Stop Trying to Write Songs
What?! What a discouraging admonition you may be thinking after seeing the title of this article. Aren’t we encouraged to “sing a new song to the Lord” over and over again throughout the Psalms? Yes, exactly. Sing! Worship with a new song! Sing your prayers—from the depths of your soul. Cry aloud your honest expression of gratitude, praise, or lament, but try not to “try” writing a song. Are you confused?
I have discovered over the years that when I am in a room, trying to write a worship song from my head, searching for clever hooks and rhymes, it usually turns out sounding like a song that was written by a computer. A creative act that has the potential to draw our hearts toward God like nothing else can get poisoned when we start thinking too much about the pro- cess. Let’s ponder the shepherd boy David, tending sheep in the middle of nowhere looking up at the stars at night and sing- ing, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place … who am I that you are mindful of me?” Ob- serving a doe and her offspring drinking from a desert oasis he muses, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for You.” Imagine him singing that line again and again until sensing even more words that continue that strong affection he feels towards the Shepherd of his soul.
Because I’ve written so many bad, mechanical songs over the years, I try to make worship and private ministry to the Lord a priority—thinking less about writing and more about worshiping. I’ll often encourage songwriters to “quit writing songs for the next six months” and simply sing their prayers to God. Like the proverbial monkey on our back, there is something in our brains that can get all tied up, nervous, and self-conscious when we try, try, try, and edit, edit, edit. There is a time and a place for that, but if brought into the process too early it can stifle wonder—an essential ingredient in cultivating child-like creativity and freedom.
A New Song should sound more like a voice than an echo. I borrow that phrase from Spencer Cody, an American Indian who used to attend our church in East Texas. Often he would encourage and sometimes caution me with his verdict after I tested a new song in worship on a Sunday morning. He would simply say, “That sounds like a voice,” meaning the idea had roots and originality to it. Sometimes he would reluctantly share, “Sorry but that sounds more like an echo,” something contrived and assembled without authentic origins.
Birthed of Worship
I believe that the best worship songs happen as a byproduct of worship. We can tell our inner editor, “Hey get off my back; I’m not trying to write a song, I’m just singing my prayers.” I find myself enjoying the process so much more when all I’m doing is prayerfully singing out phrases, Scriptures, or as the Bible de- scribes “groanings too deep for words.” Sometimes just allowing our melodies to soar without words at the beginning of the process can stir up an honest emotion or perspective. There is a section in the song “Glorious” (from my new CD) where the melody just cries out trying to express the inexpressible. “Oh-oh-oh- oh-oh-oh-oh, You are Glorious!” That is repeated over and over again to give an outlet to this feeling—this raw sentiment that is reaching upward toward the Mysterium tremendum.