Thinking about Words

I’ve been thinking again, and thinking for me means writing. Someone asked me recently what I thought of a certain popular song, and reading the lyrics sent my mind spiraling in a dozen different directions. Mostly, I’ve found myself thinking about words. I believe words are important; far more important than most people realize. A single word can alter the path of your thoughts. It can take you to a memory, pull you out of darkness, or stretch your lips into that upwardly tilted crescent we all find so lovely on a face.

Hate. Love. Beauty. Anger. Sorrow. Hope. Surprise. Despair. Freedom. Heartbreak. Life.

See? How many places did you travel in your mind? How many memories did you live out in the brief seconds between words read? Words are important and powerful. What we say to one another and how we say it has the ability to shape a moment, and alter a course of action. Subsequently, what we allow ourselves to put into our minds, be it through television, radio, or those ipods we all love so much, directly effects our perception of the things around us. It is important, then, that we understand the meaning behind the things we repeat…especially in regards to the songs we sing out to God. I’m a bit of a music nerd (in band all the way through high school, and jumped right into the music program in college), so I definitely have my preferences stylistically. I will say, though, that nothing is more important to me when I step before my King, than for the words of my mouth to echo the meditation of my heart. Sound familiar? Read Psalm 19:14 if you’re confused. 😉 We get so entangled in the beat of a song, in the movement of a melody, in the emotions of the moment, that we don’t even stop to consider the words we’re mouthing. The meaning behind the lyrics of so many songs is left open so that the listener can form their own conclusion; and, I must say, I like it when I hear a song and it feels personal. A word of caution, though. Obscurity in the meaning of the words I dare to utter before the King of Kings is dangerous. It is an undeserved honor and unearned privilege to be allowed to speak with the Creator of All Life. I want and need to know that what I say in His presence is the truth.

That’s the trouble with lyrics of songs that are meant to draw us near to Him that are left to our own interpretation….they are not concrete enough to have a clear meaning, so we make up our own (dependent on our emotional response to the song). Take, for example, the song “Better than a Hallelujah Sometimes”. This song is so tangled up in fluffy words and poetic freedom that I had to sit down and examine it a line at a time just to make sense of it. What, exactly, does she mean by “God loves a lullaby in a mother’s tears in the dead of night better than a hallelujah sometimes”, or “God loves the drunkard’s cry, the soldier’s plea not to let him die better than a Hallelujah sometimes”. Or how about the chorus “We pour out our miseries, God just hears a melody; Beautiful, the mess we are, the honest cries of breaking hearts are better than a hallelujah.”?

Why is it that, in each of these scenarios, the person is in distress and chooses not to praise God? We tend to take things at face value. It’s playing on the Christian station. Clearly, that means the words are biblically sound…or not. Worship is about the attitude of our hearts, and there are different styles of worship that various people gravitate toward. However, worship is not just about the attitude of our hearts. It is also about the words we choose to express that attitude. If we don’t understand the meaning behind the words we are singing, and we sing them anyway, we could be shouting out to God words that are exactly the opposite of the position of our hearts. I never, ever want to look up to the Great Provider, My Creator and Sustainer, and tell Him that there is ANYTHING better than giving Him praise.

Job lost everything in a moment. “Then [he] arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’.” In his moment of distress, Job cried out to God, but he did not cease to praise Him. We are not called to give the Lord something in place of praise when we enter into struggles. We are called to give Him praise in the midst of them. When I give praise to God, I thank him for His goodness and mercy toward me. When I am having a good day, I look up to Him and thank Him for loving me. When I am having a horrible day, I raise my eyes to Him and thank Him for giving me the breath that allows my chest to heave in times of intense struggle and my voice to cry out to Him in my need. We were made to seek Him and to yearn for Him. We were made to give Him praise. You’ll forgive me if I don’t buy into lines like, “The honest cries of breaking hearts are better than a Hallelujah”. We are selfish by nature, so I understand our propensity to hear a line like this and instantly feel an emotional connection to it. After all, we do want the cry of our honestly broken heart to pull the attention of an almighty, everlasting God away from His glory to focus on our emotionally wrought moment of truth. Don’t get me wrong here. I find nothing wrong with crying out to God in our despair. I strongly encourage it, in fact. But it is a ridiculous and preposterous notion to me that we think our sadness trumps God’s glory. It doesn’t. Raise your dirty hands to Him. Place the fragmented pieces of a broken heart in His healing hands. Fall into His sustaining arms and rest. But, do none of this without acknowledging that He and He alone is capable of the healing and restoration and strength you seek.

Is there anything better than a hallelujah? Hallelujah: “Praise God”.

Giving honor to Him, worshiping Him, acknowledging His perfection and your depravity, crying out to a God who still loves you in your filth…all of these things are praising God. They are not BETTER than a hallelujah…..they ARE a hallelujah.