In this post, I’m going to talk about some of the struggles I’ve had with worship songs.  Before I say anything else, I want to be clear that the specific worship song I’m going to talk about is a good song– if any of my readers really like it, that’s fine!  But it took me quite a while before I learned how to sing it.

As the Deer by Martin Nystrom

As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after thee.

You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship thee.

Chorus:

You alone are my strength, my shield; to you alone may my spirit yield.

You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship thee.

You’re my friend, and you are my brother, even though you are a King.

I love you more than any other, so much more than anything.

Repeat Chorus

I want you more than gold or silver; only you can satisfy.

You alone are the real joy giver and the apple of my eye.

Repeat Chorus

It used to cause me a lot of distress to sing some of the worship songs we sang at my school, and later, in college chapel at Cedarville University.  I liked to sing songs about God– that reminded me of his faithfulness and love.  But I had a lot of trouble with songs like this one that expressed the strength of the singer’s love for God.  I had heard messages that warned that I shouldn’t sing anything I didn’t mean.

After all, God spoke very strongly against those who worshipped him with their lips but not with their hearts.  When the leaders of Israel were going through the motions of offering sacrifices to God but were oppressing the poor, ignoring God’s command to love their neighbors, God went so far as to say “I hate, I despise your religious feasts,” and told them “Away with the noise of your songs!  I will not listen to the noise of your harps.   But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

When we sang a song like “As the Deer,” I tried to think if I could truthfully tell God “You alone are my heart’s desire,” or “I love you more than any other, so much more than anything.”  Those are passionate words of love from the songwriter’s heart, and I hardly ever felt that way (actually, more like never)– and I certainly couldn’t produce those feelings on schedule at 1o:oo every weekday for chapel!  If those things were true about the condition of my heart, wouldn’t I never doubt God and never sin?  That certainly wasn’t the case.  So I often fell silent or mumbled when I got to those lines, or mentally added “I pray that this would be true, God.”

Well, as it turns out, I was not singing the song correctly.  I have since done a couple of things that have helped me to think about it differently.  One of the most significant was to read the original psalm that inspired the song, Psalm 42:

To the Chief Musician.  A Contemplation of the sons of Korah.

As the deer pants for the water brooks,

So pants my soul for You, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When shall I come and appear before God?

My tears have been my food day and night,

While they continually say to me,

“Where is your God?”

.

When I remember these things,

I pour out my soul within me.

For I used to go with the multitude;

I went with them to the house of God,

With the voice of joy and praise,

With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.

.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?

And why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him

For the help of His countenance.

.

O my God, my soul is cast down within me;

Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,

And from the heights of Hermon,

From the Hill Mizar.

Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;

All your waves and billows have gone over me.

The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,

And in the night His song shall be with me–

A prayer to the God of my life.

.

I will say to God my Rock,

“Why have you forgotten me?

Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”

As with a breaking of my bones,

My enemies reproach me,

While they say to me all day long,

“Where is your God?”

.

Why are you cast down, O my soul?

And why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God;

For I shall yet praise Him,

The help of my countenance and my God.

Now, does that psalm sound like it was written by someone who never doubted, or whose relationship with God was smooth and full of warm feelings?  No way!  This was written by someone who was depressed and exhausted.  The singer is trying to keep his trust fixed on God, but it’s hard because the voices of his enemies are constantly taunting him, saying “Where is your God?”  It’s hard because the singer is finding himself asking the same question:  “Why have you forgotten me?”  It’s hard because, where once he was part of a multitude singing, feasting, and praising God, now he’s alone.  It’s hard because he knows God is ultimately in control of his trial, and right now it feels like God’s pouring a waterfall on him.  It’s hard.

But in the midst of it all, the singer knows that God is still his unchanging Rock, that God will show his lovingkindness to his people, and that God is with him even now.  He may not feel it, but he knows it.  And he trusts that God is listening, or else who is he singing to?  I take great comfort in the fact that God gave us this example (and this is far from the only one) of a desperate prayer from someone who didn’t feel the “right” emotions.  The singer’s soul is cast down at the beginning of the psalm, and guess what?  In the last stanza, it’s still cast down.  The statement of hope at the end is “I shall yet praise Him.”  So even if I don’t feel like I have it in me to praise God because I feel too rotten or because I feel nothing, I can trust that I will someday be able to praise him perfectly, with my whole heart.

And I can praise him imperfectly for that right now.

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