Growing up as a Christian kid, I was always surrounded by worship music. I didn’t go out of my way to listen to it, but obviously encountered it at church and school. C’mon, who doesn’t like singing “There’s no God like Jehovah” a million times? (Looking at you, Days of Elijah.) There are songs so deeply engrained into my memory that, whenever I hear a song like say, Shout to the Lord, I’m instantly transported back to a spring day in 2nd grade. Y’know, those kind of memories.
That being said, the music rotation on my CD player (yes, CD player) and eventually iPod shuffle (yes, iPod shuffle) wasn’t worship music. I didn’t go see Relient K or Newsboys when they were in town (My brother did. He came home from a Switchfoot concert yelling because he couldn’t hear anything.) It wasn’t that I didn’t like them (I didn’t like all of them. There are some that get on my nerves. Sloppy wet kiss, anyone?)
I used to feel guilty about not listening to worship music all the time as a Christian. I still feel guilty if I don’t feel like I’m “connecting” with God when I listen to or sing certain worship songs. I’ve come to learn that worship is a posture, not a preference. We all worship in different ways.
So what’s my point? It’s that I’ve found profound messages in music that is sometimes overlooked by contemporary Christian circles. Some of these songs are from bands that don’t even label themselves Christian bands. Some of them even have swear words (Sorry, mom.) But all of them have enhanced my relationship with God and how I worship and connect with Him outside of public settings like church or school. Here are ten.
10. Wonder—The Classic Crime
Though The Classic Crime is signed with Tooth & Nail Records, a primarily Christian rock record label, The Classic Crime does not write overtly Christian music a la Hawk Nelson or The Almost. “Wonder” is from their 2017 EP, How to Be Human. It explores how one’s relationship with God evolves as they grow up, grow smarter and perhaps depart from the same worldviews as their parents. The singer, Matt MacDonald, muses about how he lost the wonder of who God is.
Wonder why I lost my wonder
Why the ship is going under
Wonder why the wonder died in me
And he’s right. When we’ve grown beyond having a “child-like faith,” we lose touch with the wonder that drew us to God in the first place. Of course it’s good to learn more about God as we grow older, but MacDonald also very frankly asks, “Have I f—ed up my head with all the books that I’ve read? Was I too hungry for the truth to find you?”
In a book by one of my favorite Christian authors, Ethan Renoe talks about how a professor at his college said, in a thick Southern accent, that if you’re going to swear, swear at God. He can take it. He wants your honesty. MacDonald does just that. He wants to find his faith again. He just wonders how.
9. Child of Dust—Thrice
I went through an angsty phase in college. I mean, who didn’t? But since I went to a Christian college, my angst was channeled through the beats of bands like Red and of course, Thrice. (I mean, I definitely listened to Fall Out Boy too.) Thrice is a very unique rock band (they’re probably best known for their anthem “Image of the Invisible” from the mid aughts), and their album The Alchemy Index Vol. IV: Earth is described as atmospheric. They are not wrong about that. The song “Child of Dust” was literally recorded with a microphone inside a coffin being buried funeral-style. I am not joking. This song focuses on the depravity of man. It’s also written in iambic pentameter, which is amazing. The lyrics smack of both the fall of Adam and Eve and the coming redemption of the brokenness of humanity.
Dear prodigal, you are my son and I
Supplied you not your spirit but your shape
All Eden’s wealth arrayed before your eyes
I fathomed not you wanted to escape.
8. (73) the Nearness of You—Loud Harp
I love it when Christian artists rework the Psalms or other passages of Scripture into songs. Shane and Shane love to do this, and I love it when they do it. Another lesser-known group called Loud Harp did the same in their album Asaph. It’s a very simple song, but the lyrics are based on Psalm 73, as you might have guessed:
“But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”—Psalm 73:28
The nearness of You is my only good
My flesh, my heart may fail
Who have I but You?
7. Out of Exile—Strahan
I’ve talked about Strahan a lot on this blog, especially for my 30 Days, 30 Songs series. Strahan is one of my favorite Christian songwriters. His lyrics hold so much more nuance than some of the other mainstream songs with never-ending bridges. And yet, his music is not sung often in church. I think congregations could benefit from his honest, beautiful melodies and poignant lyrics, like the ones in “Out of Exile,” one of my favorites by him:
Did you know that Heaven cries, she cries for you?
And when you ran, she kept watch, she watched for you?
Some don’t want love, some don’t want peace
Some don’t want rest for you
Some just want tears, some just breathe hate
Some just put pressure on the wound to see pain
I need you to know there is love in Me
Read a more in-depth analysis of this song here.
6. Belly of the Deepest Love—Tow’rs
Are you sensing a theme? I really like subdued, folksy Christian music. I think Tow’rs came up for me as a suggested artist on Spotify many years ago, because I was, y’know, listening to Strahan and the like. But Tow’rs makes deeply biblical music without being an overtly worship band. That’s why I think it’s unfortunate when churches overlook music like this for larger worship artists.
From the belly of the deepest love
The hills trembling throats sing hallelujah
Like the flowers on a dogwood tree
Blush with blame you took for me
Oh how you wish to be with me
Oh how you wish to be with me
5. Silver Wings—Thrice
That’s right. You’re getting another Thrice song on this list. Because they have some straight up bangers that are theologically sound. This one comes from The Alchemy Index suite of albums, this one Vol. III: Air. Silver Wings is a very pretty, ethereal song (again in iambic pentameter) about The Holy Spirit. Using wind as an allusion, blowing gently through curtains like “silver wings,” the song is a first-person narrator (Holy Spirit) observing how He is treated by humanity, despite the blessings He brings.
And after all of this I am amazed
That I am cursed far more than I am praised
4. Sight—Sleeping At Last
Ryan O’Neal, the singer-songwriter who is Sleeping At Last, made an entire EP based on the human senses, which then culminated in his Atlas project, a conglomerate of his songs on these as well as the planets, emotions and even the Enneagram. He was inspired to write “Sight” when his daughter was a little over a year old, and he began to understand how differently children see the world and how we can learn from that as jaded adults (see: Wonder.)
I see God in our damaged good,
but you see God in ways I wish I could.
3. Iscariot—Walk the Moon
What, that Walk the Moon? The “shut up and dance” Walk the Moon? Yes, that one. This song, aptly titled “Iscariot,” is about betrayal, and how Judas never got what he was after, but he got “more than he bargained for.” It’s surprisingly pretty and way more laid back than some of Walk the Moon’s bigger hits.
All that we did, you undo
Iscariot, you fool
2. Field of Daggers—House of Heroes
Oh yeah, baby. We are going back to the aughts again and all of its angsty glory. “Field of Daggers” is from Christian rock band House of Heroes’ album The End is Not the End, which has lots of great themes and music in it. “Field of Daggers” reminds listeners where our hope is found, despite the death and strife and illness of this world. There are big World War vibes to it (“In this unending war, I’ve lost so many brothers”). The refrain is simply:
He was and is and is and is to come
He holds the key
1. Fall: War—The Arcadian Wild
I would be remiss if I didn’t include an Arcadian Wild song on this list, mostly because they’re currently one of my favorite bands. Their bluegrass flavors and tight harmonies are music to my ears. Not only that, they did an entire suite of EPs based on the Creation, Fall and soon-to-be Redemption of man with subtle nods to the seasons as well. “Fall: War” is part of the—you guessed it—Fall EP. The rhythm is slightly rolicking and very deceptive, and the lyrics are absolutely beautiful, giving voice to the inner monologues of Adam and Eve as they make their fateful decisions and disobey God.
You gave me all Your love, I thought there was more
Chaos, she politely knocked, so I opened the door
I looked from left to right for somebody to blame
I believed a viper and I grew a pair of fangs.
I hope these songs help you find worshipful moments outside of the church walls. I know they have for me.
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