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Song in Your Heart?

“Everyone has one good book in them.”

So it is said – and it may well be true. Everyone has unique experiences in life that are engaging, interesting, maybe even enlightening. A book is one good way to share what we’ve seen, how we have felt, and what we have learned.

But writing a book is a huge amount of work, and even after all the work it’s not so easy to get it published, or get it read. Despite those challenges, many people find it easier to imagine writing a book than writing a song.

There’s something about song writing that seems more daunting. A mystique? Too close to the heart? Fear not making the Top 40 Countdown?

If everyone has one good book in them, chances are pretty good you may have a song or two in your heart. You probably already know they are trapped down there.

As a Christian, it is more important than ever that you let them out. Certainly they are a gift from God that he expects us to use. But he intends them to be a blessing to you and to others. Imagine a prophet failing to speak: What a lost opportunity! You may not be called to prophesy, but God may still have given you an important message, and a unique way of delivering it to those that need to hear words of salvation, or words of strength, challenge, and encouragement.

So how can you do it? Where can you start?


Succeed at the Start

The most important thing is to make a start. Pray, listen, then write.

If you talk to a songwriter, you might be amazed how they will tell of all the songs that got away. You see, read or experience something and the idea is there, maybe a whole song, or perhaps just one line. You think about it and it begins to grow - then in a day or two it is gone. Don’t let it get away! Write it down. Many songwriters keep a notepad handy, and jot down the ideas. When melody strikes, you might find a digital pocket recorder handy. 

Once the seed is there, make sure you are headed in the right direction from the beginning. There are lots of commercial songs that are very catchy, but just plain wrong. When you are thinking about your idea, don’t just consider what you think about it, read what God thinks about it. Your work might be musically a million miles from a psalm, but there are great examples in there of writers really wrestling with tragedy, hopelessness, love or disaster, but they recognize God and his truth is the foundation they must find to survive and thrive. You don’t need to club people over the head with quotes from scripture, but you do need to make sure that foundation of truth is solidly underneath your song.

With your song ideas written down, and tested against God’s word, you can easily return to them again and again, and some of the ideas will grow. Sometimes a complete song comes together in an hour, but often it may take weeks or months, sometimes years. As long as you have it on paper, you can build on it. But you absolutely need to make a start.


Run that Race!

Remember God often gives gifts that encourage or require us to work together. You may have a way with words, create amazing riffs, intricate arrangements, or beautiful melodies. But it’s unusual for one person to have all the gifts to do everything.

Many of the best-known songwriters and hymn writers wrote music, or words, but not both. So don’t wait to write down lyrics because you don’t know the tune: God may be giving someone else the tune for your lyrics. And if you don’t write down the words, there may be a tune that is never completed as a song. And don’t keep a tune to yourself waiting for words that never come to you.

If you have a gift from God to His people or for His purposes, you need to make it available for God to use. Don’t lock it up waiting for anything, unless He specifically tells you to. God’s Word never returns to Him without accomplishing its purpose. If He is speaking through your words or music, trust Him to use them as He sees fit. It might not be what you had in mind, but who knows best?

Like many gifts, God has also arranged things so that our talents need to be developed. If God needs to, He may you a complete song that is totally finished as you write the last note. But more often, developing your talent may take many songs, and many iterations of each song. Even after a song feels ‘done’, it’s not unusual to hear of bands touring a song (and tinkering with it) for an entire year before recording it.


Don’t Fall at the Finish

Keep your eye on the prize. Think carefully about what the prize is for you and your song, and be brutally honest with God and with yourself about your goals.

If you are seeking first the Kingdom of God, you are going to be running in one direction, and running hard. You won’t care what you give away along the way. If you carry a song part-way, you are happy to hand it to the runner carrying it on the next relay. You will trust God completely to use everything He allows you to do for Him in the right way, whether or not you ever see it. Whether or not you ever benefit from it personally.

That’s a pretty hard thing to do, especially when you feel a close bond with the music and words you create. It’s also the clean, mad opposite of what most everyone else in the music industry will do. Their goals are usually recognition and money, or maybe sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. A lot of the effort in commercial music is around protecting the fame and money, and dividing up the fame and money. Even if something is given away for free, it is likely because there is some career or promotional benefit. None of this is to say there isn’t a role for Christian commercial music, and there is nothing wrong with a Christian making their living from music. You are wise to understand the world you are entering, and know your motivations and motives of those you are working with.

A good question to ask for each song is whether this music is intended primarily as ministry, or primarily for money. It sounds a bit harsh to put like that, but it’s a useful question to consider. Raising sheep or making tents for money is fine when done honestly, done well, and done for God. So is making music. It’s just means it’s a business, not a ministry. Make sure you know which is which.


When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It

For songwriters, the commercial / non-commercial fork comes up pretty early. When you’ve completed a dozen songs you think are good, you will perhaps choose your very best one, and start planning how to get it out there. Once you’ve read up a little bit on copyright, and decided whether this song is going commercial or non-commercial, you are ready to take it to the world.

If you are following the commercial route, there is a wealth of resources available around the web to help you learn about publishing your songs. There are also lots of excellent books, some great songwriting associations, and many fine workshops. If you are gifted as a performer as well as a writer, then you have a built-in outlet for your songs, and there is a well-worn touring and promotional path for you to follow in building up a base of people will pay to hear your music live, or buy your albums. Writers and musicians are sometimes surprised to find that the promotional part of the music business is often much more work than the writing and recording. For Christian artists, there are many festivals or similar opportunities to get additional exposure.

If you are following the non-commercial ministry route, your challenge is to get your music out where God can use it. You probably can’t spend a lot of money doing that, because there is not big commercial return that justifies the investment. You need to link up with other writers, musicians, and performers, and there is no record company or agent working to make those links. In fact, before the Internet, ministry music outside a small local area might not have been practical at all.

Fortunately for music as ministry, the Internet changes everything. There are many free resources, lots of ways to link up with like-minded writers and performers, and probably the best free music distribution system in history.

There are also organizations, such as DeoSound, that exist exactly to help you get your music ministry out to the world. And as with any other ministry, you need to wrap up back at where you started: Pray.

Remember God may have all kinds of purposes in giving you your music – to build you up, to share in your local church, or save or strengthen others you may never meet this side of heaven. So don’t limit your prayers to those for earthly success for your music. God’s plans are always far better than anything we could ask or imagine.


So, a Song in Your Heart?

  • Start writing. Write early, write often. Write it down! But start.
  • You don’t need to write everything. Don’t hold too tight. Be willing to collaborate.
  • Know where your song is going. Ministry and money are usually different directions.

How to get that song out of your heart, onto the page, and out to the world.

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