It occurred to me recently that I’ve never blogged about one of my biggest God Moments, and it is time to right that wrong.
It all started one day when I decided to play hooky from church … or so I thought.
For the Family Day Weekend of 2011, my family and I decided to stay home, instead of loading up the car and driving to crowded, expensive Kananaskis for a few days of winter frivolity. There are better restaurants, swimming pools, skating rinks and sledding hills here in Calgary anyway, and our Wii console and board game library would provide hours of family fun in our cozy, well-equipped home.
So on that Sunday morning, when I’d normally have been onstage with my music team, running through that day’s worship songs, I lazily ambled out of bed, took a shower and started shaving. As I often do while getting ready for the day, I was praying.
I prayed that the staycation would strengthen our family and deepen our faith. I prayed for a stronger relationship with God, and suddenly, these words sort of fell out of my mouth:
‘Open my eyes that I may see You, open my ears that I may hear. Open my heart that I may love You all the more.’
This is a worship song. And I need to write it – right now.
Not ‘could be’. Not ‘should’. Not ‘sometime.’ Is. Need to. Now.
Now, up until that time, I’d never written a worship song. I had written some secular songs now and then in previous years, but few of them were any good, so I’d decided years earlier to focus my musical energy on singing and playing the work of more talented people. I’d been content to lead my congregation using ditties penned by folks like Paul Baloche, Chris Tomlin and Brian Doerksen.
But on February 20, 2011, I was immediately convinced that this ‘Open my eyes’ phrase was downloaded into my brain, directly from heaven, and it didn’t matter that I didn’t seem myself as much of a songwriter. I could tell that this experience was going to be completely different – it wasn’t for me to create the song, but to reveal what God had just put on my heart.
I also knew before I finished shaving that I was going to perform the song in church, one week later. You see, at our church, members of the congregation are occasionally invited to share a bit about what God is doing in their lives, and Sunday, February 27, 2011 was my turn. Why else would He have given me this song to write, one week before my testimony?
So I left the bathroom and headed straight for the empty bedroom I used as an office. I picked up my guitar, and started trying things out. I didn’t even aim for originality in the chord progression. It’s formulaic, simple and repetitive – deliberately so, in fact – just like most worship songs.
As for the lyrics, I set aside my usual ‘second-guess everything and never go with your first idea’ approach and instead embraced the first words that came to mind – regardless of whether they seemed cliche or trite. A ‘just go with it’ mentality emerged – not unlike the adrenaline-fuelled euphoria that had driven me to start this Disciplehood blog a few months earlier.
The lyrics of the song emphasize the grace of God, our call to work from (not for) our Salvation and wrestle with the challenge of knowing what it looks like to live into our redeemed selves. They draw from the inexhaustible insight mine known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and pay a small homage to one of the greatest songs ever written – no, not Danny Boy, Hotel California or Mama’s Got a Squeezebox, Amazing Grace, silly!
The entire song – including the basic idea for the guitar solo (because every song I write has to have a guitar solo, regardless of the fact I really only know how to play three different solos: major, minor and slide) – came together in less than an hour.
‘Wait. Not so fast, Baldy. If I’m going to perform this in church next week, I’m going to have to teach it to the rest of my music team,’ I said to myself. ‘The easiest way to do this is to provide them with a recording. Well, whaddayaknow, I’m a Mac user, and every Macintosh computer for the past decade or so is equipped with a built-in recording studio called GarageBand.’
I found a drum loop I liked in the GarageBand inventory and let it run, strummed through the rhythm guitar on my entry-level 12-string, played the (arguably too busy but I love it) bass line on my ultra-cheap EBay acoustic, fumbled through some simple keyboard parts on my Mac’s QWERTY keyboard, sang two tracks of vocals into a USB microphone that came with my Guitar Hero game, trotted out some tried-and-true Petkau licks for the intro and fills, and then played every slide guitar trick I know in the solo.
Bada bing, bada bang, bada boom, I’d just recorded a demo version of All the More, my very first worship song.
From lightbulb moment to final product, All the More took about six hours, including lunch. And it’s still probably the best thing I’ve ever written – musical or otherwise.
When I compare this experience to the hundreds of hours I’ve spent agonizing over other songs I attempted to write, and ended up with maybe five ditties anyone in the world (including me) would ever want to listen to, I’m led to an inescapable conclusion:
I’m not much of a songwriter, except when I let God do all the work.
And I’m actually fairly OK with that.
I still dabble with the artform from time to time – 19 Blessings is the result of a songwriting exercise in which I took the lead, and I’m fairly pleased with it.
But I don’t ‘need’ to be a worship songwriter, by any means.
† † †
As a quick aside, my brother Barry – who taught me everything I know about music (see photo below) – actually prefers 19 Blessings to All the More and he may have a point from a strictly musical perspective. But these are both intended to be worship songs, and congregations connect much more emphatically with AtM than 19B, so there’s no doubt which is the better ditty in terms of accomplishing what it was designed to accomplish.
† † †
OK, back to Calgary in 2011, when I’d just finished writing and recording All the More.
A week came and went, and I delivered my testimony in lieu of sermon, and wrapped it up by performing the song pretty credibly with my great friends in the Holy Trinity Anglican Church music team.
What followed exceeded my expectations rather uncomfortably: thunderous applause (by Anglican standards, at least), and a standing ovation.
And it went on for quite a while, too. (Or it seemed like it to me, anyway.) I was so taken aback by the experience that I wished they’d stop.
I tried to say ‘thank you’ into the microphone, but was too choked up to make much sound. And that’s OK, I realized after a couple of minutes. My church family wasn’t really clapping for me, anyway.
They were clapping for God. And if I’d realized that in the moment, I’d have joined them.
† † †
The experience of writing and debuting All the More was one of the most powerful God Moments of my life, and I often wonder why God did that.
Has God wanted to use me to reveal other worship songs but I’ve had my eyes, ears and heart closed to God’s leadings? Did God guide me through that experience in order to carve new neural pathways in my soul, so I could follow the same paths in the future and write God songs with similar gusto and ease without God’s active participation, and I’ve failed to get the hint and the pathways have grown over? Or was it simply a one-off, where God blessed my socks off that way on that day, and has blessed (and will continue to bless) my socks off on other days in other ways?
I dunno. I’m trying to keep my ears open in case the Holy Spirit feels like another musical collaboration sometime. But even if does turn out to have been a one-time thing, I’m humbled, proud and grateful that I was given the chance to be a channel through which God worked on that day five years ago.
And I’m really glad we decided to play hooky from church.
Peace be with you.