U2: Worship

23 08 2007

If you ask me what my favorite band is, I’ll tell you that it is U2.

If you ask me what my favorite Christian band is, I’ll give you the same answer – U2.

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Now, I know you won’t see U2 performing at the Dove Awards. And you definately won’t find them on tour with Stephen Curtis Chapman or Third Day. But, if you listen to their songs, you will find spiritual insights, professions of faith and unabashed quotes from Scripture. More importantly, you’ll hear conversations with God (and sometimes from the perspective of God) which express the raw emotions of a believer — joy, wonder, fear, doubt, love, anguish, intrigue, shame and surrender (to mention a few).

A few years ago, while doing survey work in Burkina Faso, some interns and I were passing the hours of travel in the truck by asking each other a bunch of hypothetical questions. One question went something like this: “If you could only listen to 2 musical artists, who would they be?” My answer was: U2 and Crosby, Stills & Nash. At this, one of the interns asked me, “How would you get fed (spiritually, I assumed)?”

The following playlist is my answer to that question.

It is a collection of U2 songs which feed me (and my family) spiritually and it is listed as U2: Worship on my iPod. Now, this playlist doesn’t include all of the U2 songs which contain references to faith, love, hope or even biblical scripture but each song moves me to worship God in its own unique way. Enjoy.

1. GraceAll That You Can’t Leave Behind

“Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.”

— Tracey loves this song and so do I. It sums up the bottom line of the Christian faith in poetic imagery. We should sing this song at church.

2. Mysterious WaysAchtung Baby

“To touch is to heal, to hurt is to steal.
If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel
On your knees, boy!”

— Towards the end of the song is the lyric, “The Spirit moves in mysterious ways.” Very true.

3. All Because of You How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

“I’m alive
I’m being born
I just arrived, I’m at the door
Of the place I started out from
And I want back inside”

— This could be my absolute favorite U2 song for two reasons. 1) It flat out rocks and 2) it is a confessional worship song to the One who makes us who we are.

4. The Three SunrisesB-sides 1980-1990

“Spirit of the rising sun lift me up
Hold me there and never let me fall
Love me till I die, my heart won’t wait
Soon I will be loved…”

— An up-beat song with great harmony. I guess it could be considered a ‘stealth’ worship song as you need to listen to it a few times to catch the meaning. That okay though. It was, after all, on a B-side.

5. GloriaUnder A Blood Red Sky

“Gloria
In te domine
Gloria
Exultate
Oh, Lord, if I had anything, anything at all
I’d give it to you.”

— Hard to add anything to that. So much energy in this live version of the song.

6. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking ForRattle and Hum

“You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

— U2 state that this was written as a gospel song and in the Rattle and Hum version it is sung like one. I used to struggle with the chorus line (and title)– does it express hope, disappointment, doubt – what? In the end, I think it is pretty honest expression of what most believers feel from time to time. “I’m searching, I believe but…I’m just not satisfied.” And I don’t believe we will be satisfied — or even should be — until we are glorified by Christ, in complete union with Him for eternity. (That doesn’t mean we should quit searching though!)

7. When I Look At The WorldAll That You Can’t Leave Behind

“I can’t wait any longer
I can’t wait till I’m stronger
Can’t wait any longer
To see what you see
When I look at the world”

— I hear this song as psalm of lament. A prayer to God for the ability to see the good in the world. Amid all the brokenness, idolatry, pain and hurt – what is redeemable? We need God to help us see the world with his eyes.

8. The First TimeZooropa

“For the first time, I feel love”

— If you don’t know this song, look up the lyrics. (It was just too long for me to put them here.) From the Spirit (”lover”) to Christ (“brother”) to God (“father”), the song describes the relationship the believer has with the Trinity. It wraps up in ambiguity, with the believer “throwing away the key” to the keys of the heavenly mansion. But then the singer sings the line quoted above. More honest struggle with belief, rebellion and grace.  I’ve read that some church used this song was during its communion service.

9. Drowning ManWar

“Take my hand
You know I’ll be there
If you can
I’ll cross the sky for your love.”

— A love song from God. “Hold on,” he says to the drowning man (us). “My love lasts forever.” The imagery of God “crossing the sky” for our love — the incarnation — is stunning. Isaiah 40:31 is quoted at the end of the song.

10. Stay (Faraway, So Close!)Zooropa

“If I could stay, then the night would give you up.
Stay, and the day would keep its trust.
Stay, and the night would be enough.”

— Another love song from God. This time God is pursing us as the prostitute stuck in a cycle of self-destruction. If we would only listen, only call to him, only let him stay… My friend Paul Casner first introduced this interpretation of the song to me. Thanks, Paul. I can always use the reminder that God’s heart aches to be with me, if I will only let him.

11. Until The End Of The WorldAchtung Baby

“Waves of regret and waves of joy.
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy.
You, you said you’d wait till the end of the world.”

— I loved the music of this song from the first listen. But, it blew my mind when I heard that it was sung from the perspective of Judas. Some may be uncomfortable with the open door left for even Judas return but that is how our God is. He waits and waits and waits, until the very last moment. Amazing.

12. YahwehHow To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

“Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city
If it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart…
And make it break”

— Another song we should be singing in church! (It wouldn’t surprise me if some people already were.) A great song about surrender, repentance and anticipation of redemption. Plus Edge’s chiming guitar gives the song a classic U2 sound.

13. Window In The SkiesU218 Singles (Deluxe Version)

“The rule has been disproved
The stone it has been moved
The grave is now a groove
All debts are removed”

— Amen! What has love done? Love has opened up heaven to us. That should make us smile and sing. If this song doesn’t do that for you, I don’t know what will.

14. Walk OnAll That You Can’t Leave Behind

“And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong”

— Whenever this song plays, I hear it as if the Lord is singing it to me. “Stay strong. Walk on. I know it is hard. Believe me, I know. But, you’ll make it home. Remember that love is the only thing that matters in this life.” The emotions this song evokes in me usually bring me to tears. It’s that meaningful.

15. 40Under A Blood Red Sky

“I waited patiently for the Lord.
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay.”

— U2 has joked that this song is titled “40” because it took only 40 minutes to write, rehearse and record. That may or may not be true. What I do know is that King David originally wrote these lyrics in Psalm 40.

“All the best songs are co-written by God, y’know!” — Bono

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26 responses

24 08 2007
Beth

Thanks – just a heads up that I’ve linked this on the blog for “Get Up Off Your Knees.”

25 08 2007
Mike Todd

Great list – thanks.

25 08 2007
A.

Wow. I never have listened to a lot of U2, & now I have even more reason too. I didn’t even realize… good stuff. Now I need to borrow a CD from someone…. 🙂

25 08 2007
Worship: U2 or Chris Tomlin « Academic Dean’s Blog

[…] Worship: U2 or Chris Tomlin Bryan Ries, a missionary to Africa, gives this short but wonderful annotated collection of spiritual excerpts from lyrics of U2. […]

25 08 2007
bryanries

Thanks for spreading the word Beth! I’ve tried place this playlist on iTunes as an iMix, but it didn’t work. I’ll try to give it another go soon.

25 08 2007
darcy

I have loved U2 since the first moment I heard them in 1988. I have a question for you: can you find a U2 song that does NOT have strong spiritual significance? Which one?

25 08 2007
bryanries

Hmmm. Good question Darcy. Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.

26 08 2007
Robyn

I believe they are my fav band, because of their spirituality. Sometimes you got to listen closely, because to one person a song can mean an entirely different thing. U2, and Bono the main lyricsist uses a lot of analaygies in his songs, but a believer can always hear the spiritual signifacance to most of their songs. To me they comfort me, and lift me up, and want to make me a better person. Thx for the list!
God Bless, Robyn

26 08 2007
Jason

There was a cd where a bunch of “Christian” artists redid some of U2’s classics. I say classics cause that’s what they are and ever will be. I can’t remember the name of the cd but I do remember Chris Tomlin being on it.

26 08 2007
deankts

Jason, I think the title of the CD was In The Name of Love . http://www.inthenameoflovecd.com/

26 08 2007
bryanries

When my wife got the In The Name of Love cd, I was skeptical. But it is a really good album. I like Pillar’s version of Sunday, Bloody Sunday. Some of the proceeds go to support a village in Zambia, so you’re not going to go wrong there either.

26 08 2007
Chad

I have been a fan since 1983. I have always felt the reason I am a Christian today is because of this band. They reached out and grabbed me and pulled me closer to God. Thank you for the list. Great reading!

26 08 2007
bryanries

Ok Darcy. I did a little research dating back to The Joshua Tree and I came up with two songs that I think anyone would be hard pressed to find ‘strong spiritual significance’ in them: Miami (Pop) and Babyface (Zooropa). Depending on your definition of ‘strong’ there are probably more.

Still, at most, that’s only a handful songs out of 7 albums! Not too shabby for a ‘mainstream’ rock band. What’s more, their last two albums are overflowing with spiritual meaning. I’ve never been prouder to be a U2 fan.

30 08 2007
Paul

Good list. I’d include (as spiritual) Acrobat, Where the Streets have no name, and Beautiful Day. In fact, I did. But thanks, anyway.

31 08 2007
stillhaventfound.org » Occasional Links 62

[…] 8) Into the Wild’s top 15 spiritually enriching U2 songs. […]

11 09 2007
thom

I am a big U2 fan and you do have a great playlist. But If you look deeper into the Lyrics for Mysterious Ways it is abou a prostitute basicly. Ther is a book that you can get that talks about all their songs. You should check it out sometime.

13 10 2007
Celinda

Great List! Interestingly I created a mix cd of U2 songs where I aimed specifically to be encouraged spiritually. Most of the ones you named made it on there. One more that I would add to your list is When Love Comes to Town. It’s one of my favorites along with Window in the Skies!

15 11 2007
Lori

Love the post! I couldn’t agree more.
On another note – your blog is very well done – I just started a wordpress blog and I’m having a little trouble with the presentation and the widgets and so forth – any suggestions would be appreciated! Thanks!

30 10 2008
holy heterocllte

a great list, amen.
Love to see the CSN list!

On “three sunrises,” the lyric, instead of “soon i will be loved” is
“soon i will be done” which is a reference to the old spiritual “soon i will be done with the troubles of this world..i’m going to live with God.” sometime sung as “soon-ah will be done” which is taken as “sooner” or “soon i”. Or “soon-ah WE’LL be done”

http://www.atu2.com/lyrics/songinfo.src?SID=27

30 10 2008
holy heterocllte

ps on “Babyface” …actually a great spiritual significance in that we are inveterate worshippers of image/sexuality…unless we “elevate” that natural bent

21 01 2009
Antoine

Oh yeah ! It’s probably one of the Best Band ! I love U2 😉

26 04 2009
alessio

Dear Brother,

thanks for this awesome list. U2 are a great band, i love them. you can surely add the new song “magnificent” to this list. and also the song “tomorrow”, from the “october” album. also the song “where the streets have no name” has christian themes inside and is awesome.
try to see this awesome link:

God bless you brother,

alessio, from italy

19 05 2009
Tony

I am personally a big an of u2, and I do see many spiritual lyrics in their songs. But I don’t believe they are living the full faith. Look at the song “mysterious ways.” It says “It’s alright, she moves in mysterious ways.” Look at the song “Desire.” It’s aclassic lust song. Look at “Even better than the real thing.” Personally, I feel that U2 is a great band, but as far as christianity goes, they are lackluster. If you look at the big christian bands like Third Day, Casting Crowns, etc, they confess an amazing love for God, and they don’t mention lust of women in any of their songs. U2 is good, but they are not living a christ filled life.

4 06 2009
joel

bryan – great list. never thought of doing a playlist like this. one suggestion to add (among many, i’m sure) – “When Love Comes to Town”

“I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide”

10 10 2015
Jeremy Bert

Beautiful list, but may I add one: “magnificent”!

8 11 2015
John Ring

Give all the hope to the redeemer. Bono knows the tune

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