Rob Golding – First Artesia CRC

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