Primal Cry

As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been crying lately. I’m doing it on a regular basis. Here’s why: The worship pastor at my church has been leading us in a chorus called “Lord, I need you.” It’s a Matt Maher riff on the old hymn "I Need Thee Every Hour” and it’s in our regular rotation now. We sing it once or twice every month. Here are the words to Maher's chorus.  

Lord, I need you! Oh! I need you!
Every hour I need you!
My one defense. My righteousness. 
Oh God! How I need you!

I can’t seem to sing those lines without tears. I think there are two reasons for that — one theological and one prehistoric.  

The prehistoric reason is this: this song is a primal cry that hits right in the gut. It’s an ancient and instinctive confession: "God! I need you!" If we’re honest, we recognize this plea in our own voice. We’ve known it since the minute we were born, screaming out the same terrifying truth. Sure, we may seem to have things under control, especially on Sunday morning. We come to church with a clean shirt, clean hair, and maybe even clean thoughts. But when we get past our “illusory superiority” — the stubborn human tendency to see ourselves as better than we really are — this song comes alive in a new way. “Oh God! Please! We need you!” From Eve’s first bite to Revelation’s last trumpet blast, this may be humankind's deepest corporate truth. "God! We need you!” It’s a confession. It is base and original and primordial. And if you’re not shouting it from your gut, you’re not singing it right.  

The theological reason I love this song is no less compelling. I recognize a rock-bottom truth in the third line. I resonate with the confession of need because I remember my need of confession. I have no righteousness apart from that conferred upon me, unwarranted, by God. When called to account for my life, I can offer no defense. No excuse. No mitigating circumstances. Only abject regret. I know what it means to lack a leg to stand on. To have no claim to a place at God’s table. To have no other option than to throw myself on his mercies.  

Last week, I read an article by a recovering alcoholic who said she didn’t get serious about her sobriety — that she would have never gotten serious about her sobriety — as long as repentance was one of a few good options available to her. She only experienced a deep and true repentance when it was the only option available to her. When there was nowhere else to turn. When every other bridge had been burned and every hope of dignity abandoned. That is the posture of this chorus. When you truly see your need of grace in all its defenselessness, you don’t have time to worry about saving face. You plead and slobber and ugly cry your way to the altar. You bring Jesus your need and not your deeds because you know that the former is all you have.

I looked up the lyrics to this song and, apparently, Matt Maher didn’t write them with an exclamation point after every phrase. I’ve corrected that for him. Because I think this song is meant to be sung with a heart that is desperate, and tears that are stingingly honest.  

“Lord! I need you! Not for one second can I stand without you! You’re my only hope. My last chance. Oh God, please! I need you!" 

One more thought about this song: as desperate and helpless as I’ve made our situation sound, great joy comes in knowing the audience to whom we sing. Our heavenly Father is good. And just as my heart is moved when my kids shout for help, God’s heart bends to wipe away the hot tears of his needy, confessing children. He knows we need him, and he’s ready to meet your need. 

If that doesn’t make you cry, nothing will.