Music, Reformed Theology, Worship

The difference seven years makes in the life of a believer, or how your theology affects your worship

“It’s Rising Up” is one of those songs in the key of E Major, with the great open chord shapes guitar players love. It also has a great chorus, with “Holy is the Lord” repeated over and over again. Unfortunately, the rest of the song lacks depth.

One Friday night in July I had put this song on my song list for Sunday and sent it off to the sister who puts the bulletins together, but at 6 in the morning on Saturday the Lord woke me up and convicted me about it, and I switched the song out for another song written by the same cowriter.

And we have heard the lion’s roar
That speaks of heaven’s love and power
Is this the time, is this the call
That ushers in your Kingdom rule?

— Martin Smith, Matt Redman, “It’s Rising Up”, © 1995 Thankyou Music

What does this mean? Is it scriptural? Is it some reference to Narnia’s Aslan? Or is it one if the animal noises from the “holy laughter” phenomenon? This is only speculation, but it may have been inspired by a “prophetic” teaching from Hosea 11 or Revelation 10, where the voice of a lion is most closely associated with the coming of the kingdom of God. (Hosea 11 is, in fact, one of the several scripture passages listed as the source for this song in CCLI’s song directory.)

By “prophetic” teaching, I mean the types of “sermons” preached by many which do not consider context or intended readers, or author’s intent when “expositing” scripture, but instead use scattered verses as prophetic words to the modern audience. If this is the case, the inferences the song makes about these passages is very speculative. If the song was a response to a message at a certain church or conference, it may be that the song had meaning to its original audience. However, the universal church today would not be able to make this association. Americans and Australians singing this song on a Sunday morning would be hearing these words in a very different context from the actual youth group or youth conference where the song premiered. In any case, the vagueness of this verse makes it unsuitable for corporate worship.
In contrast, I think of the little-known passage in 1 Samuel which corresponds to the obscure “Ebenezer” reference in the great classic hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”: “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, ‘Till now the Lord has helped us'” (1 Sam. 7:12, ESV).

How does this compare to the “prophetic” application of random scripture passages? It is quite different, because the interpretation is not speculative: the application is universal, as long as the congregation singing the song is widely-versed in scripture and expository preaching. (Of course, this means that your average church that picks songs based on the latest David Crowder hits might not have the scriptural knowledge necessary to make this connection.)

The song which I was convicted to do in place of “It’s Rising Up” was “Blessed Be Your Name”, by Matt and Beth Redman.

Blessed be your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s all as it should be
Blessed be your name

Blessed be your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be your name

Every blessing you pour out,
I’ll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say…
Blessed be the name of the Lord

You give and take away…

— Beth Redman, Matt Redman, “Blessed Be Your Name”, © 2005 Thankyou Music

These words were penned by the same hand. See how far Matt Redman had come in seven years! See how saturated the song is with the sovereignty of God!

“You give and take away…” The scriptural application of the book of Job is, in fact, universal for all believers. James 5:11 (ESV) says, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” Note how James does not blame Job’s suffering on the devil. Rather, he makes Job an example to us of a true believer submitted to the will and purpose of God. This was not something God was doing for a particular time or dispensation, but applies to all Christians in the face of trials.

“It’s Rising Up” speaks of the kingdom rule of God being ushered in by the voice of man. But “Blessed Be Your Name” says that God’s kingdom is already here, though hurricanes and war and poverty and the like may cause us to unduly question God’s rule.

In Job 38-39, Yahweh presents his case to Job, detailing all the aspects of his sovereignty over earthly life for two chapters straight, and then he challenges Job to find fault with the way he rules the earth. But Job is silent:

And the Lord said to Job:

“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.”

— Job 40:1-4 (ESV)

God’s kingdom is already here, and those who live as if he is not the one with dominion over this orb shall find themselves absent from the kingdom when Christ returns in his glory.

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