When I became a follower of Christ in the early 1990s, I noticed something about the music of my youth: I still enjoyed it, but I listened to it differently. I heard messages, both positive and negative, that I’d never noticed in my secular state of mind.
My youth was mostly in the 1970s, which everyone knows was the greatest decade. Sure, there was disco, but there was also (to name a few) Pink Floyd, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, The Guess Who, Rod Stewart, the Temptations, James Taylor, the Rolling Stones, Al Green, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Willie Nelson, the Commodores, the Eagles, Waylon Jennings, and some guy named Elvis (until Aug. 16, 1977).
Most of those artists, with the exception of Elvis, have this in common: You don’t hear their hits in church. But many of the world’s most popular songs would work rather well in church if we simply looked at, listened to and sang them differently. That’s because many are love songs or songs about struggle, hope, forgiveness and pain – the topics, for instance, that we see scattered throughout the Psalms.
There also are many songs that, on the surface, seem like they would work great in church but have a message devoid of any really good news. “Take Me To Church” by Andrew Hozier-Byrne is an ode to some weird obsession with a woman. You don’t want that church. “Imagine,” the classic hit by John Lennon, paints a vision of hopelessness. No heaven? No, thank you. “I Did It My Way” by Frank Sinatra (or, if you prefer, by Elvis)? Well, I don’t want to do it the world’s way, but my way is pretty flawed, too. How about God’s way?
There are a great many popular songs, however, that we could retrofit for church. Some are faith-based songs by secular artists. Some work if you sing them to or for the Lord (and perhaps with a minor tweak or two in the lyrics). I brainstormed a few dozen one day when I should have been working, and here, in no particular order, are 12 of them:
- “When Love Comes to Town” by U2 and BB King. Or almost any other U2 song – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for” or “Yahweh.”
- “Jesus is Just Alright” by the Doobie Brothers
- “You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker
- “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts
- “Forever and Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis
- “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder
- “Always and Forever” by Luther Vandross (or Lionel Richie)
- “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News
- “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
- “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner
- “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion
- “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis
Don’t get me wrong – I love the old hymns, and I’m a fan of praise and worship music, too. I’m pretty eclectic in my musical tastes. I’m not suggesting we sing any of these songs in church; I’m just saying we could. What matters isn’t the musical style, it’s the state of our hearts. Worship isn’t music. It’s a state of life.
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