In my experience, there are three important reasons scripture matters in lyrics. Singing Scripture helps us memorize it, keeps our theology in check, and connects us to other Christ followers.
When I was growing up, my mom made a list of scripture for my brother and I to memorize. She assigned a dollar amount to each one as a reward to entice us to learn the verses. I don’t know where the money is now, or what I spent it on, but many of those verses remain in my heart and mind.
Though it might still work for kids, asking adults to memorize scripture in exchange for quarters doesn’t really work. (I tried it once in a sermon, offering fifty cents to anyone who attempted to recite Psalm 23. I had no takers. I also used my mom’s price list and didn’t account for twenty-five years of inflation…) But, singing scripture can help people of any age memorize important truths from the Bible. Often, people don’t even recognize they are singing scripture or realize they are committing it to memory. When a song uses scripture as lyrics, we have a unique opportunity to bind the Word of God to people’s hearts and minds. I don’t understand the exact science, but I know that singing uses logical and creative parts of our brains. Plus, singing is a physical activity that engages our whole bodies – the way we breathe, what we hear, how we stand. What better way to engage scripture with our whole selves than with singing? It’s like our whole body is subtly at work memorizing scripture.
Isn’t it powerful when you have a song based in scripture stuck in your head? Take for example the song “Same Power” by Jeremy Camp. The chorus of this song comes directly from Romans 8:11. “The Same Power that raised Jesus from the grave lives in us.” When these words are connected to your heart and mind, (or when they are stuck in your head!) it’s a constant reminder that the Holy Spirit lives in us. That’s a powerful lyric to sing.
We know that scripture can be twisted to misrepresent God. In Matthew 4, we read how the devil was a master at this! We also know that not every song claiming to be a worship song is theologically sound. But I find more often that not, that when a worship song engages scripture as lyrics, the song’s theology can be trusted. This is a second benefit to scripture in lyrics: it helps us keep a right view of who God is and who we are in light of Him.
I believe that the Holy Spirit can guide songwriters, just as the Holy Spirit guided the authors of our scriptures. When a songwriter includes a verse of scripture as lyrics, it helps us to see God as the authors of scripture did. This keeps us from twisting verses or lyrics to suit our own needs or own views of God.
The song “Our God” is a good example of a modern song that incorporates scripture as lyrics has a right view of God’s character. The first verse recalls some of the miracles that Jesus performed. The chorus describes some characteristics of God. The bridge uses Romans 8:31 to remind those who sing that God is for them. If God is for us, who can be against us? Who could ever stop us? This song reminds us we have a God who is always on our side.
One of the most powerful benefits of singing scripture, is that it connects us to other Christ followers, both those who have gone before us and those living across the world. Singing the songs inspired by the Psalms is especially amazing when you consider how many people sing the Psalms. The Psalms have been the songbook of God’s people for a long time, and it’s empowering to think about how we still sing them today. We’re singing and proclaiming words inspired by God and about God that have given hope to countless believers over the years. We’re singing prayers and outcries to God that speak to something common and shared in all sorts of different kinds of people. Though we live in different places, cultures, and time periods, we can connect to others through the words of Psalms and other scriptures and in doing so recognize we are all the same before God.
One of my favorite songs inspired by the Psalms is “How Great is Our God.” This song uses images from Psalm 104 to paint a picture of God’s greatness and splendor. These are ancient images that still ring true to us today.
There are other great songs that incorporate scripture in the lyrics in powerful ways. Which ones does your church family already know? What new ones could you introduce?