New Hymn Collaboration with Chris Anderson: “God Supreme”

New_hymn

Several weeks ago, Chris Anderson (who pastors a church near Atlanta) posted a hymn text on Facebook that he’d written in the wake of the SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage. It caught my attention right away. At the nudging of one of my own pastors, I decided to try to set it to music. I recorded a little “sketch” of the tune on my phone and texted it to Chris, sparking about a month of back-and-forth tweaking of text and tune until it was ready for release.

I have admired many of Chris’s hymn texts, including “His Robes for Mine,” which my church has adopted with great enthusiasm (especially around the Lord’s table). And though we’ve enjoyed a “hymn writers camaraderie” for several years, this has been our first collaboration.

One of the great joys of working with a pastor-theologian on a hymn is the great depth of the text. Chris writes doctrinal notes for many of his hymn texts, and he wrote one for this new hymn as well. It is well worth reading!

Chris writes: “God Supreme” is a new hymn and my first collaboration with my friend Paul Keew. It’s a lament (as explained below), and Paul has captured precisely the right tone for the song. It’s not angry; it’s somber, almost mournful. But it’s also hopeful. The “folk” feel of his composition is perfect. It’s an honor to finally team up with him on a song we both hope will be a blessing to Christ’s church!

Take a look and hear a piano demo on our music page. The hymn is free for you and your church, as with all our music (the same goes for the music at churchworksmedia.com). We pray it will bless you and your church!

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New Hymns from Friends!

I wanted to pass along these new hymn offerings from some very talented friends of mine. I hope you can make use of them for your personal worship and congregational song times.

Keep Heart

This is a brand new hymn by Dustin Battles and Dan Kreider. Dustin’s text draws from several Scripture passages and aims at encouraging Christians who are going through trials of all kinds. Dan’s music is very fitting–complementing the text with a tender, modern strophic style. You can take a look and listen on Dan’s website.

Secured by Sovereign Love

My friends at ChurchWorksMedia just released this new hymn (or Psalm, rather) by Veteran composer and arranger Faye Lopez. It’s an adaptation of an Isaac Watts text on Psalm 139. You can take a look and listen at Chris Anderson’s website.

Hosanna to the King

This hymn is a result of the collaborative efforts of Chris Anderson and Rick Nichols. Rick adapted a tune by Alexander Reinagle for a majestic new octavo and asked Chris to write words that would fit the tune. Take a look at the hymn version and listen to Rick’s octavo arrangement here.

Basics of Good Hymnwriting: Text

In my earlier post introducing Chris Anderson’s new hymn, I mentioned that I appreciated his text on several levels. Here are a few reasons, which I believe are native to many strong hymn texts: (Note: I am using the term hymn in this post to refer to a sacred song written primarily for congregational singing, which you may think of as a worship song or spiritual song.)

Consistent meter and rhyme scheme

When writing for congregation, predictability is generally a good thing, especially when it comes to meter and rhyme scheme.

Have you ever been distracted in worship when the line you just sang didn’t even remotely rhyme how you expected it to? Have you ever tried to sing with gusto only to find yourself singing a “momentary solo” when the phrase took an unexpected turn? I raised my hand for both questions. Recently, I read a post by Bobby Gilles in which he describes the meter and rhyme scheme of a hymn as a “contract” that the author is drawing up for his readers (listeners and singers). That contract is set in stone by the time the first verse (or stanza, if you prefer) is over. The reader will now expect the author to “keep contract” by keeping each subsequent verse in the same meter (which includes proper syllabic stress on the words of each phrase) and rhyme scheme. Bobby does a great job illustrating this with a text by Isaac Watts.

Parallelism and logical progression

A good song (or hymn) tells a story. It leads the listener/singer on a journey. It preaches like a great sermon. Listen to this story: “Come, lonely heart…Drink, thirsty heart…Rest, guilty heart…Joy, grateful heart.” The parallelism helps us follow the path and progression of the story, like a well-crafted outline.

Think of the great redemption-story progressions of the hymns And Can It Be and Arise, My Soul, Arise. Recall The Power of the Cross by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, leading us through the events of the crucifixion. Brian Pinner and I have also tried to follow a logical progression when we wrote O God, My Joy (when God is my joy, I am sustained through trials and compelled to fight sin) and See the Christ (the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ). Nothing ruins a story (or a hymn) like aimlessness.

A note of warning, however: Just as alliteration is not always the best choice for a sermon outline, close parallelism may not be for your hymn, either. We appreciate it when it really works, but don’t sacrifice content or a better turn of phrase just for the sake of parallelism (e.g. notice that verse 3 of The Power of the Cross steps away from the parallelism of the other verses.)

Both specific and broad application

Chris’s text follows the story of the woman at the well in John 4. It plainly applies to her situation. But it’s written in such a way that it also plainly applies to me! And it could easily be sung with a wide array of topics and passages in a worship service. Our hymn See the Christ is also an example, following Philippians 2:5-11, yet appropriate for several topics or occasions.

Simplicity and repetition

This is not necessarily a universal virtue in hymnwriting. I appreciate many wordy and complex hymns, and Chris certainly could have written a much heftier hymn on John 4. There are some huge, complex themes in that chapter! But I found myself really drawn to the strength of simplicity in Chris’s text. There is such relief and welcome in the refrain-like phrase of each verse: “No soul is too small for His mercy; No sin is too great for His grace!” And the way each verse opens and ends with the same phrase keeps them focused, compact, and poignant.

Concluding thoughts

I close with an exhortation: It’s easy to criticize a preacher when you know something about preaching or public speaking, and it’s easy to criticize a hymn text when you know something about hymnwriting. But the amazing and baffling thing is that God may choose to work powerfully through a “weak” vessel (e.g. the apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 2:1-5). So, yes, do try to write admirably. But let God amaze you by how He chooses to work.

New Chris Anderson Hymn “Come, Lonely Heart”

I am very pleased to recommend a new hymn to my readers. Come, Lonely Heart (text by Chris Anderson and music by Greg Habegger) is a wonderful poetic exposition of John 4, where Jesus saves the woman at the well. You will be blessed by Chris’s doctrinal notes about the song. I was moved by his humble admission, “I am a Samaritan woman.” This text helps me experience the account through her eyes and glory in Christ’s compassion toward me! After all…”I am the Samaritan woman.” Here is the song text:

Come, lonely heart, to the outsider’s Friend—
To Jesus, Who seeks out the lost.
Your cruel seclusion has come to an end;
Find welcome, find home, at the cross.
No soul is too small for His mercy;
No sin is too great for His grace!
Come, lonely heart, to the outsider’s Friend;
Find welcome, find home, at the Cross.

Drink, thirsty heart, of the water of life—
Of bountiful, soul-quenching grace.
The world’s broken cisterns cannot satisfy;
The Savior is what your heart craves.
No soul is too small for His mercy;
No sin is too great for His grace!
Drink, thirsty heart, of the water of life;
The Savior is what your heart craves.

Rest, guilty heart, in forgiveness of sin—
In pardon from shame-stirring vice.
Though Satan and sinners and conscience condemn,
Your soul may be spotless as Christ.
No soul is too small for His mercy;
No sin is too great for His grace!
Rest, guilty heart, in forgiveness of sin;
Your soul may be spotless as Christ.

Joy, grateful heart, in the hope you have found—
In God, Who is seeking your praise.
Then go to the outcast, that grace may resound,
For Jesus is mighty to save.
No soul is too small for His mercy;
No sin is too great for His grace!
Joy, grateful heart, in the hope you have found,
For Jesus is mighty to save.

As a song/hymn-writer, I really appreciate Chris’s text on several levels (which I will share later). Thanks, Chris (and Greg) for your ministry to me and to the church for the glory of God!

Click here for downloadable resources on their website.