DiM | “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong

Today is “Discernment in Music” day here at Faithful Stewardship.

2 Corinthians 10:4-6 (ESV)
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

Today, rather than wait for a song to play on the radio, I thought I’d start by looking at whatever was trending as a “top Christian song” on the radio today. According to Billboard Music, the top contender is clearly “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United. In the interest of full-disclosure, I am not a fan of Hillsong Church.  I disagree with their theology (Dominionism, Chrislam, Presence, etc) and their ecclesiology (emergent, seeker-driven, leadership model, mega-church). I will do my best to evaluate the song on its own merits, but I wanted to state plainly that I’m fighting to suppress a strong bias. If I fail, please forgive me. The good thing here is that if you take objection to my analysis and do so biblically, you are also practicing discernment and the goal of this post can be met, even while we disagree on the “value” of this song. Let’s take a look at the lyrics of the song pulled from the AZLyrics.

“Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

[6x]
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine

Okay, so if you’ve read my “Discernment in Music” posts before you probably know that the first comment I will make about this song is that it’s lyrically vague. It tends to bounce a bit between focusing on the singer and the “You”. If this is a song about God, then it presents an odd uni-directional theme where God is only “out there” where feet may fail, or out upon the water. This is keeping with much of Hillsong and Bethel style theology where we always need to be “pioneering” into the unknown if we really want to know God. Is that Biblical? Not really, because God has gone to great lengths to present us with the Bible.  While we cannot hope to fully know God in this life, what He has made known of Himself is indeed knowable by reading and understanding the Scripture. This skewed theology suggests that living a quiet, steadfast life of prayer and submission to scripture is somehow less-than what we really need to be doing, or what God really wants from us. If it is a song of encouragement, I’m not clear on what we are being encouraged to do or to believe. If it is a song of worship, I’m not sure who or what is being worshiped. Because the song’s focus bounces between the singer and the “You”. Are we worshiping God for who He is or for what He is going enable me to do?

What Does Hillsong United Say About the “Oceans”?

I’m not surprised. Almost 8 and a half minutes of glowing generic and vague praise for the song, without any insight. They just wrote a song and were like “woah, God put His hand on it” and they love the song and love the reaction the song produces. Because it connects to people “no matter where they are on their spiritual journey” or “even if they aren’t on the spiritual journey yet but they might get drawn to God”. I find it interesting that the conclusion we get at around 7:50 is that “we need to step outside of our own understanding… and just know that, yeah, just gotta live the life of faith”. I’ve seen this a lot with Hillsong style music presented as worship… the lyrics don’t make sense and don’t convey a clear message. How does that Glorify God? How is it supposed to “draw people closer to God”? Does getting a cheer and joyful reaction from the crowd at the started of the song equate to people “progressing in the journey” (and seriously… why are we talking in such vague, mystical, terminology?). They wrote the song, but they can’t tell you what it means, or even why it should be considered a worship song. Well, this video was of no help. So, we’ll have to practice discernment at face-value.

Narcissistic Eisegesis of Jesus Walking on Water

But wait, isn’t the story of Peter walking on water? No. While Peter does walk on water (briefly), that is not the point of the story; therefore, I will not be referring to it in that light. Let’s start by reading the text.

Matthew 14:22-33 (ESV)
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. 25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

So, the song starts with the singer placing him/herself in the place of Peter, but not at “You come walking to me on the water in the midst of a storm”, but “You call me out upon the water”. This passage is often taught from the false notion that it’s about Peter needing to “step out of the boat” and some pale allegory about how each of us will face a moment in our lives when Jesus will expect big things from us and call us to do the impossible, to walk on water and place our faith and trust in Him… believing for a miracle. That’s NOT the point of this story. This is a one-time event that takes place for a singular purpose… in verse 33, ” And those in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God“. Peter and those in the boat were worried that Jesus was a ghost. Jesus speaks to them to calm then down and Peter says, “Lord if it is you…” This is a special event, with a special message, one that points to Jesus NOT Peter. It is captured in Scripture for us to know that Jesus truly is Lord. If you are going to put yourself into this passage, you are one of the guests in the boat, who worshiped Him saying, “Truly Jesus is the Son of God!”. Scripture doesn’t record anyone else walking on the water. And why allegorize the story to dumb it down so that Peter’s walking on water (woah, that’s awesome) becomes as mundane as getting a promotion at work, or being found “not guilty” by a jury in a civil suit? No matter where we are, Jesus is with us. Jesus sent them across the water, and He stayed behind to pray; yet, while they were battling the unfavorable wind and waves, He appears, walking on the water, saying “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid”. And even when Peter, after compelling Jesus to prove who He was by commanding Peter to walk on water, doubted and began to sink, Jesus caught him. Peter didn’t get a second chance to walk on water… because us walking on water was never the point. Placing our faith in Who Jesus is, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God is the point. This is a point that each of the disciples, including Peter, would be tested again, and fail again. Peter would end up denying Christ 3 times after the arrest of Jesus. But Peter was one of the first to believe that the Christ had risen, for he rushed to the empty tomb at the word of Mary Magdalene and the others.

Generic love Song in Vague Bible-Speak

Now, the second verse, and a bit of the refrain seem generally true-ish. Not really pointing to any scriptural truth or doctrine. But the problem here is that it is being presented as a worship song. The object of our worship, and the reason for our worship should be plainly identified. As I mentioned earlier, it’s not clear if God is the object of worship. If we assume the “You” is the God of the Bible, then we still aren’t clear if God is being worshiped for who He is or for what He will enable us to do. It suggests that unless He calls us out onto the water (step out into the unknown?) and do something radical, then we can’t trust in Him like we ought to, nor will our faith be strengthened. So does that negate the “I am yours and you are mine” bit from Song of Solomon? Can we rest in His embrace if we aren’t “walking on the waters”? This imagery only works if you buy into the notion that the story of Jesus walking on the water is actually what each of us must do as Christians.

Conclusion

This is a seeker-sensitive church band. They represent a brand, a theology, a way of doing church that isn’t prescribed in Scripture. So, when we listen to their music, we ought to pay close attention to what is actually being sung. We must take every thought captive, and that isn’t limited to the obviously sinful thoughts. Every. Thought. As far as the lyrical content of this song, I find it to be of no more Biblical value than the song “Feelin’ Good” by Michael Buble. This song is clearly “spiritual” in the “metaphysical” sense, but that doesn’t make it a good candidate for a Worship song to the Creator of the Universe, Jesus Christ. They are selling music, they wrote a song they hoped would sell and were greatly surprised by its reception in South Africa. They are very excited by the “energy” shown by the crowd whenever this song is played. I’m sure they are very excited that it’s been in the Billboard Hot Christian Chart for 47 weeks, and is currently #1. They are a band, they make their living by playing music. They also represent a HUGE church movement, one whose doctrine is highly questionable. My concern isn’t really Hillsong, but you and your walk in Christ. Is it a sin to like this song? I cannot make that determination for you, because it is so vague it is written specifically for hearers to apply their own meaning to the song (this is what is meant by “we want people to connect to the song”). If this song is your favorite, and you just find you are really “moved” by it whenever it is playing, check your doctrine. Know what it is you are confessing and praying and worshiping. Don’t mentally check-out and roll around in the “spiritual emotion” elicited by the song. That’s not worship, that’s a form of sensuality. The song isn’t outright pagan, but it is vague enough to support a pagan world view. The “you” could easily be directed toward a “spirit guide”, and now we have a real problem with the meaning of the song. It is a chart-topper because it makes people feel good, nothing more.

Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Christ,
Jorge

14 thoughts on “DiM | “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong

  1. I totally agree. Actually getting face to face with the lyrics (that are 90% indistinguishable due to all the trancy harmonies and breathy, bedroom-voiced vocal tone) shows what a vague, meaningless, theologically dubious load of tripe this song is.

  2. Reblogged this on Dallascernment and commented:
    I’ve intended to do work like this, but it looks like Jorge over at Faithful Stewardship has done the job for “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” for us already. I’m 100% in agreement here. Go check it out.
    Stand by for song reviews here, but I will likely focus on music that it intended (supposedly) for corporate worship rather than the radio listening type.

    • Thank you very much for the encouragement. My wife and I were just discussing how much of a need there is for discernment in what is passed along as corporate praise and worship. I’m happy to hear you are going to be doing so and look forward to reading. God bless.

  3. Great work, Jorge. My husband is a minister of music, and we have been in music ministry for over 20 years. We have always tried to encourage people to THINK about what they’re singing and whether or not it’s biblical, not just whether or not they like it. I’m looking forward to sharing this with my readers soon. Keep up the good work! :0)

  4. Hi Jorge,

    I appreciate the larger point you are making. Far too many churches seem to lead worship songs without considering their content. I know, I’ve been in some of them, and it was painful. But also, so many congregants sing worship songs, even the really deep and theologically true ones, without considering what it is they are singing. If only we we would follow Paul’s example as he says “I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” (1 Cor 14:15).

    That being said, I’m one of those people you are writing about. My church sometimes uses this song in worship. And I confess, when I sing it, the words hold special meaning for me. Different parts of the song remind me of different stories and truths from the scripture. I feel inspired to let go of my fears and anxieties, and press further into the calling God has on my life. So I have to say, brother, that I was pretty hurt when you said that liking this song mean that I need to “check [my] doctrine”, and may possibly even be a sin.

    I don’t really want to try to defend this (or any) song. But in the interest of trying to explain why some people are “moved” by it, and why it may not be quite as non-substantive as some might think, I invite you to view it from my perspective as we corporately sing it in a service.

    “You call me out upon the waters The great unknown where feet may fail And there I find You in the mystery In oceans deep My faith will stand”

    I think there can be some discussion and valid disagreement as to whether Peter being called out of the boat is meant to represent a model of our every day Christian lives. However, I feel like it’s pretty clear that there’s an over-arching theme in the Bible of God calling people out of a place of safety, comfort, and routine into His larger story, into a place where they are not in control and must depend completely on God. Sometimes into a place where it appears that the odds are against them. I’m thinking here of Abraham, Moses, Gideon, the apostles, Paul, and there’s plenty of others.

    You state that this verse “becomes as mundane as getting a promotion at work, or being found “not guilty” by a jury in a civil suit”, but I disagree. I think it’s specifically meant to invoke the picture of hearing God’s call to something significant and probably life-changing, and then responding to that call with surrender and action. It’s hard to think of a job promotion as “the great unknown where feet may fail.”

    “And I will call upon Your name”
    Plenty of references in the Bible, such as Romans 10:13, Joel 2:32, Genesis 13:4, etc

    “And keep my eyes above the waves when oceans rise”
    In the story of Peter and the boat, what is above the waves? Jesus is. So this line basically says “when things become intimidating, I’ll keep my eyes on Jesus”.

    “My soul will rest in Your embrace”
    Makes me think of Psalm 62:5-8

    “For I am Yours and You are mine”
    In the spirit of Romans 14:8 (we belong to God), Lamentations 3:24 (God is our portion)

    “Your grace abounds in deepest waters”
    To me, “deepest waters” refers to the place where I have no footing, no self-support. I am dependent on something other than myself, or I will drown. Although not a direct correlation, this reminds me of 2 Cor 12:9-10, where essentially our weakness leads to strength, because God’s grace and strength are made perfect in our weakness.

    “Your sovereign hand Will be my guide”
    I’m reminded of Psalm 31, Isaiah 58:11, Psalm 23, etc.

    “Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”
    This reminds me of Psalm 77:10-12: “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” Also, in the spirit of Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:9, Hebrews 13:6. Basically, a call that when I’m afraid, I should remember who God is (love, sovereign, unchanging), and what He has done.

    “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders Let me walk upon the waters Wherever You would call me”
    To me, this is me responding to God and saying “I want to trust you more fully (Mark 9:24), do what you have to do in order to grow my faith that way. I surrender. I want to always say yes to what you call me to.”

    “Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander And my faith will be made stronger In the presence of my Savior”
    An acknowledgement that I can’t create this faith in myself. The Spirit must do a work in me. And I must seek God and spend time in His presence (Word, prayer, etc) for this to happen.

    So then, to my understanding, the summary of the song would be:

    – God is trustworthy, and sovereign
    – There are times in life when God calls me to step out in faith, beyond my own abilities or comfort
    – I want to obey and respond to that call
    – I am dependent on God to provide the faith needed to respond
    – When things get scary, I will look to Jesus, and remember God’s attributes and his actions
    – When I obey and respond to God’s call, He meets me there. He gives me rest.

    You may not see the Biblical value of the song, but obviously others do. Perhaps they are seeing things in the lyrics that you are not able to due to your self-admitted bias. Perhaps the people who sing this song aren’t actually “mentally check[ing]-out” after all.

    So, I would ask that you have grace for me and people like myself, who joyously connect with the truths that these lyrics remind us of. If you don’t like the song, or the authors, that’s totally fine, I would never try to convince you that you need to. If you want to discuss theological concerns you have, by all means do. But in the spirit of 1 Cor 13, do it in love, or don’t do it at all. Please do not use the concept of “taking every thought captive” as a license to hold judgement over or make insinuations against your brothers and sisters who don’t see things the same way you do.

    • If all of those passages truly come to mind as the song is played on the radio, that is absolutely wonderful. I have no doubt that even secular radio stations playing generally positive music have a similar impact. This DiM is one of the rare cases where I could find a video where the artist was given an opportunity to give the meaning behind the song, and they failed to convey any Scriptural foundation. The song, on its own, conveys no Biblical meaning. One has to pour into the song meaning, and I’m encouraged to see that you’ve used portions of Scripture to do so for your listenning, and for your engagement in corporate worship.

      I grew up in an NAR church, playing music for the worship band that consumed a steady diet of Hillsong and Vinyard music… I assure you that I am thinking of folks like you when I write these reviews. We won’t always agree on the overall value of each song, but as long as we are careful to examine the scriptures in context and teach what is in keeping with sound doctrine, I’m comfortable with disagreeing on which songs should be sung in Church. The main focus of DiM is to equip the saints to guard their hearts and minds when listening to Christian music played on the airwaves outside of the context of Church. The elders of each church are responsible to the Great Shepherd for what they allow to be played in their Church service.

      Thank you for taking so much time to carefully discuss the merits of this song and for citing scripture. May the Lord bless you and keep you in His Will. Jorge

    • I am new to this site and really appreciate the work that was poured into this commentary. I am also a P & W team member and have been questioning some of the songs that we sing. Although I love that some songs stir the soul because, as Mr. Sharp states, we connect on a more personal level. Sometimes its not about theology so much as it about a memory or a word that links you to the Lord through a trial or joy.

      Mr. Sharp, I think your kindness and well written response was so worth reading again and again. It would have been so easy to be argumentative and yet, your words were kind in sharing another perspective. My reply is more about how you handled your words and not so much about the article. I just really appreciated your wisdom and you have inspired me to think through my words and responses, just in every day life. We need to be so careful not to offend someone by jumping on their ideas and causing them to be defensive. What would Jesus do? Certainly, not that. Christ should be the center of all our conversations! You may never read this, but thank you for being a godly example.

    • Hello Mr. Sharp,

      I really appreciated your perspective, since I also had thought of many Scriptural references while singing this in church. I posted about it, but have been weighing what has been written by Jorge as well. I think the difficulty for me comes in weighing out, first, does this line in the lyrics allude to a Scripture, and secondly, is it used correctly? I’ve been tackling the first in my own blog, the second seems to be much more tricky to navigate. Just wanted to thank you both for your posts. Jorge, I’ve included a link to this page on my post about Oceans.

      https://worshipwithscripture.com/2013/10/23/songs-scripture-oceans-where-feet-may-fail-joel-houston-matt-crocker-salomon-ligthelm/

      Lauren

  5. This is an interesting conversation. I thought it would be neat to use P&W songs as a basis for study for my adult Sunday school class… until I began putting together the lessons. I started with Casting Crowns’ “Just Be Held.” That was easy because they have a whole website dedicated to using their songs for lessons, but when I began studying the lyrics to songs by other bands, I began to realize that this task was quite a challenge. The lyrics to most P&W songs are vague, repetitive, and ill-suited for deep study. I managed to put together something for “Oceans,” and will continue to work on lessons for a few other songs, but I think I’d have an easier time studying the lyrical content of traditional hymns which tend to have deeper, richer lyrics. I thought I was alone in my assessment, but I see here that I’m not. (I’m an English teacher and tend to prefer lyrics with more literary merit.)

  6. Now I’m curious what you think of Planetshakers’ music since they’re emerging as another popular christian worship band. 🙂 Looking forward to that soon

  7. PS. in regards to praise songs, would it be applicable to use that verse about clean and unclean food? I mean like what Rick Sharp mentioned, it encouraged him spiritually despite the vague lyrics of the song. I have had the same experiences, I know who the You is…I know the meaning of the songs as metaphors to the common struggles of modern christians today….

    I agree with what you write and they’re very helpful as a guide to know how to be discerning about song lyrics. Just wondering if that verse is applicable. 🙂 Thanks!

    • The difference between clean/unclean food and the doctrine in the music is that Jesus clearly stated that what goes into the mouth doesn’t defile the body, but what flows out of the heart that defiles.

      These DiM aren’t about deciding what you may or may not find encouragement in; rather, they are about how to listen to music with Biblical Discernment, taking every thought captive. I find emotion-level encouragement in blatantly secular music… I just know not to draw spiritual/doctrinal inspiration from them.

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