Casually plagiarizing worship lyrics in our prayers
Some time ago, I was chilling at the Bethel College coffee house with my buddy CJ having a friendly lunch appointment (or as we call it, a “man-date”). And as good brothers in Christ do, we prayed for each other. But as my buddy prayed, I noticed that some of his words sounded strangely familiar, and actually rather lyrical. This was the gist of what he prayed:
“Lord, I just pray that we would run into your arms and that we would realize the riches of your love will always be enough and that nothing compares to your embrace.”
A couple thoughts went through my mind. First of all, the last line made me wonder what kind of a hugger Jesus is—does he give big spine-crushing hugs like my uncle Dave or would it be like embracing the Snuggle Bear? I’m not sure. I guess we won’t know until we get to heaven.
But the second and more provoking thought was, “He just bummed those words off of the Hillsong song ‘Forever Reign’”. And after further contemplation, I realized this happens in Christian prayer circles all the time.
Sometimes Christians panic during prayer and spout off the first articulate phrase that comes to mind that will make them sound holy—kind of like Ben Stiller’s “Godspell” dinner prayer in “Meet the Parents”. And worship songs that they’ve learned in church seem like the perfect man for the job. And that’s legitimate, because a lot of worship songs were written as prayers anyway.
But other times, I think people jam-pack their prayers with worship lyrics intentionally—especially worship leaders. This prayer tactic makes or a great segue into their next song. Much of the time, I’ll even find myself analyzing the worship leader’s prayer to find hints of what the next song might be. You may laugh at that, but when the worship leader prays something like, “From the inside out, Lord, our souls cry out,” I think it’s pretty easy to forecast the next song in the set.
However, I can’t help but wonder if there is a breach of copyright here. Aren’t these worship lyrics technically trademarked? Where do we draw the legal line? Do I always have to accompany the phrase “Break my heart for what breaks yours” with the disclaimer “this prayer courtesy of Hillsong United”? Will Horatio Spafford turn over in his grave if I pray, “Whatever our lot I pray you’d teach us to say ‘It is well with my soul’” without giving him due credit? If I pray the phrase “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking” during a church service, will John
Mark McMillan and David Crowder bust through the ceiling, repel down the wall like a two-man SWAT team, break a keytar over my head and file a lawsuit for copyright infringement because I didn’t correctly cite my sources? (And more importantly, would a heated debate ensue over whether our kisses should be “sloppy wet” or “unforeseen”?)
I’m not sure, but I say we’re all better safe than sorry. In the meantime, I might try quoting some obscure hymns from the back of my church hymnal during my prayers and see if anyone catches on. Or I might just disregard all copyright laws and spontaneously burst into song during my prayers when I feel like it. After all Lord, how can I keep from singing your praise? (Oops! Sorry for letting that one slip Chris Tomlin.)
What worship lyrics have you heard plagiarized in prayer?
(For more great writing from Robby, check out his blog!)