Songwriting, curating, collecting…

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I’ve tried my best to accurately transcribe the following quote from an episode of the new For The Church podcast. There’s some really good inspiration here for church songwriters. You should definitely go and listen to the whole episode and others here.

In this episode, Jared Wilson asks Matt Boswell, “What is your personal songwriting process like, whether with a collaborator or by yourself?” Here’s a chunk of Matt’s answer:

“My process of writing songs is, I’m a curator and a collector first. So in every theological book that I’m reading, I’m collecting words…just specific words. I remember reading Jim Hamilton’s biblical theology, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgement, and in it he just uses the word “unassailable” six, seven times; and so I just thought that was a beautiful word to write in a hymn. So I just kind of put it in my back pocket, and then when it seems appropriate, throw it in a hymn. And so in all reading I’m collecting words.

“And then, even through sermon outlines, seeing how a preacher is moving systematically through a text or through a subject, and allowing some of those things to help shape how I would write a hymn in response to that. 

“And so I’m always on the lookout for what would be good kindling for a hymn to be written.”

Again, the above quote is from Matt Boswell, in an interview on the For The Church podcast. Subscribe to this one for sure. It’s new, and already super helpful. You can also check out more resources from Matt Boswell and pick up books he has contributed to, at his website Doxology and Theology. If you’re a worship leader or worship musician, you should check there often.

The Inestimable Value Of Hymns

“Modern songs will be called upon at times of crisis (sickness, death, tragedy) when they have something to say. Exceptions prove the rule.”

Mike Cosper

The great hymns are a blessing to the Church. Though not inspired like Scripture, God gifted (and still gifts) many songwriters and poets in His Church over the centuries, to put the great truths of Scripture to lyric and music in ways that get in, and embed in the heart and mind. Some are new, many are old, and I am so thankful for hymns and for the way music often takes a comfort or joyful exultation from the Bible and gets it under your skin, so to speak. I think that often, the truth communicated with precision in a particular hymn comes back to me in a time of crisis or grief. It’s not the hymn itself, but what it helps my heart express that is so valuable, I think.

So I thought I would share some examples of my favorite lines that help reset the compass of my heart to its True North in God, and in the Gospel. There’s a lot of others, but these are some key couplets and stanzas that have and continue to be a comfort and a joy to know, to quote, and to sing. These lines are so valuable to me.

By Charitie L. Bancroft

“Before the throne of God above/I have a strong and perfect plea/A great High Priest Whose name is Love/Who ever lives and pleads for me.”

And from the same hymn,

“When Satan tempts me to despair/And tells me of the guilt within/Upward I look and see Him there/Who made an end of all my sin.”

By Charles Wesley

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay/Fast-bound in sin and nature’s night/Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray/I woke, the dungeon flam’d with light/My chains fell off, my heart was free!/I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”

By Stuart Townend

“It was my sin that held Him there/Until it was accomplished/His dying breath has brought me life/I know that it is finished!”

By Augustus M. Toplady

“Nothing in my hand I bring/Simply to Thy cross I cling/Naked come to Thee for dress/Helpless look to Thee for grace.”

And,

“Rock of Ages, Cleft for me/Let me hide myself in Thee.”

By Edward Mote

“His oath, His covenant, His blood/Support me in the whelming flood/When all around my soul gives way/He then is all my hope and stay.”

And,

“On Christ the Solid Rock I stand/All other ground is sinking sand/All other ground is sinking sand!”

“‘Tis Mystery All: Th’Immortal Dies”

“’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.

“He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!”

Charles Wesley, from “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?”

Hymnology: “He Rescued Me”

Some of the following I was only able to find via Wikipedia (sigh), so please correct me if any of it’s wrong. I’d love to gather all the right info on this hymn.

Originally titled “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus,” this hymn apparently originated in the 1800s in North-East India, where a man was pressed by the village chief to renounce his new Christian faith. He refused, saying “I have decided to follow Jesus,” and was executed singing “The cross before me, the world behind me.”

The arrangement many of us know today was composed by an American hymn editor, William Jensen Reynolds, and included in a 1959 hymnbook.

Its lyrics, though so appropriate given their origin, might mean something different to many who would sing them today. In the context of martyrdom and persecution, “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back” is a Holy Spirit-enabled response in the face of such trials. But many have excluded this hymn from their churches because of the “human ability to choose God” theology that it so easily supports if removed from its context.

All that to say, that’s why I love this arrangement by Red Mountain Church, with a rewrite to the lyrics. One comment on the song’s YouTube post says it perfect, actually:

“[This arrangement is] shocking in stark contrast to the original words of this song. It’s offensive … it’s perfect … it’s Gospel.”

The Red Mountain Church lyrics say the following:

I never wanted to follow Jesus

I never wanted to follow Jesus

I never wanted to follow Jesus

He rescued me, He rescued me

No turning back, No turning back

This rewrite is so much more suited to congregational singing, and adoption into the regular singing of local churches. It echos the glory of Scripture passages like Ephesians 2:1-9, which says,

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

A Christian didn’t all of a sudden “decide to follow Jesus.” We were “dead in our trespasses and sins in which we once walked,” and God “made us alive.” He raised us from the dead, in Christ, and united us to Him. And it’s all a gift of God’s grace, to have faith in Christ and to be raised from our spiritual deadness. So God rescued us when we never wanted Him to. Praise God for His glorious grace in the Gospel.

Here’s the Red Mountain Church version (sorry about the lame slide show accompaniment):

Hymnology: “My Hope Is Built”

“My Hope Is Built,” written by Edward Mote in 1834, has become one of my all-time favorite hymns. My affections are stirred for Christ every time I get to sing it. I’m thankful that God provides his people with songs like this to sing as the gathered Church, in unity, to affirm the glorious salvation we’ve been given.

This hymn basically expounds on the text of Hebrews 6:13-20, that says God has given His Son, as a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,” who has anchored our salvation in “the inner place behind the curtain.” Christ has gone into the very closest place, before the throne of God, and anchored our salvation from our sin there. There is now no dividing wall, as there was with the curtain in the temple, to hinder God’s people from coming to Him as their Father. When I read Hebrews 6, the tune to this hymn often pipes away in the back of my mind.

Since Christ stands on our behalf as both sacrifice and High Priest, our sins are forgiven and we’re adopted as sons of God. Fully adopted. As Steve Lawson says, our adoption God has accomplished through Christ is “the highest rung of salvation.” It cannot get better than this.

So we can sing, with full, complete, unshakable assurance that “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness,” and “In every high and stormy gale, my Anchor holds within the veil.” In the storms of suffering, and in the storms that our sin rages against our new nature in Christ, our Anchor holds. Because our Anchor is a Person; our salvation is a Person.

I’m so glad Edward Mote penned these words, and I love a hearty singing of em’:

“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

“On Christ the Solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

“When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My Anchor holds within the veil.

“His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

“When He shall come with trumpet sound,
O may I then in Him be found!
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!”

From The Archives: Part Of The Formula For Good Hymn-Writing

This post is from 10-5-10. It seems the interview was deleted from Worship Leader Magazine’s website, so I’m glad I copied some of the quotes down (see below for a few favorites). But the link below won’t find you the actual article. Sorry about that.

_______________________

I recently read this interview in Worship Leader Magazine (a publication I don’t always agree with). This piece is particularly good, though; it’s an interview with Keith Getty, co-writer (with Stuart Townend) of the modern hymn “In Christ Alone.” It’s funny to me that the article focuses on “In Christ Alone” (which I love, by the way), as if it’s Getty’s greatest achievement as a songwriter. He does, however, have several other very well-known works, written more recently than “In Christ Alone,” and he has a pretty big body of really good work that almost totally goes unmentioned here. This makes the focus of some of the interview seem a bit dated if you’re familiar with Getty’s work at all. But Getty’s comments are very timely and insightful, and transcend beyond the questions of Worship Leader Magazine.

The interview touches on Getty’s mindset behind writing good, congregational worship music, and what continues to influences his creativity as a songwriter in this particular “genre” (if you can call hymns a genre). I found his thoughts really compelling and really encouraging. The following are three of my favorite quotes from the interview:

“My melodies tend to be heavily influenced by Irish music, and the Irish melodic style is essentially congregational. Although Irish music isn’t particularly spectacular compared to say, African rhythm or to the unusual tones of Chinese music, or even the sophistication of much contemporary music, it has tremendous strength in its ability to be experienced and sung by large groups of people – whether in our homes, schools, or even at a sports match. It can be sung with or without instrumental accompaniment. I think the underlying sense of lilting pathos in Celtic melodies (which can also be heard in our speaking voices and is tied closely to our history) also helps the songs tell a story with all its raw emotion and passion. All Irish music centers on stories, whether of love or war or of people and places.”

“I think it’s of huge importance to us as worship leaders in preparation and in reviewing Sunday services to ask ourselves these two questions: What were the words we put into our congregations’ mouths, minds, and memories? And how well did our congregation sing? Our role is simply to be an accompaniment to them as they sing.”

“I also encourage lyricists to read beautiful poetry. Consider the fact that almost 20 percent of the story of Scripture is told through poetry. This speaks to the power of words. And to the enduring power of beauty. And perhaps most of all to the unending creative potential the story of the gospel releases in each of us.”

Hymnology: “Early, My God”

“Early, My God” by Isaac Watts and Sojourn Music

Listen to the track here (you have to find it in the track list on Sojourn’s Bandcamp page).

Early, my God, without delay I haste to seek Your face;

My thirsty spirit fades away without Your cheering grace

My spirit toils with this life’s gloom and fights to stay the course

Remind me of that heaven’ly hour when You first called me Yours.

Early, my God, without delay, before tomorrow’s dawn

The trumpet sound the vict’ry tune because You have returned

Not life itself, with all her joys, will tempt my spirit move

My Maker and my helping Hand, all I need is You.

What I love about this hymn: the theme of setting one’s affections fully on God from the first moment of the day (“Early, my God, without delay I haste to seek Your face). Here also, there’s a theme of seeking God before anything else takes priority.

The theme of the infinite worth of knowing God is included to provide the justification for seeking Him in His word (“My Maker and my helping Hand, all I need is You). Also, the prayer for God to remind us of the joy of knowing Him (“remind me of that heaven’ly hour when You first called me Yours”).

This is a great hymn, with great work on the lyrics, and a great arrangement. Hope you can follow the link above and give it a listen.