The Lord Gives and the Lord Takes: Approaching Worship With Sincerity

When many worship songs written these days verge on being lyrically flakey, Matt Redman continues to buck the trend in writing singable melodies paired with rich theological meaning.

I love Redman’s song “Blessed Be Your Name” for those reasons. It is poetic, using contrasting imagery in each couplet, and yet forcefully reiterating a truth that in every season of our lives, our response should be to bless the name of the Lord.

Today, I heard someone say that we shouldn’t sing this song in church because it is theologically incorrect. This is the second time I have heard someone say this. The argument goes that God is a God who gives – not one who takes away. There are scriptural underpinnings for this. For example, Romans 11:29 says that God’s gifts “are irrevocable”. And James 1:16 says this:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

So I’m not arguing with that premise. The issue here is whether we should be singing a song like “Blessed Be Your Name“, which itself has a scriptural source in Job 1:20-22:

At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:

“Naked I came from my mothers womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

If we accept that God is a God who gives (and who therefore does not take away), this passage reveals two interesting thoughts:

Firstly, the writer of the book affirms what appears to be contradictory: that despite saying that God is a God who takes away, Job was not charging God with wrongdoing. This goes to the theological issue because if God is a God who doesn’t take way, then surely Job was charging God with doing something inconsistent with His character.

Secondly (and more importantly), even if Job has expressed a theological mistruth, this did not affect the acceptability of his worship to God.

And this goes to the core of the issue of why we should continue to sing songs like “Blessed Be Your Name“. Whilst our worship should be grounded in theological truths, sometimes we need to express our worship in raw honesty and choose to praise despite of our circumstances.

Wasn’t this how the Psalmists worshipped? In Psalm 22, David laments about how God who had forsaken him and failed to answer his cries. But then David says “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel”. In Psalm 42, the Psalmist laments about why God had forgotten him in the midst of the enemy’s taunts. And he concludes in v 11:

Why are you so downcast, O my soul? … Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

Approaching God with honesty and sincerity is a protocol for acceptable worship.

John 4:22-23 tells us that God is seeking worshippers who worship “in spirit and in truth”. The word “truth” is from the Greek “aletheia“, which means (Strongs 225):

  1. objectively the reality lying at the basis of an appearance; the manifested veritable essence of a matter;
  2. subjectively “truthfulness”, not merely verbal, but sincerity and integrity of character.

It is one thing to verbally declare God’s truth in worship and yet not mean it. (Jesus condemned the Pharisees for doing so as people who worshipped with their lips, yet their hearts were far away.) It is another thing to worship sincerely and with integrity. This might mean verbally lamenting that God has given and God has taken away, as long as our direction of worship has God at its endpoint. This is the type of worship that is not only acceptable to God, but which God is actively seeking.

So should we be singing songs like “Blessed Be Your Name“? Absolutely! Because it expresses a thought we have all (if we were honest with ourselves) entertained, especially when we have experienced challenges in our lives. In the same song, we express our sincere disappointment (“You give and take away“), yet in faith we declare that our “heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be Your name“. This is what it means to worship in spirit and in truth.