Saturday, December 15, 2007

Where Worship Songs Come From - Tommy Walker

Where should we go for inspiration in writing great worship songs? Tommy Walker encourages us to look at 7 areas.

Before we discuss any other sources of inspiration we must first celebrate the imagination. Psalms 119 tells us to meditate on God's wonders. Webster describes wonder as "awed astonishment." When was the last time you were taken over by the wonder that is God? We are in awe at the vastness of the galaxies and wonder what lies beyond the stars we see at night. Just as God created the galaxies He created imagination. And to wonder is to use imagination.

One of the reasons we love songs about heaven is because the concept of heaven is so mysterious to us. Our imagination is such an incredible gift from God, yet we so rarely use it in positive and productive ways. Every object made by man at one time existed only in someone's imagination. Even the universe at one time existed only in God's imagination. To write a worship song is to imagine it in your mind before you even touch a guitar or keyboard, before you sing a single word of the lyric.
Psalm 40:3 says, "He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord."

Being constantly tuned into my imagination is a crucial part of my songwriting process. Can I imagine a song that will make a hard-hearted person cry, or a person burdened with sadness laugh? Can I imagine a song played at a fast tempo, but with slow drawn-out lyrical phrases? Can I imagine a shuffle in a minor key, or an entire congregation singing rap? I just dream.

I'll constantly play out different song scenarios in my mind. Nothing is more powerful then a spirit-led imagination. Philippians 4:8 encourages us this way, "...whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things." Fill your mind with the good things of God and dare to dream, dream, dream!

Devotions Or Quiet Times
About eighty percent of my songs come out of my personal times of devotion with the Lord. In fact, the songwriting process has evolved into a big part of my time with God.

The most important element in the writing of great worship songs is having a personal relationship with God. Luke 6:46 says, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." As we fill our hearts and minds with God's Word, His words will automatically flow out of us and into our songs.

Making quiet times a regular part of your life is also a great way to handle the busyness and hurriedness that contemporary living pushes upon us, and that sometimes we bring upon ourselves. I have never written a song when I was in the midst of the kind of pressure that comes from trying to do too much. How can God inspire us with a new song if our minds are too cluttered, noisy and busy to hear Him?

As songwriters we must do our best to make time for solitude. Time alone with our God is always the best way to get things back into perspective, relieve stress, and slow down the pace of life a little bit. Being rested and focused on God makes us more receptive to His ways and thoughts, and that includes song ideas.

Sermons And Teachings
Another good source of inspiration is the church sermon. You can look to your very own pastor for a little inspiration as well as a great song idea now and then. Whenever I'm in a church service or at a conference I always keep my ears open wide, listening for that lyrical hook to show up.

Special teaching seminars and church Bible studies can also lead you to your next worship song. The very nature of a Bible study or class is to focus on the details of God's Word. It can be like the Lord flashing a neon sign in front of you with the theme of your next song.

Good Times, Bad Times
Being a Christian songwriter has enabled me to express what is going on inside my heart to the Lord. Writing a worship song can bring a release to your spirit like few things can. When I am in the midst of extreme circumstances, whether good or bad, I make a conscious effort to evaluate the details of the situation. Then comes the obvious question: should the circumstances-good, bad or both-be communicated in a song?

I remember calling Andy, my best friend from childhood, shortly after finding out that he had an inoperable brain tumor. I wanted to comfort Andy; I wanted to ease his burden. My thoughts eventually focused on the truth found in scripture-no matter how horrible the circumstances, no matter how difficult things may seem, God is always with us. Knowing He is near always gives me great hope.

I quickly turned to one of my favorite Psalms, Psalm 46. It says, "God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea..." I soon knew that this was the message I needed to communicate to my friend in song. And out of that scripture came a song titled Be Still And Know. The hook line is: "Therefore we have hope and we will not fear. For our God is near."

"Be Still And Know" was eventually recorded at Christian Assembly during our Live At Home concert, and I sent the completed CD to Andy. Whenever I hear "Be Still And Know" I think of Andy and all the other people who must go through impossibly tough circumstances. Whether in this life or the life to come, we know there is always hope because our God is near.

Worship Services
Many times I'll get song ideas in the midst of a worship set, or at the end of the set when my pastor, Mark Pickerill, is closing up our time of music. Once again, it's a matter of learning how to keep your ears open. The biggest challenge with this particular moment of inspiration is remembering the idea-you have to wait until the end of the service before you can get your idea down on tape.
The song, "How Good And Pleasant," is a perfect example. This song came spontaneously at the end of a service late one Sunday night at a church I was visiting in Canada. There was an amazing sense of unity and joy shared by everyone in the room, and the next thing I knew I was singing the song:

How good and pleasant it is when we dwell together in unity
And Praise the Lord, praise the Lord
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord
Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord

I added the bridge (Showers of blessings...) later, but most of the song originated in that church service.

Listen To The Music
Have you ever heard a great song and thought, "Wow, I sure would like to write a song like that someday." Well, that's why listening should be a very important part of your songwriting life.

I make myself listen to all kinds of music-even musical styles that I don't necessarily prefer. I believe that my particular sound has evolved to what it is because I have made the effort to embrace a wide spectrum of musical ideas. I'm gradually learning how to hear what makes a great song, regardless of what genre it came from. As an example, the Latin groove on Mourning Into Dancing actually emerged from a car commercial I saw once on television.

Change Your Scenery
Sometimes the song ideas are just pouring out; it seems like they'll never stop coming. Then there are those times when you wonder if you'll ever have even one more original thought. Our minds get tired. Our minds get stuck in a rut of trying to work out a single problem, or of trying to sort out too many problems at once.
Everybody needs their batteries recharged now and then. Our minds tend to respond positively to a change of scenery. For me, going for a walk or drive alone can clear my mind and help me focus. Getting out of the office, breathing some fresh air and giving my eyes something to look at besides the same four walls serves to restore me.

Tommy Walker has written over forty worship songs that are currently being tracked by CCLI. These include: Mourning Into Dancing, He Knows My Name, That's Why We Praise Him and No Greater Love. Tommy has been the worship Leader at Christian Assembly Church in Los Angeles since 1990. He has produced worship recordings for Integrity Music, Maranatha Music as well as for his church label, Get Down Ministries.

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