"If hate were people, I'd be China."

- Phil Berquist
What Does It Mean (To You)?

David Crowder's latest album Neon Steeple just released but the single "I Am" has been out for a while now. Here are the lyrics to the chorus without any capitalization or punctuation:

i am holding on to you
i am holding on to you
in the middle of the storm
i am holding on
i am


How would YOU interpret that? When I first heard this song, I wondered, "Does he mean that he is holding on to God or does he mean that I Am is holding on to 'you' so be encouraged? (Or is he being creative and meaning both or switching back and forth?)"

It's a great song. You can hear it here: http://youtu.be/mw4ES27w3oU

Music is really powerful. It moves people in ways that nothing else can. That's why I think it's really important to clear up any vagueness that can occur with worship songs. If you're singing to and/or about God, you're presenting some kind of doctrine, whether you know it or not.

With Crowder's song, neither version I offered presents a false doctrine. But I think the stronger image and message is that I Am is holding on to me in the storms. This interpretation puts the focus on God, rather than my efforts or desperation.

That's why I was thankful that Crowder provided this:



If you didn't watch it, he explains how amazingly reassuring it is that I Am, Creator God is holding on to us. Unfortunately, not all artists provide explanations for their songs. And even if they did, how many people would find those explanations rather than just assigning whatever meaning they want to the work?

Not too long ago John Mark McMillan released "Future/Past." Here's the chorus:

and you,
you are my first
you are my last
you are my future and my past


I know I'm guilty of over-thinking things but when I hear that chorus, I think, "What does that mean?" It sounds great and the video is nothing short of epic, but is it ok to apply any meaning that doesn't contradict scripture? Or, worse yet, any meaning that is relative to the hearer? Or should it be more specific, especially since it's a worship song? I looked, not very hard admittedly, but could not find McMillan's explanation of the song.

And I'm not intending to attack McMillan. He just has a song that fits the bill here. I have been blessed by his music and we sing it in our College and Young Singles ministry often. But when "Future/Past" came out, a handful of leaders from our church, including some worship pastors, offered different meanings to the lyrics. (All of them were doctrinally sound!) This was a fun and interesting poll but also concerning. If leaders in the church are not exactly sure what the song means, how do we expect those new or unfamiliar to the faith to interpret it?

I understand that scripture can be (and is) misinterpreted often, too, but if we can take measures to clear up confusion, shouldn't we? Or should we leave room for "what ifs" for the sake of art?

I remember a friend years ago taking issue with people singing, "Who may ascend TO the hill of the Lord?"

"Anyone can ascend TO the hill of the Lord," he argued. "The question is who may actually ascend the hill!" The memory makes me chuckle. He was definitely more ardent, but I share his conviction for truth!

People connect with music very deeply. We sing and are moved but are often moved by the artistry and emotion of the song rather than the truth of the lyrics. So, I personally believe it's important to guard doctrine when "teaching" through song, and I'm thankful for the worship leaders in my life who value this principle, as well.

May we strive to worship in spirit AND truth!

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Comments on "What Does It Mean (To You)?":
1. Bill - 05/31/2014 4:04 pm CDT

Heh - I never know why certain of our worship leaders wanted to say "TO the hill" - the original song is "Who may ascend the hill of the Lord" :-)

I'm a big fan of clear teaching within worship songs, while also allowing for artistic turns of phrases that convey truth.

2. Biz Gainey - 06/26/2014 9:17 am CDT

Just stumbled on to this while researching the song.

Excellent Post. Thanks for sharing and thanks for 'over thinking' it. You reflections are meaningful. I am going to forward this onto my buddy who helps us lead worship on Sunday's! He has us slated to sing this particular song. I know he will love having this as a resource!

Grace and Peace

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