did we just sing the same line 20 times? didn’t God get it the first time?

19 08 2009

I’ve had discussions about how some songs repeat the same lyrics over and over. My first thought is that the writers are lazy. The second thought is one shared with me, “Didn’t God hear us the first time?” Why would we need to say the same thing over and over again?

Here is an example of why I feel like songs used in worship get a little ridiculous with repeated words.

If you just want to see the lyrics here they are:

And He set me on fire, and I am burning alive.
With His breath in my lungs I am coming undone.
And he set me on fire and I am burning alive.
With his breath in my lungs I am coming undone.
And I cannot hold it in
Remain composed.
Love’s taken over me
So I propose the letting myself go.
I am letting myself go.

You are my joy.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.

And He set me on fire, and I am burning alive.
With His breath in my lungs I am coming undone.
And He set me on fire, and I am burning alive.
With His breath in my lungs I am coming undone.
And I cannot hold it in and remain composed.
Love’s taken over me and so I propose the letting myself go.
I am letting myself go.

You are my joy.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.

I need to catch my breath, I need to.
I need to catch my breath, give me a moment now.

You are my joy.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.
You are my joy.

I’m laughing so hard
And I’m laughing so hard
And I’m laughing so hard

I first must disclose that I often don’t get David Crowder’s lyrics. I know his lyrics are very image driven and I don’t connect with them well. Second, I really like the sound of this song, but I am always disappointed by the lyrics.

What does this song say?

It talks about what God has done for him. Not bad… that idea can be used in worship. What has God done? God set him on fire. People can get me pretty fired up too. What might stand out is that God provided a love that overtook the singer. That’s not a bad idea, but they are concepts without concrete actions. What if the person (not David Crowder) singing the song has all the same feelings, but they are not really God initiated or founded? The song becomes empty.

The breakdown of the song’s lyrics might seem a little off focus from the title of the post, but it is connected.

We started talking about why we would ever repeat lyrics in worship songs if God gets it the first time. The first repeated line “You are my joy” is an expression of reaction to God, not a characteristic about God. It’s not bad to repeat the line, but I’d prefer more lyrics about why God is my joy. Remembering why elevates the source over the experience. (If you have studied post-modernism, which I won’t go into, then you will understand why this is important. If you really want to know more the easiest and most fun way is to watch Return to Source: Philosophy & The Matrix on disc 8 of The Matrix Trilogy box set.)

The next repeated lines “I need to catch my breath” and “I’m laughing so hard” are just lyrics describing an experience and nothing about God, which I would propose is better left out of a worship song.

The most important question is not the function of repeating lyrics, but if it is biblical.

Read Revelation 4:8-11

8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

9And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11 “Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”

We see that the four creatures never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” They say it day and night. In conjunction with this the twenty-four elders fall down every time saying their own line when the four creatures do their bit.

There we go, a biblical reference to repeated lines. Though, it might not all be in one song, it’s all day and night long.

What makes this different from the song we looked at? These are qualities about God. They contain words describing God, His character, and what He did. The lyrics are not about us.

There is a song that has repeated lyrics that moved me.

It is Jeff Deyo’s “You Are Good” and the lyrics are:

Some would say that You cannot be found
And some would say that You are far away
But I know You’re the God who lives in me
And I know You will always have my heart.

‘Cause You are good
And Your love endures forever
You are good
And Your love endures forever
You are good
And Your love endures forever
You are good, you are good.

You are the only One
You are the One that I desire
You are the only One, my King.

We see two repeated lines, but the one that grabbed me was, “You are good and your love endures forever.” It describes a quality about God. In this we declare a truth about God to God.

There is a reason why the repeating words moved me. In repeating the lines over and over God showed me a different quality about His love. Not only does God never end in quantity, but it never ends its flow toward us. No matter how much we mess up God’s flow of love toward us will never end.

The repeated lyrics musically represent truth just as in Psalm 136. Because the repeating lyrics make it feel like it never ends, we are reminded that God’s love never ends.

So, what my answer to the use of repeated lines in a worship song?

There is scriptural precedent for saying the same thing over and over, and repeating the same line can be a creative tool to communicate truth.