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Not All Words Are Created Equal

Twice in the last few weeks something happened that got me thinking about how very careful we need to be when revising, either our own work or someone else’s. First, during a worship team practice, the leader changed the words of a song from “You give and take away,” referring to God, to “You give me all I need.” When I asked why she’d changed the words, she remarked that she didn’t like the idea that God takes anything away. When I pointed out that the words are from Scripture, she just shrugged and said she liked it her way better.

This may not seem like a big deal, but for me, it was. Because her way denied a reality of God’s authority and power. Not only that, but the song is about proclaiming God’s name as blessed, regardless of what happens in our lives, good or bad. And the leader’s “minor” change took away the power of saying, “Lord, I will bless Your name, even when You take away things I want or love.” The song is about recognizing that God is God, and we are His followers. Her change made it a song that says, basically, I’ll bless you because you give me what I need. Entirely different.

Then, last week, while visiting a different church, we sang the wonderful hymn, Blessed Assurance. But when we came to the line, “…perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blessed,” the words on the screen were “…perfect obedience,” not “perfect submission.” I sang the words on the screen, but it troubled me. When I sat down, I tried to figure out why. Submission and obedience are certainly both a part of the Christian life. But the more I thought about it, the more I understood. Obedience and submission are NOT synonyms. Submission, as used in this hymn, refers to the willful choice to accept God as king and master. You surrender “kingship” over your life and submit to God’s authority. And, as the hymn says, you can rest in Him and His authority. But obedience is simply following orders, which you can do without submitting to someone’s authority.

There’s an old joke about a little boy who kept standing up in the back seat of the car. His mother told him over and over to sit down, and he wouldn’t. Not until she barked, “SIT DOWN!” did he plop his fanny down on the seat. But he sat there with his arms crossed and his bottom lip sticking out, until he finally muttered, “I may be sitting on the outside, but I’m standing on the inside.” He obeyed, but he was far from submission.

So next time you settle in for revisions, whether on your own work or on someone else’s, think hard before changing key words or phrases. And should you decide to do so, be careful to choose words and phrases that say what you really mean to say. Because writing about truth and God and faith demands that kind of care.


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