I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a young teenager. Of course, following such an experience, the natural inclination is to read the Bible and worship for the next three years–or, at least, that was the way it was with me. The Bible reading, I had covered. I amassed so many different versions, from literal to dynamic equivalence, that I scarcely had anywhere to put the Braille, print, and audio editions that stacked up on three sets of shelves. Worship–now that was a little more difficult. I grew up listening to Keith Green, but sometimes tired of it, particularly as we only had two Keith Green cassettes in the house. Most of the rest of the Christian music my family enjoyed was too contemporary for my taste. So, what did I listen to? “Jesus Loves Me”, “Isn’t He Wonderful?”, “Come Bless the Lord”, “O How I Love Jesus”, “Jesus Bids Us Shine”, “Everybody Ought to Know”, “Whisper Prayer”, “God Is So Good”, and “Boys and Girls for Jesus”–all sung by various children’s choruses. Now, please don’t misunderstand–there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! In fact, because they are all so reminiscent of those first glorious days in the Lord, I may still have all of those songs on my iPod… And during those days, I discovered something fascinating: All of the tunes listed above can, in fact, be worshipful when sung with a heart filled with as much praise as mine was. A worship song is what you make of it. “How Great Is Our God” may be just a song if those notes are just more chords to play on the guitar; conversely, if “Zacchaeus” is making you contemplate more deeply the ministry of Jesus, it may ultimately be more worshipful at any given moment.
So, children’s music can be good. I’ll elaborate more on that later, but for the moment, let’s work together to solve the quandary of locating good worship music. If you’ve just come in to a relationship with the Lord, or if you’ve lived your life as a Christian but aren’t familiar with most of the worship music on–AND OFF!–the market, I thought I’d give you a few ideas. Most of these songs will not be terribly contemporary; if you’re looking for more modern music, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll ask my sister to supply some ideas. However, my lack of percussion and general avoidance of anything produced after 2006 has little to do with style preferences and much more to do with the fact that I find older music more theologically profound–not the hymns only, though those will be touched upon, too, but most music produced between 1970 and, well, 2006. If you have any suggestions for more things that I might either enjoy personally, or that might edify the Body of Christ, feel free to leave a comment! So, without further ado and in no particular order, these are several of the songs, albums, and/or artists from my collection of over eight hundred that no Christian music library should be without.
* “I Still Choose to Worship You” by Cobhams Asuquo: This is, by far, one of the most unique and anointed songs I have ever encountered. I’m not even really sure that I can classify it as “a praise and worship song”, although both practices are fully expressed during its course. The song was penned by an Algerian worship leader who was responding to a trend he was seeing–churches and songwriters where writing very upbeat music that celebrated life in the Lord, so long as that life was filled with happiness and peace. What about those times when there isn’t peace, at least in the temporal realm–times when our lives and hearts are broken? For that, Asuquo responds; “Bless ye the Lord, / Through my trials and all my troubles / I have come with a heart of worship.” So far, this chorus sounds like that of most other worship songs, But then, there’s this note of unmatched surrender: “Hear my humble cry, / See my broken spirit, / But in every situation, / I’ll still choose to worship you.” Wow! How many of us can honestly sing that? And those verses! If you do manage to obtain this song, you’ll notice that the congregation isn’t singing during this live rendition of one of the most beautiful pieces of Christian music I’ve ever encountered. That’s because some of the verses encompass stories–what was going on in the world at the time, the types of worship songs being written, even an apology to the congregation for the worship leader’s lack of conventionality! Without any alteration, the opening lyrics of the second verse are as follows: “Please forgive me–this is not your normal worship song. / I try to write a simple song that me and everyone could sing along, / But I realize that there is something about praise– / It shouldn’t only come when all is seemingly okay…” What a wonderful moment of candor! Add to that the fact that Asuquo actually mentions several worship songs by name, effectively causing the mind to travel those familiar paths and filling the heart with true praise, and the notion that he, too, seems to be deeply moved by the Biblical account of fragrant oil being poured from that alabaster box, and this is a magnificent worship song that I listen to with increasing delight during my times of prayer. Oh, by the way, if you’re looking for technical details, the song is available from the iTunes Store on the album “You Are the Only One”.
* The Stoneleigh Worship Band: This is a British group that did most of its ministering from about 1990 to 1999. I love British worship music. There’s a heart, a love, a longing for more of the holy Spirit, in most of their music that I don’t often find elsewhere. Perhaps the cultural persecution is greater there–people are expected to be nominal church attendees, but anything beyond that is considered so out-of-the-ordinary that those who are, for example, serious Evangelicals or Charismatics really need to stay the course. That’s the sense I get from most British worship music–and that’s if the album is simply mediocre! Now, trust me, most of what Stoneleigh produced was NOT mediocre. My favorite album of theirs, entitled “King of Love”. is so anointed that I literally would not listen to it in the car. “Who Paints the Skies?”, “The King of Love”, “My First Love”, “Who Is There Like You”, and “Lord, We Long to See Your Glory” are so saturated in the pure glory of the Holy Spirit that you may find it difficult to get off your knees, or off your face. The presence of God was so palpable when those songs were recorded that I can never find enough strength to sing the lyrics, just to bask in that Shekinah and remain in His presence, often listening to the same few tracks for hours. This is particularly true of “My First Love”, which contains so many motifs of restoration and joy that there are no words to express it. Other praise-filled Stoneleigh songs that are not on the “King of Love” album include “I See the Lord” (a different version that the one commonly sung in the US), “O My Soul, Arise and Bless Your Maker”, “I Won’t Let Go”, “Touching Heaven, Changing Earth”, “In Christ Alone”, “Whisper to My Soul”, “Once Again”, “We Have Sung Our Songs”, “Lord, Let Your Glory Fall”, “All My Days”, “How I Love to Sing Your Praises”, and “By Your Blood”. All of these songs are miniature sermons–and, yes, I am aware that “Touching Heaven, Changing Earth” and “In Christ Alone” are not the property of Stoneleigh or even of Stuart Townend, who served on the Stoneleigh Worship Band for several years. However, his versions of those anthems are two of the most Spirit-led, so I’m including them here. Truly, if you can find no other Christian music, you need these songs, and especially the “King of Love” album. I know for a fact that “King of Love” is available on the iTunes Store. To the best of my knowledge, most of the other free-floating songs are out of print or unavailable in the US, so you’ll have to get them from a British shop or, if all else fails, on Ebay, though you may not have much success there. Crossrythms.com can probably help you in your search…
* DADDY’S SONG by Dennis Jernigan: This is the most beautiful allegory you’ll ever encounter in Christian music, prose, or poetry. The first part of the album consists of a nineteen-minute segment of intensive, heart-rending storytelling, interspersed with gentle, soothing song. The basic premise: A young boy had a wonderful, loving Father–the best Father Who ever lived. The boy walked with his Father every day in the cool of the evening, wearing beautiful garments that his Father provided and resting always in the knowledge that he would always love his precious Father. And, of course, “the Father was consumed in His love for His child”. But one day, the boy met a stranger (here symbolic of the enemy) and decided to walk with him, to learn the stranger’s angry and cruel songs, and to walk away from his Father. Every day, he walked further and further away, until he became bound and trapped, lost and alone. How and when the Father rescues His little boy, I will leave for you to find out. It’s beautiful–absolutely beautiful. And, throughout the entire allegory, Jernigan sings two parts of a deeply-moving song. From the Father to us: “I’ll have no other, / For I love you only. / I’ll never forsake you / Or leave you alone.” From the child: “Here in Your arms, I’ll always be, / At rest in the precious love You have for me.” You need plenty of Kleenex for this song, whether or not you’re usually given to tears, and whether you’re a man or a woman. Perhaps, especially, if you’re a man. Men need to understand the Father’s heart to them, and this song-story is among the most effective tools outside the Word of God I’ve ever encountered. Oh, by the way, the album also contains several other tracks, but most of these are sidelines compared to “Daddy’s Song”. The entire album is available on the iTunes Store. Go buy it. Now.
* Keith Green: Just because I didn’t want to listen to his music exclusively doesn’t mean that it isn’t deeply, truly, joyously used of God. Although the Lord took him home many years ago, his music still continues to be a blessing to me. I wish I could write the way he used to play the piano–with an exuberant, joyous passion that reflected in the purest possible way the majesty and love of our faithful God. From upbeat songs that compared His love shining through us to sunlight through stained-glass windows, to his gentle ballads asking the Lord to draw him close and help him to life a holy life without compromise, nearly everything Keith Green ever penned was so beautiful in Jesus. Family favorites: “Trials Turned to Gold”, which surrenders all earthly plans to Him and thanks Him for what He is doing; “Draw Me”, which has become my personal prayer and which pleads for the Lord to keep us in Him so we do not go astray; “When I Hear the Praises Start”, which is sung from the perspective of God and the only semi-prophetic song I’ve ever enjoyed, for its pure comfort and Scriptural references to resting in the Lord; “There Is a Redeemer”, for how could anyone dislike a song that includes so many names of Jesus!; “Go to the Hungry Ones”, which is a call for better evangelism and very convicting; “Pledge My Head to Heaven”, which is a song consecrating the entire family, and all of our possessions, for that matter, to the Lord for His use and ministry; “Dust to Dust”, which is so intricate I’m not sure I can pin a single simplistic theme to it; “I Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven”, which is a literary masterpiece and effectively makes my heart long for our wonderful home each time I hear it–oh, so many! Then, there’s the song that I will entitle “Hear the Bells Ringing”, or “Resurrection Song”. If you type the words, “Hear the Bells Ringing” and “Keith Green” into any search engine, you will find the song’s actual title, but I’m not comfortable writing it. Being a linguist can be hazardous to your ability to write, if you happen to be a Spirit-filled Christian… Anyway, the newly-retitled “Resurrection Song” discusses in vivid detail the wondrous resurrection of our Lord Jesus, His perfect power, and what that gift of God means in our lives today. Too precious to pass up–especially when that piano of Keith’s is involved!
* Bob Fitts: One of the most cherished, surely-beloved worship leaders I’ve ever encountered. I can’t explain this, but that man has the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and an intensity that goes beyond anything I have ever heard in anyone leading worship, whether on an album or in church. He doesn’t discuss his relationship with the Lord in personal, testimonial terms very often, but he doesn’t have to. You can just tell that his heart daily focuses on the holiness of Jesus Christ with a profundity that’s difficult to voice. Like this: You know that, if he reads Revelation regularly–and I really don’t know if he does–then he probably understands most of it! That said, I recommend a few very special albums by this gentle, gifted worshiper. First, you must own A TASTE OF HEAVEN, which was independently-produced and recorded live in Hawaii. It features an “on-your-knees” rendering of “My Eyes Are Fixed on You”, and a song of pure, adoring thanks. It’s only available at Bob Fitts’ online store, but it’s well worth it. Then, there’s HE WILL SAVE YOU, produced in conjunction with Hosanna! Music. Anyone who is at all weary needs this album. It has a soothing congregational style and sixteen of the most uplifting songs you will ever hear, including the best possible version of “You Are My All in All” and something that Bob Fitts must have penned himself, an alabaster-box-reference song called “We Will Seek You First, Lord”. The album is right at your fingertips, at the iTunes Store and on Amazon. It belonged on your MP3 player two weeks before you even became a Christian, so I should think that its inclusion now is long overdue.
* Don Moen: Anything and everything! Don Moen is the quintessential worship leader, what most other people should model in their song-writing, their ability to simultaneously steady the feeble knees of the crushed in spirit and play the piano, and, above all, to love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength. The albums ETERNAL GOD and TRUST IN THE LORD have a similar Shekinah-saturating effect to Stoneleigh’s KING OF LOVE. BLESS THE LORD, I WILL SING, GOD IS GOOD, WORSHIP WITH DON MOEN, and THANK YOU LORD should comprise the rest of your Christian music library, just because each moment is so filled with love and peace. Case(s) in point: Don Moen is the singer most well-known for “I Want to Be Where You Are”, “God Will Make a Way”, and “I Offer My Life”. So classic, so restful, so very important. Hearing that many voices in unison on his live albums is encouraging to people like me who can’t find a church to attend, and hearing his own oaken voice on solo projects like I BELIEVE THERE IS MORE is perfect for private worship.
* Calvary Chapels: Where do I start? Perhaps a bit of background concerning Calvary Chapel would help. I attended various Calvary Chapels for years and found most everything they taught doctrinally sound and reflective of the grace the Lord desires for all of us. Essentially, they take the best of the Baptist church and the best of a good Victory World Outreach and combine these elements. They are a Continuationist group of churches, which means that they do believe in the active demonstration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as recorded in I Corinthians XII, only used in order and checked according to Biblical principles. However, unlike many Charismatic churches and denominations, they also place a heavier emphasis on Scripture, Christ’s atonement for sin, and grace through faith–a greater emphasis in day-to-day teaching, mind you, not a “more profound belief”. Now, what does all of this have to do with Calvary Chapel’s worship music? First of all, most Calvary Chapels feel that public worship is just as important, if not more so, than a pastor’s message. Then, too, their theology regarding Jesus and the Holy Spirit is reflected in much of the music they select, as well as in the way they sing. It’s beautiful, it’s not commercialized or corporate, and it’s extremely Christ-centered, with lyrics generally reflecting Scripture. Also, Calvary Chapel has one wonderful worship song that seems to be unique to that group of churches; why we aren’t all singing it, I don’t know. The song is called “In Your Presence”, and it is a mid-tempo masterpiece that encompasses anything you could possibly ask for in a worship song: “In Your presence is fullness of joy; / Lord, You are my portion. / In Your presence are mercy and love; / Lord, You are my God…” All of that said, you may want to travel to Ebay in search of the album WORSHIP ALIVE, Vol. I, by Calvary Chapel Music. Apparently, Calvary Chapel Music is its own record label. Then, there’s a recording entitled LIVE WORSHIP FROM CALVARY CHAPEL WESTMINSTER. I shan’t tell you who produces that one–if you can’t figure it out, you need someone less whimsical than I! And then, there’s Calvary Chapel Merritt Island. All four of their full-length albums are perfect for prayer-closet moments, from their version of “Give Thanks” to a few songs I have only heard from them, including one about earthly possessions meaning nothing compared to the all-surpassing beauty of the King. Westminster: an out-of-print Ebay prize. Merritt Island: iTunes Store. Both: In your possession as soon as possible, please.
* Vineyard Music: Two albums from the Touching the Father’s Heart (TFH)collection, and one from the Winds of Worship (WOW) series. What’s the difference? TFH features soft, gentle, mostly ballad-like worship, recorded live but then edited somewhat. WOW is all of the above, only the songs are a tiny bit more contemporary and entirely unedited, complete with all kinds of spoken prayers, spontaneous encouragement for the congregations to which Vineyard is ministering, etc .So, from TFH, you need BEFORE YOU NOW and I LOVE YOUR WAYS. Now, professional reviewers will tell you that these are some of Vineyard’s lesser efforts–that they don’t offer anything new, etc. Don’t listen to ’em! The fact is, BEFORE YOU NOW includes an entire song centered around the New Jerusalem and the marriage supper of the Lamb, and another song that discusses the radiant glory of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. How can that be “nothing new” when the things of the Lord are always filled with renewal, and when His lovingkindness is new every morning? As for I LOVE YOUR WAYS, I don’t even know where to begin. One song about needing the nearness of God, one reiterating my favorite alabaster-box theme, one based on Psalm XIX, one based on I John I, and the Psalm-CXXXIV-based song that always leaves me on my knees. Then, there’s the worship leader. I believe his name is Casey Corrum, but I’m not sure. I do know that his voice is so full of the Holy Spirit, so overflowing with the worship into which he is leading the congregation, that it is difficult for me to even think about singing along.
As for the Winds of Worship recordings, you first need LIVE FROM ARNHEM. Ten minutes of worship with the song “Break Dividing Walls”–in four languages, no less! A poetic song simply entitled “More”, which appeals to both my need for Jesus and my love of psalm-style metaphors. A velvet version of “My Jesus, I Love Thee”. Need I elaborate?
* “I Can Only Imagine” by MercyMe. Not because “everyone else is listening to it”–popularity doesn’t figure into this study of things that glorify God. No, I love this song that talks about our heavenly home and our first encounter with the Lord, face-to-face in His presence, because it is simply that intense. I know that others set it to every possible tempo, listen to it while driving, crank up the volume on it while cleaning the house, rock their children to sleep with it, and generally treat it like the CCM entity that it has been since 2003. Personally, I simply can’t do that. I once had an experience in the Lord so beautiful and intense that I will have to devote a separate post to describing it, if indeed I feel I can write about it at all. That moment in Him took place while listening to “I Can Only Imagine”. Consequently, I now only listen to the song twice or thrice per year, and then only in my prayer closet. You may feel differently about the song, and probably will. Nevertheless, it must be in your possession.
* “God of the Impossible” and “Wonderful Counselor” by Denise Davis. Naturally, these are on different albums. Murphy’s Law. But–oh!–they are so well worth it! “Wonderful Counselor” is my testimony set to music, recounting all the ways in which my? her? our? lives are disappointing and empty, then coming in with a soft yet resonating chorus: “Jesus, You are my Wonderful Counselor. / I look in Your Word and You show me my heart. / Help me to see things as they really are…” Actually, prayer, Scriptures about His supremacy over all anxiety, and this song were the three components instrumental in helping me to get off of antidepressants many years ago. My choice and what was right for me, not something I want everyone to go out and do. As for “God of the Impossible”, I’m still trying to figure out what the song is about. I think it has something to do with God’s power, but beyond that, I am speechless. “God of the Impossible” had a similar effect on me to “I Can Only Imagine” and KING OF LOVE, and I can’t seem to be able to stop worshiping long enough to hear Denise Davis’ words!
* German worship: WEN HAB ICH AUSER DIR. Spanish worship: EN TU PRESENCIA by Don Moen; Yo CLAMO A TE and AVIVA EL FUEGO EN ME by Vineyard Music. French worship: COEUR A COEUR AVEC LE PERE, PASSION POUR TON NOM, and anything by an artist vaguely designated “LTC” or Johann Sode. Afrikaans worship: BRING HOM HULDE. Dutch worship: Villigt Ditt Folk. Korean worship: anything by Scott Brenner; HATIKU by Don Moen. I never promised that all of my choices would be in English, did I? With the exception of French, I don’t speak any of the languages whose worship I so admire, but that really doesn’t matter. “We, being many, are one body….” Get yourself some foreign-language worship music, whether or not you speak any of the languages you collect. It will help you feel more a part of the global Body of Christ, introduce you to more cultures in worship, and, above all, help you to say the things your heart cannot speak, to praise and pray with your spirit when you cannot pray with your mind.
* HEAVEN and GOING HOME by Bill and Gloria Gaither. Admittedly, these albums are a bit over-sentimentalized and not as deep as, say, Bob Fitts’ music. However, they do share good Scriptural truths, and they appeal to the longing in all of us for comfort and peace, addressing the subject of our eventual home in delightfully vivid details and remaining relatively true to Scripture. Both albums feature a combination of Gospel songs and touching narrations from a wide variety of people including Joni Eareckson-Tada, Billy Graham, etc.
* STRINGS OF HIS ANOINTING by Nancy Gallegos. There is no more precious, meaningful, symbolic instrument in the world than the hap. And, seldom has it been played more beautifully than by Nancy Gallegos. The song selection is magnificent–“Jesus Loves Me”, which is played in such a way that it sounds like it belongs in an advanced Bible course, “Amazed”, “Surely the Presence”, “Breathe”, “Agnus Dei”, and “You Are My Hiding Place” are all featured, each one played with more joy than the one before. That musician allows her harp to be her voice, and she sounds as though she is constantly crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”, as they did during the Triumphal Entry. No superfluous “background” instruments either–this harp stands alone.
* BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD by Andrew Peterson. According to most producers and many listeners, this is a Christmas recording designed to uplift the name of Jesus and focus us on His reason for coming. Despite the references to a dark stable, however, and the numerous songs describing the manger and Luke ch. II, I always find myself listening to this near Resurrection Day, for some reason. It just seems to fit. There’s a reference to Jesus being our atoning sacrifice, the Lamb of God… and that’s all there is to it–a Resurrection Day recording! Traditionally, I suppose you might consider this Christian folk music; in my view, this is simple praise. Worship is worship, regardless of style.
* COME TO THE TABLE by Marty Nystrom. Do you ever long to be led in worship? In prayer? In deeper Bible study? In private Communion? This recording can do all of the above. The full-length album begins on a joyful note of praise with “All Creatures of Our God and King”, continues with a few choruses about new songs to the Lord, and segues into the most beautiful series of faster and slower songs about the blood of Christ and His gift upon the cross that I’ve ever heard. Songs of His freedom, of the salvation He offers, and of His unfailing love. Then, there’s a beautiful little interlude during which Communion elements were actually passed out during the live recording, followed by a song that celebrates the Lord’s Supper, complete with a pause so that congregants–and people listening at home–could partake. It’s a wonderful experience, through and through, and so very helpful in my private moments in the Lord.
* * Theoretically, you need an old 1995 recording by the Times Square Church Children’s Choir. It has so much to offer–these are no ordinary children. The kids, ages six to fourteen, actually led worship at David Wilkerson’s church and sometimes led prayer meetings in which true intercession was taking place. On the album were songs in French, Swahili, and Spanish, as well as some truly moving recordings of “O Lord, You’re Beautiful” and “O How He Loves You and Me”. It was beautiful; I know that it has brought other adults to tears and, if I’m being as open as the Lord would have me to be, I will say that I was listening to this when I received the Holy Spirit. Yes, you need this recording, but can you obtain it? It was available as late as 2009, but now my searches turn up nothing even remotely related to this cassette/CD/limited download. It’s as though the album never existed, but I know it did, for I used Audacity to put it on my iPod. What should you do for the same experience, since this album seems to have plunged its unceremonious way off the planet? See if you can unearth a copy of “Breath of Heaven” by Christ for the Nations Institute. It features a very, very serious, non-kiddy children’s choir singing an intensive song about the Father’s love entitled “I Am Amazed”, as well as some deep fodder sung y a standard congragation. If you’re actually looking for music that will allow your children to worship, you need GREAT BIG GOD LIVE!, recorded by Vineyard UK. Older children–those between seven and ten–might enjoy GOD LIKES FUN and GOD IS GREAT by the Bridgestone Music Group, but the metaphors and symbols are likely to baffle younger listeners.
If you’re like me, that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. If, however, you’re a typical listener and/or have just begun to embark upon this journey of worship-music discovery, that should be more than enough for our first venture into the world of harp glissandos and indescribable flute playing. I’d love to hear your thoughts!