Songs for the Journey

I knew all the words to Journey’s awesomely cheesy power ballad, Faithfully, before I ever learned my ABC’s. Why? Because it was my “parents’ song,” of course! Many a couple has a song they claim as their own – that tune with all sorts of personal sentiment, memory, and meaning woven into it. These pieces are so tightly intertwined with the couples’ shared experiences that the words seem to have been penned especially for them, and the tune becomes so closely associated that breakups notoriously ruin previously beloved songs (one of the many reasons I always hit “skip” when that Hoobastank track plays). The tapestry of a peculiar set of instrumentation, melodies, harmonies, rhythms, dynamics, and lyrics comes to wrap itself around a couple and just a few bars of THAT song can set off a tidal wave of emotion and nostalgia.

For Christians, the same can be true in our covenant relationship with the Lord Jesus. It’s not unusual for a person who came to Christ at a Billy Graham crusade to become very fond of the musicians who played at the event, for obvious reasons. For better or for worse, the songs we sing come to embody our ideas about God, our relationship with Him, and the roller coaster experiences of our Christian walk (one of the many reasons I’ll never sing Trading My Sorrows again).

While some of these songs come to us by happenstance, others come as a result of intentional searching. Around the same time that I began sensing a call to pursue pastoral ministry, I also determined to think much more deeply and theologically about the songs I sang – I sought to love and to sing songs that pushed me to dwell, not on myself, but on the greatness, grandeur, glory, grace, and goodness of God. What I soon discovered is that I didn’t need to wait for this sort of music to be written. There was already a massive gold mine of invaluable gospel songs! From that time to this day, a song that I’ve come to love and that has played a major role in shaping my thoughts about God is titled, quite simply, Holy, Holy, Holy. Here are the lyrics, written by Reginald Heber in 1861:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore Thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,
Who was, and is, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide Thee,
Though the eye of sinful man Thy glory may not see;
Only Thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,
Perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All Thy works shall praise Thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!

Think for a moment about the theological propositions that make their home in my heart when I have a steady diet of these words, year after year:

The holiness of God

The omnipotence of God

The eager congregational worship of God

The mercy of God

The triune nature of God

The loving admiration from the Church to God

The heavenly adulation of God

The eternality of God

The transcendence of God

The fierce and exclusive sacredness of God

The perfection of every attribute of God

The glorious decree of God

This is a lyrical diet that sustains my soul when I’m going through the valley of the shadow of death, when God feels distant, when discouragement sets in, when friends forsake me (or when I forsake my friends), when marriage is difficult. There are a million “junk food” songs that taste sweet when you take them in, but I urge you to challenge your favorite songs and ask yourself what sort of sustenance you’re feeding your soul through those songs. Does the song help you to develop a taste for God’s glory? Are you encouraged to think less about yourself and more about Christ through the words of the song? Do you find yourself believing that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” as a result of internalizing the lyrics? Is your place as a part of a community of faith at the forefront of your thinking, or does the song have an individualistic mindset? 

Take care to realize that, when you listen to and sing songs about God, you are shaping your own relationship with Him. Music makes its way further into your memory and into your emotions than nearly any other form of communication, so be very mindful when you sing about the Greatest One in the universe. You need good songs for the journey.

Next time, I’ll discuss secular music exclusively – how much of the music that Christians forbid often communicates truth, while “family friendly” music frequently contains damnable ideas. 


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