The writing process is an interesting one. Every writer has their preferred method and yet, as much as you may try to plan and schedule, you never know when inspiration will strike and your best work will come to life.
When writing for myself, I typically stick to my tried and true method. It looks something like this:
1. An idea pops into my brain.
2. I begin to think about that idea and maybe even write down some thoughts about that idea.
3. A melody accompanies that thought shortly after (or simultaneously) and I begin to hum that melody and expand upon it, usually making a quick voice memo on my phone so that I don’t forget it.
4. Then I let the idea marinate…and marinate…and marinate until the perfect moment. The moment when the emotions that accompany the theme of the song rise to the surface and are about to explode.
5. And then…I write. And most songs are usually complete within 20 minutes.
6. An exception to this rule is, sometimes steps 1-5 happen simultaneously as an emotion had already been brewing for quite some time and it all rises to the surface at once – lyric, melody, thought, and message.
This is my preferred method as it helps me be authentic and raw. I’ve never liked the idea of forced creativity, as, in my opinion, my work isn’t as genuine that way.
The majority of the songs on my albums have been written in this fashion. They were expressions of the condition of my heart at the moment I penned them. But sometimes, certain songs break tradition and come to be in a more manufactured way and, though it might seem forced at the time, those have the potential to become your favorites.
On my upcoming, sophomore, praise and worship album, More, there are two songs that were written this way. The first is called, “22” taken from Psalm 22 and other Psalms and passages of scripture that just so happened to either be taken from a verse 22 or a chapter 22 that, well, calling it “22” just made sense. At the time, writing it was like building a puzzle. I wasn’t in a dark place, I simply took scriptures that mean a lot to me and put them together into one song. Since writing that song in 2012, that song has become and continues to be a comfort for myself, and others, so I felt it appropriate to feature it on this album.
The other song written in this fashion is titled, “His Name.” It was actually a song my Dad asked me to write. I believe the conversation consisted mainly of him bemoaning the feminine overtones of most CCM music, making Jesus out to be some kind of “sissy,” when scripture not only talks about His tender love and compassion, but how He is our protector, a fierce warrior who fights our battles for us; strong enough to handle anything. So, he requested I write a song with lyrics taken from Revelation 19 (verses 11-16), which paint this picture of our warrior Jesus so masterfully. Truth be told, I cannot read this passage of scripture with out weeping like a little girl. There is a power in this portion of the Bible that is other-worldly and so above comprehension that the only proper response in reading it is taking on a posture of humility, without words to utter or the strength to stand up straight in their hearing.
So, I wrote my dad his requested Revelation 19 song. And though the lyrics were brilliant (taken verbatim from scripture so I can’t take any credit for them) there was something about the song that didn’t impress me as a writer. Maybe it was the way in which it was written, or what I felt was a predictable melody or chord progression, but it just felt like another cookie-cutter worship song to me. So, I wrote it and left it alone for a couple years, only revisiting it from time to time to see if I could tweak it here and there or slightly altar the vocal melody to make it…I don’t know…different I guess.
Fast forward to the beginning of this April when I sat down for breakfast with my producer Neil and made an outline of which songs I planned to put on the album and which ones I assumed would be bonus tracks or not make the cut at all.
Now, let me just tell you, the process of eliminating songs is akin to the plot of the 1982 film, Sophie’s Choice. I obviously say that in a bit of twisted humor, but the sentiment is similar. It’s hard eliminating songs. They become a part of you as a songwriter so choosing which proverbial appendage to sever isn’t always the easiest task. Nevertheless, I made my list and had it in my mind which songs would be cut.
I began the preproduction process, recording scratch tracks of vocals, keys, and other instruments for the songs I knew would make the cut. During this process I thought it wise to at least run through some of the songs I already had in my mind would be cut, just to make sure I wasn’t missing something because, truth be told, when you write a lot of songs, over time your library becomes so big you can actually forget about certain songs.
So I got out my guitar, opened up my notebook and played through “His Name.” And the tears came. Suddenly I didn’t see this song through the critical lens that a songwriter seldom escapes, questioning every melodic shift and chord choice, I heard only the Words that God Himself breathed into the Apostle John as he wrote what we now call the book of Revelation. And in that moment I knew this song had to go on the album.
Of course that meant another had to be cut, and that’s a story in and of itself, but what’s cool about this moment is it proves a point that is synonymous with the way our walk with God can sometimes be. We can plan and try to predict. We can think something is the best option and question the importance of something else, but in the end His plan and His Word prevails (see Proverbs 19:21). His Name prevails. Even in picking songs, there’s always a lesson to be learned through the reading of God’s Word. It’s always an act of surrender.
But more so than the act of surrender (like I experienced in recording Gethsemane on Prayers & Songs) what I learned the most this time was the weight of His Name and why I believe this song is so important. Every time I uttered the words, “Holy is His Name,” I couldn’t contain my emotions. I just wanted to kneel, right there in the vocal booth and lay prostrate before Him. I felt weak…like I didn’t have the strength to even utter those words. Like my lips weren’t worthy enough to let the words escape them.
It is true, there is power in the Name of Jesus.
The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.[i]
God has given no other Name under heaven by which we must be saved.[ii]
I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.[iii]
On His robe and on His thigh He has this Name written: King of kings and Lord of lords.[iv]
Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the Name above all other names, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord.[v]
[i] Prov. 18:10 NIV
[ii] Acts 4:12 NLT
[iii] Rev. 1:8 ESV
[iv] Rev. 19:16 NIV
[v] Phil. 2:9-12 NLT