The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Offensive Worship Songs: What If His People Prayed

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Brought to us by the prolific songwriters Mark Hall and Steven Curtis Chapman and performed by the group Casting Crowns, What If His People Prayed is a worship song that is based off of that famously abused passage of Scripture from 2 Chronicles 7:

“…if My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14)

We like to quote Verse 14 as a stand-alone thought, but this statement is actually part of a much longer speech which Yahweh gave to King Solomon. In 2 Chronicles 6, Solomon prays a very long and very bad prayer in which he demonstrates a total lack of trust in God’s good Character.  In fact, Solomon’s constant pleas for Yahweh to even hear his words made it clear that the king didn’t believe Yahweh was the kind of God who bothered to pay much mind to His own creations.  In 2 Chronicles 7, Yahweh speaks directly to Solomon and addresses several of the fears that the king had brought up in his long prayer.  In Verse 14, we find Yahweh assuring Solomon that He does not ignore people when they are talking to Him, and that He really doesn’t ignore sincere repentance.  Solomon thought Yahweh did both of these things quite regularly, because Solomon had a very poor understanding of who Yahweh is.  So Yahweh corrects him.  It’s nice for Solomon, but hardly a promise for modern day believers (see 2 Chronicles 6-7: Why We Shouldn’t Ask God to Heal Our Land).

Well, far be it from us to acknowledge that God isn’t always talking to us every time He opens His mouth.  When Christians come across some ego-pleasing statement in the Bible, they often try to claim it as a “word” from God to them.  And then they write songs about all of the promises that we’ve stolen from others.  In What If His People Prayed, Hall and Chapman totally ignore the fact that Yahweh was talking to Solomon in 2 Chronicles 7:14, and they claim that Yahweh was talking to us instead.  And since we obviously do not have blessed lives on earth, they then offer us instruction on how to activate this promise.

All of God’s promises have conditions, and unless people hold up their end of the deal, the goods are never delivered.  In this song, Hall and Chapman suggest that the world would be radically changed if Christians seriously pursued God.  They are clearly targeting American Christians with this song, for they make several specific references to modern American culture.  But what about God—how does He feel about the lyrics of this song?  Is this the kind of song He’d want you to sing to Him?  Well, God judges you by your soul’s response to Him.  What pleases Him is when you embrace the soul attitudes of reverence, submission, dependency and trust.  If you’re going to quote God in a song, He wants you to be applying His words correctly.  If you comment on who God is and how He operates, He wants those comments to reflect truth, not lies.  The same is true when you comment on supernatural beings like Satan and on eternal dimensions like Hell.  We’ll find comments on all of these things in this song, so let’s now go through the lyrics and see if we’re being encouraged to rehearse truth or lies.

[Chorus 1] What if His people prayed; And those who bear His Name
Would only seek His face yeah; And turn from their own ways

This is a clear allusion to 2 Chronicles 7:14, and it’s also a rhetorical question.  We’re not really supposed to be left clueless about what would happen “if His people prayed.”  Instead, Hall and Chapman want us to mentally refer to 2 Chronicles 7:14 and say, “That’s right!  God promises to heap earthly blessings down on the heads of those who sincerely seek Him!  What am I thinking?  I need to repent out of my foolish rebellion so I can collect a bunch of earthly goodies from God!”

The problem with throwing 2 Chronicles 7:14 around is that it encourages us to focus on the wrong priorities. When you’re not listening to God on a soul level, you learn the wrong lessons from the Bible.  Your ego combs through those pages looking for anything that sounds like, “God promises to do what I want,” then you cling to those verses while ignoring the rest.  In real life, Jesus warned His followers not to expect an easy life on earth.  Instead He said that the more devoted we are to Him, the more friction we will have with the rest of the world because most humans hate God.

As a human, you naturally disapprove of a lot of what God does in this world.  You disapprove of it so much that you try to pretend that God has nothing to do with it—at least that’s what the Church tells you to do.  Well, God doesn’t want you to like everything that He does.  In fact, He is going to intentionally rub your face in a lot of the stuff He does that you hate in order to give you the opportunity to practice submission.

Of all the soul attitudes that God wants you to develop, submission is one of the most important ones.  Submission is the correct soul response to the fact that God is the Supreme Authority over all things. Submission acknowledges this unchangeable truth, and then says, “I yield to You as the Supreme Authority that You are.” It is submission which results in prayers like, “Not my will but Yours be done,” and “Pleasing You is more important than pleasing myself.”  It is by cultivating submission that we come to realize that God’s opinion really is the only one that matters.  Submission is vital, and it is the total opposite of trying to get God to conform to our preferences.

When Christians quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 today, they’re not thinking about how pleasing God is all that matters.  Instead, they’re looking for a means by which they can control God and get Him to do what they want.  Naturally we all want the world to run in a way that pleases us, and when we use the phrase “God will heal our land,” we’re each imagining that healing outworking in different ways.  Some of us are focused on racism, and for us a “healed” land would be one in which all of the fabulous shades of humanity got along like best friends.  Others of us are focused on economic strife, and for us a “healed” land would be one in which we get to have as much money and opportunities as everyone else.  The point is that we all have different items on our wish list, and because we’re focused on earthly circumstances instead of on eternal values, we end up saying, “Yeah, let’s all confess our sins so that God will give us what we want.”  Well, no, this really isn’t how true repentance works (see Understanding Repentance).

True repentance is a form of submission.  First God convicts you that your snarky attitude of “Go pound salt, God, I don’t care what You want,” is an unacceptable way to respond to the Supreme Authority.  If you blow Him off, you don’t repent.  But if you listen and agree with what He’s saying, then you repent by returning to an attitude of submission.  Submission says, “I’m sorry, God.  I was out of line to act like I was excused from having to bow to You.  But I’m back.  You’re the King, I’m the created speck.  What You say goes.  Help me to be pleasing in Your sight.”

Repentance is like answering a phone call on your cell: you do it once.  Just as you can’t pick up the same incoming call fifty times, God doesn’t want to hear you repenting out of the same rebellious funk fifty times in a row.  You drop the attitude, you embrace submission, and you move forward.  The whole process takes one nanosecond in time and it doesn’t require that you say anything out loud or to anyone else. And by the way, it’s no one else’s business what your soul is saying to God so this business of sharing your sins with other Christians is inappropriate.  If your spouse has a problem with you, should you talk directly to your spouse or go across the street to discuss your marital issues with the neighbor?  You need to go direct, of course, and it’s the same with God.  In the Church today, Christians have made a ridiculous circus out of repentance and the confession of sins.  By the time you’re done trying to show off how holy you are, you’re right back where you started in spiritual rebellion.  So leave other humans out of it and do your business with God directly (see Confessing Your Sins to People).

The chorus of What If His People Prayed assumes that God’s people are mostly in a state of spiritual rebellion.  This has to be true for the chorus to make any sense:

[Chorus 1] What if His people prayed; And those who bear His Name
Would only seek His face yeah; And turn from their own ways

Are you personally in a state of rebellion right now?  If not, then you shouldn’t be singing this song.  It’s basically a call for people to repent, but convicting people is God’s job, not yours.  Trying to use your worship time as a way of saying, “Hey, all you slackers around me, you need to repent,” is hardly pleasing to God. If you’re going to worship Him, then do it, don’t just drop hints about how well you do or don’t think other Christians are obeying Him.  God sees into every soul—He certainly doesn’t need you to educate Him on spiritual matters.  And by the time you allude to the Chronicles promise, you’re just misapplying God’s words, and that’s even more annoying.

[Verse 1] What if the armies of the Lord; Picked up and dusted off their swords
Vowed to set the captive free; And not let Satan have one more
What if the Church for Heaven’s sake; Finally stepped up to the plate
Took a stand upon God’s promise And stormed Hell’s rusty gates

If that verse didn’t hit you as totally obnoxious, then it’s time to talk about the soul attitude of dependency.  Like submission, dependency is a response to a super basic fact about the way things work.  God is the Supreme Authority over all things—that’s the basic fact that submission responds to.  God is also the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and this is the basic fact which the soul attitude of dependency responds to.  Dependency says, “Wow, God, I can’t even breathe without You.  Clearly I need You every second and can do nothing apart from You.”  Dependency leads to humility, which says, “Gee, since I can’t do anything on my own, it’s pretty obnoxious for me to try and take the glory for anything.”

So who is getting the glory in Verse 1 of our song?  Well, Hall and Chapman say that it’s “the armies of the Lord” who picked up dusty swords and singlehandedly conquered Satan.  Who are these mighty armies?  We Christians are. And why are our swords so dusty?  Because they’ve been sitting around unused—remember, the chorus accuses us all of being in a state of spiritual rebellion.  Here in Verse 1, Hall and Chapman are flatly denying our dependency on God. Instead, they are making us out to be awesome, independent, self-reliant beings who can beat back angelic beings anytime we want.  Of course in real life, should God grant them permission, demons could chuck us across rooms, seize control of our bodies, scare us to death with noises and apparitions, and terrorize us in all manner of ways.  For all of the stories we read in the Gospels of demon possessed people getting thrown into convulsions and propelled into fire and permanently muted until Jesus comes along to save them, how are we coming up with this ridiculous notion that we can duke it out with Satan and win?  We can’t even find Satan.  We don’t even know what he looks like, where he is, or how he operates.  Angels and demons are totally mysterious beings to us and all we really know about them is that they can mop up the floor with us whenever God gives them permission.  So this business of blowing dust off of your sword and setting human souls free from oppression is  arrogance run amuck.  Not only are you refusing to admit that you couldn’t even pick up a sword or blow off dust without God holding your molecules together, but you are implying that Satan is more powerful than God.  Think about that term “captive.”  In war, if your enemies take your guys captive, it’s because they bested you somehow: they outgunned or outsmarted you.  Well, in real life, demons are just as dependent on God as we are, so they never outsmart or overpower Him.

Suppose Fred’s huge dog jumps on you, knocks you down, and then stands on your chest growling at you.  But the whole time, Fred has the dog on a leash which Fred is holding. So whose captive are you?  The dog is the one in your face, but Fred is controlling the dog.  So even though the dog is the one you’re focused on, you’re really Fred’s prisoner.  This is how it works in the spiritual realms.  Sure demons attack you—but only when God gives them access. And when He gives them access, it’s always limited access, and He can flick them away at any time.  Of course the Christian “warrior” culture won’t tell you this: they’ll flip the power structure around and make Satan the one who controls God.  In this song, that’s what Hall and Chapman are doing: they’re elevating Satan above God.  That’s the only way that Satan ends up with “captives” that God doesn’t want him to have.  Hall and Chapman then go on to totally slam God’s abilities by saying that God actually needs some fleck like you to overcome Satan for Him.  Notice who the Church is conquering demons for in these lyrics:

What if the Church for Heaven’s sake; Finally stepped up to the plate
Took a stand upon God’s promise And stormed Hell’s rusty gates

Do you hear the arrogance in this?  We’re chopping down demons for God’s sake. We’re doing Him a favor.  We’re stepping in and fixing a problem that He’s too impotent to handle.  Wow, really?  Yes, this self-glorifying rot is being promoted as a worship song by the Church today, even though there’s nothing worshipful about implying that you’re stronger than God.

Now notice this bit about Hell’s rusty gates.  First we have dusty swords, now we have rusty gates—what’s going on here?  Well, this song is saying that while us awesome, God-besting, demon trouncing warriors were loafing around in our rebellious state, Satan and his demon brothers were walking all over our doormat of a Creator because God isn’t anything close to sovereign in the minds of Hall and Chapman.  And even though God is the One who created Hell, and even though Hell functions as a prison for all those who dare to defy God, Hall and Chapman turn Hell into Satan’s personal kingdom.  Hell becomes the turf of demons, not God, and this is more God-bashing rot.  Why are the gates rusty?  Well, the rust implies no movement: those gates have been locked shut for a very long time because our wimp of a God was clearly too intimidated to do anything about it.  Ah, but now that Hall and Chapman are sounding the call for us Christians to get off of our duffs, they say that we can kick down the gates of Satan’s kingdom—rust and all—and conquer the place for God’s sake.  And now that we’ve let God know what an incompetent we think He is and how we think that both demons and humans can outperform Him, we move on to Verse 2.

[Verse 2] And what would happen if we prayed; For those raised up to lead the way
Then maybe kids in school could pray; And unborn children see light of day
What if the life that we pursue; Came from a hunger for the truth
What if the family turned to Jesus; Stopped asking Oprah what to do

Here are references to issues that are getting particular attention in the American Christian community.  Prayer being banned in schools.  Abortion being legalized and defended more than ever before.  The breakdown of families.  Hall and Chapman then toss in a reference to Oprah—an American woman who became enormously popular through her long running talk show on television.  Of course they’re being derogatory in their reference to her, since Oprah’s popularity as a “spiritual leader” caused Christians to ramp up their criticism of her.  Oprah doesn’t promote anything close to true Christianity—but so what?  Is that justification for you to publicly mock the woman in a song you’re supposed to be singing to God?  What Hall and Chapman mean by their Oprah lyric is that too many so-called Christians are depending on “worldly” people instead of on God for spiritual guidance.  Well, even if this is true, is a worship song the appropriate place for you to gripe about it?  It is utterly immature and inappropriate to use the worship of God as an excuse to insult someone for any reason.  As Christians, we’re supposed to be viewing all souls as precious to God and hoping that folks who aren’t embracing the truth will come around.  Making cracks about Oprah in a worship song is hardly going to help us focus on God-pleasing attitudes towards our fellow humans.

So far Hall and Chapman are modeling some very wrong soul attitudes in this song.  They’ve made a mockery out of God’s power and sovereignty.  They’ve exalted humans and demons as far more capable than they really are.  They’ve singled out one American woman to bash on, and in Verse 2, they’re clearly suggesting that if Christian leaders would just get their acts together, all of American society would be magically changed.  What a load of baloney.

For starters, God doesn’t force our will onto unbelievers.  Even if all Christians did suddenly get serious about pleasing God, that would not magically fix the factors that motivate people to abort their children and ban school prayer.  To suggest that you can’t be a serious Christian if you have ever aborted your baby is beyond obnoxious.  Plenty of women have gotten abortions even when they knew it was wrong and it wasn’t because they didn’t care about God.  It was because they felt overwhelmed by other factors that are common to us all: fear of consequences, fear of being hurt, fear of losing something that was critical to them, fear of being shunned by people they needed.  Issues like abortion are very complicated and when we oversimplify them and act like simply caring about God makes it a breeze to live some morally perfect life, we only delude ourselves and discourage everyone else (for help if you’ve had an abortion, see Help For Murderers: Finding Peace With A God Who Loves You).

[Chorus 2] He said that they would hear; His promise has been made
He’s answered loud and clear yeah; If only we would pray
[Bridge] If My people called by My Name; If they’ll humble themselves and pray
If My people called by My Name; If they’ll humble themselves and pray

Hall and Chapman make God sound like a vending machine: just push the prayer button and your perfect life will be dispensed.  Well, no, this is a very disrespectful way to talk about God.  For starters, God doesn’t take orders from us.  He does what He wants to do.  Secondly, God never made modern day believers the promise that Hall and Chapman are telling us to stand on in this song.  And since this song is chock full of Christian arrogance, if we really run with these sentiments, we will never get to the point of sincere repentance.  Arrogance is about exaggerating your own abilities, and it is the polar opposite of humility.  So after pumping up our pride by encouraging us to think that we can conquer demons and force unbelievers into running the whole country the way we personally want, Hall and Chapman are being pretty ridiculous to urge us to humble ourselves.  You can’t be humble and arrogant at the same time: you have to pick one or the other.  Humility is about saying, “God alone deserves the glory because I can do nothing without Him.”  But the message of this song has been, “God?  Who needs that Wimp?  Let’s just blow the dust off of our swords, kick down the doors of Hell, and make all of the humans on this planet conform to our wishes.”

This song is garbage, and it doesn’t make a single God honoring statement.  It’s not even about God, really, it’s more about the awesome potential we Christians have to kick demons in the teeth and kick God into gear anytime we want to stop snoozing on the sofa.  Well, for all of our exaltation of what we can do, the fact remains that we are impotent specks who can’t even move without God’s empowerment.  Worship is not a game to God, so before you start singing a bunch of insulting lyrics at Him, you need to think about the words that another human is putting in front of you and ask God to show you if they are pleasing to Him or not.

FURTHER READING:
Spiritual Warfare in the Church: Delusions vs. Truth
Satan Q&A
Prayer Warriors: Disrespecting God & Proud of It
Soul Attitudes That Please God: What They Are & How We Develop Them
God’s Absolute Sovereignty: Essential Theology
Offensive Worship Songs: Days of Elijah
Offensive Worship Songs: GOD’S NOT DEAD by the Newsboys
Worship Song Analysis: THE NAME OF JESUS by Chris Tomlin
Worship Songs from Satan: Build Your Kingdom Here

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