The Sunday Worship Series features a worship song whose lyrics and melody, I believe, can help any believer in her/his personal time with God. This week’s feature is “Unrestrained,” written by Calvin Nowell and Tony Sutherland.
I first heard Calvin Nowell’s Unrestrained when American Idol Season Five finalist and now Contemporary Christian superstar Mandisa sang it on her debut CD, True Beauty; I subsequently heard versions from Adam Paul Williams, Myron Butler & Levi, co-songwriter Tony Sutherland, and, of course, Calvin Nowell himself. The power of this worship ballad cannot be underestimated: it brings an exaltation of God’s characteristics and virtues before a majestic adoration and praise of Him.
Mandisa interpreted Unrestrained using Luke 7:36-50, which details the story of the sinful woman who visited Jesus at the house of one of the Pharisees. In an act that took the entire household by surprise, she entered the house weeping and began to “wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”
This act prompted several important events in the story:
1) A Pharisee’s self-righteous condemnation of the woman (in his mind)
2) Jesus’ parable of forgiveness, the point of which is, between two debtors whose debts are forgiven by the lender, the person in greater debt is more likely to be grateful to the lender and “love him more”
3) Jesus forgave (absolved) the sinful woman of her sins
4) Jesus asserts the sinful woman’s faith in His power to forgive sins has saved her
Unrestrained is a particularly powerful song of worship for me because it puts a lot of things into perspective for me about the act of worship:
1) God knows us inside and out. The initial verse goes:
Most holy Lord
You have my attention
You know my thoughts and all my intentions
In Luke 7:39, the Pharisee mutters his condemnation of the sinful woman in his mind. Jesus is able to read his mind and proceeds to tell a parable of forgiveness. We can’t hide anything from God, and when we set aside time exclusively for Him, to worship Him, to talk to Him, to ask of Him and to hear from Him, we can trust that what happens in that sacred time is honest and open, because the Lord knows what is really going on inside us.
2) Worshiping God is to put Him first above all else, sometimes at risk of rejection or scorn.
I want to honor You in every way
I pour my love on You
My whole life belongs to You
I worship You completely unashamed
I give You my heart unrestrained
When the sinful woman came before Jesus, she honored Him in the best way she knew how, in the context of that day: she came before Him and perfumed, wet, and kissed His feet. One’s feet can literally be one of the dirtiest parts of the human body, even more so in those days when people traveled mostly by sandaled foot, and in many cultures, kissing one’s feet is one of the ultimate acts of servitude. To do it before a crowd can be utterly humiliating, but the sinful woman knew who Jesus was. What she did was total, unrestrained, unashamed worship of Jesus. Combined with her own repentance and her faith in Christ to forgive her sins, she was forgiven everything.
Of course, everything can be taken out of context in today’s day and age. People have different ways of worshiping God, and I don’t think any of them should be criticized for being any more or any less relevant to God. For instance, I like to worship God in my car. Seriously. At 5AM. It’s the only place in the house where I feel I can sing at the top of my lungs and not be heard by my sleeping wife, kids, and househelp. I can play a worship song – like Unrestrained – and literally worship Him with my arms flailing around. For me, when I sing Him worship songs in the early morning, I feel it’s literally just Him and me, and I appreciate that.
3) To worship God is to offer Him everything. There’s a favorite Christian saying: Either God is Lord of all or not at all. Mandisa sings:
You have my devotion
With all my mind and all my emotion
I want to, God, I want to know You more in every way
When we worship God, we offer Him all we’ve got. Heart, mind, and soul. It’s easier said than done, but the desire to know God more, to draw closer to Him, overpowers any feelings of self-consciousness or shame. With one’s faith in Jesus, one offers God his brokenness and sinful nature, and allows Him to purify us and make us whole.
My favorite part of Unrestrained is the bridge:
I pour my love like oil from this broken heart
I give myself away unrestrained
I let myself go
You have set me free
I surrender my soul
Jesus mentioned that the Pharisee did not anoint His head with oil. In those days, anointing with oil was a high token of honor and esteem. When we offer God our love, offering it onto Him like poured oil, we’re offering Him the best we have to give. Total surrender, total praise, total worship, in thanksgiving for setting us free from certain eternal suffering.
It’s no wonder I can’t stop listening to Unrestrained. It’s a song that’s so rich in meaning and relevance for me. I hope you can give it a listen; it may minister to you in ways you’ve never experienced before.