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Photo of John Chisum

One of the first Christian worship songs I remember being written directly out of the Word is Karen Lafferty’s “Seek Ye First.” It’s a classic song that’s known around the world and it’s still being sung by millions of people today.

But writing from the Word of God is nothing new. 

Photo by Laura E. Partain

Singing the Word has been practiced by the Church for millennia, both in private and public worship. The Book of Psalms is actually the “Hebrew hymnal” and many, if not all, of the psalms have been sung throughout the ages even prior to the time of Jesus.

So, how do you bring the Word to life in your own songwriting? Here are three ways to consider.

Writing from the Word

Writing verbatim Scripture songs. During my time at Integrity Music, I was part of the team that wrote and developed 26 Scripture Memory albums with ten songs each. These were all modern CCM-type settings of verbatim verses themed around, hope, peace, healing, faith, joy, and many more topics designed to get the Word deep into our souls by making them singable and memorable.

There are two ways to approach putting straight up Scripture to music. The first is to choose a passage such as the entire 23rd Psalm and craft a rambling “through-composed” melody with no repeats. Here’s a Youtube link to my treatment of The 23rd Psalm that did just that. While I love the result, it’s not extremely memorable. Obviously, there’s great benefit to hearing or singing God’s Word in whatever shape or form it comes in.

Christian songwriting is all about learning how to communicate the love of God in fresh, powerful ways.

The second way to write verbatim Scripture songs is to choose one key phrase such as “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5 – 6) and make a more singable and memorable “hook” out of it. One of the Integrity Music Scripture Memory songs I remember most was written from that passage in. You can listen to it HERE. The point of this type of Scripture song is to focus on a smaller passage and make it memorizable, especially for children.

Write an encouraging song from a specific Scripture passage. One of the masters of Christian songwriting is the CCM Artist, Jason Gray. Jason is a true wordsmith and has a loyal fanbase from his many years as a Centricity Music recording artist. I use his song “Sparrows” as the perfect example of a song that is obviously based on a specific Scripture verse, but which doesn’t directly quote it. 

In this case, Jason is basing the song on Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” He takes this passage and turns it into an uptempo radio hit that exhorts us to lose our worry and put our trust in God because “Even the sparrow knows/He holds tomorrow” (Words and Music by Jason Gray, Jonathan Smith, Mia Fieldes © 2015 Be Essential Songs, Not Just Another Song Publishing, So Essential Tunes, Upside Down Under (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC), Centricity Songs, Graybird Songs (Admin. by Music Services, Inc.) CCLI Song No. 7059874).

You might choose a verse like Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” and do something like:

We know, we know

We know that He is working

We know, we know

We know that He is good

We know, we know

We know that He is working

We know, we know

We know that He is good

Notice that I used the phrase “We know” as a little hook that repeats and makes the phrases memorable and singable. This could be a chorus, so the goal would be to make it the most memorable part of the song. The verses, as in Jason Gray’s song, would be conversational and catchy, but geared to lead the listener to the “payoff” chorus.

Bible story songs. A third way to write from the Word might be to bring a Gospel story or even an Old Testament story to life. The first ones I think of are “Arky Arky” and “Father Abraham,” but those are obviously on the children’s list of all-time fun faves to sing. 

What I’m referring to would be to craft a full-on story song around the Crucifixion and resurrection like Don Francisco’s classic “He’s Alive” or another epic passage.

The difficulty I sometimes see with story songs is that they can degenerate into a laundry list of facts about the story, a mere recitation of events, instead of an engaging retelling that moves us. Writers can forget that imagery moves listeners more than details and the whole thing can get boring in a New York minute. 

Two great examples of effective story songs are Beth Neilsen Chapman’s “Child Again” and Gordon Mote’s “God of New Beginnings” written by Sue C. Smith, Kenna Turner West, and Don Poythress. Each of them use imagery and pull the listener into the song instead of just spouting off facts. Notice how you feel a part of the action from the first line and stay engaged throughout to the very last line. 

CONCLUSION

Writing and singing songs from the Word is a tradition dating back thousands of years. Now it’s our turn to help bring Scripture to life in our time and in ways that can speak to the world around us. Be creative, experiment, research what modern Christian songwriters are doing with the Word. Jonathan Ogden is doing a wonderful job mixing Scripture-based into his music such as Psalm 91 and there are many others out there doing it once you start searching the interwebs for it.

Whether you write moving melodies to verbatim verses, craft a Jason Gray-style CCM song around a meaningful passage, or construct an epic Bible story song, great Christian songwriting is all about learning how to communicate the love of God in fresh, powerful ways. 

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