How to Write a Worship Song
Dr. David Bales, Worship Pastor
Hi! I’m David, and over the past several years, I have seen a number of videos and posts on how to write a great worship song. Evidently, it’s really important to make a reference to fire – something has to be on fire – our hearts, the Church, this generation. Fire, of course, is just one of the possible options. At one point, it seemed like the surefire way to write a great worship song was to mention troubled waters or orphans.
OK… It’s easy to poke fun at the over-use of words like fire, and seas, and orphans. On the other hand, images like these draw us back to the language of scripture itself. Fire, orphans, and seas are all connected with experiencing salvation. After a face to face experience with the risen Jesus, the disciples asked each other, “Do you remember how our hearts were burning inside us, as he talked to us on the road, as he opened up the Scripture for us?” (see also Jer. 20:9). Even more frequently, scripture makes reference to orphans when talking about how God saves us. “He [God] doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing. You must treat foreigners with the same loving care—remember, you were once foreigners in Egypt.” This reminder (originally intended for Israel) was not just about doing good and helping those who were less fortunate. It was a reminder that before God saved them, they were orphans themselves. But God became a Father to the fatherless when He brought them up out of Egypt. Jesus himself picks up on this image when He promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples (and us), “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Salvation isn’t just a past event that affects our future. Salvation means we are never alone because we have been born again into God’s family.
This past Sunday, two songs made reference to seas. In “Graves into Gardens,” we sang, “You turn seas into highways.” Water can bring life, but in Scripture, water can also be a threatening image —especially deep waters like the sea where a sudden storm could overwhelm you (see Psalm 107:23–31). Providing safe passage through the treacherous waters is an expression of God’s salvation. Mark Syptak said, “When I sing it, it makes me think of Israel walking through the Red Sea.” I think Mark’s is exactly right. Just like Israel escaped the threat of death when God parted the sea and they walked through on the dry ground, we went into the waters of baptism as slaves to sin and death – deserving death. Instead, God met us there with grace and raised us to new life. At the end of the service, we sang a song that brings our experience of salvation together with Israel’s. “You split the sea so I could walk right through it. My fears were drowned in perfect love. You rescued me so I can stand and sing, ‘I am a child of God.’”
Scripture is the story of God’s salvation. The best worship helps us remember. The best worship songs help us make the story our own.