Revive Our Hearts Podcast

A Rich Tradition of Worship

Leslie Basham: Here’s hymn writer Keith Getty.

Keith Getty: What we sing deeply affects how we think, how we speak, how we pray, how we act. What we sing affects every part of our lives. We become like those whom we worship.

You’re the Word of God the Father 
From before the world began. 
Ev’ry star and every planet 
Has been fashioned by Your hand. 
All creation holds . . .

Leslie: What exactly is a hymn? An old-fashioned song? Is it more than that? Well, our guests will open your eyes—or rather, I should say, open your ears to the vibrancy of hymn writing.

You’re the Author of creation;
You’re the Lord of ev’ry man; 
And Your cry of love rings out across the lands.1

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, July 19.

One of the highlights at every True Woman Conference so far has been the music. Keith and Kristyn Getty have joined Revive Our Hearts at the four conferences in years past. And we're excited that they'll be back with us again at True Woman '12: Seeking Him Together for Spiritual Awakening.

I hope you'll make plans to join us as well, in Indianapolis, September 20-22. Seats are going quickly, and it looks like this conference may sell out, so get the details at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Today's conversation between Nancy and the Gettys will give you a taste of what you can expect at True Woman '12

Nancy Leigh DeMoss:  We are so thrilled that you’re going to be able to be with us for the True Woman Conference

Keith, can you handle it?

Keith: Well, not being a true woman, it’s going to be a little unusual. But we’re certainly looking forward to it.

Nancy: But you’re married to a true woman.

Keith: I sure am. One hundred percent.

Nancy: And you wish every other husband could have a wife that’s as much a true woman as yours, right?

Keith: I sure do.

Nancy: Keith and Kristyn are modern-day hymn writers. Now, when you say the word hymn today, it kind of brings to mind those old electric typewriters in the pre-computer days. I think some people, when they think of hymns, think that this is something that’s just really antiquated.

But you both grew up with a rich tradition of hymn singing. Tell us a little bit about how singing of hymns was a part of your tradition and the building of your faith as young people.

Keith: Sure. Well, we grew up with a rich tradition of all kinds of music. My parents had me sing in the church choir. My grandfather was a Presbyterian hymn singer. My dad was a Presbyterian hymn singer, but he also loved contemporary music. He had all the Gaither records. Then when the more contemporary music began, he incorporated that into our daily lives.

So we’ve always had a rich heritage. In our house, everybody plays an instrument, and church was always central to our lives.

So we had very, very broad tastes. I studied classical music. For us there was never a line drawn between one kind of music and another. It was simply, “Let’s find good music and let’s find great words that are beautiful, that are Scriptural, that build us up.”

So that’s really where we are when we write modern hymns I guess there are many things which made them sound a little bit more like hymns than other modern worship music. But it was really those same two goals.

The first goal was to write songs that helped the Word of God dwell in us richly. It was hymns that taught the great truths, the great doctrines. Whether or not worship music is teaching, the bottom line is that what we sing deeply affects how we think, how we speak, how we pray, how we act. What we sing affects every part of our lives. We become like those whom we worship. So if we want to be authentic Christians, we want to worship the authentic God of the Bible.

The second goal was really just to write songs that congregations can sing well. I have never had a choice. If you said to me, “Do you prefer In Christ Alone with a pipe organ and a church choir or sung with a rock band or sung in Italian in a little church in Italy with no music?” I wouldn’t have a preference.

I enjoy doing it because it’s not about the genre. It’s not about the performance. It’s not about the performers. It’s about the body of Christians gathering together and singing together and being engaged as a body of people.

Nancy: You just mentioned In Christ Alone. I should have said as we started out— for those who may not have remembered the names Keith and Kristyn Getty—that I’m sure that in many of our listeners’ churches, many of your hymns are being sung. You’ve co-written, along with Stuart Townsend, a number of hymns.

I know in our church we’re singing a lot of these hymns. In Christ Alone may be the best one. But then there’s The Power of the Cross and many of these rich lyrics that are helping to express and define and shape what it is that we really believe.

Kristyn, hymns were an important part of your upbringing as well.

Kristyn: Well they were and they weren’t, in that my background . . . Keith had slightly more of a classical background. Mine was much more, you hear it and you learn it. You don’t necessarily write it down. Why would you write it down? You just hear it, and you sing it.

It was much more contemporary, much more of a new-church blend. So what happened was that we would sing the best-known hymns that worked there—probably the more contemporary band—and then a lot of contemporary stuff.

A lot of my discovery of some of the greatest hymns have actually been in the past five to ten years as I’ve been traveling around various churches across America and learning hymns that I’ve never heard of before.

But probably the core ones we’d sing in the UK were always my favorite. I loved to sing those.

Nancy: Keith there was a time when your pastor in Belfast challenged you about the power of old hymns of the faith. Can you recall that for us?

Keith: I was involved in the music industry, and a part of my work was beginning to write songs in the context of creating musicals. I used to wait until the singing was over in church and then go sit in the back and listen to the sermon and take notes, because I didn’t like the songs.

And he said, “You should write songs.”

And I said, “This isn’t the place of musicians.” Because historically, the place of hymn writing has always been out of church leadership, theologians, pastors. And I find it strange that musicians are now holding such a key position in church life.

And he said, “You know this is the way it is. So why don’t you use your melodic gift and work alongside your pastors to try and write songs?”

So that really began an affiliation. I was twenty-five or twenty-six, listening to pastors and having them advise me on what songs they really needed for church services. I’ve been trying to write those songs. So that was the beginning of that.

It wasn’t long after that—it was within six months to a year—that we (Stuart Townsend and I) wrote In Christ Alone. We first tried it in that little church of 180 people.

Nancy: And you wrote that song very quickly.

Keith: Yes. I had the melody, and then I had this idea of going through the whole life of Christ in a song—doing what Lord I Lift Your Name on High did in four lines and expanding it to four verses, I guess.

I chatted with Stuart, and he  penned most of the lyrics, and we changed the title around a bit, changed a few emphases here and there. It was really quite straightforward.

Nancy: You utilized in that song and in a number of your other hymns the whole concept of storytelling. Why is a story so powerful, and how can that help us in our hymn singing?

Keith: First of all, I think great stories are great art. And all genres—from literature through to songwriting in other styles, like the great Broadway songs to the great country songs . . .

Kristyn: To the movies.

Keith: To great movies. You have a great story. If you have a great story to build on, everything else is easier. A great movie or a great play is made so much easier by a great story. The great books that have been written—I mean, Narnia isn’t watertight, and a lot of it’s allusions, and a lot of it’s actual plot development. But they’re just great stories.

Also, there was this issue of, could you re-invent the hymn? People said, “The hymn is dead. We moved from thirty years ago seeing 300 being sung to now seeing ten. And really there’ll never be more than ten sung in churches again.”

I was told that sociologically. I was told this theologically. I was told this in terms of ecclesiology. I was given all the different reasons why it could never happen again—even economically, why it could never happen again.

And we just felt that there has got to be a way of re-inventing the hymn. The thing with the story is that—to a culture that is used to postmodern trends or postmodern art or even just understanding facts in that way—when you write in a story form, your genre, people will sing theology. People will sing doctrine. People will sing eight-syllable words until they’re blue in the face because it is a great story.

So that really helped us, I think, bind the contemporary genre and the old genre together, and really helped us teach doctrine but also move people. One of the weaknesses that our hymns had was that in a previous age, the old pendulum which has gone through history between doctrine and piety had swung very much toward doctrine in so many of the songs we sang. And they didn’t move the soul.

So in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Gaither and company came along and started to write songs that moved the soul.

Nancy: He Touched Me.

Keith: Right. Those songs began to swing the pendulum toward piety again. And people felt, “Can you ever get back to getting doctrine?” So our song genre cut down the middle. It allowed us to write very emotive songs that basically teach Christian doctrine.

Nancy: That is so powerful. I’m thinking of the song The Power of the Cross. That really is built around the story of the passion of Christ. Kristyn, what’s the story?

Kristyn: Well, the story begins at the dawning of the darkest day. That’s the poetic way of saying that it’s a brand-new day in Jerusalem, and there we see Christ embracing all the weight of sin and the sufferings of the world on His shoulders and then walking to the cross.

The story very much follows that. Considering the suffering is very intentional. It doesn’t shy away from considering the anguish and the pain and the struggle. But the emphasis, as I said, is always on this idea of the weight of sin.

Keith reminds us all the time that it’s not just the fact that Christ has died. Many people have died for their faith through history. But this death was in fact the supreme sacrifice, in that He was bearing the weight of our sin. That was the purpose of that, to take all our sin upon Himself. 

Oh, to see the dawn
Of the darkest day:
Christ on the road to Calvary.
Tried by sinful men,
Torn and beaten, then
Nailed to a cross of wood
.

This, the pow’r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Oh, to the pain
Written on Your face:
Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
Every bitter thought,
Every evil deed,
Crowning Your blood-stained brow. 

This, the pow’r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Kristyn: And we catch that in the last verse or stanza of the song. It says, “Oh, to see my name written in the wounds, for through Your suffering I am free.” And so it’s declaring these truths of what it means to understand what Christ has done, to understand that we are forgiven, to understand that we can be restored. And I can live this life, this fullness of life, in Christ.

Oh, to see my name
Written in the wounds,
For through Your suffering I am free.
Death is crushed to death;
Life is mine to live,
Won through Your selfless love.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Son of God—slain for us.
What a love! What a cost! 
We stand forgiven at the cross.

Nancy: And what a rich, sweet, powerful reminder of what Christ has done for us and the awesome love that He demonstrated when He took our place there on the cross.

That song, again, was written by Keith Getty and his co-writer, Stuart Townsend, and now sung for us by Kristyn Getty. That’s some of the kind of music that we’ll get to be singing together at the True Woman Conference coming up in September.

In these songs, you don’t shy away from some of the weightier, meatier matters of Scripture. It seems to me in a lot of the modern-day Christian music and songs we’re singing there’s a little reservation about going into some of these deeper subjects. Are you seeing that?

Keith: I think the question I would like to know is—I don’t know that it’s that the songwriters don’t want to write about these things, or if it’s the publishers not wanting to write about these things, or if it’s the Bible teachers who teach these things not encouraging creative expression. And I think the answer is probably a mixture of all three.

I think we have to look at ourselves honestly and say, “Are the people here teaching great doctrine today—really praying and desiring that those great doctrines are sung as well and that they are creatively expressed?”

Nancy: Well, as I think about the song The Power of the Cross—we have sung this in my church at our communion service on multiple occasions. It has words that you have to think about. It engages your mind. But I’m thinking back to times when I have sung this hymn with the congregation and my heart has been as engaged as my mind: loving God with our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

Keith and Kristyn, you really believe, as do I, in the importance of congregational singing. Why is it so important for us to sing our faith together and not just to look at the people on the platform and shine the spotlight on them?

Kristyn: Well, I think if it’s congregational singing then the congregation needs to be singing. So Keith has worked very, very hard to try and make these melodies as singable and as easy to catch on to as quickly as possible.

The best situation is when we can sing the first verse or chorus, go back to the beginning, and people can sing straightaway. That’s the main goal behind the music. We do little performance songs on occasion, as part of what we do. But the primary focus of what we do is to get people to sing.

Nancy: And what we’re really doing as we sing together is affirming our faith. It’s not just your faith on the platform; it’s ours. We’re saying, “As the people of God together, we affirm that this is true. This is the foundation of our faith. This is what we believe.”

Kristyn: An expression of the Body of Christ joining together of every generation.

Nancy: And we will have women of every generation at this conference. We’ll have younger women, older women, everything in between—single, married, those with children, those without. We’re having a special track for teen girls.

The thing I love about these hymns you’re writing that we’ll be singing is that every generation represented there will be able to participate and to affirm together the gospel—the faith that is at the heart of what this ministry is all about.

Keith: Hymns for true women.

Nancy: Hymns for true women. Sounds like a CD.

Okay, I have to tell you that when you sang a song this morning, Kristyn . . . you were singing the song Jesus Draw Me Ever Nearer. I leaned over to one of the people that was there in the room with us, and I said, “That’s my song.” It’s my message.

I think of a number of times, as I have been weary in the battle—or, to use the metaphor you use in this song, “laboring through the storm,” how God has used this text to minister grace and strength to my own heart, to press on in the ministry.

Keith, how did that song come to be written?

Keith: Well, it was back in 2001. I actually wrote this with Margaret Becker. We wanted to write a song which looked at the reality of Christ in suffering—or indeed, the reality of suffering in life, or the reality of suffering as part of our worship.

We go back to the Psalms as a guidebook to what songwriting should be. And, of course, 50 out of 150, one-third exactly, are laments—songs that are rugged and earthy and honest and look at the very negative parts of life.

In almost every case, they resolve to this understanding of God—or resolve not to a happy ending, but to an acknowledgment that, “God ,You are just. You are holy. You see all things, and I will trust in You.”

We wanted to write a song which captured that same reality. We’ve had an enormous amount of fallout in Britain of people who’ve grown up in the church, and then suffering or a bad situation happens in their life.

And instead of that drawing them closer to God or strengthening them in their faith—which is what we’re told and promised both by Christ and in the New Testament letters—what happens is that they completely lose it. They fall away because, for some reason, they imagine that worship is this magic salve or cream that’s going to heal every wound.

Nancy: Make you feel better.

Keith: To fix every tear like you can order it from a pharmaceutical. The reality is that Christ is in us throughout these sufferings. So really, that’s where it came from. And of course, the chorus each time resolves towards heaven like the Psalms do.

Nancy: You’re saying that there’s purpose in our suffering. It’s not just a matter of surviving; there’s something beautiful and wonderful to come out of this. There’s purpose, and there’s an end to our suffering—not here and now, but then and there.

So there’s hope. There’s something to look forward to: “At the end of my heart’s testing, with your likeness let me wake.” I think that speaks to the sanctifying, transforming power of suffering—the refining of the fire.

Kristyn: To bring us perseverance, to bring us love, to strengthen our faith, to fill us with hope.

Nancy: To make us like Jesus.

Jesus draw me ever nearer 
As I labor through the storm. 
You have called me to this passage, 
And I’ll follow, though I’m worn.

May this journey bring a blessing, 
May I rise on wings of faith; 
And at the end of my heart’s testing, 
With Your likeness let me wake.3

Leslie: We’ve been listening to the music of Keith and Kristyn Getty, our guests today on Revive Our Hearts. They’ve been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss about the rich tradition of hymn writing they’ve been able to tap into, to create new hymns for a new generation.

The Gettys will be leading thousands of women in worship this September at True Woman '12: Seeking Him Together for Spiritual Awakening. So will Joni Eareckson Tada, Priscilla Shirer, Janet Parshall, and Mary Kassian. Bob Lepine will serve as emcee and Nancy will have some important messages on seeking the Lord.

True Woman '12 also includes breakout sessions that you can choose based on your needs. Author and counselor Elyse Fitzpatrick will be leading some of these helpful sessions. And Dannah Gresh and Erin Davis are leading a teen track for young women.

Tickets for True Woman '12 are selling very quickly. Hotel rooms are disappearing. So I hope you'll act fast to join us in Indianapolis September 20-22. Get all the details at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Keith and Kristyn Getty will join us again tomorrow to give us insights behind their hymns. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Now the daylight flees;
Now the ground beneath
Quakes as its Maker bows His head.
Curtain torn in two,
Dead are raised to life;
"Finished!" the vict'ry cry
.

This, the pow'r of the cross:
Christ became sin for us;
Took the blame, bore the wrath—
We stand forgiven at the cross.4

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

1"Across the Lands." Keith and Kristyn Getty. FamilyLife Today studio recording, (p) 2007 EMI Recordings.

2"The Power of the Cross." Keith and Kristyn Getty. FamilyLife Today studio recordin, (p) 2007 EMI Recordings.

3"Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer." Keith and Kristyn Getty. In Christ Alone, (p) 2006 Gettymusic.

4"The Power of the Cross."

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