jesus, love songs, and intimacy in public :: the boxer shorts dream

March 23, 2010

I have this dream sometimes. It’s usually back in the last church I served as worship leader.  People are gathered in their seats and ready to start a service.  I am supposed to be leading the service, but I have no Team.  I haven’t planned anything.  It’s quiet.  Someone coughs a little.  Awkward.  Oh yeah… and I’m in my boxer shorts.

So this post is one of those trips to the Freudian couch… a “what does it all mean?” exploration of my psyche and my recent thoughts about worship leading.  Good times.  We’ll get back to the boxer shorts in a bit…

I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten conflicting reports back on the same day from people I have led in worship over the years.  “It’s a little bit loud…”  “Crank it up guys!”  “We love those hymns…”  “The hymns feel so SLOW to me.”  “Man, I could have worshipped another hour… Why stop after three songs?” “Do you have to do so many songs?” “Love the new songs… keep ’em coming!”  “Can’t we sing some of the old favorites?”

Sound familiar?

That’s why over time I have tried to take every oportunity to teach people about worship in those moments, but I don’t generally let individual comments steer the ship of my decision making when it comes to worship planning.  Unless those individual comments are coming from my Senior Pastor or my wife (can I get an Amen?!), of course.  I figure that for every individual opinion expressed, there is most likely someone with the oposite preference in our congregation.  Therefore, individual opinions and preferences do not steer worship planning policy…  Biblical principles and a Biblically constructed philosophy of worship do.

But I do remember one exception to that rule. Only once do I remember making a significant philosophical decision about worship planning after only ONE concerned comment.  After debuting a new song in our corporate worship setting, a concerned congregant talked to me after the service, and we never used that song again.  I had no problem with it doctrinally or we never would have used it in the first place.  It was personally very effective for me as a worship expression.  But after one conversation, I pulled it from our set list.

Maybe the best way to set this up for you is to ask you to watch and listen to a worship setting that invokes a similar tone.  This is a different song and a different church.  The song itself is equally beautiful, and I believe it is effective as a worship tool.  But it has been publically criticized – written off as emotionally trite, as a sappy “love song to Jesus,” and even as blasphemous.  Listen, think about it, and then we’ll get back to my boxer shorts dream…

What do you think? Opinions vary.  “Makes me weep – it’s so beautiful.”  “Makes me sick – it’s so sentimental.”

Think about the text of this simple chorus:

I wanna sit at Your feet, Drink from the cup in Your hand, Lay back against you and breathe, Feel your heartbeat.  This love is so deep, It’s more than I can stand.  I melt in Your peace, It’s overwhelming…

Songs like this one – and the one I discussed with my friend from our congregation a few years ago – are very very intimate expressions of love and adoration to Jesus.  They invoke the kind of closeness that we see between Jesus and the apostle John, who would recline with his head against Jesus’ chest at times.  They call up a picture of Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, adoring Him.  I think about David, writing “ONE THING I ask of the Lord, and this is what I seek, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.”

Honestly, I think about the kind of intimate love relationship that only a husband and wife know.  Jesus’ Bride, longing to be in His presence.  And that kind of intimacy is meant for private expression – not public display.

So to those who write this kind of expression off as sappy emotionalism, I would say no… not at all.  If that’s ALL a worship setting has to offer, then maybe.  But I know the ministry of Kari Jobe and Gateway Church.  This is part of the worship expression puzzle, in a mix of Biblical teaching and response, hymns and choruses.  Don’t criticize the slivered carrots as an incomplete meal when they come served with steak and potatoes.

I am grateful for recorded (and written) songs like this – intimate expressions of desire to be near and bask in the mercy and goodness and love of Jesus.  They move me.  They help me express worship.  When I am alone with God.

On the other hand, as a worship leader, I have chosen not to lead songs that are this intimate – this private – in a group setting.  I don’t judge others for doing so.  But to me, I feel like I am violating the honesty of the moment by sharing it corporately.  There are songs for the congregation and songs for the prayer closet.

And that brings me back to those quiet dreamy moments, when I’m exposed before the congregation in my boxer shorts.  I’m always scrambling to cover up.  I think a lot of people have those “naked at work” dreams… I suppose they uncover some psychological truth about our insecurities.  All I know is, I feel exposed.  Vulnerable.  On display.

Songs like this make me feel vulnerable, too.  But that’s OK when I’m alone with God.  It’s safe to be honest in an intimate relationship. But in a group, a song like this can make me feel… uncomfortably exposed, on display.  This one – for me – is a song for the closet.

I’m interested to know what you think. Sentimental or Serious?  Private or Public?

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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

7 responses to jesus, love songs, and intimacy in public :: the boxer shorts dream

  1. I think that it’s great… and I’m a pretty skeptical guy. Of course, I listened to it from the comfort of my own home. See your point in not wanting to get too intimate in a corporate setting, BUT neither you nor I individually are Christ’s Bride. Rather, we are collectively the Bride of Christ.

    So, as vulnerable as it may be, maybe we should be singing more of these wife-to-husband songs in a corporate setting.

    Food for thought.

    • Hmmm… You are right about us being the Bride of Christ collectively. Yes. But is there a line to be crossed?

      This is not a black/white answer, because I want people to exerience intimate worship and close communion with the Lord in corporate worship. That’s healthy. But there are some things you say, some ways you express yourself in private that are not appropriate in public. I think that may be true of a corporate worship setting, as well.

      Interesting… I’m looking into my brain. I’m a HUGE champion of FREEDOM in worship, but I guess, yeah… I do think there are limits in public. If weeping/shouting/crying out/prostrating one’s self (which are all biblical examples) disrupt the worship expression of the congregation, they are out of order. In a congregation that is accustomed to very free expression, that may not be the case. Maybe I have the same thoughts/feelings about this kind of intimate communication with God, too. Maybe in a church setting where this kind of expression is encouraged regularly, it is more comfortable – more “acceptible” – but is that healthy?

      You make a good point, but I’m not ready to go there. Yet. 🙂 Maybe I’m getting in the way. Maybe I’m wise. God will help figure it all out. Thanks for weighing in, brother.

  2. I see what you’re getting at, Joshua. I think it’s a beautiful song, but I appreciate the perspective you have brought to this discussion. Some expressions of worship probably are better in a private fellowship with Christ while others are better in corporate fellowship with Christ and one another. I haven’t been forced to wrestle with this issue before, so bravo to you for bringing it to the table.

    • Thanks much Stephen. Really appreciate you checking in. I alway hope and pray (and teach) that our corporate times of worship are an overflow of what is happening privately. It seems perfectly logical that some worship expressions are best left in that private space. We can still gather and celebrate and confess and adore God corporately, too. But I’ve run into a few songs now that just seemed a little too personal/vulnerable to be able to share corporately. I’m always a thinking, praying work in progress as a leader, I guess.

  3. Hey Josh. I’ve been thinking about songs like this for some time. I have a friend who calls them, “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs. I attend a Vineyard church which specializes in such intimate songs, but recently I’ve been thinking about the songs this generation is writing and the way theses songs are being sung in church. The lyrics are intimate and the music is usually slow and ethereal. It’s easy to get caught in the emotion of the song without letting it really sink in. I think many of our churches these days are used to the “Top 40,” if you will, Christian songs and we sing them as if we were teens listening to, well, Top 40 tunes. Letting the words roll off our tongues without really knowing what we are singing. I like what the one guy said about the Bride of Christ being the corporate church and so singing songs of intimacy corporately fits, but if the church isn’t engaged in what they are singing–I mean if we are singing these songs because we have heard 4 variations of it played on K-LOVE and we like the way the strings give us chills or the drums beat right through us, then perhaps the emotion is simply whirling all around us and missing our hearts all together. The question I ask myself is, “Am I ready to drink from his cup?” What does that mean? Can I sing, “You give and take away-blessed be your name”? Will I “Awaken the dawn singing praises to God”? Am I really “hungry for more of God”? These songs sometimes make me sit and meditate and do a little heart-check. I must admit, singing hymns makes me do the same oftentimes. It is just that most hymns don’t come with breathy singing and whatnot. I do like hearing these types of intimate songs corporately because it helps people like me (who aren’t necessarily musically inclined) to take the words and think on them during personal times with God. What frustrates me is when a congregation — or a generation — is singing and not listening to what they sing…which is pretty much a judgment call on my part, I realize, but…

  4. Hi Jen! Great to hear from you. Yes, I’ve heard that too… “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs. Makes me laugh. But that is precisely why I posted this. To talk about this “kind” of song. Because I don’t think we should write them off with a broad brush – as if they have no place in the Body of Christ.

    But the point you make about emotionalism and getting “lost in the moment” without thinking about the words is important to talk about. That is what the critics of this type of song will say… that it’s just emotionalism. Empty man-made manipulation of our feelings. But I contend that there is a place for this kind of expression – as a genuine RESPONSE to God.

    That’s what worship is, after all. A RESPONSE to God for who He is, what He has promised, and what He has done. It is a RESPONSE to the TRUTH about God, and the TRUTH is found in the words of Scripture. So we respond to Him when we think about the true things the Bible says about Him, and how we have experienced those things in our relationship with Him. If the whole worship setting is heavy on the mood music and low lighting and “love songs in a breathy tone” but LIGHT on scriptural truth, then yes… I think that’s a little dangerous. That kind of setting can train people to feel without thinking – and train them to think that is what worship is. Feeling about God.

    But it’s deeper. This is why, I believe, I Corinthians 14:15 says, “…I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind…”

    We hear the truth. We experience it in relationship to God. We THINK about it. And then we respond – and the response is WORSHIP. Sometimes, that feels like celebration. Sometimes silence. Sometimes, very intimate songs like this one.

    So Jen, help teach me this generation how to respond DEEPLY and HONESTLY, and not just with our emotions. That’s too shallow – and it’s not really technically worship if it isn’t actually a response to GOD and not just the environment. We need to sing with our spirit AND with our mind. Amen?

    God bless you and your family, Jen! My good wife sends her hello your way, too.

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    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Joshua Skogerboe. Joshua Skogerboe said: REPOST: So I dream about leading worship in my boxers. Then I made it a metaphor. Then I wrote about it. (with video) >>