The house lights come down, the audience stands, the band strikes the opening chord and, as many are working to enter worship, I can’t help but to feel a little bored by the wash-rinse-repeat feeling I get with most songs used in a church. Between the repetitive lyrics, unengaging instrumentation, and lifeless energy of the song selection, worshipping through song can become such a chore. Which is a shame because of how creative musicians can be and how expressive music often is.
In a lot of ways, music is capable of speaking in ways simple words cannot— which is, I think, part of why worship is so often attached solely to music. As I did with the topic of lament, what follows are a collection of thoughts I had about worship music that all stemmed from the discovery of a surprising band.
Meet Gable Price and Friends, a pop-oriented rock band with what are, in my opinion, some of the most engaging worship lyrics I have heard in the last 15 years. While other articles can be written about their overall sound, the point of including them here is because I just discovered them in August and, just in the 4 months since first experiencing them (it is November at the time of this writing), they have quickly sky-rocketed as one of my current favorite bands. My reasons for that have little to do with their musical style (though it is impeccable) and more to do with their lyrical content.
What Gable Price and Friends do on a level higher than most bands is write lyrics that are, to their core, worship-oriented. Everything points to Yahweh, and through their clever use of metaphor, word pictures, and seemingly disconnected themes, Price and Friends have produced some of the most accessible, authentic, and spirit-filled worship music around. It may be hyperbole to say it, but in a lot of ways, they would fit more in a church setting than most of what is currently utilized in churches.
There are a number of examples that I could point to from their catalog proving how engaging their music is. Take their track “Evergreen.” It is a song about the nature and goodness of God. The vehicle they chose to convey that message is evergreen trees. For the horticulturally challenged (myself included), evergreen trees, as the name suggests, are green throughout the seasons. They are, at least visually, virtually unchanging. It is a clever use of something from nature pointing to an aspect of God.
Or you could explore one of their latest tracks, “Jesus Christ (Hold Me Steady).” It looks at the painful realization that one has wandered away from Jesus. The opening lyrics are amazing: “I swore I’d never stray, but I snuck out your window and fell down your fire escape.” Something that simple puts the listener immediately into the story and connects them to the message.
The one track that hits me in the chest every time I hear it is “Underdressed.” Through nothing more than the idea of being underdressed, Gable Price and Friends paint an inspiring masterpiece of the grandeur of God: “I’m feasting with the King who left his throne for me; forgiveness isn’t fair, but it’s my reality. He is holy, and I am underdressed.“
Gable Price and Friends aren’t the first, or only band to do this (though I do think that they are among the best). Honor & Glory, the worship project from the hard rock band Disciple, have several original tracks that are just as engaging.
“Come Alive” is a song I’d absolutely melt to hear in a church. The energy within it, the passion felt in every word, and the burning desire to give everything to God is what worship is about— and I don’t just mean worship in song. Worship is far more encompassing than what we sing in songs.
From a biblical perspective, worship is more than something we do. It is an aspect of who we are. Everything we do ought to be an act of worship. Which, I think, is part of why music like Honor & Glory, Gable Price and Friends, Fresh Life Worship, and even Audio Adrenaline sticks the landing so well. They often take aspects of real life, and filter them through the lens of faith, allowing that lens to lead the creative process (which, in and of itself, is an act of worship).
With an admittance that I’m not a songwriter, nor a worship leader, I have to wonder if the lack of engagement with the world in our worship music stems from the fallacy of the sacred/secular divide (a topic I’ll discuss in a future article). Something that makes, for me, the most compelling worship, is a song that speaks to the real arenas of life, doubt, faith, hope, and darkness. Somewhere in the intersection of belief and doubt is the heart of worship. What I think makes for some of the most authentic forms of worship music is an embracing of life for all its worth with a total surrender to God. Something as simple as feeling underdressed in the presence of the God we worship somehow feels like a greater expression of praise and adoration than eight minutes of “O Come to the Altar” (a song I really enjoy, by the way).
This weird disengagement of worship artists with the world we live in easily explains how quick we can be to attack a song because “it’s bad theology”. For example, Cory Asbury’s “Reckless Love,” a song that has ungraciously been raked over the coals because “God’s love isn’t reckless.” While I’d agree with that sentiment from a theological standpoint, hearing it from a very human standpoint, God’s plan of redemption seems reckless at best. And I’m not the only one who’d say something like that, Paul the Apostle said something very similar to what Cory sang: “So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength” (1 Corinthians 1:23-25, NLT).
In my mind, when considered from a human perspective, in agreement with Paul, God’s plan seems foolish. It feels reckless. Cory Asbury expresses a real and raw emotion about the love of God: it is overwhelming, never-ending and, humanly speaking, reckless. Thank God for that!
The reality is that, despite what our culture encourages, we are not meant to fragment ourselves and compartmentalize parts of who we are, keeping areas of our existence from overlapping. We are people who live in our world and experience things that impact every part of us. This includes our faith. By our very nature as holistic beings, faith ought to encompass all of who we are, including the work we do. It’s interesting when you ask if a certain band is a Christian band and you are met with, “Well, we’re Christians in a band. I would never ask if a plumber is a Christian plumber.”
But this is a false dichotomy. If we’re Christian, then that identifier comes before any other way we might identify ourselves, and it ought to drive everything we do. “Christian” shouldn’t be something followers of Christ shy away from, but something we embrace and live out.
To tie this all together, I return to Gable Price and Friends and their song “Ten Percent.” This is a dancy number that has some extremely compelling lyrics. It speaks of how fragmented we often live by compartmentalizing who we are: “Fractured my whole heart and given you the crumbs left on the corner table of my busy schedule… I’m tired of tithing my heart.”
This song, despite its joyous tone, is a lament over the way we so often gladly give 10% of our hearts over to God. That 10% is, ultimately, the bare minimum we could give. But then we wonder why so much goes sideways and why the faith that is supposed to keep us grounded doesn’t seem strong enough to sustain us. And we go searching for the right pastor, personality profiles, podcasts, self-discovery, and deconstruction (without reconstruction) to bridge that gap.
Gable Price and Friends present a better solution, one that embraces the difficulty of life and the tension living in faith brings: “The perfect polished pastor cannot save you; your Meyers or your Briggs won’t buy your sins. You can break the alabaster on a podcast; deconstruct the light till none can be let in. Self-discovery can only get you so far, baby. Your heaven-sent and only home will set you free. There’s a middle eastern man with holes inside his hands, and he’s out to get you.”
Ultimately, the solution to a more robust faith, deeper and more meaningful worship, and a well-balanced life is by decompartmentalizing ourselves, embracing a holistic way of life that not only allows but pursues bringing our faith into every aspect of who we are. That is the purest act of worship. All these thoughts stemmed from a band that utilized the oddness and complexity of life to invigorate their Godward-oriented music. As Gable Price and Friends say about their newest album: “Joy wouldn’t be joy without knowing grief. Doubt wouldn’t feel as empty without previously knowing belief. Everything is held within this beautiful tension. You live, you love, you lose.”
True worship is bringing grief, doubt, and all the complexities of life, and using them all to point the way back to God: for others and, often, for ourselves.