Go to any seminar on writing worship music and there’s one thing you’re sure to hear: “Songs need to be the overflow of a passionate heart.” Transcending comments on style, sounds or language, it’s always good, solid advice. U2’s Bono seems to think so. Describing his process of composing songs he says:
“It just comes out. No choice. It’s sort of embarrassing because it happens when you don’t really want it to. You’re writing a song on the back of an Air India sick bag, and you’re not writing it because you need a hit-you’re writing it because you need some sleep. You have to put it on paper so you can quiet the nagging.”1
In a similar fashion, REM’s Michael Stipe has described his songwriting process as vomiting out whatever comes to him like a cat with a hairball!2 Now, when it comes to worship songs for gathered worship, we don’t have quite the same degree of flexibility. If we’re to be faithful to the Word of God and at the same time try to help the people of God find a voice in responding to Him, we’ll need to craft songs in a different manner. Passionate overflows of the heart, yes. But passion guided by purpose.
I love the prayer-model Eugene Peterson shows us in his comments on the life of Jonah-a model which I think applies brilliantly to writing worship songs, too.3 He takes us through Jonah’s passionate prayer in the belly of the whale, but shows us that not one word of the prayer is original-every single phrase originates in the book of Psalms. And not just one psalm, but many-a piece from one psalm, a line from another. Jonah’s prayer is passionate, absolutely. But it is also purposeful and biblical. The best congregational worship songs find exactly the same balance. They explode with zeal and devotion-yet never aimlessly. Instead, they’re packed with the truth of Scripture and are guided by its revelation. When it comes to writing songs for the saints to sing, this is the ideal: in the most intense moments of our lives, new songs flow out passionately-all the time shaped by Scripture.
How Far Would You Go?
But what exactly is passion? Enthusiasm? Yes. Fervor and excitement? Yes. But passion is much more than these things. I love the definition being made popular by Louie Giglio and the 268 Generation:
“Passion is the degree of difficulty we are willing to endure to achieve the goal.”
Throwing that slant on the word, our definition of being ‘passionate in worship’ suddenly becomes much more than singing heartfelt songs. In fact, looking at passion through the eyes of this definition, a song alone could never cut it. Defined in this way, passion becomes lives laid down in extravagant surrender-thoughts and words and deeds thrown wholeheartedly into the mix, even when it costs us something. Or, ultimately, everything. The 268 Generation definition also brings us right back to the cross. For the passion of Jesus provides us with the most heightened example we will ever see of “the degree of difficulty we are willing to endure to achieve the goal.” At Calvary we encounter the Savior of the world who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame. It is the ultimate display of passion.
As lead worshipers, let’s pour out extravagant songs of fervor and devotion-songs that eclipse even the most heightened displays of passion found around us in this world. But let us remember that the truest display of passion will always be found in our lives. Let’s become a people so passionate about Jesus that nothing can distract, discourage or disturb us on our quest to bring Him wholehearted worship.
 Under the Unpredictable Plant – Eugene Peterson