One of the challenges facing Christian songwriters who care deeply about the effect of their lyric is to avoid overemphasis on self. Songs that shine light upon affliction and pain and hurting and longing can dip their toes into murkiness of self-pity and self-loathing. Sadly, I see that this is a repeated flaw in many attempts to write songs of confession and self-deprecation. Ultimately we should be aiming to elevate God’s glory above all else, recounting His faithfulness and goodness in the midst of sufferings and sorrows.
The sanctified pen of a godly wordsmith is able to honestly paint a picture of his plight, and the ease with which sin ensnares even the most watchful heart. But in the same breath he also reminds once again of the unwavering love of the Lord He shows to His beloved children.
David does this so well, as seen here in Psalm 27,
Suffering, Fear: “Give me not up to the will of my adversaries; for false witness have risen against me, and they breathe violence against me.” (v. 12)
Rejoicing, Confidence: “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (vv. 13-14)
Prayers of the Saints Live has managed to beautifully capture the sojourning believer’s sense of longing and anticipation for the day when, as the album caption states, “every wrong will be made right, and all creation will bow before the returning King and Savior, Jesus Christ. Until then, we praise…” I’m so appreciative for the early invitation to have my soul blessed and ministered to through these songs, and can hopefully extend my gratitude and encouragement to others by providing insight into what makes these songs not only worthwhile, but precious to the weary pilgrim.
He Is Our God is loud and energetic, fittingly jammed packed with attributes and titles fit only for the Sovereign God, and an excellent way to start off the album. Similar to the timeless SGM hymn “Behold Our God,” there’s a series of rhetorical questions in the pattern of Job. We see God as our Creator in, “Who can light the fires of a thousand burning suns blazing in the heavens?” The Greater Pursuer in, “Who would come to save us when we turned away His love, conquer us with kindness?” Emphatically, the answer resounds, “He is our God!”
All Praise to Him is structured like a preacher’s hymn, with each phrase beginning with the songs title words. Throughout the verses, our focus is directed in triune fashion to the Father as Omnipotent Creator, to Christ “the Servant King…who humbly came,“ and then upon the Spirit “Whose power imparts the love of God within our hearts.“ One of the most powerful phrases on the entire album is in verse 1, juxtaposing the Father as a sovereign God and also a caring Father: “Who guides the galaxies above, yet bends to hear our every prayer, with sovereign power and tender care.”
Jesus, There’s No One Like You is a love song to the Savior that allows us to adore the Son of God. Recognizing His unique humanity co-mingled with majestic divinity, we encounter poetic phrases that reflect how inadequate our attempts to describe Him and His works. Verse 2 is especially powerful, speaking to the irresistible grace and inescapable reach of God into the dead and cold hearts of those He has chosen to save: “There is no sinner beyond the infinite stretch of Your mercy” and “How can we thank you enough for how You have loved us completely.” This song is very much a prayer for someone gasping for air as entanglements tighten their grip, or to be exclaimed in the heights of fresh grace upon a renewed heart. The interval jump is rhythmically timed with keywords, which was thrilling as a musician.
Forgiven positions itself as a poignant confession addressing the prideful facade of outward humility that attempts to mask our own inward deception; yet the lyrics simultaneously lifted my countenance from losing heart. The inward and outward transparency is excellent in each verse, pinpointing different areas of sin. Conflict in verse 1, “May we now forgive each other and lay down our stones”; Coveting in verse 2, “Forgive us of our love of the things we wish to own, we forsake the feast above for all the crowns below”; and Cowering in crippling shame in verse 3, “Forgive us for our shame when we can’t release the past, when we’re quick to take the blame but forget we’re free at last.”
I will remain forever thankful to Jordan Kauflin for how God used him to influence my life at a critical crossroads through his song, “All I Have Is Christ.” I anticipate being equally as grateful to Marc Willerton for how Lord, Have Mercy will prove to be a source of comfort and refuge. The haunting piano “trailings” sets a sobering tone, which interestingly enough, made me picture the art of prayer journaling.
The song is brimming with theology:
- Confession/Repentance – “O Lord, have mercy on us”
- Sin – “we go astray”
- Merciful God – “we cast ourselves upon Your grace”
- Atonement – “The blood You shed has paid our debts”
- Sola Gratia/Sola Fide – “We trust Your grace, believe by faith”
- Imputation – “In You we have all righteousness”
- Perseverance – “You strengthen us to run the race”
This song also produced a pinnacle moment of emotion for me. Charity Mick, who I was unfamiliar with before this album, can be heard “breaking” during the triumphant doxological words, “We have no other Savior our great Redeemer, God and King.” (I don’t mean this to embarrass in any way!) This demonstrated the raw beauty of an organic, live recording that captures emotion. I was moved to tears as I huddled in front of my computer screen, taking notes.
O Lord, My Rock and My Redeemer is one of a handful of hymns from Sovereign Grace Music that I believe has staying power for multiple generations. It was one of the 2 songs introduced at the Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference in Orlando this last October. This is another outstanding hymn that is lyrically stout with a delightfully simplistic tune, and another filled with descriptive titles for God,
- “My Rock and my Redeemer, greatest treasure of my longing soul”
- “My God, like You there is no other”
- “Strong Defender of my weary heart”
- “My Sword to fight the cruel deceiver”
- “My Shield against his hateful heart”
- “My Song when enemies surround me”
- “My Hope when tides of sorrow rise”
- “My Joy when trials are abounding”
- “Gracious Savior of my ruined life”
Line after line is a recognition and personal recounting of what God has done for us, whether it be in joy or trial, battle or triumph. I’m reminded of Psalm 139:5, “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.” Each verse contains statements depicting how God satisfies every desire, longing and need,
- Verse 1, “Your truth a fount of perfect wisdom, my highest good and my unending need”
- Verse 2, “My joy, when trials are abounding, Your faithfulness, my refuge in the night”
- Verse 3, “Gracious Savior of my ruined life, my guilt and cross laid on Your shoulders, in my place You suffered, bled and died… You broke my bonds of sin and shame”
Some additional notes on the other songs on the album (not to diminish their importance or quality in any way),
- All Creatures of Our God and King was a welcome live version of a familiar hymn, with the more recent verses 3 and 4 introduced on the All That Thrills My Soul album in 2013
- Give Me Jesus harkens back to the old African-American Spiritual; a forceful chorus, “Take this world, my God’s enough”
- A Christian’s Daily Prayer with lovely mandolin seems like it could be inspired by the Getty’s “Before I Kneel”; lyric seeks daily grace to glorify the Lord is unique
- I Lay It All declares our resolve to place our fears and doubts at the Savior’s feet, “For He, who holds all things, can bear each care I bring”
- God of Mercy, Hear Our Plea is a corporate confessional with a folk minor key feel
- How Long, O Lord is guided so well by a walking melody; the expectant waiting paints a picture of Christ’s coming conquest; “All our hopes are fixed on You, that Your promises are true, and one day You will return”
- We Look To You directs a persevering gaze on God, “in Your strength we will endure”; such fitting words for today’s world in, “Though evil hands give rise to war, remind us this is not our home” and “Temptation crouching at the door to turn us from the narrow Way”
- When We See Your Face employs perhaps the best poetic turns of phrase on the entire album, as it gives us a glimpse of what it will be like to see Jesus’ face, shedding the weight of injustice and pain, sorrow and hurt
- Come Lord, Jesus is a final plea in true Scripture song form, taken from Romans 8:22-24 and 1 Corinthians 13:12; “Listen to creation groan… come and take Your people home”
The decision to go with a live recording, after 6 years since their last one, was a great decision – and Nathan Nockels produced an amazing one here. So many fantastic musicians and vocalists worked on this album including,
- Matthew Merker, from Capitol Hill Baptist Church (author of “He Will Hold Me Fast”)
- Matt Searles, an excellent songwriter from the UK with 3 albums based on the Psalms
- Neil & Kate DeGraide, who had such an expert hand in producing the Grace Has Come album based on the Book of Romans
- Jonathan & Ryan Baird, who produced All That Thrills My Soul and West Coast Revival
- Charity Mick, a new vocalist to SGM recordings who studies at Boyce College and attends SGC Louisville
Not to mention Bob’s whole family seemed to be “in” on this, with songs from his sons Jordan and Devon, and daughters Brittany and McKenzie. And certainly many others who contributed in an effort to make this album such an encouraging instrument of grace to so many.
For over 30 years, Sovereign Grace Music has achieved a standard of crafting doctrinally rich and musically heartfelt songs that are easily integrated into corporate worship. In Prayers of the Saints Live, we find a collection of songs that feature thoughtful, articulate, reverent, triumphant, honest and heartfelt stanzas without fail. This is without a doubt, one of the best albums they have ever produced, and one that is sure to serve the people of God in our worship.