Stories Behind the Songs
If you’re the type of individual who purchases most of your music via digital downloading venues (iTunes or otherwise) and even if you do purchase a physical album, the credits and fine print hold no captivation for your short attention span, you can go ahead and move on to doing more important things because this post will be rather uninteresting to you. But for those of you who, like me, have from their earliest memories, poured over the album artwork on their favorite (and not-so-favorite) albums, read the names of all the musicians who provided the instrumentation, noted who wrote what song, read and re-read the private jokes in the “thank-you’s” (why do artists do that, anyways?) and memorized what studio this artist always records at, the following “stories behind the songs” might be worth your time. Otherwise, don’t bore yourself with these rather disjointed and wandering details.
I Will Praise Him, Still/I Will Praise Him - The triumph of praise - whether it be while gazing at the breathtaking beauty of a sunrise or cowering at the disheartening fear of a midnight black. Our God bends His ear to hear the praises of His children. Nothing brings Him more satisfaction than the applause of His possessions, during their victories, and during their defeats.
This song, originally written and performed by one of my favorite writers and artists, Fernando Ortega, was first introduced to our church when Jonelle, Morganne, and I were young kids. Years after we had learned (and almost forgotten about) the song, Jonelle suggested we sing it as a trio. When I went to listen to the song online several years ago to refresh my memory, I discovered Fernando Ortega’s simple artistry. He quickly became one of my favorite artists… I was glad I could include one of his masterpieces on this album.
He Means Something Good - Nearly every individual has wanted to ask God the proverbial question, “Why?” When hard times come, when situations overwhelm us, the question forms on our lips before we even know we are speaking it. This song was born while listening to a sermon preached by my brother, Martin Barnard, on the eighth chapter of Romans. During the sermon, Martin made the statement, “I don’t know what God means by some of the things He allows in our lives, but I know He means something good.” I cannot deny that A. W. Tozer’s famous quote from his book The Root of the Righteous had a deep effect on the lyrics of the second verse: "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply." …No, the answer to our age-old question will probably never be answered this side of eternity, but we can rest assured that our Father, “means something good.”
If We Could See Beyond Today - If I had only known… How many times have we said that? We are consistently bombarded with uncertainties and disquieting unknowns. I have a cousin who several years ago sent me a text message containing these lines, “If we could see, if we could know/ We often say/ But God in love a veil doth throw/ Across our way…” At the time, I thought it was a beautiful poem, but didn’t realize these lines were part of a song. I heard the song sung for the first time at a camp meeting in 2014. I knew then that this song would be on this album. I Choose to Trust - As a seven-year-old girl, I perused the artwork on Daniel and Angie Edward’s album, Too Much To Gain To Lose, and memorized which of the songs on the album Angie had written (and what year she wrote them. Literally. I didn’t have to look when I wrote the credits 14 years later). Her song, “I Choose To Trust,” is beautiful alone, but the chorus went so perfectly with “If We Could See.” …Again, I was privileged to be able to include a masterpiece from one of my favorite songwriters.
I Believe In Prayer - I first heard this song five years ago from a Bible school group that was touring for the summer. The song spoke powerfully to me then and so I asked Martin and Jonelle sing it with me shortly after we first heard it. In the nights that “hold no hope,” we know that prayer will make the difference!
God Moves in a Mysterious Way - William Cowper, a contemporary of the more famous John Newton, was plagued with horrible depression and an inescapable fear that he was predestined to be damned. What eloquent and moving lyrics came from the pen of one so oppressed by darkness… Our church hymnal does not include the more obscure verse, “Deep in unfathomable mines/ Of never-failing skill/ He treasures up his bright designs/ And works his sovereign will.” I found this in another book, but recognized its beauty directly in relation to Isaiah 45:3 - “And I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places.” God Still Moves - I first heard this song about 10 or more years ago as sung by Steve and Annie Chapman. The verses that they had put with Christopher Machen’s chorus weren’t really related to the type of song I would sing in church, so I rewrote a set of verses. A few years after that, I found out that Christopher Machen had written verses with the chorus originally. But a few months before going into the studio, I decided I didn’t like the verses too well that I had written at thirteen years old, so I wrote new ones. So fourth’s time charm… these verses reflect an unwavering belief that God hears the prayers of his children. When it least looks like he is moving… he is doing his work! When those we look up to change their direction… when prayers remain unanswered… God is not sleeping: He is moving! A convoluted concoction of lyrics, I know, but this was a message of which I was powerfully convicted.
Heart of a Child - This song was written on Christmas Eve 2011 shortly after I turned seventeen. Each verse reflects a definite lesson that God was trying to teach me at the time: trust, faith, and love. Over the course of the year prior to writing this song, God changed the plans that I had counted on for a long time, goals that I had worked towards for several years…thus the lines, “When we know where the journey is ending/ And we know where the journey’s to start.” At the time, I didn’t feel like I knew either. It was during this year that God tested my faith in his promises more profoundly than I had ever been tested to that point in my life… “But when we pray so long/ And no answer’s here/ We doubt your promise/ We give way to our fears.” And maybe more esoteric and less comfortable are the lyrics to the last verse. I recently reworked the lines, but they carry the same message of five years ago. The easiest thing to do when others hurt us is to close our hearts and quit loving… “We grow weary of the loving/ And we fear the grief again.” God was faithful to me and reminded me of the importance of a childlike trust, a childlike faith, and a childlike love. It was about five years before anyone heard this song; I struggled to put this one on the album more than any other song, but I felt very definitely that I was to include it. And so, though it is long, protracted, and maybe a bit verbose, I trust that it will speak to other hearts.
All Sufficient God - In the spring of 2015, I was attending a Bible school choir service and this song was sung by the choir. Its lyrics spoke to me then and even more afterwards as I listened to the recording. My favorite lines are, “I will love like you through all lack/ You are the keeper of my treasure/ You do not take and not give back.” They seemed to so perfectly weave together with the message of “Heart of a Child.” In every want, he is our all sufficient God.
Be Still, My Soul - I believe this song is familiar to most of us. I had never heard the verse I included on the album until my cousin (the same one who sent me the poem, “If We Could See,”) recently sent me this less known verse. When other friends fail us or we lose them to a physical tragedy, Jesus will prove himself to be sufficient and sweet. For This I Have Jesus - I inadvertently discovered this song in the spring of 2016 when trying to locate another song by its author (Graham Kendrick, better known for his songs, “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” and “All I Once Held Dear (Knowing You, Jesus)”). I quote from Kendrick’s website as he tells his “story behind the song:"
“This song was triggered by a line from a sermon. Bible teacher Charles Price was preaching at Spring Harvest in 1994, and illustrated some of the points in his talk by referring to an elderly Christian he knew. For many years his friend had this simple but profound saying that he would apply whatever came his way, whether challenge or tragedy: ‘For this I have Jesus’.
I was sitting on the platform, because I was leading worship in that meeting. As I listened, I began to see not only the point, but also the potential for a song. So I scribbled down a few thoughts and experimented with a melody in my head. When I had a bit of time back in my room, I started to sketch out the song.
I thought, ‘Let’s make everything build up to this line, “for this I have Jesus”.’ So the song is very much a list of things for which ‘I have Jesus’, that I can identify with, that others can identify with. It’s turned out to be one of those songs that encourage people who are going through difficulties, a formula to help them bring their problems to Christ instead of resorting to worrying, fear and anxiety and blaming other people – which is always what we tend to do when things go wrong.
We all lean on something, particularly when the hard times come. The question is the quality of what we are leaning on. Is it a substitute, a counterfeit, or is it the real thing? The Christian teaching is that we were never made to be simply independent of God, we were made for God, and to find fulfilment in a relationship with him. So without that we are incomplete and we haven’t fulfilled the purpose of our existence…
…we don’t need Jesus just for the bad times. We need him in the good times, too – as the song points out. We need him to cope with our success. Success can tempt us to become presumptuous or imagine that somehow we’ve done something great all by ourselves – as opposed to it really coming from the grace of God. For those times we have Jesus, too, the Jesus who came into his world not to be served, but to serve, and whose greatest success appeared at the time to be a gigantic failure – the cross.” (taken from: http://www.grahamkendrick.co.uk/songs/stories-behind-the-songs/item/455-story-for-this-i-have-jesus).
The thought that comes to my mind very often when I hear of another’s sorrow or burden that seems overwhelming is: Jesus will be big enough. Kendrick’s song puts it so simply: if we Jesus, he will be enough… “For This I Have Jesus.”
Never One Time - This song was written in early December of 2015, quite by accident. I was playing the piano to provide background music at a viewing. After many hours of almost continuous playing, I was getting bored and started making stuff up. Quite unexpectedly, I started playing the beginning of the melody to the verses of this song. When I realized what I was playing, I grabbed my phone and started recording myself because I thought the tune would be really pretty for a song. The next morning, around 6:30 a.m., the lyrics to the verses starting coming into my head. I ran to the piano, and in the dark started singing and recording. A few of those lyrics I ended up using, but in the middle of it, I realized I’d repeated, “Never One Time” a few times, and decided it would be a cool theme for the song. I spent the rest of the day writing the lines in-between trying to do other things. That evening, after I had taken a nap, I sat down and sang it all for the first time (making up part of the tune as I went). …The moral of the story: don’t write the music to a song right after you wake up. I originally pitched the song a key lower and sang the lower range with no problem. I will never be able to hit those notes again, and even yet, I can still hardly reach, “What he meant by what he did” in the higher key. …The only true inspiration I can claim I received for this song came from a friend who has known sorrow and pain far more deep and terrifying than most of us want to imagine. After they had walked through several dark years, my friend told me, “Jesus has been so sweet.” I wanted to include this line exactly, but could only get the line, “Never one time/ Has he been anything but precious,” to go with the rhythm of the song. This song truly came from Jesus.
Of the few heartaches I have known in this life… looking back on moments when friends walked away and others did not understand me… taking into perspective the roads I’ve walked that have appeared obscure and abstruse… I can attest to the fact that Jesus has never forsaken, ignored, or failed me. And always, in every circumstance, I have found him to be more precious than any friend could ever be.
Bow the Knee - This is another Christopher Machen song. I grew up hearing this song and on November 10, 2015, I started hearing it in my head again. In retrospect, I realized I decided to include this song on the record the day that Amanda Blackburn, pastor’s wife at Resonate Church in Indianapolis, was shot and killed in her home. The lines “And there seems to be no reason/ For the suffering we feel/ We are tempted to believe God does not know…” seem so fitting in moments such as these. But sometimes this is all we are asked to do: to submit to a plan that is far more knowing and seeing than our own.
Worship the Lord - I was so glad to be able to sing this song with my mother. We first heard this song quite a few years ago at a ministerial convention. The song became a “treasure in the dark” for my mom for many months. Its message, first resounded by Job in the first chapter of the book bearing his name (Job 1:20), is timeless and imperative.
I Bless Your Name - Micah, Jonelle, and I have sung this song together for many years. Over and over again, we have witnessed that when we begin to give God praise, in spite of the fact that circumstances don’t exactly “necessitate” the praise, our God inhabits those praises. Regardless of the “midnight hour” that we are encountering, we can bless God for his goodness and faithfulness. He will respond to the praise of his children!
I Shall Not Pass This Way Again - I found the lyrics to the verses of this song in Lettie Cowman’s devotional book Springs in the Valley when I was about 14 years old. I really liked the poem, so I put it to music and wrote the chorus to go along with it. This song puts so many things into focus and reminds us that whatever we do, we can only live this life once. May each of us determine to live our lives in such a way that others will see Jesus in us and be compelled to come to know Him from the reflection they see us display of him.
Photo credit: https://thewritersrefuge.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/close-up-of-turning-pages.jpg.