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John Mark McMillan has a worship song that includes the words “peel back my ribs again and stand inside of my chest.” I know that McMillan intends for us to sing “Jesus, fill my heart with your spirit, again,” but that is not the image I see. I first encountered this song at a chapel worship service at my Christian university. The song opens with the “peel my ribs back” bit. I immediately pictured myself lying dead on the floor with a large man standing inside of my bloody, gutted chest. I choked on my words and almost fell over. Who would write a worship song like this?

Doing a quick Google search, I found Mr. McMillan’s blog, and he has a post about this song Skeleton Bones in which his father breaks down the song to give scripture references to some of the lyrics. Of the lyric I am questioning, he says: “‘Peel back our ribs’, a heart cry for intimacy, describes accurately the act of God in Genesis when He operated on Adam, peeled back a rib, and made a woman from it (Genesis 2:21-23). How could Adam not love her. She came from him (Adam), and Him (the Lord).”

Again, I understand the metaphor Mr. McMillan was aiming for, that our relationship with God should be intimate. But worship does not need metaphors. The Bible tells us to “worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). From where I’m standing, metaphors about disembowelment are not truth, nor are they ideas our spirits really need to dwell on. Metaphors inherently allow for interpretation. That is why they are prized in art. However, this also means that do not always convey truth. Translating scripture into metaphor is part of how we can understand God, but expecting the metaphor to translate into scripture again (when someone hears the song) is unrealistic.

Note: I do agree that John Mark McMillan has every right to declare his love for God and his beliefs however he chooses. The scripture references Robin McMillan provides for the song do help me understand the origin of the song, and I do appreciate the message it speaks.

I just finished reading an article from worshiplife.com that describes the reasons many Christians are no longer participating in worship services. The author pointed out something I’d never really considered before. Worship in the church is a corporate act of worship. When we go to church, we go to worship God to strengthen our personal relationships with Him. More than that though, we go to worship God with the support and shared beliefs of other Christians. I thought about this for a bit and realized that many songs I’ve sung in church were songs that most people could not participate in, for many reasons. And I thought about the songs I’ve heard in church that simply did not help me worship God. “Skeleton Bones” was one of the first songs I thought of.

Please understand that I am not saying worship leaders have to please everyone in the church. Of course that is impossible. Not only that, but that fully defeats the purpose of coming to church to worship. Again, John 4:24, “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” I’ve always believed music to have spirit, in that music is an interpretation of human spirits and God’s spirit. For that reason, music is to be chosen carefully, the way friends are chosen with care.

That being said, I think John Mark McMillan’s songs are excellent for individuals who understand God and worship God in similar ways as Mr. McMillan. However, the fact that he felt the need to ask someone to detangle the theology of his song, shows me that many people feel the same way as I. This song, like many others, is not for corporate worship. It is a truthful song, in its own way, but the spirit of the song does not resonate well with people. In fact, some of us will say that the spirit of the song clashes with our beliefs of God. Take care then, with songs for worship.

I realize I have am treading on eggshells here. I do not intend to be cruel or hurtful. I simply want to share something that has affected me deeply. Reading the comments of the WorshipLife article I referenced, I know that other people are struggling to find a place to worship “in spirit and in truth” as well.
How do you like to worship, and why? What experiences with church worship have you had? Please feel free to share in the comments, and help me better understand this important topic.