God Guides. That’s the title of a book my mom gave me recently. Little stories about a missionary in India who listens to God daily and sees Him do miraculous things in her life and the lives of others as they obey His Spirit. That has nothing to do with the rest of this post. It’s just a really good book. You’re welcome.
Confession: I can tend to get focused on “the task” and all that I have to accomplish for the Kingdom and lose sight of the King whose presence is my reward. As believers, we know deep down in our gut that His presence is the one thing that will truly satisfy our inner spiritual thirst, don’t we? After all, if I’ve attained “the goal” of my work and not gained more of Him — known Him more intimately — what have I really gained?
John 6:29 — “They replied, ‘we want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?’ Jesus told them, ‘this is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.’”
So this is about writing a song. Songwriting is what I’ve done for years. As with all things gifted by God to fallible humans like me, I’ve had a rocky relationship with the gift. First I loved it innocently like a kid. “I wrote a song! Thanks, God!” Then I loved it clingingly, like an idol. “MY precious,” (Gollem voice). Then I had it taken away lovingly by the Lord. “But my identity was wrapped up in that, God!” Then he lovingly returned it to my now humbled heart. “I wrote a song! Thanks, God!” I honestly do my best to hold it with an open hand before Him. Some days are better than others, of course.
At the beginning of 2016 I had a meeting with Pastor Rick and asked him if there was anything our team could write a song about for the year. Since we were planning for 2016 to be the year in which as a church we walked through the One Year Bible together, Pastor Rick said he’d love it if we had a original song about the Word of God. Specifically how we need it every day, and how we can’t live without it. I took that as my assignment and set to work.
What a journey it was. I started as all journeys do, with great hope and expectation for God to immediately download “the song” into my eager, open consciousness. “I am your vessel, Lord…fill me!” As I started noodling around on the guitar, I felt the magical tingle of the Holy Spirit guiding my obedient fingers to “the four right chords that can make me cry.” I had a verse and chorus! Voila! All I needed was a bridge and I was done!
Settle down, cowboy! I had been entrusted as the steward of this song, but I knew I needed help. So I enlisted some of our more seasoned writers and my good friends, Johnny Lewis and Seth Flood. We brainstormed over coffee, because that’s the only proper way. Some of the questions we asked were: How do you write a song about The Word of God and not make it just a song about the Bible? How do you help people make the connection that the Bible that we read is the words of Jesus, who was “before all things” and who spoke all things into being? Then how do you write it in such a way that it feels like you as the worshipper are singing to Jesus, The Word of God?
The ideas and coffee were flowing like rivers of living water. The theological discussion was at it’s peak. This was the ticket! “I love my job!”
But as all journeys go, mountaintops eventually turn to valleys. Inspiration must at some point give deference to good, solid critique. The first time I played the fledgling tune for my mom, she said: “Hmm…(never a good opening word)…it seems like it’s missing that thing — what do you call it? The catchy part?” “You mean a hook, mom?” “Ya! That!” “OK. Thanks mom.”
So I scrapped the chorus. I played the verses sans chorus for Hannah Reeves. She said, “I’ve got this chorus line I’ve been playing with from an old hymn, it goes: ‘I need you, oh I need you.’” I felt like it was a perfect chorus start, and the second half of the chorus nearly wrote itself as we worshipped and played along. “Your Word is life to me. You never fail. You never fail me.”
John 6:63 — “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Hallelujah! “Thank you, God, for a memorable chorus!” The problem was something was still off with the verses. After playing through some verse options I landed on one that felt more hopeful and connected with the new chorus. The lyrics tumbled out from there and bore witness with my spirit (KJV way to say “felt right”). “Your Word’s my anchor through every storm. Jesus, my Savior and Risen Lord.”
Time to test it out. We played it for our All Staff worship service with minimal production and it went over well, but after talking it through with Worship Pastor Rebecca Shatswell, we discovered the song still lacked a good opening lyric.
Back to work! Drafting more help into my now baseball team sized group of co-writers, we brainstormed the new opening verse over group text. With much discussion, we finally landed on a solid opening verse. “In the beginning, the Word of God spoke through the darkness; creation dawned.”
The song finally felt done. It bore witness. Praise Jesus!
If I had to bullet point the simple lessons I learned from the journey, they would be:
- Critique is an investment. All along the way, the solid critique only served to make the end product better. And if we view our role in our work as being stewards of something God has given us, we won’t get our feelings hurt with critique, rather we’ll be thankful that the critique is helping us be better stewards of what is God’s to begin with.
- “In the multitude of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 11:14) It is amazing how the body of Christ is woven together such that where one part is weak another is strong. Always ask for help and trust that God has hidden just the answers you need in the people that he leads you to call upon for that help.
- Enjoy the journey. Always. Remember what I said about getting task-focused? Well, just like heaven and earth, the tasks that we spend so much time fretting over will some day fade away. (In 100 years who will remember the song “Your Word” by NLC Worship?) What won’t ever fade are the relationships we have. Relationships, like our Relational God, are eternal. Yes, work on the task and complete it, but enjoy the people you are working on the task with and the precious time God has gifted you to spend doing it with them. And let the coffee flow freely. Yes, let the coffee flow freely.