Category Archives: Music for Worship

What to Say in the Last Lines of a Worship Song

The Last Measure

What’s the best way to end a worship song? What should we say or sing in those last lines? We know endings are important. That final statement that punctuates our prayer or praise in singing should be thoughtful and purposeful. So what is the expected end—joy, glory, heaven, hope?

And what about sad and solemn songs? How should they end? As Christians we can certainly sing in a minor key. We live in a fallen word. Our songs not only express the joy and delight of knowing Christ, they also sound the more somber tones of sin and suffering. We sing in minor, but we don’t like to end in minor. We like our songs to end on high notes with positive lyrics and major chords. You can even find in music history a technique used by songwriters to strengthen the harmonic resolution of the final chord and create a happier ending. The Picardy Third is the use or substitution of a major chord, especially at the end of a piece of music, where a minor chord would be expected.

On the one hand it make sense to end with the brighter sounds of major. As followers of Christ, we see past the crumbling and broken promises of this fallen world to the sure and certain promises of God in His Word. We look beyond the strife and struggles of this life and rest in the joy and hope of knowing Christ. We have been rescued from sin and despair. Because we have a Savior we are bound for glory and destined for praise.

Many of the psalms highlight this upward trajectory. They orient us to look away from our own distress and sorrows and up to the glory and joys of belonging to God. Though they begin with pleading and lamentation, they end with hope and praise. For example, David opens Psalm 16 with a prayer: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” But he ends rejoicing in verse 11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The book of Psalms as a whole crescendos and culminates in praise. We reach the pinnacle with the command in the final verse of the Psalms:

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 150:6)

Yet not all of the psalms follow this anticipated climb. Some make unpredicted turns and go down unforeseen paths. When you survey the 150 psalms, though blessing and praise predominate, you find a variety of endings:

  • 43 psalms end with praise and thanksgiving to God
  • 31 psalms end with God’s blessings for His people (salvation, peace, unity, goodness, mercy, joy…)
  • 11 psalms end by telling or declaring who God is
  • 9 psalms end with an exhortation (be strong, wait for the Lord, hope in the Lord) or a commitment (to seek the good of God’s people)
  • 24 psalms end with prayer or pleading (for justice, deliverance, salvation, strength, peace, blessing…)
  • 12 psalms end with words of warning about judgment on the wicked
  • 9 psalms end by contrasting judgment on the wicked with blessings for the righteous
  • 7 psalms end with triumph over evil and enemies
  • 4 psalms end with lament or complaint

Songwriters can learn much from a study of the psalms. The psalms are Scripture’s songbook for worship. They instruct us how to pray and praise God through music. They teach us how to craft and use lyrics in creative and intentional ways to communicate truth.

Sometimes the psalmist may take a surprising turn in order to make a profound point. A good example of this is Psalm 12. David begins with a prayer: “Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man” (Psalms 12:1). He cries out in the midst of crisis for the Lord to save. In verse 5 the Lord answers saying, “I will now arise” and “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” In verses 6–7 we see that place of safety:

The words of the LORD are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
You, O LORD, will keep them;
You will guard us from this generation forever.
(Psalm 12:6–7)

The place of safety is the Word of God. David can rest in knowing that all God has promised is certain and true. Though the day seems dark, God will fulfill His Word.

The psalm then ends in 12:8 with a final verse. So how would you expect this psalm to end? What would you sing in those last lines? You might choose words that exhort God’s people to believe and trust in God’s Word. Or perhaps you would conclude with praise and thanksgiving to God for His Word or for salvation. These types of endings are certainly found in the psalms. But David does something different, something not expected. He ends the psalm with sober, even distressing words:

On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among the children of men.
(Psalm 12:8)

C. H. Spurgeon refers to this verse as a “return to the fount of bitterness, which first made the Psalmist run to the wells of salvation.” The ending is unexpected, but David crafts his words intentionally to underscore an important truth. The overwhelming circumstances that grieved him at the beginning of the psalm have not changed. The trouble still exists. But what has changed is David’s outlook. He has been brought back to the Word of God. God does not always deliver us from our suffering. Our circumstances may not change. Troubles may still arise and threaten us. Yet God Word always remains true. It is our place of safety.

Read a full exposition here of Psalm 12: A Place of Safety

So what is the best way for a worship song to end? The psalms demonstrate that we need not always end with upbeat praise and soaring sounds. There are many possibilities and there are times when the unexpected ending may be the better choice. So learn from the psalms. Aim for praise; it is after all the ultimate finale of our songs and our lives. But give thought to your options. Don’t forget final words of pleading, warning and rebuke. Don’t neglect last lines that express godly fear, repentance and awe. And don’t avoid the inevitable cadences of lament and grief. For our music to ring true to God’s Word and to our experience as we walk in the light of His Word, we need the joys and the sorrows. We are pressing on to glory and praise, but there are most certainly times along the way when it is fitting to sing and even end with somber tones and sober thoughts.

Gathered Now We Come to Worship

Gathered now, we come to worship,
Hearts united, singing praise!
We would look to Jesus only,
Letting none distract our gaze.
May we offer music fitting
For the worship of our King.
Let us foremost seek His pleasure
As our voices join to sing.

Worship is not about our efforts, our pursuits, or our offerings. Worship centers on the glory and majesty of Christ Jesus. This hymn is a meditation on 2 Corinthians 4:5 “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.”

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the music from band camp:

Click here to download lyrics and free sheet music: including song sheet, chord chart and music arranged for classical guitar.

—Ken Puls

 

Music at Grace 2015

Grace Musicians 2015

Often I am asked by members and visitors at Grace Baptist Church where to find the lyrics or music to the songs we sing in worship. Our music at Grace comes from many songwriters and composers, embracing new songs of our day as well as cherished hymns of the faith.

Listed below are the 10 songs we have sung most so far in 2015:

10,000 Reasons
All I Have Is Christ
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
Come As You Are
Come Lord Jesus – Even So Come
He Will Hold Me Fast
In Christ Alone
Sovereign
This Is Amazing Grace
You Alone Can Rescue

Click here to see a complete list of 150 of our current and favorite music for worship thus far for 2015. Each song is linked to a page where you can find lyrics and/or music.

Click here to see our service orders (posted each week) for gathered worship at Grace.

I Love Thy Kingdom Lord

Cross and Steeple

One of the great hymns of the faith that has stood the test of time is Timothy Dwight’s “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord.” Dwight lived from 1752 to 1817 and was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards. He was a young man in his twenties during the American Revolution. Licensed to preach in 1777, he served until the fall of 1778 as a chaplain in the Connecticut Brigade of the Continental Army. Later he became pastor of a Congregational church in Fairfield, Connecticut and from 1795 to 1817 served as the 8th President of Yale College.

While serving at Yale, Dwight revised and reprinted Psalms of David (1719) by Isaac Watts, and included several of his own hymns that paraphrased the Psalms. “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord” first appeared in print in the 1801 edition of Dwight’s revision. It is the earliest known hymn by an American writer still in common use.

Dwight’s original title to hymn was “Love to the Church.” In the lyrics he celebrates our allegiance to the Kingdom of God and our love for Christ and His church. The hymn is based in part on two verses from Psalm 137:

If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget its skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy
(Psalm 137:5–6)

If you know the hymn, the connection with the psalm may not be immediately evident. Most hymnals include only four verses; Dwight originally composed eight. Unfortunately, the verses most often left out include the ones that tie the hymn to the psalm. Here are the original eight verses to the hymn:

I Love Thy Kingdom Lord

I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The house of Thine abode,
The church our blessed Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood.

I love Thy church, O God.
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.

If e’er to bless Thy sons
My voice or hands deny,
These hands let useful skills forsake,
This voice in silence die.

Should I with scoffers join
Her altars to abuse?
No! Better far my tongue were dumb,
My hand its skill should lose.

For her my tears shall fall
For her my prayers ascend,
To her my cares and toils be given
Till toils and cares shall end.

Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heavenly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.

Jesus, Thou Friend divine,
Our Savior and our King,
Thy hand from every snare and foe
Shall great deliverance bring.

Sure as Thy truth shall last,
To Zion shall be given
The brightest glories earth can yield
And brighter bliss of Heaven.

Timothy Dwight, 1801

Download a PDF of the hymn “I Love Thy Kingdom Lord” to the tune ST THOMAS with all 8 verses.

Download a setting of the tune ST THOMAS for Classical Guitar

O Sovereign God, How Great Your Grace

Hymn1

Thirty years ago I made my first endeavor writing a hymn. It  was prompted by two significant events that God brought into my life in 1985. During that year I began serving God in the music ministry, and as a result, was introduced to the Doctrines of Grace.

On February 10, 1985 I was called as Music Minister at Raven Oaks Baptist Church in Omaha, Nebraska (the name of the church was later changed to Sovereign Grace Baptist Church). During the morning worship service on that day, Pastor Bill Lollar preached from Ephesians 2:8–9 as part of a series of messages on “The Greatest Verses in the Bible.” Bill’s preaching, along with a Wednesday night study through the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith that spring, challenged and deepened my understanding of God’s Word. Bill also encouraged me to read Loraine Boettner’s book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. After reading Boettner’s book in May and June, I wrote the hymn and shared it with the church on June 23, 1985. It was a celebration of the truths I was learning and a milestone that would set the course of my ministry.

Come Seek the Lord

Peaceful Waters

Come to Me, you weary;
Come to Me and find rest.
Take My Yoke upon you;
Come and know peace and gentleness.

For why do you still labor,
Weighed down with pain and guilt and care,
Oppressed and crushed down under
A load you cannot bear?

Come seek the Lord, you afflicted;
Seek Him while He may be found.
Today is the day of salvation,
When grace and mercy have come down.

Come to Me, you thirsty;
Come to Me and drink.
Though you have no money;
Come and buy and eat.

For why do you spend money
For that which is not bread
And squander all your wages
On empty things instead?

Come seek the Lord, you hungry;
In Him is fullness of delight;
Abundance overflowing
To immeasurable depth and height.

Come to Me, you wayward;
Lost in the darkness and the strife.
My Word will guide your footsteps,
For I am the way, the truth, the life.

For why do you still wander
Down pathways that lead to sin and death,
Forsaking the One who made you,
Who gives you each day your life and breath?

Come seek the Lord, you wanderer,
Seeking to satisfy your soul.
In Him is joy beyond all measure,
For He alone can make you whole.

And come seek the Lord, you hungry;
In Him is fullness of delight;
Abundance overflowing
To immeasurable depth and height.

Yes, come seek the Lord, you afflicted;
Seek Him while He may be found.
Today is the day of salvation,
When grace and mercy have come down.

Come to Me, you weary;
Come to Me and find rest.

Words and Music ©2008 Kenneth A Puls

This worship song is based on Isaiah 55:1 and Matthew 11:28.

Read more about how this song came to be written. And download free PDF lead sheet, chord chart, and recording of the song from the Morning Service at Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Florida on Sunday, November 2, 2014.

 

Come You Thirsty, Come to Christ

The Featured Song for August is a hymn based on Jeremiah 2:13 and Psalm 36. There is nothing more satisfying in life than coming to God, the “Fountain of Living Waters.” All other pursuits will prove empty and dry in comparison.

Check out the lyric video on youtube:

And download the music from bandcamp:

Click here to download lyrics and free sheet music: including song sheet, chord chart and music arranged for classical guitar.

—Ken Puls

 

Music at Grace

Music at Grace

Often I am asked about the music we sing at Grace Baptist Church. Are the lyrics available? Where can I find a recording? How can I get the sheet music?

The music we sing at Grace comes from many songwriters and composers, embracing new songs of our day as well as cherished hymns of the faith. Some of our music is composed and arranged in house. The rest comes from many other sources. Most of the songs are available online.

Each year I post a list of 150 titles of our current and favorite music for worship. The list includes composers, publishers and (for some titles) links to help find the music online.

Here is the list of our current and favorite music for worship thus far in 2014.

How Should We Sing the Great Old Hymns of the Faith?

Down through the ages church history has displayed a rich tapestry of praise to the glory of God. Included in the music of the church are many beloved hymns that have stood the test of time and have become lasting contributions to the church’s voice in worship. These are songs that resonate beyond their age, with proven quality and depth.

There is no question that we should continue to sing and cherish the old, established, proven hymns of the faith. They remind us that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. God is at work in every age accomplishing His purposes and building His church. His Kingdom reaches throughout history and across nations and languages. The old hymns of the faith are the voices and echoes of the past that testify to the greatness and faithfulness of God through the ages.

But how should we sing the great old hymns of the faith? How do we add our voices in the present to songs from the past in ways that will allow us to share in the praise and benefit from the testimony of saints who have gone before us?

Or to ask the question another way: Is it more authentic to sing the great hymns of the faith just as they were written? Should we aim to preserve them in the style and form in which they were composed? Or is it more authentic to recognize that we live in a new day and aim to craft our music to reflect the styles of today? Should we take the old hymns and give them a fresh sound, adjusting and adapting them to fit our voice and our time?

Piano and Drums

Many have strong preferences regarding how we sing the music of the past. Some believe the old beloved songs should be left as is and not “messed up” by making them sound contemporary. Others are convinced that the old hymns are more meaningful and accessible in our day when we re-craft them with new settings and new tunes.

Authenticity is measured differently across styles of music. For classical music an authentic sound might be judged by how close the musicians come to expressing the original intentions of the composer. Deviating from the notation, altering or re-arranging the tune would dilute the song and make it inauthentic and unstylistic. For jazz authenticity might be judged by the musicians’ creativity and skill at improvisation. The idea of playing a song as written, or playing it the same way it was played yesterday (or even a few moments ago) would be absurd.

But authenticity in worship is never a matter of our own creativity or our adherence to musical form. Authenticity is always a matter of the heart. Our aim in worship is glorifying God, not exalting one way of singing over another. We come to proclaim truth, not preserve musical form or flaunt musical talent. We come to magnify Christ, not measure the greatness of our songs.

God’s worship cannot be contained by our preferences, within our comfort zones, and inside our creativity. Paul’s descriptive words for church music, psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, encompass the great breadth and scope of music in the church that God is orchestrating to His own glory.

So how then should we sing the great old hymns of the faith?

The answer is with hearts enlivened by God’s grace and moved by God’s glory. And this can take many forms. There will be times (and places) when we use older and beloved settings of great hymns. At times we might sing new songs that borrow or incorporate older hymns (songs such as Cornerstone from Hillsong that uses the verses from The Solid Rock or Lord I Need You from Matt Maher that quotes I Need Thee Every Hour). And at times we might sing older hymns with a new arrangements and tunes (songs such as Glorious Day – Living He Loved Me, sung by Casting Crowns, that updates One Day or God Moves from Sovereign Grace Music that updates William Cooper’s hymn God Moves in a Mysterious Way). But at all times we must sing from our hearts with passions more enflamed for God’s glory than stoked by personal preferences.

There are some compelling reasons why we should see the music of the church as fluid and dynamic, rather than rigid and inviolate.

1. God has designed our music to be necessarily contemporary. Most of the music of the church only lasts for the moment. It serves its day and then fades to make room for new songs. Even with the Old Testament psalms, thousands were composed and sung in worship in the tabernacle and Temple, but only 150 were set down and preserved in Scripture. Relatively few hymns and songs have continued on to become the treasured music of the church. But whether we sing the music from the past or new songs from our own day, our singing is contemporary. It is the church lifting its voice in worship to God now in the present.

2. With the psalms God gave us a mandate and set a precedent for our worship. We are commanded in Scripture:

Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
sing praises with a psalm!
(Psalm 47:6–7)

The psalms continue into the New Testament as a treasured part of the church’s music:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16).

addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart (Ephesians 5:19).

Paul taught the church to include the music of the past. First on his list of what the church should sing are the psalms, music of the Old Testament that anticipated the coming of Jesus and spoke of Him (Luke 24:44). And yet the psalms come to us without musical tunes or arrangements. While some of the inscriptions on the psalms suggest that specific melodies and instruments were used, those original melodies were not preserved along with the words. To sing the psalms, as God commands, the church has had to compose and add its own tunes.

3. Most of the great old hymns are known by tunes that were added later by composers looking for a new sound for great lyrics. For Example:

• The words to Holy, Holy, Holy were written by Reginald by Reginald Heber (1783–1826). John B. Dykes later composed a new tune (NICAEA) for the hymn when it was included in Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861.

• The words to the hymn Amazing Grace by John Newton were published in the Olney Hymnal in 1779. Verse 6 that begins “When we’ve been there ten thousand years” was added in 1790. The tune NEW BRITAIN (also known as AMAZING GRACE) is an American folk tune that was first published (to different words) in the Virginia Harmony in 1831. It was adapted and arranged by Edwin O. Excell to fit the lyrics to Amazing Grace in 1900.

• The words to And Can It Be were written by Charles Wesley in 1738. The hymn tune most associated with Wesley’s words, SAGINA, was composed by Thomas Campbell in 1825, over 80 years later.

In most cases, we owe the longevity of great hymns of the past to the willingness of church musicians to find or compose new music to accompany them.

4. For most of the history of western hymnody, words were not rigidly connected to specific tunes. Before hymnals that included both words and music, printed together on the same page, became popular in the 20th century, it was common for the same hymn to be sung to several different tunes. Hymnals were printed with words only; tunes and lyrics were matched by poetic meter (C.M., L.M., 7.6.7.6., etc.). Each local church would have a repertoire of favorite and familiar tunes that they would use with the lyrics they wanted to sing in worship. As churches today are moving away from printed hymnals to again sing with words only (now projected on screens), the idea that a song can have only one authentic tune or arrangement is fading as well.

Thankfully there are church musicians in our day who are committed to keeping hymnody alive and well. Tim Challis has provided a helpful summary on contemporary hymns. Several groups are writing new tunes and new arrangements of old hymns, including Sovereign Grace Music, Indelible Grace, Paige CXVI, and Red Mountain Music.
We need to sing the great old hymns of the faith. We need to join our voices with God’s people through the ages and celebrate the boundless scope of His mercy and grace. May God help us to sing them, in both new and old ways, as authentic expressions of our hearts in worship to His glory and praise.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy BIble, English Standard Version (ESV) ©2001 by Crossway.

Father Lift Our Eyes in Prayer

Too often when we come to pray, our thoughts are set upon ourselves—on our trials and struggles. We are overly mindful of our limitations and distress. And if we keep our attention fixed on ourselves and our circumstances, our praying can become mired in discouragement and confusion.

It is God’s gracious design, in giving us the wonderful privilege of prayer, to lift our eyes off of us and off of our sometimes bewildering troubles, and fix them upon Him—on His sure character and person—on His sure Word and promises. We dare not linger long surveying our cares and needs. We do better to look through them, above them, and to the very One who work all things for our good and His glory.

The idea for this hymn came during the 1997 Southern Baptist Founders Conference. At that conference Iain Murray preached a series of messages on revival. On Friday evening, July 25, 1997, he concluded his message by speaking of our need for prayer. He admonished us in our prayers not to begin by looking at the world or or to our many needs. We must start by seeing God, knowing Who He is, what He has done, and what He promises to do. Unless we know God, we will not know how to pray.

May God shine the light of His Word upon our prayers.

Light on the Sea

Father, lift our eyes in prayer
We Your glory would behold!
We need light to see Your hand
As Your perfect plan unfolds.
Clearly let us see You, Lord
When we face dismay or loss
In each trial let us see
Not our crisis, but Your cross.

Lord, forgive our selfish prayers
We forget to Whom we pray
And in folly bring advice
Thinking we know best the way
Show us Lord Your perfect will
Help us walk contentedly
You, O Lord, know best the way
None, Lord, can Your couns’lor be.

Teach us, Lord, to know You well
That we might have well to say
Lift our thoughts to meditate
On Your glory as we pray
Do not let our prayers arise
With eyes fixed on want and need
Look beyond, above, and to
Him to Whom we come and plead

Lord, remove our thoughts from self
Warm our words with words Your own
On the Scriptures, set our minds
When in prayer we seek Your throne
That we all may comprehend
Width and length and depth and height!
Fully know the love of Christ!
On our prayers, Lord, shine Your light

Words ©1998, 2014 Ken Puls
Download free sheet music and lyric sheet for this hymn.