Matt Redman’s songs have made a huge impact around the world. His most popular modern worship songs include: 'Heart of Worship', 'Better is One Day', 'Once Again' and 'Blessed be the Name'. Matt developed as a worship leader and writer during his nine years as worship leader at Soul Survivor Church, Watford. His new album and book released last month are entitled Facedown (Survivor).
'Blessed be Your name' is a hugely popular song in many British churches - the lyrics include the lines; ‘Blessed be your name when I’m found in the desert place, though I walk through the wilderness, blessed be your name.’ Lyrics that describe difficult times are not typical of most modern worship songs are they?
Definitely not, but there’s so much pain in the world and in the church. Some of the most inspiring Christians that I’ve met are people who have been in a terrible situation, the harshest circumstances you’ve ever heard of and yet who choose to respond to God in worship and trust in that time. Eugene Peterson, who wrote The Message paraphrase, says that about 70% of the content of the Psalms are laments: songs of pain, anguish and crying out to God.
Interestingly in a local church you might find only about 1% of songs are real about the pain of life. Of course, it is a two-sided thing – on one side we are living in victory, but then there’s another side where we are still strangers in a foreign land, this isn’t how it is meant to be and we are not there yet… It’s a strange sort of dynamic. But I think it’s important that we sing about that and we are real. It’s a great display of worship and it must bless the heart of God when we worship Him even in the harshest circumstances of life – and it also shows solidarity with hurting people. I’ve heard lots of theologians who say that we need more songs to worship God through pain, to help us be real in worship and to show solidarity with the pain of the world.
I have been trying to write that song properly for years. A lot of stuff from my testimony got crystalised in that song. I wrote ‘Blessed be your name’ in a few weeks, but in a sense it was written over years. A lot of it lands around the words from Job: ‘the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, but the name of the Lord be praised’ (Job 1:21).
Having written the song what happened then?
My wife Beth and I wrote this song together, and a few weeks after the album was released, Beth gave birth to our first son, Noah. He was struggling for life, not breathing properly and in intensive care. For about a week we couldn’t touch him or anything. This song had just come out and it got me thinking that it’s so easy just to pen a lyric, but the reality is all about living it out with integrity, believing and trusting in God whatever the outcome is.
God healed our son, but I have come across so many people in terrible situations who have lost children or had cancer or suffered from abuse… sometimes the only thing you can say to them is, “We will never know why that happened to you, but you’ve made a great decision in choosing to trust God because He hasn’t changed, His goodness and His greatness haven’t changed in this situation.” Focusing on the brightness of His worth and choosing to hope in Him no matter what the situation is a very wise choice.
Do you think it was a coincidence that just when this song was released you faced a major personal challenge to sing that song with integrity?
I don’t know. It was interesting timing, but every week you hear of someone diagnosed with cancer or something similar. If you don’t really believe in the sovereignty of God or you don’t trust in the father’s heart then you’ll have a hard time singing this.
Do you think it’s an appropriate song to sing at a funeral?
Yes, I’ve come across lots of people who have written to me after funerals, including quite a few whose children have died, who say they used that song at the funeral. That blesses me, not because it’s my song, but just because wow, what a fantastic, unquenchable heart of worship! I find that inspiring and think God must love that and it’s a strong evangelistic statement as well. Where else would you see that on the face of the earth? It’s people being real, they’re not flippantly saying; “It’s all going to be OK because we are Christians,” but it’s people who in their pain are saying “Yet I will praise you.”
That trust is a beautiful act of worship. It tells God we know He is sovereign and that we know He has a father’s heart.
The tempo and the melody are not divorced from the lyrics of a song, so at what tempo should this song be sung?
That’s a good question because I started with the song as a fast song, I don’t know why, I suppose it was just the way I sang it out originally. But I was thinking that this was wrong because the lyrics needed time to breathe. Then it became a slow balladlike tempo, but I thought ‘no’ this dilutes the sense of rising up to make a choice in the midst of pain. So it ended up at a midpace anthemic tempo.
Sometimes I’m scared of putting big themes in fast songs because they go by so quickly, you don’t get the chance to chew on them. So the tempo should allow you to think about the words as you sing them. I was very conscious of this when writing ‘Blessed be your name’.
Intimacy is a common theme in modern worship songs, but would you agree that there are fewer songs with an emphasis on celebration and praise?
There are many gaps. There is an abundance of me and Jesus, here and now-type songs that do not recognise the Trinity or the God of yesterday, today and forever. Also we rarely recognise community. If all you have is the ‘me and Jesus’ songs then you are going to have problems.
It’s like trying to paint in as many colours as you can. Looking through some old hymn books, you’ll find so many theological themes and aspects of the nature and character of God. Now we are playing catch up, and if you compare those hymns to modern songs there’s little on the resurrection, the second coming or ascension. It’s about encouraging this generation of songwriters to do better. Bono the lead singer of U2 has said, “It’s harder to paint in colour”. Anyone can be introspective and paint in black and white - but it’s harder to paint in ‘colours’ like ‘joy’ – especially in a ‘non-cheesy’ way!
Going back to ‘Blessed be Your Name’ the lyrics include: ‘blessed be your name, when the sun’s shining down on me and the world’s all as it should be, blessed be your name’. These are joyful words…
In the current bands in the guitar genre, there aren’t many people who are painting joy. ‘Beautiful Day’ by U2 is a good example, but it is harder to write joyful songs. To give another example, if you want to convey reverence and the grandeur of God – and there’s me up at the front plonking away on my acoustic guitar, it doesn’t naturally speak of that. If you walk into a cathedral - you feel small, then a big organ blasts away and automatically it tells you ‘God is big’! But if you walk into a warehouse and you look down and see chewing gum on the floor and hear an acoustic guitar sounding out, it doesn’t say the same thing. I don’t want to get all legalistic and religious about this, and I realise that church is really about people gathered and not what type of building you’re in etc. We need to paint a big picture of God, and though we may not necessarily be able to do that through our building’s architecture or by the blast of an organ, we can maybe find other ways of conveying the same thing and preparing people to worship an awesome God. Lyrics, visuals and the whole way we carry ourselves up front during the meeting – all of these things can be signposts in the right direction. But it isn’t easy.
Who are the major influences on your work?
Many people, many speakers and theologians. I’ve been part of a steering group for a gathering of modern songwriters, organised by Graham Kendrick, Andy Piercy, David Peacock, Sue Rinaldi, Noel Robinson, Stuart Townend and others. We meet every year and invite songwriters from many streams of the church. Then we invite in theologians, such as Bishop Graham Cray, Chris Cocksworth, Chris Jack and Mark Greene – to stir and challenge us and to speak into where we’re going. This has helped us to recognise that a lot of people are learning their theology through songs these days, a lot of pastors have been saying that to us and saying we have to be careful with what we are writing - because ultimately it will effect people’s view of God.
How does that make you feel?
That scares me a lot! There are a lot of implications. We shouldn’t presume to be teachers, but to be a songwriter in the church means we are teaching people. That’s a big responsibility.
If you want to be a songwriter just singing at a coffee shop, you can write what you want, but if you want to write songs for congregational use, then you can’t just use whatever comes out. Michael Stipe of REM described his writing technique as ‘vomiting out whatever came to me like a cat with a hairball.’ I can’t do that. Martha J. Dawn has said ‘worship songs may never contain the whole truth but they must never contain untruth’. It’s really important that worship songwriters get close to people who know the Bible, either a pastor, teacher or theologian. We should ask people to help us with lyrics and ask ‘is everything water-tight theologically?’ Are the words understandable or are there any themes we are not covering? And as songwriters we have to care about people more than we care for poetry. I’ve encountered a few songs which seem to be written by people who love music and words more than they love people. We need to take the call to songwriting seriously.
I love challenging people who are called to write songs that they need to be relevant, congregational, biblical and poetic. A lot of it is about trying to paint a bigger picture of God. We will never paint the full reality - but beware of the lead worshipper who doesn’t even try! Psalm 66:2 says; ‘Sing the glory of his name, make his praise glorious!’ That’s the quest I’m on at the moment. We have worship songs that are passionate and songs that encourage intimacy, and both things are wonderful. But let’s also worship our God gloriously.
You’ve just released a new album and a new book, what do you hope they will achieve?
The album and book are both called Facedown. I hope the songs will reflect the teaching in the book and vice versa. Reverence, wonder, mystery in worship are the main themes. Facedown comes from my realisation that so much of scriptural worship is offered ‘facedown’, that when we face up to the glory of God we find ourselves facedown in worship. When you read about an open heaven in the bible you find so many people flat on their faces before God. In the Western church we don’t see that too much.
Leviticus describes a time when people met with God and the fire of God fell on them. They shouted for joy and they fell facedown. We see a lot of shouts of joy in our churches but maybe it is time to see more falling facedown, responding to and recognising the ‘otherness’ of God. Facedown worship always begins as a posture of the heart – when we see a bigger picture of God and His glory, we can’t help but bow as low as we can go.
We worship a God who is unequalled and unrivalled. He’s immeasurable, unfathomable, and incomparable. No one is like Him; He’s off the scale. So the challenge is to point people in the right direction for reverent worship. One way of doing that is inviting people into the ‘mysteries’ of God. The Bible says He is the lion and the lamb, the sinless friend of sinners, who terrifies and befriends, thunders and whispers, reveals and conceals, invites and hides, his footstool is the earth but he bent down and washed the earth off the feet of his disciples.
It’s an amazing thing to be leading worship and you know that the lyrics have awoken people to the wonder of God. So often in worship we can try and make responses happen. I’m learning that it’s about revelation and response - the purest, deepest, loudest, most reverent and adoring response will always come from revelation, when we see God.