Have you ever given a gift to a friend or family member and secretly regretted that you didn’t keep it for yourself? Seeing it in the hands of a loved one brought out the hidden desires of your heart, and you had to squelch the urge to grab back what was rightfully yours. Worship songs can sometimes be like that because devotional art is an offering. An offering to God requires that you actually give it away, release all control over the thing that you have created. Once something has been given to Him, God will do what He wants with it, and His plans are sometimes different from our own. That is something that became very clear to Laura Story when she offered her song “Indescribable” to God. And, as is often the case with God, He took her gift and used it in a beautiful way she never would have imagined.
Most worshipers know “Indescribable” as the opening track on Chris Tomlin’s album, Arriving. However, the story of that song’s origin began far away from where it finally arrived. In 2002 while driving her car through a mountain range just outside of Nashville, Laura Story was overwhelmed with the beauty of God’s artistic display that was set before her in a fall mountain scene. “It was one of those moments where the sun was setting and the leaves were falling,” explains Story. “It was gorgeous, and I just began to think about creation. I think it’s Psalm 19 that says, ‘The heavens are declaring the glory of God.’ It was like that-as if the rocks were crying out. It was this glorious moment of looking at creation and thinking ‘Wow, there are still people in this world that don’t believe in God, people that think this was an accident.’ I didn’t have any words to describe God’s splendor at that moment; I was just thinking, ‘You truly are indescribable.'”
Story says that she had to drive around without a car stereo for about a year, but it became quite a blessing because she occupied her time by singing. Out of that singing, many songs were written. “It was one of the best things that happened to me. I need to break it again so I can write some more songs. I just began singing the song ‘Indescribable’ because of the colors of fall. The first verse and the chorus came as a very spontaneous thing right there in the car, but the second verse, I had to sit down and work with.”
When she had a moment to get away, Story opened the Bible to the book of Job. At the time she was attending a Bible college (Columbia International University) so it only made sense that her writing would be seeped in the Word. “There is a part where Job starts complaining about his life.” Story explains. “God stops him in his tracks and says, ‘I’m sorry, where were you when I told the lightening bolts where they should go?’-that’s the Laura Story translation. I read that and saw how it continued the theme about His greatness and how we should just be awestruck by it.”
If you can’t tell from the crafted lyrics, Story puts high importance in the theology of worship songs. “It is scary to think of worship songwriters not being determined to use the Word,” she says. “When you put biblical truth to the songs used in churches, you’ll have the congregation leave singing the sermon. You’ll have God’s thoughts, things that are God-breathed, stuck in their heads. It’s sad to think about a really catchy tune paired up with bad theology because that could, honestly, do a lot of damage in church.”
Who Would’ve Thought?
“Indescribable” was birthed in Scripture, so it had that going for it, but as many worship leaders can attest, at first blush, it doesn’t jump out as a slam-dunk congregational tune. Story broke one or two worship songwriting rules when she penned the song-starting with the amounts of syllables she chose for her lyrics. “I remember, there was a guy at school who told me they were thinking of doing ‘Indescribable’ as a corporate worship song for chapel,” Story recounts. “And I was like, ‘um I guess.’ I was kind of nervous about it, thinking the song was so un-singable. I thought it would never go over well. I was even embarrassed, thinking no one was going to like it.”
But people did. The song was able to break through many barriers because it contained weightier lyrics that were also tied to a powerful melody people could grab on to. It had the best of both worlds. That was likely what Ed Cash (producer of Bebo Norman, Caedmon’s Call and Bethany Dillon) heard when he paid the expenses for Laura Story to make an “Indescribable” demo for Essential Records. In Nashville, Story and Cash recorded the song, and it seemed that God was going to use “Indescribable” in a very real way. However, even though Cash believed in the song, Essential decided to pass on it. Story remembers, “I came home from Nashville thinking, ‘God I really thought you were going to do something with this song. I’m sure you have a purpose for all this.'”
About a year after Story made the demo, Chris Tomlin was working on his new album with Cash. It was when they were putting some finishing touches on the CD, Arriving, which they felt was very strong, that they felt they were missing an element. Still believing in the song he and Story recorded, Cash told Tomlin about “Indescribable.” After listening, it wasn’t long before they decided to record it. They even used the actual track that that Story and Cash laid a year before, with the only modification being lowering the key. “If you listen to our albums, it’s pretty much the same identical song except for they changed a word,” says Story. “On my CD I sing ‘You’re a very big God,’ and they sing, ‘You are amazing God.’ I was like, ‘yeah, I like that.’ And so I’ve started singing it that way. Also because I don’t want people in church to say, ‘Hey, you’re messing up Chris Tomlin’s song!’
When Laura Story went in to record her song for Essential Records, she may have had her own idea of how God was going to use her offering. However, our plans are not God’s. In the case of “Indescribable” that became quite evident for Story. “We need to always see ourselves as servants. We see people like Chris Tomlin up on stage, but they are just servants, too. And our songs are all just offerings. It’s cool that so many people have been able to hear the song ‘Indescribable.’ But if I had played it for no one but the Lord, it still would have been just as sweet to Him.”