Today, I read the most repetitive praise song I’ve ever encountered in my life. It repeats the same line twenty-five times. In fact, that line makes up half of all the lyrics!
As a worship pastor, part of my job is to read and evaluate the lyrics of the songs we sing in worship. I’m looking for theologically rich words that we can easily sing together as a church — rich and simple, deep and memorable. Often, a bit of repetition can help a congregation learn and remember a song. But let’s not go overboard, right? We don’t want to sing a song that just repeats the same thing ad nauseam. We want depth.
So what repetitive song was I reading this morning?
We Repeat to Remember
I found this song in the hymnbook of God’s people, the book of Psalms. What’s the ad nauseum line?
“For his steadfast love endures forever.”
Twenty-five times we’re reminded of God’s unending love, each time seeing his love in light of his righteous character and mighty deeds. There’s no confusion about which God loves us fully and forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:3)
(Give thanks) to him who by understanding made the heavens, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:5)
(Give thanks) to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:10)
(Give thanks) to him who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:16)
(Give thanks) to him who struck down great kings, for his steadfast love endures forever. (Psalm 136:17)
Apparently, the psalmist thinks it important for God’s people to repeat the love of the Lord. Why is that? What’s the benefit of singing this glorious truth over and over almost to the point of exhaustion? It is totally appropriate to endlessly repeat the endless love of God. God is love in all he does and all he is (1 John 4:8). No matter how many times we have heard it or rehearsed it, the love of God is the best news we could receive or share again today.
The main reason we need to rehearse the love of God again and again is because we don’t believe it; at least, not naturally. We aren’t naturally prone to believe that God — the God who has always existed in eternal Trinitarian fullness, who created the universe out of nothing, who governs the affairs of Kings, who controls the path of every speck of dust and particle of water — that God delights in his people with gladness and rejoices over them with songs of joy (Zephaniah 3:17). It doesn’t naturally make sense that this big, sovereign, infinite God would love us, that he would love the world so much that he would send his only Son to die for his people’s eternal joy (John 3:16).
So we need to repeat it. We need to remind ourselves, to remind each other, to sing it to one another, over and over, until we just begin to grasp again God’s steadfast, eternal, death-conquering love.
A Song Worth Repeating
We often bristle at repetition in our corporate worship. We think it breeds superficiality, or creates a false emotional frenzy, or is just plain boring. We have to remember, though, that our hearts are slow to feel. We need to remember that, even in our believing, we suffer from unbelief (Mark 9:24). We need to remember to remember. Dwelling on a simple and weighty truth for an extended period of time will, at times, be the only way to break through spiritual forgetfulness.
This reality is why we come together for corporate worship. Every week, we rehearse the same realities to one another over and over so that our rhythms of forgetfulness fade (again and again), while our faith rises. We remind each other of the familiar old story through song and through preaching, so that we might begin to remember. We continue to admonish, encourage, and strengthen each other, not with novelty, but with repeated refrains, “God is holy, we are sinful, Jesus saves!” Or, “his steadfast love endures forever.”
How could we ever sing that too many times?
The Never-Ending Chorus
In Revelation 4, we’re given a glimpse into the heavenly throne room. There, we see the four living creatures, in all their terrible beauty, falling before God and singing over and over one single song: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). It’s not vain repetition. It’s not empty emotionalism. This is the never-ending, increasingly satisfying worship of a God who is worthy of the infinite reprise of his attributes.
Maybe when we’ve joined the choir and repeated the chorus for a million years, we will finally begin to grasp the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of our perfectly holy God (Ephesians 3:18).