Where does the truly great praise music come from? Some psalms, hymns and spiritual songs seem to be, well, not of this world. When the Faithful lift these offerings to Him with one voice, the heavens open; God is clearly enthroned on such praise. Visitors observe this miracle and are pierced to the heart; they resonate with Durant, "when I was doubtful of your creeds, I was melted by your music."
Songs like these carry an impact beyond what language and melody could explain. They circle the planet on the lips of unnumbered Saints and are ultimately revealed as VIPs: Very Influential Praise-songs (Col. 3:16).
It's reasonable to wonder how such music came to be among us. With the Bible a bit mum on the subject, we're left to ponder the possibilities. One option is that ordinary folks - like you and me - have simply crafted these songs from a bucketful of good musical ideas and Biblical truths. Another possibility is a bit more mystical: these praise-songs are among the heavenly things "no ear has heard...but God has revealed to us by his Spirit" (I Co. 2:9-10).
For years, this discussion has rankled theologians, and understandably so. A high view of the Bible forbids us to be sloppy with the concept of inspiration; Scripture stands alone in its God-breathed, authoritative nature (2 Ti. 3:16). The suggestion that God Himself is the source of our songs is unnervingly close to giving lyrics authority on a par with the Bible. I'd drive around all of Texas to miss that pothole. On the other hand, we're usually talking about words drawn directly from the Bible, and Scripture sung is Scripture still. So, did our lyrics come from God?
The source of the music itself is no easier. In Psalm 40:3, we're told that God put a new song directly into David's mouth, but Psalm 33:3 seems to put the responsibility upon us! This quest to find the source of Very Influential Praise-songs turns out to be a little complicated.
I sought out the songwriters themselves, particularly writers of songs that had ushered the manifest presence of God into a million churches. Surely, the woman from whose lips came the Very Influential, "His Name is Wonderful," would have some insight about the source of these little masterpieces. The man touching the keys when "You are My All in All" was born would know things you and I might have missed. Their responses were fascinating:
One songwriter fasted and meditated over a single passage of Scripture until the song emerged.
Another began strumming his guitar while scrolling through his cyber-devotions.
One combed through the writings of Sproul and Tozer, and found a beautiful nugget about the holiness of God.
A favorite psalmist used the phrase "flow and craft;" one portion "flowed" out of her personal worship, while the rest of the piece was painstakingly "crafted."
One thought a scripture about dancing should have a Latino beat and proceeded logically from that premise!
Several wrote obediently against a deadline.
One woman told me the busy world around her went white and silent; amid the sound of rustling wings, she heard angelic voices deliver the song.
Believing that God truly sings over us, one prolific writer simply listened and wrote down what he heard.
I chuckled for days after a well-known praise-song writer quipped, "if people really believe God gave them a song, they should send Him the royalty checks!"
On it went. Are you looking for a pattern? Me too, but I never found one.
In a last ditch effort, I went - humanly speaking - to the top. I contacted two music publishers of Very Influential Praise-songs and sought out the head fellow at each. You'd know both their names. This time, I threw caution to the wind and said simply, "You've sorted through mountains of music to find the real gems. Do you think the greatest praise songs originate in heaven or on earth?"
One was plainly troubled by the question. Though not a song-writer himself, he found it demeaning to human creativity to suggest that only God creates, and people simply imitate. On the other hand, he called it the "height of arrogance" to think we could control the playlists of heaven in any way.
Add sound effect here: closing door.
The executive of the other company, though, is a gifted psalmist; he's written Very Influential Praise-songs. He settled back warmly and enjoyed the wonder of how God's praises are birthed among God's people.
"I'm not sure," he responded thoughtfully. "Isaiah said that God's thoughts are far beyond our thoughts. Our mortal bodies cannot comprehend the wonderful sounds and melodies our loved ones are experiencing in heaven right now. Every once in a while, though, God lets us hear a new sound and we are able to marry it to a word from Him. I think these are the great songs.
"Obviously," he continued, "these words and melodies are going to come out differently, depending on our abilities and our cultures, which greatly limits our musical experience. Yet I do believe when we sing one of these powerful songs back to Him, it brings Him great pleasure, and if we listen real closely, we might hear the angels singing with us a song they have already heard."
Like many of life's best answers, his words arrived with a dozen question marks. All told, I've come to believe that God is keeping the source of Very Influential Praise-songs safely filed under "Secret Things." No worries, though, friend. As far as I can tell, such mysteries have never dampened one note of praise.
Maybe it takes us back to what we always knew: As we immerse ourselves in the fullness of Who God is, He alone chooses what blessings to pour upon His own. Those blessings could take the form of new praise-songs - and some of those (Ps. 40:3) just might be Very Influential.