Sing His Name

DB Ryen

The one thing the world needs more of is Jesus, especially in worship music

[Keywords: Jesus, God, praise, why don't we sing his name?, church, faith, Christianity, Bible]

Length: Medium, 1648 words

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted.

- Psalm 148:13, ESV

“Through you, I can do all things.”

My daughter Daisy was singing again.

“Stongholds ah boken.”

Her three-year-old voice still can’t pronounce “R” sounds, but that wasn’t holding her back from belting out her current favorite song. She mumbled another line or two before coming to the end of the chorus: 

“NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE!”

At least she got the last line down pat. All this week, this song has been all we’ve heard, but she won’t hear a word of complaint from me. It’s tough to fault a kid for singing church songs, even after the hundredth time.

Planetshakers’ hit “Nothing Is Impossible” is the latest theme song of our church’s children’s program. The kids watch the music video, perform the actions, and shout out all the words they can remember. Super cute. The song is packed with biblical references:

Through You I can do anything, I can do all things (Phil 4:13)

'Cause it's You who gives me strength (Ex 15:2; Is 41:10; Hab 3:19)

Nothing is impossible (Mt 19:26)

Through You, blind eyes are opened (Ps 146:8; Lk 7:22; Jn 9:7)

Strongholds are broken (Is 25:11; 2 Cor 10:4)

I am living by faith (Rom 1:17)

However, I noticed something interesting about the lyrics: not once is the name of Jesus mentioned. And not only that, the entire song doesn’t include any name or title of God - Lord, Savior, Father, Holy Spirit, Messiah, Christ - nothing. And so, despite the clear biblical references, this popular worship song could potentially be sung to anyone

“Nothing Is Impossible” is a prime example of a growing trend within worship music of not explicitly mentioning any name of God. Now, let’s just be clear that there’s nothing particularly wrong with this. Anyone can worship the Lord with virtually any form of art, even if it wasn’t  intentionally created to glorify him. I’ve heard a worship leader croning out an Elvis Presley song on a Sunday morning. 

Wise men say

Only fools rush in

But I can't help falling in love with you

Shall I stay?

Would it be a sin

If I can't help falling in love with you?

Directed toward the Lord, sure, this could definitely be sung worshipfully. At my parents’ church, one of the old-timers routinely sings Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”. 

Well, I won't back down

No, I won't back down

You can stand me up at the gates of hell

But I won't back down

No, I'll stand my ground

Won't be turned around

And I'll keep this world from dragging' me down

Gonna stand my ground

And I won't back down

These lyrics echo various passages in the Bible, like Matthew 16:18 (“gates of hell shall not prevail”), Romans 12:2 (“don’t be conformed to this world”), and Ephesians 6:13 (“put on the armor of God, so… you may be able to stand your ground”). Can we worship with a secular song like this? Sure! We can use nearly anything to pour out our hearts to the Lord. Thus, there’s nothing inherently wrong with worship songs that don’t include any names or titles of God. But when we omit the name of God in our worship songs, we may be missing out on an additional measure of blessing. That’s because God’s name is POWERFUL

The Bible writers knew this well. Consider all the worship songs recorded in scripture. Every single Psalm includes either Lord (Jehovah) or God (Elohim), among other names. The songs of Moses and Miriam are all about the saving power of “the Lord” (Ex 15). Moses and Joshua’s song, which God commanded be taught to the people (Deut 31:19), mentions various names: God, the Rock, the Lord, and the Most High (Deut 32). Deborah starts her song with “I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel,” before singing of  his exploits (Judg 5). Habakkuk’s bittersweet poem ends with the exaltation “God, the Lord, is my strength” (Hab 3). The two songs recorded by John in Revelation celebrate the “Lamb of God” (Rev 5:9-10; 15:3). In every biblical song about God, there’s no mistaking who they were singing about because his name is used throughout. 

And why is this so important? Because there’s power in God’s name.

The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Pr 18:10, ESV)

There is none like you, O Lord; you are great, and your name is great in might. (Jer 10:6, ESV)

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”  (Luke 10:17, ESV)

Speaking the name of Jesus - or any name of God - is like turning up the spiritual intensity. Evil spirits simply cannot bear the sound of it. Think of rats or cockroaches that scatter when the lights come on. Or Dracula in those old horror movies, how he sizzles in agony when exposed to sunlight. Now multiply that effect a hundredfold as a whole congregation of believers is singing his name at once - darkness has no place to hide. The names of other gods - Baal, Buddha, Gaia, Zeus - just don’t carry that kind of weight. There’s no arguing that Jesus has “the name that is above every name” (Phil 2:9, NIV). 

Even people who don’t follow God can get uncomfortable when hearing his name. You can talk about a “higher power” or “spirits” all you like, but speaking “Jesus Christ” is a different cup of tea. It instantly brings feelings of conviction, because sin can’t hide in his presence. As such, even Christians can get uncomfortable when Jesus’ name is spoken in mixed company - it happens to me all the time! Not sure if it’s being ashamed of Jesus (I hope not) or empathy for others’ discomfort, but sometimes it’s not easy to speak God’s name to those who are avoiding him. 

Which brings us to the one potential benefit of not including the names of the Lord in a song: airplay on secular radio. Non-Christian stations are way more likely to play catchy songs if they don’t include any explicit references to Jesus. Biblical quotes, spiritual jargon, even “Christianese” are okay, just don’t use his actual name. For example, take the hit song “Oceans”. Released in 2013 by Hillsong United, it was an instant success. And for good reason: beautiful melody, flawlessly produced, hopeful lyrics - it was the perfect song. And because it didn’t explicitly mention any of God’s names, it got played by secular radio stations all over the world. Sure, there’s reference to a “spirit” and “savior”, but these terms aren’t exclusive to Jesus - it wasn’t “Holy Spirit” or “Christ our Savior”. The subject of the song was conspicuously vague. But isn't it ironic that the singer crones “I will call upon your name” (a clear biblical reference, Rom 10:13) without actually mentioning the name she’s calling on? Now, did the writers intentionally leave out Jesus’ name to get broader airplay? Let’s not be ridiculous. Have countless souls used this song to worship the Lord? Of course - I’m one of them! But do the demons tremble when “Oceans” gets played like they do for “Jesus Messiah” or “How Great Thou Art”? Not sure. Some may argue that a hint of Jesus is better than nothing. After all, the positive message of “Oceans” was proclaimed to so many people that wouldn’t normally listen to anything about God - definitely a step in the right direction. 

But let’s be clear: that the only thing that will make a lick of difference in this world is the name of Jesus. There’s power, healing, conviction and salvation in no other name. 

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12, ESV)

These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. (Mark 16:17-18, ESV)

The best thing a believer can do is speak (or write or sing) the name of Jesus where others will encounter it. Their discomfort is their own problem. Nor should album sales or radio airplay affect our choice of words. And in terms of worship music, singing the name of the Lord has the potential to bring another level of power to our song. It might not seem like a big deal, but there’s a whole world we don’t see, where angels and demons constantly battle. We rarely realize the full effect our words have on the spiritual realm. Speaking his name aloud is how we receive salvation (Rom 10:9), so let’s not downplay the power of Jesus’ name in any aspect of our life.

A growing collection of worship music doesn't include any name of God. As we discussed, this isn’t a deal-breaker, but these songs may not be as potent as they could be. Pseudo-Christian, non-offensive or subtly-spiritual lyrics may be the only exposure some people get to any measure of the truth, but let’s be real: the world needs more Jesus. I love when my daughter sings church songs, but I love it even more when she sings the name of Jesus. After all, if we keep silent, “the stones will cry out” (Lk 19:40, NIV). One day we’ll all proclaim the Lord’s name publicly (Phil 2:10-11), but getting a head start on it now may have eternal ramifications. 

It’s that powerful.

© D. B. Ryen Incorporated, August 2023.  

A version of this article appeared online in Premier Christianity.