When I was in high school, I attended the funerals for two classmates, one of whom died in a tragic shooting accident. I have a vivid memory from his funeral: sitting in the packed funeral home listening to Michael W. Smith’s song “Friends are Friends Forever” as teenagers sniffled and wiped tears away.
That memory came back to me in the aftermath of an awkward text exchange between our church’s worship leader, Kim, and me. I’m on the worship team and I sent her a message to see if we would be doing a song I had enthusiastically suggested. It was a letdown when she said no, but I decided to say something funny in response rather than sound disappointed. I couldn’t think of anything at first. Then I had an idea.
I’ll think of some cheesy Christian song from the 80s and jokingly recommend that we do that one instead.
I thought about recommending “Friends are Friends Forever” and sticking an LOL on the end, but I figured I shouldn’t — not because I felt bad about it. It just seemed too cliche — Christians have been making fun of that song for years. I needed a better one.
Then it hit me: The only thing close to the cheesiness of 1980s Michael W. Smith music was 1980s Amy Grant music.
I texted back, “I’m okay if we don’t do that song — but promise me we’ll do ‘Father’s Eyes’ instead.”
“Which one is that?” Kim replied.
I sent her a link to a video of Amy Grant singing the song and waited for an LOL in response.
“I also love ‘my father’s eyes.’ My dad used to sing it,” she replied.
She explained that her dad would sing the chorus around the house, which was obviously a tender memory for her. Unfortunately, I learned that fact by making a joke about the song.
Ruining My Song
I used to repeatedly listen to this song called “Piano Variation in Blue” from the score of the movie Finding Neverland. The song hit a nerve in me — that Jesus-loves-me nerve. The mostly soft piano solo sounded like His lovingkindness in a song. That was probably due, in no small part, to the fact that when I was little, my mother would similarly tinker on the piano as I went to sleep.
I hadn’t shared my affinity for “Piano Variation in Blue” with anyone, but one night I decided to play it for a friend who loved classical music. I ignorantly assumed the instrumental piece was somewhat classical and therefore thought my friend might appreciate it.
“Okay,” I said, “just get really quiet and listen to it. This is what Jesus sounds like to me.”
I turned on the song, the music played about five seconds, and then my friend rolled his eyes and said, “Movie score drivel.”
His comment took me aback. I had felt the love of Jesus so many times listening to that song, and all of a sudden, “Piano Variation in Blue” became, “That Really Beautiful Song that Reminds me of Jesus and My Friend’s Condescending Comment.”
The comment still annoys me. It was so careless, so callous to the fact that I had just told him what the song meant to me. Who does that?
The Payoff for Mockery
You have no idea how many times I’ve made fun of “Friends are Friends Forever,” disregarding how meaningful it may be to people like my late classmate’s mother. I even did a skit one time at a church retreat, spoofing the song — the crowd roared as I figured it would. Without their predictable approval, I wouldn’t have been so eager to mock it.
It isn’t the first time I’ve belittled other believers’ worship. I’ve made fun of the way certain denominations do church services, the words to songs, the kind of music others use to praise God. I suppose it may just be harmless sarcasm, but it’s also treading on dangerously holy ground.
Dancing and Weeping
There are a few instances in the Bible in which people mocked others’ innocent acts of worship. For example, when the ark returned to Jerusalem, David went wild “leaping and dancing before the Lord”; but his wife, Michal, “looking down from her window … was filled with contempt for him” (2 Sam. 6:16).
When David returned home, Michal mocked him for his histrionics, and he snapped back, “I was dancing before the Lord … I celebrate before the Lord. Yes, and I am willing to look even more foolish than this, even to be humiliated in my own eyes!” (2 Sam. 6:22). The story then abruptly ends with this: “So Michal … remained childless throughout her entire life” (2 Sam 6:23).
In a different instance, Jesus was having dinner with some of the Pharisees when a sinful woman came in with a bottle of perfume and stood behind Him (Luke 7). “As she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume on them” (Luke 7:38).
The host of the party looked upon the woman’s act of worship with derision, after which Jesus gave the man a scathing rebuke (Luke 7:44-47). Jesus had received her worship with love and He would not tolerate someone presuming to evaluate her.
The Rancid Gift of Shame
I suppose it’s easy for us to read those passages and think, Please explain how a Michael W. Smith song is on par with David and the woman from Luke 7.
To that I would ask, why do we deserve an explanation? Why does my classmate’s mother have to justify her love of a song about trusting a lost friend to God’s care? Why should a man be ashamed for singing a chorus about the unconditional love in his Father’s eyes? Why does what we think about this or that form of worship matter when someone else may be using it to pour perfume on Jesus’ feet?
What in the world do we get out of making these judgments — other than a smug sense of superiority and the approval of other cynics? Nothing, and the people who are on the receiving end of it certainly don’t get anything out of it either. Well, I suppose they might walk away with some shame upon realizing that the cool kids see their expression of worship as a joke.
God have mercy.
My Father’s Eyes
The text exchange between Kim and me bothered me for several days afterward. It wasn’t that I felt obligated to like 80s Christian music, but I was called to honor my siblings as they found various ways to turn their eyes upon Jesus.
The Holy Spirit’s correction pierced my heart as I realized that, for years, I had given myself permission to evaluate my siblings’ worship. It was a heartbreaking thought — how much more heartbreaking it must have been for our Dad.
In response, I confessed my sin to my wife and coupled the confession with an unexpected act of repentance.
My baby boy woke up early two days ago, and as I held him, I thought about Kim’s dad singing “Father’s Eyes” to her. In that quiet moment, with everyone else asleep, I looked at my son and sang the chorus of “Father’s Eyes” to him — and the song was beautiful to me.