I have to be honest: I never used to give much thought to the role of the songwriter in the music I listened to on the radio or worshiped along with in church. In fact, while growing up, I didn’t even care about playing or writing music. I know there are a handful of people (mostly those diehard musicians who have been playing since birth and cut their first teeth on their father’s Martin D-45 acoustic – much to his delight) who will find that revelation scandalous. But “Songwriter” is not on any of those lists of potential professions that college recruiters pass out to starry-eyed high school seniors unsure of what they want to do with the rest of their lives once they have spent the next four years of it learning something as unambiguous as, say, Communications.
So it’s kind of crazy-but-true that it just so happened that one morning I woke up to find myself thirty-something, with a guitar in my hand, writing songs. All right – maybe it came on a little more gradually than that, and the guitar came a wee bit later, but it’s true that there came a time in my life when I decided I wanted to write songs. Okay – it’s important here for me to point out that rarely will a person sit down and write great worship songs from day one. And I certainly did not prove this point wrong either. But as time went on, and I began to see that it was God who placed the desire in me to write, but let me think it was my idea at first, I began to see myself as a kind of co-laborer with God. The creative process has been described as a cooperative process. That’s certainly true because creativity expresses the heart of God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens tell of the glory of God; the skies display His marvelous craftsmanship…” (NLT) Although it comes through me, the creative process is not about my own message but God’s. The expression of the message is mine, but my own creativity could never compare to that of God’s.
So after all of that, I still didn’t go out and start writing songs that others could worship to. Some people are more gifted at writing, and some people are more gifted in music. In the beginning, God called on an aptitude I had for writing poetry that had lain dormant for many years. I have to say right here, though, that the meters that a lot of people employ for writing poetry do not translate well into music, but I’ll talk about that more in a later segment.
So what happens, when you have a gift for words but not music? A handy little thing called collaboration. A lot of songwriters collaborate – not because one or the other isn’t talented both lyrically and musically, though. Collaboration can help songwriters open up avenues of expression that can take a song from “just okay” to what I like to call the “whole ‘nother level.” That’s not to say that if you are gifted in only one area that you shouldn’t seek to develop yourself in the other area, be it music or words. God can develop both talents in a person, but it’s really up to us to work at getting better in the areas in which we are weak. God’s role is that of inspiration, ours is perspiration. If you are a gifted musician but not a gifted lyricist, work on your writing skills. If you’re a writer, then learn to play an instrument. Personally, I like the guitar because it has the quickest return for the effort. It wasn’t until I learned to play the guitar that God started to inspire melodies in me.
Later, I’ll get into some fundamentals of songwriting, but for now, I hope you will take encouragement from the fact that if God can make a donkey speak, or use my meager talent and obedience to inspire His people to worship, then He can most assuredly use you, too! God will make use of our abilities to direct His inspiration when we make the effort to exercise them. As writers, we can’t always judge what’s great. Our role is to simply write and teach the songs, and then leave the judging up to those who sing them. And remember: don’t let another’s response to your songs hurt your feelings. Just go back and write some more.
Next time we’ll take a look at some songwriting “basics.”