June 14, 2016. Today we’ll be taking a look at “What You Want” by Tenth Avenue North which currently sits at #18 on the20theCountdownMagazine.
Wow, what a catchy tune this song has. I’ve mentioned before that I have a soft spot, musically speaking, for EDM (electronic dance music). Tenth Avenue North has done a bang-up job on the music track. It’s progressive with a breakbeat/house feel. Quite compelling, musically. The vocal work is also very nice. So how do the lyrics fair? Well, the theology pushing the song is a bit off. It presents a picture of Christianity one of choosing to follow Jesus rather than of being forgiven by Jesus. If you’re thinking “what’s the difference” I hope to explain that a bit below. For now, let’s give the song a listen and take a look a the lyrics.
Official Lyric Video
Lyrics (via KLove)
Every day I’ve been feeling the pressure
I always gotta know the plan
It’s a weight that I’ve tried to shoulder
I thought I could, but I can’t
And I’m so tired of chasing dreams
When I am wired to let You lead
You’re changing my heart
To what what You want
To love how You love
And that is enough
There’s no greater plan
That I need to know
You only ask me to follow
And want what You, what You want
And want what You, what You want
And want what You, what You want
And want what You, what You want
Oh, there’s freedom in this surrender
I feel myself come alive
And the burden feels like a feather
When I let my agenda die
And I get so tired of my own dreams
When I am wired to let You lead
So many leaders
You ask for followers
So keep on leading
‘Cause You’re my Father
Publishing: © 2016 Mike Donehey Publishing Designee (SESAC) / Fellow Ships Music (SESAC) / So Essential Tunes (SESAC) (adm. by Essential Music Publishing LLC) / Colby Wedgeworth Music (ASCAP) / Fair Trade Music Publishing (ASCAP) (adm. by Music Service, Inc.). All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Writer(s): Mike Donehey, Jason Ingram, Colby Wedgeworth
Verse 1. In the first verse we have the singer stating a problem of being unable to measure up or keep up. We don’t have a lot of context, but the singer is letting go of the idea that he (we, by extension) have to always know the plan and shoulder the burden, but we can’t. Here is the question that needs to be asked… where is this pressure coming from? Placing my best construction on this song, I’d say the pressure comes from bad theology and false teaching. The message of the Gospel isn’t that you’re going to change your world, the message of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ already has by His death and Resurrection.
Pre-Chorus. So tired of chasing dreams? Good… because nowhere in scripture is the charge to chase our dreams, and Christ did not die to resurrect dead dreams, He died so that we might have Eternal Life in Him. When I am wired to let You lead *ugh*. If this were a finely polished radio program, you’d likely hear the sound of a needle scratching across a vinyl record. In what sense are we wired to let the King of kings and LORD of lords, the Alpha and the Omega lead? If our best construction is that the song is calling out bad theology, well… here we see it being replaced with more bad theology. While there is a narrow context within which one might rightly use the phrase “follow Jesus”, it’s not the center of our confession. The disciples literally followed Jesus and were discipled by Him directly, and we sit under their teaching preserved for us in the Written Word of God. Whenever we hear preachers today talk about “following Jesus” I’ve noticed it rarely ends with preaching Christ and Him crucified; instead the discussion normally ends in the Law, and sometimes not even Biblical Law. We’ll get to that in a minute, but for now let’s take a moment to see how Scripture talks of following Christ and what it means for us today.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (ESV) | Divisions in the Church
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
I like to start here to point out another problem with today’s slogan of “following Christ” or “being a totally committed Christ-follower”… it’s not pointing to the Gospel, it’s often intended to establish a sort of piety pecking order. It was taking place in Corinth in Paul’s day, and it remains with us today. Paul isn’t preaching against baptism here, he’s saying the focus is in the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We see this reinforced in his letters to Timothy.
1 Timothy 4:1-6 (ESV) Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed.
2 Timothy 1:8-14 (ESV)Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
The Apostle Paul had a laser focus on the preaching and teaching of the Gospel, the sound words and good doctrine of Salvation through faith, not because of our works, but because of His own purpose and Grace in Christ Jesus. False teachers will often point to the idea of “following Christ” directly, while surreptitiously inserting themselves and their machinations as intermediaries for explaining and even evaluating your walk or your level of commitment in “following Christ”. Naturally, you should be following them.
There is a context within which we might treat Christ as an example to be followed, and the Apostle Peter points us in that direction in his first epistle.
1 Peter 2:13-25 (ESV) | Submission to Authority
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
In His suffering. Or as the Apostle Paul put it, joining in Christ’s suffering.
Colossians 1:24-28 (ESV) | Paul’s Ministry to the Church
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
And we’ve come full circle back to the very center of the Apostle Paul’s focus for ministry, not in trying to imitate God, but in preaching Christ and Him crucified for our sin.
Getting back to the pre-chorus discussion, I’m struggling to find a corrective mechanic for the notion that we are wired to let God lead us. Our flesh is corrupted by sin, bent in on itself… it is wired to serve itself. The Spirit desires the things of God, but we remain simultaneously sinner and saint, with the war waging in our members. So, it’s difficult for me to find a clear way to correct this line, and it is the thought that turns the song into its chorus.
Chorus. With the chorus, I’ve pretty much abandoned my attempt at giving this song its best construction. At best this is an attempt to say that the work of the Holy Spirit within us is to change our desires such that they align with God’s. The flip-side of that coin suggests that we block the work of the Holy Spirit by not letting Him lead. From here on out, the song lyric stays stuck in this “Jesus is my example” in a way that leans heavily toward “I will one day be like He is” and I just don’t find that a clear or helpful way of looking at the Christian Life. I think it casts a shadow over the substitutionary atonement and looks past the fact that our righteousness is not our own, it’s Christ’s righteousness which is granted to us. This is winds up clouding how we share the Gospel, leading some to buy into the lie that the lost will come to ask for the Gospel because of looking at our lives. But the truth is that we still fall short, and we cannot live up to this standard of living in a way that proclaims Christ without words. It is Christ who fulfilled the Law in our place, so we preach Him and Him Crucified in our place so that by Grace through Faith we might be saved. I know some might be thinking, “but what about good works of faith?” We do good works for our neighbors as an outflow of our having been forgiven by God. Our good works server our neighbors as the result of our having been set free from and forgiven of sin by a gracious and loving God. Good works flow from the Gospel, not the Law, though the Law identifies what is a good work (love God, love neighbor).
Is there something to be said about the need to desire that which God desires? Absolutely… and that is why we have the Word of God preserved for us in Scripture by God the Holy Spirit. This song doesn’t point in that direction, instead it is pointing to some sort of permission we need to give God to then simply overwrite our desires. That’s not the picture we see in Scripture. That’s why I’ve been pointing out Paul’s focus on the preached Word of God.
Verse 2. This verse is bent in on the self, in our feelings. The object of our faith is external to us, not internal. Your feelings will fail you, Christ’s Word won’t. The Truth of the Promise from God that by faith in Christ Jesus that your sins are forgiven you doesn’t wane simply because you don’t feel forgiven. I completely understand wanting to feel forgiven, but we need to submit our feelings to the Truth found in God’s Word, and trust in that. It is your feelings and emotions that fail you, and even lie to you.
Bridge. It’s just odd. It’s like the “Jesus is my co-pilot” trope where we treat our LORD and Savior like some meek introvert who won’t do ANYTHING without our permission. That’s not the Jesus found in the Scriptures, friend.
As much as I love the musical part of this song, I don’t like the law-heavy theology which demotes Jesus down from LORD and Savior to an example we can follow and even permit to lead us. If your picture of Jesus is the gentle shepherd with the lamb across His shoulders… remember that lamb is YOU. He’s carrying YOU on His shoulders because you got lost and He had to go get you. The shepherd doesn’t need nor ask the sheep’s permission to lead them. His sheep hear His voice and follow because they are His sheep. This song presupposes a seeker-sensitive ideology where unbelievers have within them a will to know God and it’s just a matter of grabbing their attention so that they can finally “let God be their God”.
Romans 16:24-27 (ESV) | Doxology
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
In Christ Jesus,