Songs That Changed the Way We Worship
From the old-time hymns up to the modern worship movement, the church has plenty of classics to choose from on any given Sunday. But with more and more contemporary services popping up across the country, worship leaders are turning to today’s top songwriters like Darlene Zschech, Matt Redman, Paul Baloche (pictured left), Chris Tomlin, Delirious, Marvin Sapp and more for the most timely inspiration.
The recently released 25 Songs That Changed the Way We Worship chronicles Integrity music label’s lauded history of helping congregations raise their hands in praise. And it also guided gmcTV in compiling a list of ten favorites spanning various genres and labels that are sure to stand the test of time. Before delving into the sample (which is by no means exhaustive, but simply a general inspirational overview), we picked the brains of some praise purveyors about the key elements to their craft.
“I think [worship songs] need to be Biblical, congregational, poetic and relevant,” ponders Matt Redman, writer of this list’s “Blessed Be Your Name” and many others. “I think relevance is definitely a really helpful musical quality, making sure that what we do doesn’t feel in any way ‘alien’ within our culture. I love that someone 'unchurched' could arrive one Sunday morning and hear people singing in a style they can relate to and feel at home. But as important as the music is, the lyric of course is ultimate, for we are carrying eternal truth. The challenge is to write songs that address many different aspects of the nature and character of God in as profound a way as possible.”
For Darlene Zschech, the voice behind “Shout to the Lord” and a stable of other Hillsong Music classics, the recipe for writing a connective, life-changing song is sporting just the right balance between glorifying God, uplifting audiences, and being simple enough for anyone to sing. “The songs must be lyrically current, full of revelation [and help] to bring resolve to people’s questions,” she suggests. “The melody should be strong and engaging. You should not have to be an amazing vocalist to be able to sing songs for the masses. Anthemic songs always win in the end. A congregation loves songs that lift in both melody and lyric and ultimately bring glory to our great God. In the end, we can write what we would call amazing songs, but if they are for a congregation, it is the congregation who ultimately decides if it will live or not.”
Without further adieu, here are ten familiar praise tunes (listed alphabetically) and commentary from either the writers themselves, or the musicians who've been inspired by them.
It’s only fitting that we launch the list with this particular momentum-building ballad, since it reminds listeners to not only make the Lord their number-one priority, but to never forget the power of the cross. “When Paul Baloche and I wrote the song," recalls co-writer Lenny LeBlanc, "he had already finished the verse but it still needed a chorus. As we began looking at the lyrics in the verse, we realized that God’s preeminence had clearly been established. But if we continued that theme in the chorus, we would be repeating ourselves, so we turned it around and approached it from a different perspective [of] Philippians 2: ‘...Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, ...he made himself nothing... by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ There is so much inspiration in the cross and it’s an amazing demonstration of the love of God.”
“Blessed Be Your Name”
This up-tempo, Brit-pop tune was originally penned by Matt Redman, but has been remade by countless artists, for both its catchiness and socially relevant premise. “I’d been wanting to write a song which presented worship as a choice we make – in both the easy and tough times of life,” Redman explains. “Then 9/11 hit, and I think that became the seed of this song. My wife Beth and I were on sabbatical at the time in California and visited many different churches. I remember hearing so many brilliant preaching responses from pastors – speaking powerful and helpful truth into that intense moment. But I remember wondering, ‘Where are the songs? What vocabulary do we have in worship for a moment like this?’ I think those thoughts helped birth the song. We decided to base it around the powerful and profound words of Job in the Bible: ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’”
“How Great Is Our God”
Though Chris Tomlin has penned a significant number of today’s most regularly played church tunes, this co-write with Jesse Reeves and Ed Cash is a sure standout given the glory it conveys with sophisticated simplicity. “Chris is so great at writing simple songs that you sing after one time of hearing them,” notes admirer and pop singer/songwriter Yancy. “That’s a huge reason this song was so big. It’s around the best concept of any song we could sing – the greatness of God. There’s something beautiful when God’s creation gives Him the praise that He created them to give. This song sings those praises perfectly!”
“I Could Sing of Your Love Forever”
It might be hard to pinpoint exactly what song launched the modern worship movement, but UK favorites Delirious were certainly forerunners in getting the ball rolling during the 1990s. In fact, fans can relive several versions of this particular track and others from the band’s influential breakthrough on the new box set The Cutting Edge Years – 20th Anniversary Edition (Kingsway), which collectively recalls the group’s progressive musical creativity with instantly contagious lyrics. Perhaps appreciator/fellow contemporary Christian hit maker Dara Maclean best summarizes the song’s enduring spirit. “‘I Could Sing of Your Love Forever’ has a chorus I think I will be singing for eternity every time I see another facet of His love for me.”
“Mighty to Save”
From its initial days being performed by Hillsong to being covered by Michael W. Smith, Newsboys and pretty much everyone else under the sun, “Mighty to Save” has certainly served as a textbook worship anthem, but with a few unexpected lyrical twists. “I have been able to use that song in so many thematic situations, like compassion, our need for forgiveness, needing a Savior [and] shining our light for the world to see,” shares praise leader and faith-flanked pop tunesmith Aaron Shust. “I’m glad we have such a thematically versatile song to sing. Plus it’s such a breath of fresh air to start a song with that disarming statement: ‘Everyone needs compassion.’ How unique.”
“Never Would Have Made It”
Since being written in the wake of his father’s death, Marvin Sapp’s soulful ballad has been used to praise God through storms of varying degrees. Though lines like “When I look back over all you brought me through/I can see that you were the one I held on to” have been sung all the world over in various styles, James Mileti of the "Jesus Music" duo The Sunrise attributes its success to “the passion of its presentation.” Adds Rebecca Mileti: “It communicates how God can transform our lives, giving pure thanks to God for our salvation. It also shows how without His grace, we are lost.”
“Open the Eyes of My Heart”
The subject of spiritual awakening is common in the world of praise, but none has been summarized as sweetly and memorably as this Paul Baloche tune initially inspired by Ephesians 1:18 (where the apostle Paul says “I pray the eyes of your heart would be enlightened”). Offers Baloche: “One of my early pastors would often pray before he would preach ‘Lord, tonight as we look into Your word, we pray that You would open the eyes of our hearts, that we might understand and comprehend Your great mysteries.’ That phrase just rolled around my head a lot in the mid-90s and I would often just sing out that phrase towards the end of our worship times. It became a prayer for our church and we would sing that phrase over and over again. After a while, I just felt like we might as well finish the song, so my first instinct was to go to Isaiah and read through that passage in 6:1 that says ‘I saw the Lord, He is high and lifted up, and the train of His robe is filling the temple.’ It was a season in our church where we were praying for revival, so I added the line ‘Pour out your power and love as we sing holy, holy, holy.’”
Those who pick up the 25 Songs That Changed the Way We Worship collection will catch Gateway Worship’s version of “Revelation Song.” (Phillips, Craig and Dean also had a smash hit with the song, originally penned by Jennie Lee Riddle.) But no matter who’s behind the mic for the beautiful ballad, the lines of Biblical adoration are sure leap to life, as pointed out by longtime worship leader and rising recording artist, Raymond Gregory. “There is always a great hope in joining with the angels singing words straight from scripture and knowing that it’s all a ‘rehearsal’ of sorts for when we get to spend eternity worshiping Him in Heaven!”
“Shout to the Lord”
If there’s any song that’s guaranteed to get the entire congregation’s hands in the air, it’s this glistening ballad that first came from the land down under. “My main inspiration was God Himself,” unveils writer Darlene Zschech. “I was at such a low point, and it was only as I went to Him to pour my heart out and read the Word that ‘Shout’ came about very, very quickly and easily. It took about 20 minutes to write, and I kept it to myself as I was so unconfident as a writer, I couldn’t bear to play it to anyone.” Thankfully she did because it’s become both a bedrock for the brokenhearted and a pleasant reminder to rejoice in His glory.
“You Are Faithful”
In closing out this round-up, it seems appropriate to look to the future with a song that’s currently picking up steam and could quite possibly land in the same category as the above. It comes from Raymond Gregory, the aforementioned solo recording artist and worship leader with Greg Laurie’s Harvest Ministries, who sings gallantly of God never forsaking his people, no matter how difficult the season. “What makes a tune a ‘worship song’ is really the lyrics,” he muses. “If the sentiment, art, and theology are right in a song, I find that it will be effective in almost any setting. With that said, I do believe the marriage of words with the right musical backdrop stirs something in us and moves us to a place of worshipful focus. It’s really a gift from the Lord that He would allow us to use something as emotionally charging as music to lift His praises.”
Copyright 2012, watchgmctv.com. For permission to repost or reprint, click here.
About the Writer
Andy Argyrakis is a Chicago-based entertainment writer/photographer who appears in the Chicago Tribune, IllinoisEntertainer, Daily Journal, Concert Livewire, Hear/Say Magazine and Image Chicago (to name few). His record label writing credits include Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Curb, EMI and Universal, with additional photo credits for Fuse TV, Live Nation, Nikon, Pollstar, Celebrity Access, Paste Magazine, MTV.com and Vibe.com. He’s also the author/narrator of "Access Matthews" (an audio CD tracing the career of Dave Matthews Band) and spends considerable time on tour, including outings with Arlo Guthrie, The Guess Who, Madina Lake (on Linkin Park’s Projekt Revolution) and Gospel Music Channel’s very own "Gospel Dream" (where he served as season one judge).
News You May Also Like
Believe it or not, the term “modern worship” didn’t really pop up until the late 1990s when acts like Delirious, Sonicflood and Matt Redman were crafting culturally relevant music grounded in praise. These days, that umbrella has grown exponentially to not just include artists...
Heeding the call of Psalm 96:1, namely to “sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the Earth,” the latest praise projects from your favorite artists really couldn’t be more diverse. Proving there are many wonderful expressions of adoration to the King, here’s the...
Every song is a chapter taken straight from the singer-songwriter’s life, detailing the highs and lows of the past decade – the marriage of her step-daughter, the 2010 Nashville flood, the unexpected deaths of close family and friends and the struggle of both her mother and her father...
Download of the Week
Pivotal scenes in a movie are even more exciting and inspiring with great music. Listen and download a song from the...