Our Great God
w/m - Johnny Mac Powell / Fernando Ortega
Eternal God, unchanging
Mysterious and unknown
Your boundless love unfailing
In grace and mercy shown
Bright seraphim in ceaseless flight
Around your glorious throne
They raise their voices day and night
In praise to you alone
Glory be to our great God
Glory be to our great God!
Lord, we are weak and frail,
Helpless in the storm
Surround us with your angels
Hold us in your arms
Our cold and ruthless enemy
His pleasure is our harm
Rise up, oh Lord, and he will flee
Before our Sovereign God
Let every creature in the sea
And every flying bird
Let all the mountains, all the fields
And valleys of the earth
Let all the moons and all the stars
In all the universe
Sing praises to the Living God
Who rules them by His word
Our Great God is an amazing worship song that not only has great theology worth hiding in our heart, but also leads the worshiper in an outpouring of praise. To me, this is the perfect combination in a worship song. It is completely God-focused.
Eternal God, unchanging, mysterious and unknown. This is not saying we cannot have a relationship with this God, but He is “unknown” in that we cannot comprehend all that He is. It’s like my iPhone. I can turn it on and make calls and play games and check my calendar, but if you were to open it up and explain to me how it works, I would be completely lost. We can know what God has revealed about Himself, but it is far from exhaustive. Your boundless love unfailing in grace and mercy shown. The contrast between the first and second lines should be humbling to us… This God, who is eternal, mysterious, and unchanging in His perfections, shows love and mercy to us who, in no way, deserve it.
Bright seraphim in ceaseless flight around your glorious throne: they raise their voices day and night in praise to you alone. Ephesians 3:10 tells us that “God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens.” In other words, God teaches Spirit beings through the grace He shows in saving us through Christ.
Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God. While the verses speak the details of God’s greatness, the chorus leads the worshiper in resounding praise. I can think of no greater phrase for God’s children to sing to Him than this.
Lord, we are weak and frail, helpless in the storm. Surround us with your angels. Hold us in your arms. In stark contrast with God’s exhaustive power is our exhausted weakness. Anything we try to accomplish in our own strength is quickly overwhelmed by the onslaught of life. Without Him, we can do nothing. It is in our weakness that His strength is put on display.
Our cold and ruthless enemy, his pleasure is our harm. Rise up, oh Lord, and he will flee before our Sovereign God. As sons and daughters of God, we have a target on our backs. As the song “A Mighty Fortress” says, speaking of our “Ancient foe”, “On earth is not his equal”. We cannot fight the enemy alone, in fact, we cannot fight him at all. It is God who limits Satan’s reach. Our job is to call on the name of the Lord and He will save us.
Let every creature in the sea and every flying bird, let all the mountains, all the fields and valleys of the earth, let all the moons and all the stars in all the universe, sing praises to the Living God Who rules them by His word. Luke tells us that if the disciples of Jesus kept silent, the rocks would cry out. Even if they make no audible sound of praise, all creation, all that is made cries out at how awesome the Creator is. The heavens declare the glory of our great God!
w/m - Sean Curran, Jason Ingram, Jonathan Smith, Kristian Stanfill
I was buried beneath my shame
Who could carry that kind of weight
It was my tomb Till I met You
I was breathing, but not alive
All my failures I tried to hide
It was my tomb Till I met You
You called my name and I ran out of that grave
Out of the darkness into Your glorious day
You called my name and I ran out of that grave
Out of the darkness into Your glorious day
Now Your mercy has saved my soul
Now Your freedom is all I know
The old made new, Jesus, when I met You
I needed rescue, my sin was heavy
But chains break at the weight of Your glory
I needed shelter, I was an orphan
But You call me a citizen of heaven
When I was broken, You were my healing
Your love is the air that I'm breathing
I have a future, my eyes are open
This is a song from a few years back from the very popular “Passion Conference”. While this song contains some doctrine, I’d put it in the “Testimony song” category. One thing I really like about this song is that, even though it is a testimony song, it is a testimony song that every believer should be able to sing because it is about the work of Christ in saving us.
I was buried beneath my shame. Who could carry that kind of weight? It was my tomb Till I met You. On initial listening, I thought this opening line is not one that I would have written to describe our standing before we are saved. While it is true that we are dead before God makes us alive (Ephesians 2), the shame we feel because of our sin isn’t there until our eyes are opened to it. The carnal man loves his sin. But then, I thought of “Christian” in John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress”. When he first heard the gospel in the City of Destruction, it placed a huge burden on him that only fell off at the foot of the cross. Just understand that our tomb is not simply “shame” that we feel, but the sin and death we are born into.
I was breathing, but not alive. All my failures I tried to hide. This speaks of the lost who walk around thinking they are alive, when in fact they are dead men walking. The one we sin against is God. We fail before we are saved because we have no desire to be pleasing to God. Again, I don’t know if the world tries to hide it when they fail God by continuing in their sin. Only a believer would feel conviction for their failures in the area of sin.
You called my name and I ran out of that grave, out of the darkness into Your glorious day. Now this is a very accurate description of what happens to a man who was dead, blind, and in rebellion against God, when the Holy Spirit draws them, opens their eyes and makes them alive… they RUN out of the grave and into the arms of the Savior.
Now Your mercy has saved my soul. Now Your freedom is all I know, the old made new, Jesus, when I met You. John 1:13 tells us we are “born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” It is the mercy of God that saves us, not being born into a Christian family, not doing good works, not even our own will. It is God and His mercy. He saves us and sets us free. The old is passed away and everything is become new.
I needed rescue, my sin was heavy, but chains break at the weight of Your glory. The chains spoken of here, in context, are the chains of sin and death, not just the chains of low self-esteem or bad habits. These can form chains, even around believers, but this is a bondage that has eternal consequences. The context is salvation as can be seen in the next phrase: I needed shelter, I was an orphan but You call me a citizen of heaven. God adopts us into His family. This is not a temporary adoption. This adoption is a result of being justified freely and redeemed from the slave market of sin.
When I was broken, You were my healing. Again, this is clearly speaking of healing from our sin nature and total depravity. Your love is the air that I'm breathing. This is a poetic way of saying that Jesus is our all in all. It is not meant to mean that the love of God is a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide etc.
I have a future, my eyes are open. Those whom God has called, He justifies. And those He justifies, He glorifies. Our future is secure because our names are written in the Lambs Book of Life. We look forward seeing our Savior on that glorious day!
During my time off from writing this blog last month, I spent a lot of thought pondering music and the church in general. Last week, I spoke of a shift in my thinking regarding “Testimony” and “Therapy” songs in worship. This week, I want to speak to an issue I find good for believers to think about, not only in the area of worship but in all areas of our Christian life. It is summed up in the difference between “Cat theology” and “Dog theology.”
“A dog may look at you and think, “You feed me, you pet me, you shelter me, you love me -- You must be god!" On the other hand a cat can look at you and say, “You feed me, you pet me, you shelter me, you love me -- I must be god!’"
If we sit down and theologically ponder the question, “Who is God?”, all true Christians would say that Yahweh is God, our Master, and we are His servants. However, it doesn’t always practically work itself out that way. It’s easy, especially in an affluent society, to become conditioned to expect all things to work out for our pleasure. Entitlement sets in and we quickly find ourselves complaining over the smallest of inconvenience.
Thousands pack churches that, rather than focusing on the Word, focuses on making them feel comfortable about themselves. We complain when something is said, or done… or sung that we don’t personally enjoy. Is life about our enjoyment? Or is life about God’s glory, even at the expense of denying ourselves? That’s the difference between a cat and a dog.
In 2003, Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison wrote a groundbreaking book called “Cat and Dog Theology: Rethinking Our Relationship with Our Master”. In it they say,” It all begins with a simple joke: It's been said that "Dogs have Masters - Cats have Staff. Cats may call you Master, but tend to live a self-centered life–where you are there to serve and take care of them. On the other hand, Dogs are eager to see and please their master.”
I want to take this concept and apply it to our worship and the songs we choose. Do we personally come into a corporate worship setting thinking “How can God receive the most glory from this means of grace?” or is our thought more along the lines of, “I sure hope they sing the songs I want to hear today.”
As a worship leader, I first look to what God has said about how He wants to be worshiped. I view it as a stewardship of a gift that God has given me. He is the Master, not me. I will be held responsible to God for how I have used the gift of music and the talents and songs available to me to bring Him glory. I don’t want to squander a single note of melody or a syllable of lyric to serve myself. Every minute we have is precious, and should be used for the purposes He has designated.
As I stated last week, this doesn’t mean that there is no place for personal testimony or personal encouragement in our songs. We see that in scripture, and while scripture is profitable for doctrine, it is also profitable for edification and comfort. The spectrum of our lyrics should encompass all of this. Last week, I looked at the possible imbalance of not enough testimony, and today, I want to look at the possible disproportion of songs that reassure to songs that admonish, reprove and instruct.
In our corporate worship, as well as our Christian walk, we need to ask ourselves who is the focus? Who is the intended recipient of the honor? Too often we fall into the common trap of redirecting the funds designated for God’s glory to the expense account of our own pleasure. That ought not be among God’s people.
Another common error in worship is a reinventing of Biblical ideas to make them more man-focused. Take the word love, for example. It is such a broad term and permeates so much of our worship… and rightly so. However, when the Bible speaks of God’s love for us, we are not the hero of that story. We are not the central figure of the Bible. All of God’s providential work is done for His majesty. Christ is the focus. While God does work all things together for those who love Him, those who are called, everything God does is ultimately for His own glory first.
David Platt says in his book “Radical”, “The message of biblical Christianity is not “God loves me, period,” as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is “God loves me so that I might make him—his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness—known among all nations.” Now God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around Him. We are not the end of the gospel; God is.”
This lack of Biblical understanding in many songwriters today is one of the reasons we see so much “romantic language” in our worship. Romance is all about how I feel, how my spouse or person I am dating makes me feel. That’s romance, and when we apply that to God, it becomes all about how God makes me feel. We become the center. It’s all about us. It’s cat theology. I hate to burst some bubbles here, but God’s love for us, in sending His Son to die for us, was not all about us. It was all about God receiving glory for displaying His mercy and grace. When we view God’s love in this biblical light, we see that we are “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” God’s glory is not His only goal, but it is the highest goal, and should be our highest goal. That’s dog theology. We are here for Him, not the other way around.
So, in conclusion, I’d just like to focus everyone on the worship and glory of God. It is one of the main reasons we gather together corporately. We explain the scripture, we worship through giving, we do all of the “One Anothers” of scripture, and we honor God with our praise. We need to make sure that God is the reason we sing, the focus of our worship.
A bit of history… the early church sang hymns and used music to worship their Savior, but somewhere along the line, the church stopped singing. During the reformation, reformers like Martin Luther revived the art of congregational singing. New hymns were written and a new song was sung. The Wesley's and many other great hymn writers like Fanny Crosby, and my personal favorite, Isaac Watts added to the church’s canon of wonderful theological songs. These songs were collected and most churches used these collections each week… it was called the hymnal.
In fact, through the years, many have historically carried two books to grow in their faith… the Bible and the hymnal. Not that the hymnal was ever considered inspired, but there was so much rich teaching that whole families would use these great songs to teach systematic theology to their children. It was like catechism with a melody that acted like a glue to stick the truths to the soul. For instance, when you learned your ABC’s, did you learn it to a tune? Most people did, because it makes what you learn more permanent. The truths of God worked the same way. People would then carry the theology of these songs on for the rest of their lives.
In the 1970’s the “Jesus Movement” brought new styles of music into the Christian community. The CCM industry was born, and eventually bought by major record labels. In the 90’s the modern worship movement became a major part of a lot of church’s music programs.
Today, sadly, there has become a rift between those who use hymns and those who prefer modern worship. The “Hymns only” crowd attacks modern songs for not being as strongly theological, and the modern worship group puts down the ancient hymns for being “outdated” and “boring”. The vast majority of churches feel you have to choose one side or the other and in so doing, they miss out on a major blessing.
As a lover of theology, I love the hymns, but not all songs for the church are written for the same purpose and comparing them all based on one criteria is like comparing apples and oranges.
We would not say testimonies have no place in the church because they are not as deeply theological as an expository sermon. Why then, would we say testimony songs have no place because they do not teach systematic theology in every line? Testimonies, biblical counseling, discipling, and encouragement often contain theology, but they serve a different purpose from the preaching of the Word. Sermons, on the other hand can build up a congregation and offer personal testimony, but their goal is to explain God’s word to us. In the same way, many modern worship songs contain doctrine, but usually focus more on testimony than theology. Both modern and ancient hymns contain praise and testimony, but are mostly written to teach of God’s attributes and works.
I believe we do a disservice when we forsake the theological hymns for the modern songs just because we hear them all the time on the radio and and love singing along with them. Yes, we praise God for the personal testimony of the singer that is often ours as well, but we miss out on the opportunity to learn life-changing doctrinal truths through a well written melody. I also believe we miss out on some wonderful, helpful songs of testimony, consolation, and comfort when we only sing theology line after line. There is room for the two, sadly very few churches actively seek out to do both.
I want to use our ministry to both sing testimony as well as teach doctrine. I think both have their place in the church. Some songs of testimony may be more subjective, compared to the objective truth in scripture, but we want to be a well-rounded congregation. God has given us the gift of music, in other words, I want to enjoy an apple for being an apple, not complain that it is not as juicy as an orange. But rather than eat just an apple everyday, I’d rather have a nice fruit salad.
Bill Itzel has been a worship leader and singer/songwriter for over 30 years and is based in Westminster, MD. His family tours and leads worship, not only in their home church (Mt. Airy Bible Church), but around the country. This is a blog about congregational worship and the latest news in the The Itzel's ministry.