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Did God REALLY Give You That Song?

Did God REALLY Give You That Song?

By Sean Hill on December 31, 2013

Where Inspiration Ends and Craftsmanship Begins
Now, before I dive into this article, I want to make a few stage-setting comments. I’m not diving into Scriptural truth here. I’m unpacking something that I have been wrestling with personally, and I’m still wrestling with to this day. I even reserve the right to change my mind on some of this if a solid argument were made in opposition.

This is my personal opinion on a topic that I believe is an unaddressed issue in Christian songwriting. No one talks about this at songwriting workshops or conferences, and I understand why. It’s not fun to deliver. I imagine I will ruffle some feathers over the next few minutes, but I hope to inspire debate on a topic that is intriguing to me: where inspiration ends and craftsmanship begins.

I am a song nut! I love hearing new songs, especially songs written by independent writers like myself! Let me first say, with much respect to all of you that I applaud you and encourage you to be diligent on your journey towards writing great songs. This journey is tough!

I’m cheering you on, and I hope you are cheering me on as well! We should be continually celebrating each other, because we can all use some encouragement from time to time. We are all part of the same Kingdom hoping to glorify God with music. But over time, as I have served on various listening panels and judged various song competitions, I have heard some recurring comments that have caused me concern.

Here are a few:
“God gave me this song.”
“I wrote this song in like 20 minutes, so you know it’s from God.”
“It was like the Holy Spirit gave me all of these lyrics at once.”
“I’m not the real songwriter, I’m just the song receiver. God is the real writer.”
And so on and so forth along with many derivatives.

Why do we use these phrases? I hear phrases like these and think to myself, “Man, why hasn’t God ever given me a song? Why haven’t I gotten every single lyric to a song in an instant? Am I doing something wrong? Why is God giving everyone else songs and not giving me any??? I have to bust my butt for one measly chorus and these people seem to get a complete file download from Heaven.”

Then it dawned on me:
There is a moment where God-given inspiration ends and human craftsmanship begins. To my knowledge, no one has ever walked into a writing room to see a fully written song sitting there from God. Honestly, if God really wrote as many songs as people claim He has written, I’d expect we’d have hundreds of absolutely perfect songs. But this just isn’t the case. Again, there is a place where God-given inspiration ends, and human craftsmanship begins. Allow me to explain.

Great songs, in my opinion, are both inspired by God and well-crafted by a human. Without a person on the earthly end of the spiritual phone ready to capture the inspiration and craft it into a consumable form, the song does not get written.

And before you object to that statement, I absolutely know that the Sovereign God of the universe can do what He chooses without us being involved at all. But I have observed that He chooses to use us humans in the songwriting process. I can’t think of a single song that exists out there where the name “God” is listed in the writer credits. There is a point in the songwriting process (fairly early on in my opinion) where God entrusts us to see the song through to completion.

That led me to wonder, “Why?” Why do I hear writers using these phrases? Why would someone claim “God gave me a song” if that is clearly not the case? Did the Holy Spirit actually download all the lyrics to you in a single instant? Did you actually have a dream and you wrote the whole song within 5 minutes of waking up? Did God truly tell you He wanted the 6m-4-1-5 progression on the bridge, and the epic gang vocal “woahs” on the turn-a-rounds? Or are we trying to make our song feel more powerful than it actually is?

Again, I believe any of those things are absolutely possible with God, but serious doubts arise in me about these claims when coupled with the songs they seem to accompany. After much thought, introspection and observation, I have developed few hard-to-swallow theories about what is actually driving people to say these things. And remember, I really am cheering you on.

I think the biggest culprit of why we use these kinds of phrases is insecurity. Buckle up for this one. Artists, by nature, have a tendency to lack confidence. Let’s face it: It’s just flat-out uncomfortable to reveal inner thoughts and feelings and then share those thoughts with the world. So, instead of facing criticism head on, some claim God was very heavily involved, in hopes that no one would dare criticize.

I’m sorry to say, but if God is truly giving people songs in full, those songs would be amazing. If we aren’t careful, we end up trying to use God as a shield to deflect criticism. It’s a mentality that plagues many writers and ultimately hinders them from growing. God inspires songs, but it is still our responsibility to steward that inspiration and craft it into a song.

I think some folks think using these kinds of phrases gives them some sort of extra-spiritual authority. Like “Hey! This is from the Lord, so it’s totally awesome in every way.” They wield these kinds of phrases around like a sword to ward off any naysayers. But I’ll tell you a secret: every person knows a good song when he or she hears it. No matter how well you set the song up, the song still has to deliver. Trying to give yourself some sort of leg-up with extra “spiritual sauce” doesn’t make your song any better. The song is merely what is written. Period. You can’t use God as a pepper shaker to spice it up and make it taste better.

Spirituality Is No Excuse
People seem to think that since a song is about a “good thing” like God, they have in turn made a “good thing”. And I know I’m about to make some people upset here, but just because your song is about Jesus, doesn’t mean it’s a good song. Your intentions are great, but maybe not your song. I have heard plenty of terribly crafted songs about a very amazing Jesus. Spiritual songs are not above criticism.

There are still good songs and bad songs in the Christian genre.  The subject matter of the song does not dictate the quality of how well the song is crafted. Someone could write an amazingly crafted song about the evils of the world, just as easily as they could write a terrible song about the holiness of God. Writing about “good things” does not make your song automatically a “good thing”.

Okay. I know I’m running on real thin ice with some of you, so I’ll stop here.

So, where does God’s inspiration end and human craftsmanship begin? I think it varies case by case. There is a great majority of Christian songs that are genuinely God-inspired, but not solely God-completed. And there is certainly a strong human element to this whole songwriting thing.

The point is, it’s time we take proper ownership of our songwriting. That act alone will revolutionize our work ethic and determine how hard we pursue this craft. May we strive daily to capture God-inspired moments and then work mercilessly to craft those revelations into amazing songs. I’m cheering you on!

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Sean Hill

Sean Hill (Guest Writer)

Sean is a full-time producer and songwriter in Lawrenceville, GA.