The Word never changes. But the “words” certainly do. The words we use to describe the word, to sing about it, to relate it to others, change with every generation.
In 1873, the words included “visions of rapture,” “angels descending,” and being “washed in blood,” but even though people still sing “Blessed Assurance” from time to time, I don’t know a single Christian, however devout, who expresses their spirituality in those terms today. The folks with whom I live and share ministry are no less interested in the spiritual life than their parents and grandparents, but their idea of “seeking the kingdom” is defined more as seeking spiritual intimacy, exploring their gifts and opportunities for ministry, finding an abundant life, a relational faith, a communal identity, and a life connected to things that are everlasting.
The question I wake up asking every day is this: what are the words for that? What are the words that help us, as we’re driving to work on those days when we least want to go, when after a sleepless night are angry at the world and full of existential doubt, what are the words that help us to be the Christ-like people we want to be and profess to be? What images might help us find our spiritual bearings?
Not surprisingly, I found my answers in Jesus’ own words. These songs are essentially interpretations of the Beatitudes and other key ideas in the Sermon on the Mount. They represent twelve perspectives that have become, for me at least, central to what it means to be distinctively Christian, the frame of mind and heart that helps us walk in Jesus’ steps.
First, consider the songs for their content. Here’s how the themes line up when paired with scripture:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven: Row to the Other Side
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted: What is it like to be You?
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth: Love that Does What it Says
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled: A Dream Worth Dreaming
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy: The Line in the Sand
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God: Be Here Now
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Also Matt. 10:40-42): Radical Welcome
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven: I’d Rather Serve
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt 5)... Everyone has been given something to do that shows who God is. (Also I Cor. 12:7, the Message): The Power to Bless
You are the salt of the earth, light of the world… don’t hide your light: Dancers
Do not worry about what you will wear or what you will eat. [Also: “Fear not,” the most common message from God in the Bible]: Be Not Afraid
Secondly, consider the song order in light of the liturgical flow of worship. Discipleship is a process, and worship is a microcosm of that process, walking us through the steps and stages of personal transformation. Here’s the rationale behind the song order and flow:
1) Radical Welcome Radical inclusion
2) The Line in the Sand What God has done in Christ to be with us
3) Be Here Now What we do to have intimacy with God and one another
4) Love that Does What it Says Responding in faithfulness, integrity
5) Row to the Other Side Sabbath-keeping, nurturing the inner life
6) What is it Like? Compassion: relational awareness and sensitivity
7) A Dream Worth Dreaming Visioning: converting the imagination, kingdom-seeking
8) I’d Rather Serve Being “in not of” the world: service
9) Say Yes Building a life upon commitments
10) Be Not Afraid Trusting God in the face of fear
11) The Power to Bless Embracing spiritual gifts: being in the flow of God’s activity
12) Dancers Finding self- acceptance through the love of God
I hope this look behind the scenes adds some meaning to your listening. In the blogs to come, I’m going to go much deeper into the scriptures and thinking behind each song. Please write to us with connections and stories of your own. Who knows how your insights might encourage somebody else along the way?