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Secular “worship” songs: Mad World

October 22nd, 2012 | Posted by jamie in Secular Worship | Songs

I wanted to share another secular song that speaks to me. I don’t exactly consider it worship, but it has some spiritual elements woven  into it. The song is “Mad World.” It was originally written and performed in the 1980s by the band Tears for Fears. In 2003, it was covered by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules and done much slower. Since then, I’ve heard more covers of this song then I can count.

Mad World

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

And I find it kinda funny
I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very, very mad world mad world

Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy Birthday, Happy Birthday
And I feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me

And I find it kinda funny

I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I’m dying
Are the best I’ve ever had
I find it hard to tell you
I find it hard to take
When people run in circles
It’s a very, very mad world … mad world

This song is haunting. The minor key gives it a sad feel, and the melody is soft, gentle and unassuming. First look at the words tells me that there is nothing worshipful about this. It is sad and depressing. A quick glance at the chorus tells me that the writer may be contemplating suicide.

Then I remember about 40% of the Psalms. The Psalmist often declares his sorrow very openly. There is nothing happy about many of the Psalms, and there is nothing wrong about expressing worship through sorrow.

O Lord God Almighty, how long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?

Psalm 80:4

This song tells me that the writer is weary of his day to day life. The meaningless running in circles, the exhaustion from trying to keep going… it sounds a little like Ecclesiastes to me.

I don’t like how worship music has to be peppy and energetic to be “truly” worshipful. Sometimes I worship best through sad songs. Sad songs help me feel. By acknowledging the sorrow, I find that I can rise above it.

What are your thoughts on this song, or on sad songs in worship?


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  • Kathryn

    This struck a chord with me… something I’ll be reflecting on. Thanks.

  • Jamie,
    My favorite songs always are songs that move me and most of those songs are not upbeat joyous songs. Most deal with heart ache of some sort. I know that is closer to real life than an upbeat song. They make me feel and that makes me think. I think worship is when we do think about how everything is tied to God; how we should be tied to Him and what we should do about that. I also love the songs that declare loyalty through hardships. For instance I love this song : http://youtu.be/f6pQcpFnXOI

    • Mark, that is beautiful. I love Sarah Mclachlan, but haven’t heard that one. I love the line, “Cast me gently into morning for the night has been unkind.”

      This is the kind of song that makes me want to go write my own.

      • I love the line… “If it takes my whole life I wont’ break, I won’t bend. It will all be worth it, worth it in the end. There are some things I want to be that way towards; some people.

  • Jamie,
    I wanted to share with you my all time favorite song.

    Here it is: http://youtu.be/_LBmUwi6mEo

    Before you go look.. make a guess. It was written probably in the 20’s and recorded in the 30’s and became famous in 1961 which is the one I posted here. It is something about this song that always resonates with my soul.

    • I had no idea that song was written in the 20s. I read a bit of the Wikipedia article. Interesting stuff.

  • ddkays

    Worship so connects us to God and is for God Himself. I love a mixture of both really. Sad worship songs really make me focus sometimes more than a peppy song…whatever connects me to my God, I want it! Great post…thanks for sharing.

  • The Psalms have both. However some songs might be better for congregation and some for just listening to on CD in the car. As for sad songs, there were some great Vineyard songs back in the day on repentance and that sort of thing like Restore Me based on Psalm 51.

    • I agree that some songs are simply better for listening to rather than congregational worship. Most of these “secular worship” songs I share would probably not work so well in congregational worship.

      I appreciate songs that are based on the Psalms. I have a CD that has some original songs based on Psalms, almost verbatim. They’re really touching, in my opinion.

  • Downbytheriver

    Great post! I came across your blog on a google search for “secular worship”–yours is one of the first hits, so congrats. 😉 I really appreciate your thoughts on the subject. I’ve used lots of secular songs in worship myself–though mainly in a young church that indulged my experimentation. 😉 One of my favorites in the vein of “Mad World” is U2’s “Wave of Sorrow.” Haunting, disturbing, yet worshipful in the same way you described from Psalms. Anyhow, looking forward to following your posts in the future.

    • Thanks for reading! I’m planning on doing several more of these secular worship posts. I will listen to the U2 song.

  • Melissa

    Personally, I like “The One” by the Backstreet Boys. If you listen to it as if God wrote the lyrics directly, it has great meaning 😉

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I’m compiling a list of other songs to look at in future posts. I’ll add this one.