Don’t Listen to Our Hearts

The CCM song “Listen to Our Hearts” is either confused or distorted: there are several things about its lyrics, some more serious than others, that seem to me to disqualify it from the corporate worship repertoire if not from all worship of God.

How do you explain,
How do you describe
A love that goes from east to west,
And runs as deep as it is wide?

A love that spans from east to west is pretty expansive, so I suppose it’s pretty deep too to be as deep as it is wide. This is about God’s love, it seems by the east-west nod to the Psalms.

You know all our hopes,
Lord, you know all our fears,
And words cannot express the love we feel,
But we long for You to hear.

Suddenly, without warning, we get switched to our love for God. Took me a while to figure that out. Unexpected, but alright.

“And words cannot express the love we feel, / But we long for You to hear” means either of two things:

  1. that words are a bad medium – potentially a blasphemous insult to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture, which must be more difficult than talking about our own love;
  2. that our love is too great for words and needs a better medium.

Let’s take option two, since option one is destructive and useless. Now the chorus:

So listen to our hearts (O Lord, please listen);
Hear our spirits sing (and hear us sing)
A song of praise that flows (a simple song of praise)
From those You have redeemed (from those You have redeemed)!

Apparently, having said that there is a better medium of our love than words, the songwriter is claiming that our hearts are that better medium. Certainly, God does know our hearts, but if anyone thinks that what God will see (or hear) is good, look again and reflect on Jeremiah 17.9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” On the other end, of course, we do have what the Holy Spirit does in us. Still marginally fine.

Here Lies the Rub

Now here is what troubles me:

We will use the words we know
To tell You what an awesome God You are,
But words are not enough
To tell You of our love,
So listen to our hearts.

Apparently, words can tell of God’s awesomeness, but words cannot tell of our own love for God. If I’m reading this right, it’s saying our love for God exceeds His glory. Even though our love, including the emotional response, should be quite strong, I don’t think this can ever be true.

Can I still sing this in church without wondering whether I’m singing blasphemies? Hmm.

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7 responses to “Don’t Listen to Our Hearts

  1. Agreed. Perhaps not His glory per se. But something’s definitely not quite right.

    I have another objection:

    If words could fall like rain
    From these lips of mine,
    And if I had a thousand years,
    Lord, I would still run out of time.
    If you listen to my heart,
    every beat will say,
    “Thank You for the life, thank You for the truth,
    thank You for the way.”

    Now, we should be thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice. But didn’t the author just say that words could not express what his heart was saying? Oops.

    Also, I feel like I’m lying when I say that every beat my heart beats, every moment of my day I’m thanking Jesus for his love and everything. Because it’s not even close.

    We don’t put our “love” into action, so let’s not pull this “saying with my heart” mushiness to make up for it. Faith without works is dead. “Love” for God expressed only in the heart is not love: it’s self-delusion.

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  2. This may not be the deepest song in the world, but I think that you are too hard on it. It is a natural transition from reflecting on God’s great love to expressing our love for Him in response. Words, even the words of Scripture, cannot fully express God’s nature. There are things about God that are unfathomable to the human mind. There is nothing blasphemous about acknowledging the limitations of human language.

    But the main thought about the inadequacy of words in this song is that we find it difficult to fully express our love for God. I don’t find that difficult to understand or accept. We “use the words we know” to to the best we can to express our love and gratitude to God, but that is not enough. So we ask God to look at our hearts and see the love and gratitude there.

    Of course we are fallen, and I don’t think that the song denies that. Rather, it describes the sentiment of someone who is awestruck by God’s great love for us, and who feels a strong response of love for God, which cannot be fully expressed in words.

    The part about every beat of our hearts is hyperbole, or perhaps aspiration. But it is not unlike of the statements of total devotion that occur repeatedly throughout the Psalms.

    In short, this song focuses more on the emotional aspect of our relationship to God than the intellectual one. I would not want to sing an entire worship set made up of such songs, but as a response to some of the more theological songs this might make a good response.

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  3. The song makes sense to me.

    God loves us → our love for God
    (for while we were yet sinners…)

    As for the chorus,

    We will use the words we know […]
    But words are not enough […].

    I’m fairly sure that words are not enough
    for either the love we owe God or his awesomeness, so there is no contradiction here.

    As for the “every beat” part as well as how our love for God is greater than words, you have to understand lyrics are poetry. In this case it is a combination of what we do feel and what we know we should feel in response to God’s greatness. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    As for the verse “If words could fall like rain […] Thank you for the way,” he’s saying that words cannot make a complete statement, not that it is impossible to write such a sentiment in words. So there is no contradiction with the second half of the verse. As for the “every beat” part, recognize this is poetry: compare it to Psalms. It was never meant to be a literal statement: I mean, how can a beat of a heart literally say anything? Instead, it’s more along the lines of “I am greatly in debt to you and give my love for your greatness and out of appreciation for you… you desire my love from every beat of my heart.” It doesn’t actually say this, but poetically this was meant to be understood by the reader/singer.

    As for faith/works, of course real love should lead to action. But this not what the song is about: it is about our love, and so it keeps to that theme. This was meant not as a complete statement of faith but rather as an expression of emotions for God. It must be read, therefore, within the context of a Christian doing just that.

    I actually think this is a fairly decent song, although, as PK said, it should be part of a balanced worship set.

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  4. Agreed.

    I still say that action is the higher part of love. If not action in terms of action, we need to hold it in much high regard because that is where we as Christians are most lacking. Therefore I dislike the song’s touchy-feely-ness because I feel that people, taking a cue from the songs, are content to just let God listen to their hearts and do little else.

    I concede that there is nothing blasphemous about this song. (Lue-Yee may not: I don’t know.) But I don’t like it and what it holds in the highest regard.

    I think Lue-Yee would agree with me that this generation places too much emphasis on what it calls “heart.” Just having the right intentions is not enough. And I agree with him.

    Of course, let’s not blow this out of proportion. This song will not stand on its own. There are Psalms that have similar passages.

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  5. Most good intentions are vague and not thought-out enough to turn into useful action. I do not trust people enough to think that that inertia will be overcome without a concerted effort.

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  6. As PK mentioned in Bible Interp, no song is meant to stand alone as a complete expression of worship. This song simply highlights the “heart” part of it; it does not, I believe, claim that the heart is all.

    Would an equivalent song emphasizing the mind and intellectuality in worship bother you as much?

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  7. So would such a song bother me? I’d probably think it very strange if it had such a strong overt orientation towards what we call “cold” rationality. Right now, though, if any one dimension enjoys a monopoly, a stronger case could be made for it being anti-intellectual emotionalism than for it being anti-emotional intellectualism.

    After all, what song in worship actually talks about intellectuality? None that I can think of. Some might be intellectually harder work than others, but it’d be pretty strange to see any song explicitly written about God engaging the rational faculty, at least in those terms. I think, then, that there’s no danger of songs used in church causing people to fall off that end, even though there’s certainly a danger for some people of finding the faith reasonable but not having any emotional response that ultimately propels action.

    One feature that tends to satisfy all parties is narrative, because it engages both and stays close to some objective facts while not presenting the spiritual truths as mere stone propositions. From there, I think the normal and right thing is for that song to have a more emotionally resonant section if it’s been too empirical to be real a song of praise. Some songs have this before, some after: either it’s truth leading to response or a response leading back to the cause.

    An example, then. Some people accuse “The Old Rugged Cross” of being too subjective, but I think the explicit connexions to the cross keep it firmly grounded.

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