Why Lyrics Matter…

Lyrics matter. All of us know that music has the ability to go where a 1,000 speeches (no matter how inspired or heartfelt) could never go. And because this is the true, lyrics matter.

I have often heard it said that the worship leaders are the true theologians of the Church. What this means is that what we sing is what is really taken into the conscious and sub-conscious of our people. It’s not the scholars who are on the front-lines (though without them, we would have no effective front line), it’s the singers and songwriters. If we sing and/or write bad or weak theology, the people believe bad or weak theology. If we sing and write the truth, people believe the truth.

Sadly, much of the current pop-music landscape (mainstream and Christian) is littered with annoying anecdotes, corny catchphrases, and horrible clichés. Lyrics matter! There’s a reason why James Taylor’s music is still loved after all these years…

I spent a few years hanging with James’ brother, Livingston Taylor (he took me under his wing during my college years). During our time together, he would often say that he and his brother were not the best singers and not the best songwriters. “But James is a master communicator,” he would say. And he was right. Love him or hate him, James’ lyrics have a way of communicating something transcendent, something beautiful. And James is cherished still because of this gift.

Will we as songwriters leave behind golden nuggets like John & Charles Wesley and John Newton did? Or will we simply be the noise of a generation that withers as soon as it is born?

In no way am I criticizing out of feeling that I’ve arrived! On the contrary, I am frustrated by my own shortcomings. I must confess, when I read some of my own lyrics, I am disappointed. How I long to write truly great songs! To write lines that inspires hope! Lines that makes people think. Lines that directs them to something and Someone greater than themselves.

Am I being overly dramatic? I don’t think so. How many times have you been at the end of your rope and turned to a song or a poem that gave the strength to hang on? How many times have you heard the soft whisperings of God through the power of music? I cannot keep count.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 30 years in a tiny cell. What gave this man the power, after those 30 years, to forgive the very people who put him there? This is the poem that, as he put it, “gave me the strength to stand, when all I wanted to do was lie down…”

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Lyrics matter. Help me Lord to write and to sing with divine inspiration. Help me not to settle for 2nd best. Anoint me to write hope. I cannot do this by myself.

Amen,
Steven Andy

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ashlyn
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 01:48:50

    This is such a true an great post. I am a huge lyric person and I can listen to a band that musically they aren’t that great, but because of the lyrics it keeps me listening to them.

    Also,I want you to know that I never know how to explain how I’m feeling especially when I fall into a spiritual rut and so many places in my journal have I just written the lyrics to songs from the ‘To Those Who Cry” CD, because the lyrics are exactly what I am feeling.

    Reply

  2. Curtis
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 14:46:03

    It’s great that you want to improve your song writing, but like most artist I think you are being you own worst critic. You have written some truly inspiring music and lyrics. I’ve gotten dozens of people hooked on 1000 Generations and they would agree. “Still,” still speaks to me every time I listen to it.

    Reply

  3. Steven Andy
    Apr 21, 2011 @ 00:08:02

    Thanks Ashlyn and Curtis. Your words are encouraging. Writing can be a really difficult thing. When I hear great songs like “The Old Rugged Cross” or “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” it does 2 things:
    a. inspire me,
    b. deflate me

    It’s inspiring because I love it! It’s deflating because it’s just so darned good!! 😉

    Steven

    Reply

  4. Bertram
    Apr 26, 2011 @ 10:00:38

    As a song writer who wishes to communicate God’s truth to the best of my ability, I fully understand what you’re saying here. I’m very happy that you’re struggling with the concept of writing excellent lyrics. It means you are pushing forward, doing your best and growing.

    It’s my opinion that there are many reasons for a song to be written, sung, aired, etc. Worship is one of those, but so are discipleship, dedication, inspiration, correction, among a myriad of topics. Some songs, like “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, are meant to be simple so that anyone can catch onto them quickly and sing a truth together. They’re not meant to go theologically deep. They do, however, have a very important purpose. Other songs such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” are meant to go much deeper, inspire us, touch our souls. They have an equally important purpose. There are other songs that are meant to lead us into worship and to seek a closer walk with God.

    One type of song that contemporary music seems to have avoided on the whole is “scripture songs”. We have a few, such as Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord”. We as Christians should be memorizing scripture (yes, I’m preaching to myself here), and I’ve noticed many Christians today have almost no knowledge of scriptures. What better way than to set it to music? Many of the songs I consider among my best have come from a Bible study where I either took a topic or a specific scripture, studied it as thoroughly as I could so that I could understand it, and then wrote those scriptures down in my own words as lyrics. These songs are powerful! If I were to challenge anyone to write a particular type of song today, it would be a scripture song.

    Reply

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