Monday, December 3, 2007

Song Stories: Blessed Be The Lord God Almighty - by Bob Fitts

"Father in Heaven, how we love you, we lift Your name in all the earth...."

From the opening line, Bob Fitts' "Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty" is brimming with passion and truth. In a mere 16 measures, it tells as much about the character of God as it does the heart of a worshiper. With pure and powerful lyrics layered over a flowing melody and ascending chords, "Blessed Be" is well-written, effective and singable. That's what you'd expect, though, from a fellow like Bob Fitts.

Associated with Youth With a Mission since the early 1980s, he founded the School of Worship at YWAM's University of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii, in 1990. In addition, he's done much - worldwide - to model excellence in worship. Fitts has appeared as worship leader on six independent recordings, five Integrity projects and a groundbreaking Maranatha! work. He's in such demand as a teacher and worship leader that his schedule is jammed for a year in advance. Besides writing dozens of great praise songs, he's also introduced the Church to the finest writing of others.

With peacock feathers like these in his cap, you might imagine that "Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty" was written between studio sessions while sipping guava nectar. Nothing could be further from the truth. "I hope that writing good songs doesn't mean you have to go through hard times," he ponders, "but ... I kind of think it does."

In 1981, Fitts left his worship leading position in California to follow what he and his wife Kathy recognized as the prompting of the Lord. They packed a few belongings and took their infant and toddler to Kona, to join YWAM. In Kona, they found themselves involved in a work quite different from what they had originally been told. They felt disappointed, and maybe even a little betrayed.

Their living conditions were, to say the least, "interesting," says Fitts. "They have houses over here called 'coffee shacks,'" he explains, laughing. "These are basically old buildings that were built for coffee farmers." To put it simply, poverty in paradise, with two small children, was no luau for the Fitts. "I'd pretty much gotten to the end of my rope," he says. One day, he was asked to sing and play a special number at a local church. Fitts accepted the offer, but his confidence and creativity were at low ebb. He couldn't even think of a song to play. "I was discouraged," he says, remembering how he thought, "maybe I'll just write a song." Picking up his guitar, he began to touch the strings and sing. "Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty" was birthed on the spot. "The song just came," says Fitts. "Really in five or 10 minutes." He sensed the hand of God in the song and decided to play it at church the following morning. Unfortunately, the song slipped from his mind. Worse, he had failed to record it. "So I got up in front of this church, trying to sing it, and basically faked it the whole way through," he says, chuckling as he recalls the incident. The song, though, would not be silenced. "On the way home from church, it came back to me," Fitts explains. "I went home and put it on a cassette."

From there, YWAM worship teams began to take it all over the world. At the same time, Fitts was invited to join a tour with David and Dale Garrett of Scripture in Song, which increased the song's exposure. It was first recorded in 1984 on Fitts' own Take My Healing to the Nations but has since appeared on Maranatha! and Hosanna! projects. Since then, he says, "I can go just about anywhere in the world and people will recognize it."

Perhaps the most memorable experiences came when Fitts was sitting in the stands at Olympic Stadium in Seoul, Korea, as thousands began singing "Blessed Be" in Korean. As he watched the jumbotron pan the huge crowd of worshiping Asian faces, he was overwhelmed. "It was too much for me," he recalls fondly. "I just started crying!"

Much has changed in his life since the time he sang the song in a coffee shack. He and Kathy have been married for 22 years and have four children. His personal dream to exalt Jesus in the nations has come to pass, not only in his life, but in that of his family. "I just got off the phone with my oldest boy, Andy, who was one year old at the time of the writing of the song," Fitts says. "He's now in Europe traveling with a praise band." Fitts, now 43, is no longer directing the School of Worship, but remains in Kona, where his publishing and recording work still operates under YWAM.

His newest recording project, Comfort My People, is soon to be released. It expresses a fresh direction for Fitts' worship ministry: targeting and touching broken people with practical compassion. To worship leaders, Fitts says, "there is no failure in our lives, no height of success that is greater than the God we serve. He is above all and worthy of praise in both circumstances. "Both when He has you in a coffee shack in Hawaii wondering why you're stuck on a rock out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean or when you're standing in a stadium with close to 100,000 people from a different nation, using a song that you wrote in that little coffee shack. "At those two extremes, and in everything in between, God is awesome, awesome, awesome. He never changes, He's always good. Music is just a tool to say that."

"Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty," (© 1984, Scripture in Song). Lyric printed with the permission of the author.

Phil Christensen is worship pastor of Chapel of the Hills Church in Brightwood, Oregon.

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