It seemed like a normal Sunday morning.
I arrived at corporate worship more than slightly distracted: tests were on the horizon, papers loomed heavy, I was exhausted. I wanted a nap. I wanted to stay home and watch Netflix. I didn’t want to think about the Bible. To be honest, I desired a hundred things other than Christ’s presence.
Then worship began, and we sang this lyric:
I will glory in my Redeemer,
My life he bought, my love he owns.
I have no longings for another,
I’m satisfied in Him alone.
I felt the cognitive dissonance immediately. In that moment my heart wasn’t like Asaph’s who sang, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). How then could I sing that I have no longings for another and not be a complete hypocrite? I felt like crawling under the pew in front of me.
So what do we do with passages of Scripture — or lyrics in worship songs — that describe an ideal that does not match our reality? Is it possible to affirm them from the heart without pretense or posturing?
Pray: Help My Unbelief!
When confronted with these types of incongruences, we should not wallow in despair. Instead, we must remember that God is a God who uses means to accomplish his ends. He is the Sovereign Lord who uses prayer to bring about preordained realities and uses his written word to create the very truths of which it speaks. So when we come across a verse that describes an ideal we have not yet attained, we can use it as an opportunity to pray that God would move in our hearts to make it so.
In Mark 9, we are given a helpful and instructive story from the life of Jesus. In verse 18, Jesus’s disciples are unable to cast a spirit from a demon-possessed child. So in verse 22, the father of the child turns instead to Jesus and pleads, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help.” Jesus immediately responds, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23).
As he speaks these words, notice two things: First, Jesus is speaking an ideal; namely, if you believe, then all things are possible. Second, the man realizes that he does not live up to that ideal. He knows it’s true, but he doesn’t perfectly believe that Jesus can help. So what does the father do? He cries out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). In other words, he acknowledges that although he believes the ideal, his faith is deficient and therefore asks Jesus to create the faith in his heart. And we see that Jesus answers his prayer: faith is created and the boy is healed (Mark 9:25–26, 29).
In other words, Jesus reveals an inconsistency between head and heart, and drives the boy’s father to the very prayer that God uses to bring about faith. This is exactly how we should respond as well. “I believe; help my unbelief!” should be the constant refrain of the Christian fighting for faith in a fallen world.
When we read Asaph’s declaration, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you,” and we recognize that is not where we are at, we cry out, “There is nothing on earth I should desire besides you; help me to desire you above all else!” And in God’s kindness, we trust that our hearts will be moved to greater affection and worship of the risen Christ.
Sing to God from the Heart
Our singing on Sunday is about proclaiming magnificent truth about God’s character and mighty works (Psalm 150:2), and about making music in our hearts to the Lord together as his people (Ephesians 5:19). What do we do when our heart does not match the words we are singing? We sing with all our might as a prayer of faith, trusting God to use these very words to match our heads with our hearts and bring about the truth we are singing.
This is not hypocrisy. It is — to borrow a phrase from Augustine — one of God’s ordained means “to create what he commands.” It is an honest assessment of the deficiencies of our hearts, and a declaration of faith in the God who raises our dead affections to new life. If we are willing to give grace-driven effort to pray for God’s help and to trust him in our singing, then the song itself becomes a faith-creating agent in our own sanctification.
Therefore, we cry, “I have no longings for another! O God, help me long for you above all else!” This is not futile; it is faith.