Keep Singing Oceans


September 22, 2014 by Austin McNair

oceansLast week I read a post called “Stop Singing Oceans.” Oceans is a beautiful worship song and, in the article, the author tells us to not sing the lyrics if we are “not living the life.” But I think the allure of her main point comes from a place of guilt, not grace.

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters, wherever you may call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander. And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my savior.”

Above are the lyrics that the author is particularly nervous about. In her words, “If you ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to where your trust is without borders, do you really mean that?” This is a good question considering how often Christians sing some pretty bold lyrics towards God. There are many songs which fit into that category. Here are some others that I love:

“All I need is You.”

“You are more than enough for me.”

“I Surrender”

These are songs in which the singer is being very forthright in their commitment to participate in all God has for them. So then let’s consider the question again: Should Christians be singing certain songs if the way they live their lives doesn’t quite correspond with the heaviness of the lyrics they’ve sung?

Why Do We Sing?

One reason why this question makes me hesitate is because it places too much value on the rational mind and not enough value on how we subjectively interpret art. The question assumes that singing is a rational activity where the singer is constantly engaged with an objective understanding of a song’s meaning. But isn’t singing more than that?

Music is art, and like all other art forms, there is a subjective conversation happening between the art itself and an individual’s consciousness. Consider one of the songs I posted above: While one person could be singing a well-meant “All I need is you” as a declaration of commitment to God, the person standing next to them may be singing “All I need is you” from a place of need. Two experiences from the same five words.

We sing music because in ministers to the deeper realms of our imaginations where information and rationality cannot reach. We sing songs because we believe that it can partner with the Holy Spirit to shape us in places that outside of our rational control. Music touches the murky places of the soul.

Grace Over Guilt

Stop Singing Oceans” carries a fear that if we sing something that we do not mean all the time then God will be displeased. But that sounds a lot like slavery and guilt. God has set us free from that. He’s well aware that we often do not live up to everything we say, but there is grace for us.

Dallas Willard said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning. Earning is an attitude. Effort is an action.”

In grace, God partners with our effort. So am I lying when I sing “All I need is you” when obviously we all want multiple things out of life? I don’t think so. Because in those moments, when I can taste the goodness of his Kingdom, the lyric is true – ALL I WANT IS HIM.

Do not feel guilty for singing songs. The lyrics may be heavy, and you will not be able to live up to them all the time, but let’s pray that God uses those words to form us from the inside out to become more like His son.

Oceans and Leading Worship

Back to Oceans. In the lyrics, we ask the Holy Spirit to lead us to a place where our trust extends so deeply into His will that we would faithfully to cross any barriers God wants us to overcome. Those are beautiful words and I want to be a part of a church which passionately seeks to grow towards meaning them. Our lives may not be there yet, but with God’s help we are moving there. And the can song helps.

So while I disagree with the main point of the article, I want to finish by acknowledging that I think it does raises a good conversation for worship leaders. When it comes to designing a worship service and selecting songs, are we keeping the following questions in mind?

  • Was this song chosen because its popular or because it fits in with the theme of the service?
  • Does the congregation understand what the lyrics mean and why you chose the song?
  • Are people seeing how what we are singing fits into the greater narrative of the Christian story?

More than anyone, I think it is the worship leader’s responsibility make sure people understand what the lyrics mean. But after that let’s leave it in God’s graceful hands. We should not be trying to enforce which songs people can sing based off of how they live their lives. That is not our role. Our role is to faithfully walk with Jesus as best we can and to empower others to do the same.

So keep singing Oceans, and let’s pray that we become a people who would follow Jesus across any border to bring God’s love to the world. Amen.


11 thoughts on “Keep Singing Oceans

  1. Wonderful post! Exactly, I completely agree with the blogger.
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  2. Makenzie Riley says:

    I agree with you to a point. The author of the other article “Stop singing Oceans” was saying that if we don’t truly mean what we say, and try our best then why sing something that you don’t mean? She’s not trying to make anyone feel guilty from that article. I know that none of us are perfect and never will be, but we can at least try out very best to live up to that song.

    • Austin McNair says:

      Thanks for commenting Makenzie! It’s what you said at the end of your comment which makes me think that it’s best that we keep singing songs like “Oceans.” We want to “try our very best to live up to that song,” but in order for us to do that we need to have the song in the first place. I believe art, especially music, is formative to our precognitive imaginations. As we sing challenging prayers, hymns, and lyrics to God, it is my prayer as a worship leader that those songs soak into us so that we do begin to live more like them. Does that make sense?

      I’ll will add thought, that I don’t think it is always a bad question to ask “should we sing this song?” I distinctly remember a concert when Lecrae was performing a song and stopped halfway through and said, “I don’t feel like we believe this right now. Let’s move on…” It was a challenging moment. But it felt spirit led and not pretend.

      I hesitate with ultimatums like the one the author made in the title of her blog post. I think it is dangerous to have do and do-not lists when it comes to art and how we plan our services. If “Oceans” fits into the direction God is taking your congregation, then sing it. If the song has nothing to do with that, and you just want to sing it because it’s popular, I would call that decision unwise.

  3. Kowende says:

    I agree with you on this one. Who are we to say who should sing it and who shouldn’t? Aren’t we all crying out to God for more of him? And yes some have gone deeper than others in their relationship with Jesus, why? Because they asked.

  4. Ghay says:

    5 Thumbs up for this article. I totally agree with you. I also read that “Stop singing Oceans” article and I asked myself “Where’s the faith in this?” I’m glad I found someone who also has the same thoughts on this. God bless you.

  5. James says:

    Good article, although I would actually disagree with your reason as to why we sing. Singing is definitely more than just an “objective understanding of a song’s meaning”. However, the primary reason as to why we sing is not for us to feel linked, and therefore feel good.

    I would propose that the primary reason we sing is to glorify God, to praise, to worship Him. The focus should not be on US, but on HIM. This is very easily argued in the Bible.
    Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
    Very clearly, that we sing TO God, and not to ourselves.

    That brings up the issue of many of our contemporary Christian songs these days. Songs like “Jesus, you are my best friend”, which focus on us, and not on God.

    • Austin McNair says:

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that in praise and singing we are outwardly expressing something towards and for God. We call this worship. However, my point in this article is that what we sing is actually formative to us internally as well. If we sing bad theology, then we will have bad theology. I just happen to think this song is grounded with good theology and is worth singing. Blessings. – Austin

  6. James says:

    Also, on that note, just take a look at how many of Hillsong’s music focuses on “me, my, I”.

    • Letstalkabouttruth says:

      I think Hillsong preaches the me gospel too, along with the songs as you comment. I also think it supports their massive prosperity gospel as when we sing their songs we as a church pay for this. I personally don’t want to support this.

      I believe their and other me songs has lead to many believing that worship is about what you get out of it, how you feel etc.

      Not about what you putting in.

      • Austin McNair says:

        Thanks for the reply. One thing I advocate as a worship leader is using songs with “we” and “us” language in a corporate setting. I think it addresses what you’re calling “me songs” and invites the congregation to consider the whole body of Christ rather than just themselves.

        However, I wouldn’t write off the ministry of Hillsong. You may disagree with the direction of some of their songs from a big picture perspective, but I know many people and have myself been deeply impacted through their music. We are not in the seat of judgement – that is God’s role.

      • Letstalkabouttruth says:

        It’s not the songs that is my main concern.

        Unfortunately, many have also experienced the opposite from Hillsong church. For example myself and many friends comment on how pressured they make people to give money at events, buy latest books resources etc.

        I am not judging them. I am using dissernment to say I don’t want to support them financially.

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