Recorded by Crowder on the deluxe edition of his 2016 album American Prodigal, there is perhaps no greater song to describe a recovering churchboy than that penned by Sean McConnell in 2010, Praise The Lord. Although McConnell himself released the tune himself in 2014 as part of his five tune EP The B Side Sessions, I personally did not discover it until Crowder’s recording. Intrigued by the album title, I streamed American Prodigal upon its release and was immediately given pause as Praise The Lord hit the playlist and streamed through my earbuds . . . someone has put into words what I have been feeling and learning:
You’re not who I thought You were – Praise the Lord
I could not reach the repeat button quick enough after the song ended and since the first listen have replayed both Crowder’s cover and McConnell’s original recording more times than could be counted. I’ve shared the song with anyone curious enough to listen and sat behind the living room piano on numerous occasions making McConnell’s confession my own. Churchboy life is summed up perfectly with each of line of the first verse:
I used to shake You like an 8-ball
The magic 8 ball is a fortune telling toy made popular in the 1950’s. Users would ask a question and then shake the toy waiting for one of twenty possible answers to appear on the blue triangle-faced, twenty-sided die contained in the hazy liquid inside the sphere hoping the response would be favorable but expecting the response to be unfavorable. The game sums up my prayer life as a churchboy. I would approach God with my requests hoping things would work out in the way I saw best or how I wished all the while believing the nagging thoughts in the back of my mind telling me I wouldn’t truly receive what I was asking and to live a truly holy life meant ultimately accepting a life filled with unhappiness.
I used to shoot You like a gun
Like a gunslinger carrying a six-shooter on his hip, I was taught to always be ready to provide chapter and verse for any answer provided in order to win an argument, after all Paul told Timothy to be “instant in season and out of season”. The silver bullet kept in reserve to emerge victorious from any moral, ethical, or theological shootout was always, “Because the Bible says so!” No cowboy goes into a duel more worried about his opponent’s outcome than his own and churchboys don’t either. The important thing is to win the argument regardless of what wounds may be inflicted.
I used to hold You like a hammer try to nail down everyone
“Do you believe in once saved always saved? . . . Do you use the King James Version? . . . Is your worship service contemporary, traditional, or liturgical . . . Is baptism by submersion or sprinkling? . . . Do you believe in speaking in tongues? . . . Is communion performed with grape juice or wine? . . . Are you pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, or post-tribulation?” . . . These questions represent just a small fraction of the issues those who call ourselves Christians have allowed to divide us over the years. To a churchboy it’s important to know exactly where others stand on these matters to determine if they are “rightly dividing the word of truth” and if we can truly walk together in unity with the parties in question. Of course, regardless of the response to any of those questions or the position on any of these issues, the gun-slinging churchboy always has chapter and verse ready to support his stance. This carpenter characteristic of the churchboy, much like the gunslinger, is more concerned with knowing where others stand rather than taking time to understand others.
I used to keep You in a steeple
Psalm 122 begins with David proclaiming, “I was glad when they said to me Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the house of the Lord is anywhere a believer of Jesus physically resides at any given moment. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:16 we are the temple of God and God resides in us. How many times have we referred to a building as the house of Lord? How about the number of times we have been greeted from a stage or podium with the words, “Welcome into the presence of the Lord,” or “Let’s invite his presence here”? We sing numerous songs asking for God to come without pausing to take a moment to reflect and realize we are asking God to do what He has already done. He exists in us, not in a building. His presence is not dependent upon the intensity of our singing, pleading, praying, or even on our invitation. He is where we are.
Used to bind You in a Book
Whether dueling as a gunslinger or wielding a hammer as carpenter, a churchboy is powerless without the Bible. We are taught the importance and value of the book at a young age, commonly in the form of song:
The B-I-B-L-E — Yes, that’s the book for me
I stand alone on the Word of God — The B-I-B-L-E
The Bible has been a part of my life since I was able to read. Although the language and translation of what I read has changed over the years, and I now read it more electronically than in a physical book, the Bible continues to be a part of my life. However, my view of what the Bible actually is has changed. Despite singing the children’s song above before I was able to read or even write the words to it, I believe it plants a false theology in our heads. The Bible is not the Word of God . . . Jesus is. John tells us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God . . .And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us full of grace and truth.” There’s much more to expound on regarding this topic than can be tied up in just a few short sentences here, but based on these words of John, I will simply say the Bible was not with God in the beginning, the Bible was not (and is not) God, and the Bible certainly didn’t sprout legs and walk among us. The Bible is not God’s rule book and it’s not Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth. It is a collection of books depicting the loving heart of a father for his children and the longing of a creator to be with his creation. Much like the grace and truth in which John stated Jesus dwelt among us, the love of God which Jesus came to reveal cannot be contained in a book.
I used to take You like prescription without knowing what I took
Churchboys follow two sets of rules: those written as the doctrines, creeds, and by-laws of whatever denomination or label with which we identify and those unwritten, yet implied and expected with knowing glances and nods of approval and disapproval. Like a strict regimen of taking two pills three times a day, we follow the requirements of daily Bible reading, quiet prayer time, weekly church attendance, compulsory giving, and loyal devotion to church leaders without ever grasping the realness and true heart of who we are really reading about, who we are actually praying to, the purpose or intention of traveling to building on a weekly basis, if ten percent is really required, or why we’re depending upon a man or men to lead us to God. Churchboys do what they’re told without questioning because it’s simply the way things have always been done.
After these lines, the refrain of the song makes its debut in the form of a rebuttal disputing the former ideas with conclusions drawn from a journey of recovering from life as a churchboy.
Now I just don’t buy it anymore
No, I’ve tried and I’ve tried to know everything for sure
But I find I know less as I come to know You more
You’re not who I thought You were – Praise the Lord
In one of his first public performances of the song, McConnell introduced the song with the following words, “The longer I live, the more I walk down the road I’m on, the more my concept of love and mercy and forgiveness gets bigger as well as my concept of God and how he interacts with us. This is a song about finally deciding what I believe and trying to walk through life acting like I believe it.” In the second verse of the song, he paints a portrait of new life discovered when churchboy ideas are left behind.
Your love’s an ocean, not a river – A symphony, not just a song
Imagine spending your life living next to a river. Its ebbs and flows are as much part of your life as inhaling and exhaling. You’ve studied how it rises and falls and know every intricacy of its behavior. The river is your life and it’s all you’ve ever known. Then one day a friend takes you on a journey to the ocean. How puny your river is now compared to the vast expanse of water before you of which you can no longer see the other shore as you could with your river. Such is the love of God. Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus was they would “have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.” His wish for them continued with, “May you experience the love of Christ,” although he admitted immediately “it is too great to understand fully” much like a symphony is filled with numerous melodies, counter melodies, and harmonies throughout its movements which are experienced and discovered new with repeated listening as opposed to a single song. The love of God grows richer and deeper as you experience it and live in it. Like the ocean resting within its shores and the symphony longing to be heard, God’s love is simply there patiently waiting to be received.
I don’t think everybody’s right, I just think most of us were wrong.
The journey of recovering from churchboy life begins with the often-painful realization you don’t know as much as you think you know. Emotions of hurt, anger, betrayal, and sorrow may set in as the realization dawns, but, like most highly emotional experiences, as you move further away from the onset of the awakening you are able to not only accept, but make peace with the idea as you stand on the edge of the aforementioned ocean and listen to the symphony of his love. In the words of author Anne Lamott, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”
I think that when we get to Heaven we’re gonna laugh when we can see how hard we try to make it and how easy it should be
Regardless which version of Praise The Lord I may be listening to, I cannot hear these lines without a slight smile appearing on my face. We’ve made the path to God and his love so difficult. We’ve added hoops to jump through, disciplines to follow, and requirements which must be met. Jesus simply said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” The way to God is simply believing in Jesus and accepting his love. Nothing else is required, not now, not ever!
McConnell concludes the lyrics of the song with three lines to form the bridge before echoing the refrain as the song ends. He uses the first two lines to remind us of the eternal truths: providence is endless, and mercy is a mystery. God’s love and care for us is eternal and will never expire and his mercy will always be a mystery to our finite human minds as simply can’t understand why or how his love is offered so freely. Churchboys live the way they do without realizing how freely God’s love and mercy are offered. It’s a life lived in fear of losing what’s already been given because they can’t see it’s already there.
I pray you take time today to experience the power of this song. The song plays between five and six minutes and I encourage you to find yourself a quiet place where you can be alone and simply close your eyes to listen and let the confessions and cries of a fellow journeyer resound within your heart. As a final encouragement and invitation for you to step out and experience the love of the father and to truly see God is not who you really think He is, I leave you with the lyrics of the third line McConnell penned for the bridge:
Fear is no good reason to believe in anything
More posts in the Soundtrack of a Churchboy’s Recovery series: