- A straightforward analysis of an essential aspect of worship songwriting.
(Originally published in Worship Leader July 07)
Have you ever been in a prayer meeting where someone has prayed out loud in a way that somehow seemed to capture both the heart of everyone praying, and also something of what the Holy Spirit seemed to be saying? It’s not that the prayer is necessarily filled with beautiful words and images, although sometimes they are, it’s more that they strike us as being true in a way that clearly connects us to God. In the Pentecostal environment I grew up in, the word we used for this was “anointing”—the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work. Good songs are prayers that the people of God need to pray right now.
There are many true things we could sing, pray and preach about. But the songs and prayers that lift us to God are the ones that connect our situations right now, with a particular and appropriate truth about God. These are the prayers prayed ‘with the Spirit’ of God. I think that even before we look at the point, or argument, we’re making in a song, even before we explore the images and lyrics we’d like to use, even before the melodies leave our mouths, we need to connect with God in this way. We need to have the Spirit of God guiding our prayers and our thoughts in a way that brings comfort and strength to God’s people.
Answering the Question “Why?”
There are many people who have a wonderful relationship with our Lord who, despite having a great desire to do so, find it difficult to write songs that congregations sing. In order for a song to work congregationally, I think it needs to have a strong revelation of who God is. But it also needs to have a strong logical argument. That is, it needs to make a point in a way that answers the question “why?” Let’s take a well-known song and distill its argument.
How Great Is Our God
So what is the main point Chris Tomlin is making with his song “How Great Is Our God”? Clearly, the point is that God is great. (It’s good writing and common practice to make the first or last line of the chorus the main point of your song, if it’s a verse/chorus kind of song.) Good arguments make their point clear by providing reasons that lead to the main point.
So let’s look at Chris’ song. Without reading below, see if you can identify all the different reasons he provides in support of his main point. That is, all the answers he gives to the question: Why is God great?
Hopefully your list looked a little like this:
Reason 1: God is splendid/has splendor
Reason 2: God is clothed in majesty
Reason 3: God is wrapped in light
Reason 4: Darkness is afraid of God (darkness trembles and hides from God)
Reason 5: God is ancient and eternal (age to age he stands/beginning and the end)
Reason 6: God is mysteriously triune
Reason 7: God is mysteriously fierce and gentle (the lion and the lamb)
Reason 8: God’s name stands above all other names
Main point: God is great
Can you see that within the poetry of the lyrics a strong and simple argument is being made? Chris provides eight reasons in support of his main point. And the reasons surface throughout the song, appearing in both the verses and the bridge.
However, if we look closer at Chris’ song we can see an even more complex argument at work. On one hand there is a simple argument being made in support of the statement, “God is great.” But there is a second point: sing and rejoice with me. And in response to the unspoken question “why?” Chris answers, “Because God is great.” It’s a simple argument, but without it the song would fall.
Main point: sing praises to God with me. Why? Because God is great.
If you’re still with me, congratulations! I know this stuff can be both intimidating and a little dry at times. But it really is the basis of communication. And what we’re looking at really is the backbone of every song that is sung regularly in your church.
To find out more about Brenton Brown, visit brentonbrown.com.