A week from tonight I'll be in Waco, Texas, headquarters to Dr. Pepper ("America's Most Misunderstood Soft Drink") and the setting for David Crowder's Fantastical Music Conference. I'm excited. Good tex-mex food, here I come. I also look forward to seeing friends like Charlie Peacock and David Dark. I look forward to meeting folks whose songs I've sung, like Matt Redman, Derek Webb and of course the redoubtable Mister Crowder. The schedule is up now. You can see it here. I'll be the guy doing the workshop on the Psalms. No surprise there. But we'll have a great time. I've got some fun exercises prepared.
Alright, now to my main point. (See here for parts One, Two, Three.)
"I wanna" and "I will"
All of human experience can be described by this phrase. Consider my week so far. On Sunday evening I told Phaedra, "All I wanna do is watch an episode of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency." I was beat from my soccer game. So we watched that night how Mma Ramotswe got herself a real Botswana diamond. Monday night I was equally tuckered out. But I needed to work on our finances. So I said, "I will work on our family budget. I will. I'm tired and I don't want to and I'm not going to find good news, but I will." So I did.
Some days you do things out of a rousing immediacy of desire. I wanna go shopping! I wanna a meaty novel! I wanna a double malt, double chocolate shake! Other days you do things because you know it is right and good. I will study. I will help with chores. I will pray. I will visit my cranky grandmother. I will eat broccoli.
You find this pattern repeated throughout Scripture. St. Peter is a patron saint here. At the last supper, he cries, "Even if all fall away, I won't (or I wanna not)!" (Mark 14:29). On another occasion, when some of Jesus' disciples had found his teachings too difficult, Jesus asks his friends, "Do you want to leave me too?" It is Peter who dares to respond for all: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68). This is Peter's way of saying "I will stay." And, as tradition tells us, Peter dies crucified upside down because of his decision.
On the one hand, then, the psalms provide us with "I wanna" prayers. I wanna awaken the dawn (Ps. 108). I wanna give thanks in song (Ps. 28). I wanna praise your justice (Ps. 101). I wanna my enemies to perish (Ps. 35). On the other hand, we encounter "I will" prayers. I will yet praise You (Ps. 42). I will not be shaken (Ps. 62). I will lift up my eyes to the mountains (Ps. 121). I will remember the days of long ago (Ps. 143).
What is my point? Perhaps what we find in CWM is slightly more "I wanna" than "I will" songs. The "I wanna" come in two sorts. There are the "I wanna" compositions. They sound like this: Boom--a song came to me! Boom--Let's all sing it! There are also the "I wanna" subject matters. It usually sounds something like: All I wanna do right now is to praise you. Many great hymns, of course, have emerged out of experiences of spontaneous desire. Charles Wesley, for example, composed spontaneous eruptions of praise while riding his horse across the English countryside.
Bonhoeffer said something once that I find very helpful as I think about the calling of liturgical songwriters. It leans, granted, towards the "I will" end. But the effect of his admonition is salutary as well as hopeful for the "I wanna" desires of our hearts. It puts these desires in their right perspective.
That said, I will let Bonhoeffer have the last word here. (Note: when he says "Word of God," he means chiefly Jesus.)
“If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible and especially the Psalms, therefore, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ…. It does not depend, therefore, on whether the Psalms express adequately that which we feel at a given moment in our heart.
If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray. If we were dependent entirely on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. But God wants it otherwise. The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the prayer of our heart.”