Why I Rewrote (mangled?) “Trust and Obey”

Now I feel like a recipe blogger, making you read all this to get to what you probably came here for – lyrics and sheet music of the rewrite. If that’s what you’re after, click here.

“Trust and Obey” is a classic hymn. It has a very catchy tune, and it’s filled with truisms that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

However, if you look closer, a few concerning elements emerge. Plus, given my own personal baggage of an authoritarian parent who said disobeying him was tantamount to disobeying God, being told to “trust and obey” is slightly triggering – especially when it comes with the statement that it’s the only way to be happy in Jesus.

However, a dear woman from my church has told me it’s her favorite for a year, but I’ve always declined to include it in our liturgies because I think it has bad theology.

But this morning as I was working on this Sunday’s service, I realized this would be the perfect time to use “Trust and Obey.”

Then I looked up the words and groaned. Look at the first verse:

When we walk with the Lord 
in the light of his word,
what a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
he abides with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.

(Chorus)
Trust and obey, for there's no other way,
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

If the concerning elements aren’t immediately obvious, here are a few:

  1. Does God not abide with us when we don’t do God’s good will?
  2. What about those who struggle to trust God? Does God not also abide with them?
  3. Jesus says God makes the sun shine on the just and the unjust. What gives?
  4. Gendered pronouns for God. “He” here, “he” there, “he” everywhere.
  5. Why is happiness being centered in the chorus? It’s possible to trust and obey and not be “happy in Jesus.”
  6. Conversely, it’s also possible to “be happy in Jesus” while deluding yourself into believing you’re obeying.
  7. As someone at ChristianForums aptly observed, “It makes God’s presence and love sound totally conditional and something to be earned. It also says that if we are obedient, we will always be happy, which simply is not true.”

I googled for alternative verses that weren’t as bad, but couldn’t find any. So I started on the fool’s errand of rewriting it myself. First, I made some adjustments to the first verse (changes in bold.

When we walk with the Lord 
in the light of God’s word,
what a glory is shed on our way!
When we do God’s good will,
And God’s kingdom fulfill,
We will live in God's
"trust and obey."

One version I saw rewrote it as “Let us do his good will” and left the rest alone, but by the time I saw that, I had already written this and thought it was better. We’ll see what my congregation thinks tomorrow after worship.

This rewrite resolves the gender problems with gender-neutral language, and gets rid of exclusive language and happiness (“there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey”). Plus, it adds language about the Kingdom of God rather than God abiding with us, which then becomes “we will live in,” or “abide” in God’s “Trust and Obey.”” Which isn’t perfect and might still be weird, but keeps “trust and obey” at the end and could be worse. I’m rewriting, not doing original writing.

I tested out five different versions of the chorus:

 Trust and obey, for it's such a good way,
To be living in Jesus, just to trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for it is God's good way,
To be living in Jesus, just to trust and obey.

Trust and obey, he invites you to stay,
And be leaning on Jesus, and to trust and obey.

Trust and obey! He invites you to say,
"I will love you Lord Jesus, and I'll trust and obey."

Trust and obey, O be just, kind, and pray,
As you're walking with Jesus, and you trust and obey.

With the input of several women who were in the church office this morning, I chose the first one, but I really loved the third and fifth, too.

  Trust and obey, for it's such a good way,
To be living in Jesus, just to trust and obey.

It also changes the hymn to an invitational stance. It’s not that there’s no other way, but that it’s such a good way. It’s not about being happy in Jesus, but about living in Jesus. Can Jesus give us joy? Sure. But there are also plenty of Christians with depression. Plus, it changes being happy in Jesus to living in Jesus, which is more biblical (John 15:4).

John 15:10-11 could be construed to be about being happy in Jesus and , but is different in significant ways. “Abiding in Jesus’ love” is different than God abiding with us, and the connection between joy and obedience is a little more distant.

I believe our hymns form our theology in ways that sermons don’t, because they rhyme and they’re catchy. Consequently, changing the lyrics of this hymn may lead some to think I’m changing “sound doctrine,” (because people have had theology formed by this hymn), but I believe I am correcting unsound doctrine and replacing it with sound doctrine.

I also tried my hand at writing my own verse because Micah 6:1-8 is in the lectionary this week and I thought it made sense to connect the two, which is part of how I ended up with “Trust and Obey” in the first place.

When God's justice we do,
And God's kindness we love,
And walk humbly with God in the way,
God has said it is good,
It is all God requires
Us to do when we trust and obey.
(Based on Micah 6:8)

Perhaps if I had more time I could’ve come up with an internal rhyme for lines 1 & 2 and 4 & 5, but I’m not sure. At any rate, this is now 100% my favorite verse of the song, and not just because I wrote it myself. Even without the internal rhyme.

Mostly because it reframes “trust and obey” as “doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God,” which is (a) way less triggering and (b) way more biblical.

Upon closer examination, verses two and four weren’t too bad (you can see them at the end). “Never fear” worried me for a minute, but I remembered how many times the Bible says “fear not,” and decided to give it a pass. I changed “our toil he doth richly repay” to “our toil God will richly repay” for gender reasons and because hardships don’t automatically get repaid in this life. If I were writing a song, I wouldn’t write verse 2, but that’s just me.

I tossed verse 3 altogether. I think

 But we never can prove 
the delights of his love
until all on the altar we lay;
for the favor he shows,
for the joy he bestows,
are for them who will trust and obey.

is unmitigated nonsense. We can’t prove the delights of God’s love until we’ve laid everything on the altar? When did we turn into Jesus? Also, Micah 6:6-8? Obedience is better than sacrifice? Also, haven’t many “proven the delights of God’s love” without laying it all on the altar? And doesn’t God show favor to and bestow joy for the just and the unjust? In short, this verse gets a hard pass from me. Out with this, in with the Micah 6:8 verse.

Verse four I left alone completely. Including gendered language for God (grumble grumble). Why? Because it’s familiar. It wraps the singer up in the warm blanket that makes the song such an old, familiar favorite. Gendered language and all. If you’re going to change a classic song, I think it’s important to leave at least the first few lines and the last as intact as possible to maintain continuity and not be accused of making it a whole new song. Then people can go home and tell their friends, “We sang my favorite song, ‘Trust and Obey,’ today!”

Without further ado, my adjusted version:

 1 When we walk with the Lord 
in the light of God’s word,
what a glory is shed on our way!
When we do God’s good will,
And God’s kingdom fulfill,
We will live in God's "trust and obey."
 
Refrain:
Trust and obey, for it's such a good way,
To be living in Jesus, just to trust and obey.
 
2 Not a burden we bear,
not a sorrow we share,
but our toil God will richly repay;
not a grief or a loss,
not a frown or a cross,
but is blest if we trust and obey.
 
3 When God's justice we do,
And God's kindness we love,
And walk humbly with God in the way,
God has said it is good,
It is all God requires
Us to do when we trust and obey.
 
4 Then in fellowship sweet
we will sit at his feet,
or we'll walk by his side in the way;
 what he says we will do,
where he sends we will go;
never fear, only trust and obey.

To be clear, these updates are not to make the song “hip with the times.” They’re to make the song “hip with good theology.”

Let me know what you think in the comments, or if you’d change anything else. I’d also love to hear if you’ve used this version in worship at your church!

Sheet music:

David M Schell About David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.

2 thoughts on “Why I Rewrote (mangled?) “Trust and Obey”

  1. Good work, David. Your congregation should love it……Next, you might work on “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know,” verse 2: “….If I love him, when I die he will take me home on high.” – Does our final salvation depend on our loving him, or on his love for me?

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