My wife Amanda and I have the responsibility of checking all the songs published by Hillsong before they are released, hopefully before they are sung at all. Our role is to look at the lyrics – others check the music and ‘singability’ of the song.
Over the years, we have had the privilege of working with some amazingly gifted songwriters who also have the grace and humility not only to submit their songs for checking but also to change the lyrics if we ask them to do so.
Our primary focus is the journey, theology and clarity of the song. We leave the poetry to the songwriters. We ask questions such as: Does the song take the worshipper on a journey; does the song enable us to sing the truth and is the song ambiguous in what it declares?
Our role in this process (which is not perfect) has meant that Amanda and I have been both commended (great) and criticised (not so great) for songs we have never written. Usually, we are more than happy to take a few hits for the team but o ccasionally, these criticisms become quite unpleasant (hey – we are doing the best we can). Our normal response is a gracious (hopefully) email saying: “If you don’t like our song, please feel free not to sing it”.
Over the years, certain lines in our songs have attracted more comment than others so occasionally we try and preempt what people might say and explain our thoughts beforehand. Hence this blog. One of the brilliant songs on our new ‘Empires’ album contains the line: “Even when it hurts like hell, I’ll praise You”. Well – I suspect that will raise the odd eyebrow in some quarters, so here’s the explanation:
We live in a desperately broken world. Occasionally, it feels as if hell itself has been unleashed. Of course, we know our victory and safety is in Christ, but it still hurts. The prophet Habakkuk expressed this dilemma beautifully: “Though the fig tree doesn’t bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fail and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NIV). Our songwriters have written this same idea in an authentic, determined and truthful way: “Even when it hurts like hell, I’ll praise You”. Well – s ometimes it does – and so we will.
The psalmists were never afraid to express their true feelings to God in their laments and and I don’t think we should be either. Our heart has always been to help people worship God and enable them to sing the truth. In this new album that is exactly what we hope to achieve. May God bless you richly as you worship God with us with these new songs.