Dec 2, 2011

O My Soul – Why We Sing to Ourselves

6 Min Read

No one talks to me more than I do.

That’s right, I talk to myself. It’s not in the crazy “that guy belongs in an asylum” kind of way. You would never guess that there is a constant inner monologue going on inside my head, and you would never believe the kind of amusingly insane conversations I have with myself.

For example, this past July, my wife and I were traveling home from Ethiopia with our two newly adopted sons. The moment we arrived in Germany for our connecting flight, we found out that it had been canceled and we would need to make arrangements for a different flight. Sounds easy enough, right?


My new sons were not yet U.S. citizens, so we didn’t have the proper documentation to obtain a visa and leave the customs area. I was forced to leave my wife alone in the airport of a foreign country with two majorly sleep-deprived boys who knew no English to go wait at the back of a line of four hundred people who were all trying to get a new flight as well. I was downcast, to say the least, but seven hours later, I had four tickets home. I booked it back to the holding tank where my lovely family awaited me. We made our way to the boarding area and handed over our tickets to the gate attendant, only to find that we were not actually on the flight and I would have to leave them alone yet again to go straighten it all out. At each desk I went to, I was sent to another.

“Sorry, we can’t help you. Go there and they can help.”

Again and again this happened. All the while, in a sort of out-of-body experience, I started to see a version of myself morphing into the Hulk and smashing desks, breaking through walls, and generally wreaking havoc on that airport. Just as it was really getting out of control, I thought to myself, “Hey man, you might want to calm down. The last thing you need to have happen here is that you get thrown into jail in a foreign country and then your wife and two newly adopted sons never get to leave this airport.” It worked and I returned to my usual chipper, worship-pastor self.

We made it home, but it could have all gone terribly awry had I not talked myself out of being an idiot. I can just see myself now, three months later, still locked up in a German prison with a long, unkempt, Robinson Crusoe-like beard, my family still sleeping on the floor of a German airport.

King David had moments like that. In Psalm 103:1–14, we see David actually coaxing himself to praise the Lord. He prays with such confidence and familiarity that it seems these are well-worn phrases on his lips.

Bless the LORD, O my soul and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
Who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.
The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
Nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children
So the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

Again he says in Psalm 42:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you.
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

For years, David hid in caves and ran for his life, relentlessly pursued by ruthless enemies. For decades, he weathered a life of battle scars and bloodshed, the horrors of war likely haunting his dreams each night, coupled with the feelings and consequences of murdering an innocent man to steal his wife. The intense stress of leading a massive kingdom must have aged him. The weight of the world was on his shoulders. I suspect that sometimes it was all David could do to preach to himself that God is better than everything else and to stop worrying. That God is graciously patient and really does forgive completely.

We can all relate to the struggle to believe that God is bigger than our situation, that He is better than the sin we are being tempted to choose over Him. In those moments, it is entirely appropriate and helpful to say to our own souls, “O my soul, bless the Lord, trust in him, follow him. O my soul, don’t forget his goodness, kindness and compassion.”

Singing these same truths to ourselves is doubly effective. The beauty of music and singing is that it takes truth to whole new heights where words alone can’t go. Music etches truth in our minds in a very unique way by attaching emotions and memories to it.

You’ve probably experienced this. When you were a child, you most likely learned your ABCs using the catchiness of a 350-year-old French melody. Something about that time-tested melody caused that knowledge to stick with you. And if you have children yourself, you have most likely used that very melody to teach them the alphabet as well.

In singing the truth of God to ourselves, we are actually training ourselves in doctrine and engaging our hearts in worship, which is a powerful weapon in the hands of the saints to fight sin and pursue joy in God.

On my latest record, “God & Sinner Reconcile,” I wrote a song called “O My Soul” as a way to equip the church to sing to ourselves that God is better than all the fleeting, fading pleasures of this world and to remind ourselves to look to the cross and believe that the true, lasting joy Christ purchased for us there is greater than all the phony pseudo-joys that sin offers us. Take a second and say these words to yourself, and believe God and worship Him for who He is and what He’s done.

Oh my soul, why should you so be swayed?
Oh my soul, why should you so give way?
When Eternal Joy goes before you
With eternal bliss in His wake.
Why should you whore after idols that fade?
Why should you so be swayed?
Why should you so give way?

Hallelujah, my God is better
Hallelujah, my God lives forever
Hallelujah, oh my soul

Oh my soul, look on the cross and see
Such great love poured out to rescue me
And the bonds of sin have been broken
By the Curse on Calvary’s tree
Suffer no more as a slave to those things
Look on the cross and see
Look on the cross and believe

Hallelujah, my God is better
Hallelujah, my God lives forever
Hallelujah, oh my soul

Let the beautiful lies that wrinkle and stain
Fade out near the light of His glory and grace
Let all that I am contend for His praise
And the holiness He’s working in me

Hallelujah, my God is better
Hallelujah, my God lives forever
Hallelujah, oh my soul