“So I will cherish the old rugged cross…”
Did you grow up singing that song? In the church that I grew up in, we must have sung it three times a month. That was okay by me because I loved it. I loved the lyrics, I loved the tune, I loved the way it made me feel. I loved everything about it except one: the message.
At first I was too young to fully understand the message. Later on I just accepted it that we Christians sang many songs that we didn’t personally believe in. I thought that was normal. I mean after all, who really meant it when they sang “I surrender all” or “love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all” (from When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”)? The songs, while beautiful, were just a part of the service. They weren’t meant to reflect reality.
Or, were they? My thinking on this changed many, many years ago when I came across a quote that said something along this line: Christians don’t tell lies, they just go to church and sing them.
Ouch! That was me. Here I was singing my heart out Sunday after Sunday about fully belonging, fully surrendering to Jesus and I didn’t completely mean it. I mean, of course, at the time, swept away by the emotion of it all, with tears streaming down my face, I meant it at that moment. But, the question was, did I really buy into the message of the song or was I just lying? And, if I was lying (such a strong word that), who was it that I was lying to? Me? No, I knew the truth of the situation. Others? If so then they were lying back to me and we were all a bunch of hypocrites. No, that wasn’t it, either. God? Yes, that was it. I was lying to God. It was Him I was singing to about cherishing Him above, beyond and instead of anything else and, yet, I didn’t truly mean it. I was a liar who was lying to the true and living God Who said that liars have their place in hell. I had to do something and I had to do it fast.
Repentance came to mind. I then asked God to teach me to love Him above all and instead of all. Then, I started truly listening to the songs. They became some of my best teachers. Slowly, over time, the words began to make heart sense. I learned to embrace their truths rather than shrink away from them. The words of the songs began to reflect reality for me rather than just being a part of the service where we all thought “wouldn’t that be nice if it were true”.
I’ve grown a lot in the ensuing years. After much study and prayer, I’ve come to embrace a deeper, more difficult “brand” of Christianity than that of my childhood. I can truly say with complete honesty that God is everything to me and that I cherish Him above all and instead of all. My faith has been tried and tested and no doubt will be again and again. Each time I come through the fire, I learn to love God more.
My Christian growth is, of course, tied in with my times of prayer, my personal Bible study, church attendance and the study of good books by good men and women who love(d) the Lord. It is, however, also tied into coming to understand the necessity of not lying to God at all…not even in songs. God doesn’t take the breaking of our vows lightly. If we are singing about His being our everything, He had actually better be our everything. Otherwise, we have just lied to Him and, we know, that liars have their part in the lake of fire.
The old hymn writers (and some of today’s song writers) have given us much great cross-centered teaching in their songs. It is up to us to take the time to truly listen to the words and learn from them and then incorporate the teachings into our lives.
If we don’t mean it, we had better not sing it.