Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.
In the Bible there are nine references to “a new song”. God’s Spirit encourages His people to sing “new” songs (Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1).
Isaiah 42:10 predicts that song-writers all over the world will write “new songs” for the people to sing everywhere. Of the writing of “new songs” there will be no end, for song-writers will be using their creative gifts to write “new songs” on into eternity (Revelation 5:9; 14:3).
Until recently, most “new songs” were written by pastors to embed their sermons into the souls of their congregations. They would borrow well-known tunes from existing songs to carry these new words.
Sometimes there were others gifted with the skills of music who set these lyrics to new singable tunes.
The Spirit gives giftings to His people to do what must be done to build the congregation up in its faith (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Don’t think the giftings listed in this chapter are exhaustive. God has a gifting to meet every need for the common good of His Church.
Writing song-lyrics, and the music to go with them, are gifts obviously needed by the Church.
Some books on worship encourage us to write new songs for the local church. It doesn’t matter if Chris Tomlin doesn’t make your song into the worship hit-list, or if it is never sung in any other church. Your own church is blessed! And your sermon gets musical hooks to hang itself in the memories of the congregation.
Tips to make writing lyrics easier
Here are some tips to make it easier to write lyrics for “a new song”, especially when you can’t find an existing song to support the Scripture and the message God has given the pastor for a certain Sunday.
- Thoroughly digest the Scripture and the sermon, so that your soul is one with the preacher’s on this matter. (If you are also the preacher, this will be easy!)
- Choose a few well-known songs from your repertoire, and hum their tunes until they too become part of you. Do not sing the words — just hum or la-la the tunes.
- Get the feel of a tune that seems to fit the topic of the Scripture and sermon.
- Draft the words of the message into the tune you have chosen. Juggle the words, choose synonyms, to make them fit. This takes time and effort. Don’t give up.
- Take this rough draft and craft it, change it, try out various arrangements of the words, polish them. Sing the drafted words out loud in a private place, and improve the way they fit the tune. If the accented syllables in the words match the accented notes in the tune, you have a winner.
- The rhythm is important. Get the beat right. Try to fit the accents of the spoken word with the accents of the music. It is easier to sing if you fit one syllable to one note.
- These days, rhyming the words is not essential. But if you can rhyme them, do so. I find googling “rhymezone” helps me find rhymes and near-rhymes for many words.
My own attempt
Recently, I needed a song to back up my sermon on Romans 13:4 The government is God’s servant to do you good.
I couldn’t find a ready-made song about the way God delegates authority to human government for the good of the nation. (Can you find one?)
A ‘new song’ was needed.
I chose the tune named Diademata, to which we sing the well-known hymn Crown Him with many crowns.
This tune has strong associations with the Kingly government of Jesus. Its mood is strong, authoritative, and governmental. After crafting and re-crafting, juggling words to fit the tune, this is how the song turned out:
Almighty God, You rule
the universe You made
You set the standard for what’s Right
and all must pass Your grade.
You delegate your power
to all those whom You choose
to govern nations on this earth
in ways that You approve.
Those You appoint to rule,
and make responsible
to serve the people of each place,
You hold accountable.
They’ll give You a report
of all that they have done,
of how they represented You
in running Your Kingdom.
We’re not allowed to make
the laws of Right and Wrong,
God’s fixed them in the universe,
they’ve been there all along.
But God does delegate
to rule by laws that He has made,
and govern Righteously.
So be bold and try writing your own song to fit your chosen Scripture and theme.
By using a tune already known, you will get the rhythm right, and the congregation will easily be able to sing it.
And who knows, maybe you will discover that God has given you a gift you didn’t know you had!