I was riding in the car the other day listening to generic Christian worship music. Suddenly, a different set of lyrics flooded into my mind. Without any invitation, the words to “Friend of God” were running through my psyche like a crazed hamster on a wheel… meaning over and over and over again.
While I have helped lead worship for a very long time and have learned to deal with most songs, this has always been a song that sets my teeth on edge. The melody is trite, yes, but the lyrics have always been the part that has gotten under my skin.
As a rule, worship songs that focus on first-person pronouns rather than on God drive me up a wall. It is too easy to concentrate on our own worship, rather than the one we are worshipping (case in point: I attended a service last week that, while it was lovely, featured a worship leader whose favorite phrase to mutter soulfully into the microphone was “We worship you Lord”).
So when the chorus of a song is anything remotely like “I am a friend of God; I am a friend of God; I am a friend of God; he calls me friend,” even as I sing the words, close my eyes, and soulfully knit my brows together as I raise my hands, palms up, to waist level, I mentally prepare myself for fisticuffs with the songwriter.
But the other day, I had a lightbulb moment.
I don’t know if you have ever had an experience like this. You were probably one of the cool kids. But bear with me as I indulge in a little trip down memory lane (which, for the record, is parallel to Imagination Avenue and crosses Suggestion Boulevard):
There’s this person a year or two older than you. He or she is absolutely the coolest thing ever. They (I know the plural isn’t technically correct, but I’m using it anyway; bear with me) like the same movies as you (well, you like those movies now that they introduced you to them… well, once you heard them talking about those movies and you decided you liked those movies too). They always wear awesome clothes. They like the best music. While you never really talk to each other that much, it’s not because you don’t want to talk. It’s just that you don’t want to push the limits: you’re the obnoxious younger person, the social inferior, if you will. You talk to them as much as you can in class situations or in youth group or wherever it is you see them, but you never really feel comfortable telling people that you’re friends, because hey, they’re cooler than you are, and it would be super awkward if it got back to them that you said that because maybe you aren’t friends and then everything would be terrible and embarrassing and they probably wouldn’t talk to you much anymore. One day, you are walking down the hallway at school and see them with a couple of their older, awesomer friends. You nod and are about to keep walking, but he or she stops and says, “Hey! How’s it going? Person #1 and Person #2, this is my friend Your Name Here! I know her or him from Activity In Which We Both Participate. Anyway, good to see you, Your Name Here! Catch ya later!” You come away from that encounter walking straight and tall, smile on your face, and confidence overflowing your heart. That incredibly awesome person who you look up to called you their friend.
I think this, or something similar, has happened to the majority of people. (And if it hasn’t, you’re the cool person, for the record.)
How incredibly mind-blowing is it, then, that the creator of the universe, the one who sculpted the wings of a butterfly and who shaped Jupiter, dares stoop low enough to call you friend? And it’s more than that. That incredibly awesome being who calls you friend chose to sacrifice his own son for you. (More on that soon… there are some ruminations on that subject happening in the intellectual cud-processor that is my brain.)
Check out James 2:23: “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God’s friend” (NIV). I get uncomfortable that the song puts us in this verse along with Abraham. But, after pond’rance, I don’t think that what the song is saying contradicts scripture here. If you are someone who has chosen to radically follow Christ, with all of the sacrifice and swords and culture clash that that entails, you have believed God. This is credited to you as righteousness. You are called God’s friend.
I do not despise that song anymore. Still, it is not my favorite, but I definitely see it in a different light. The egocentrism of the lyrics no longer disturbs me. I understand now the abject wonder and disbelief and tremulous joy that filled the songwriter’s heart as he penned those words.
Listen to Isaiah 43:1. “But now, this is what the LORD says — he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.'”
And in John 15:15, Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
You are a friend of God. Now go. Walk around with a dazed grin on your face and a bounce in your step. And when someone asks you why you’re behaving the way you are, introduce them to your awesome friend.