- Songwriting is a craft. But worship songwriting is even more than craft. Here are some things to consider when writing sung prayers.
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]e all know songs that surprise us by their depth and emotional power, that transcend the mediocre and become part of our story with God. As a songwriter and a musician, I’ve often wondered how such songs are made, and what it takes to create songs that possess those same qualities. Here I hope to give some insight into the beautiful process God brings a person through in order to birth a unique song.
All good music is drawn from a person’s relationship with God. This is because songs are simply the transference of a person’s life into lyrical form, a distillation of our views and passions. The closer our values and emotions are tied to God, the more it will be evident in the songs that we write. When I first started writing worship songs they ended up being vague, partially because I was growing in my writing ability, but also because my ideas about God had the same mistiness as my lyrics. Think about proven, powerful songs, like Wesleyan hymns, or modern classics. They communicate specific, tangible revelations about God’s character and actions. Handel’s Messiah is an outstanding example of a man captivated by Jesus, who was able to miraculously produce one of the greatest pieces of worship music known to western society. There’s also Biblical precedence for this paradigm of song writing. King David wrote in Psalms 119 that God’s law was his meditation day and night, his delight. David’s constant study of scripture, as prescribed for the King under Mosaic Law, was the seedling from which the Psalms grew. This brings us to a more practical point; how do we develop depth in our relationship with Jesus?
The two primary ways that we can foster our holy story are through reading the Bible and talking to God. The Christian life is centered on delving into scripture, understanding what it reveals about the God we’ve pledged our allegiance to, and bringing those insights into a daily conversation with God. The Bible is a wide-open invitation to discover the author of life, but not just to look at him, to talk to him. How do we do that? Pick any passage in the Bible (make sure you understand the context of course), and instead of just reading through it, read it aloud. Every time there’s a statement about who God is, what He does, or what we are to do, make it into a sentence. For example Psalms 23 says that God is our shepherd. Instead of just mentally assenting to that, pause, and say it out loud.
“I thank you God that you’re my shepherd. Jesus, you are the good shepherd.” Let the Holy Spirit visit you on that point; take the time to feel the emotions and pictures behind the poetry. This is even applicable in the narrative portions of the Bible, where there may not be a lot directly talking about God’s identity. In Acts, we can pray for wisdom like Timothy, or love like John. God is delighted to hear his children speaking to him.
Then we must take the things God reveals to us and infuse our day with 15-30 second prayers. We can talk to him in the car, at work, at school, and at home. Anyone who loves Jesus can do it. Thank him for your job, for his beauty, for life, for anything that comes to mind. As Paul said in Thessalonians 5, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The result is a lifestyle that can’t help but shine the joy and beauty of Christ.
This directly influences our songwriting because it gives us a clear, definable concept of God’s character and a consistent love story that’s been walked out for years. It begins by singing that we love God’s law, that he is our meditation day and night, and that he is our exceedingly great reward, but it doesn’t end there. To write songs of worship we need lives of worship. To sing passionately about Jesus, we need to know him. That’s the joy of being a songwriter, and the secret behind all great worship songs.
Gilbert Randolph is a writer, musician, and artist. He’s spent much of his life involved in worship ministry and loves to share a Jesus centered approach on music and life.