From the Inside Out: The Transformation of a Worship Songwriter
by Justin Clifton
Five years ago I owned a guitar, but I did not play it. I could eek out a G chord and maybe a broken C chord. That was about it. And I did NOT sing. Period. And please, NEVER ask me to sing.
But I was also searching for something more. And at this point, I wasn’t interested in a head search, but a heart search. I couldn’t wrap my mind around all my theological questions. I had a nagging heaviness; of burdens, ungodly beliefs, bitterness, insecurity etc. You name it. It was there, weighing me down. I felt trapped and helpless.
It was at that point I began locking myself in the basement, waiting for God. I began by listening to worship music for 30 minutes or so, singing along some, and then listening for God to speak. It had seemed like a good plan. I felt like if I couldn’t wrap my head around God, perhaps I could find a way to wrap my heart around Him.
As I started to feel His presence more, I decided to dust off my guitar and try to play some of the songs myself. It was rough at first, but honest. I may not have been very good, but it was pure and healing.
However, as I started to cycle through new songs, one thing became absolutely clear. There were some things in my heart that just didn’t have a song written for them yet. Some internal feelings that did not yet have words. And so, in my very inexperienced way, I wrote them.
I only knew four chords and, what seemed to be, one strumming pattern. I didn’t care. These songs were between God and I, almost like a collaborative effort. It was like my journaling and prayer had come alive! The focus stopped being so much about finding songs that expressed my dialogue with God but about recreating the dialogue through songwriting.
Within a few months, I had written 15 songs. Each song represented a specific word from God, a deep struggle, or some wise counsel of a Christian leader that I wanted to remember. I still hadn’t shared the songs with anyone. I didn’t need to in order to fully grasp what was happening. I had changed. My relationship with God had changed. I wasn’t trapped anymore. I was free.
It wasn’t, however, until I wrote my 10th song, that I actually shared any of them. I felt nudged by God (and my wife) to share. I began to think maybe this wasn’t just for God and I. Maybe this was for others too.
By the time I had shared my first song corporately, it had taken on a life of its own. The first worship song that I shared was “To the Cross.” The song was based off of liturgy from the Anglican church in Kenya. I wanted to remember it because of what it meant to me in regards to my own shortcomings and the work of Jesus on the cross.
Interestingly enough, the song had taken on a bigger meaning within the context of my local congregation. Heartland Church had just begun working and collaborating with the Anglican community, through William Beasley at Greenhouse and Bishop Roger Ames of the ADGL. We were beginning, at this point, to see the importance of a global, Ancient Future church. Old words. New melody. Kenyan liturgy. American songwriter. This song fit a need at the time; it was timely for OUR congregation. It was apart of what God was doing in our church. And it was apart of what God was doing in me.
I guess that is where UA steps in. Worship songwriting has been fundamental in my transformation. It has also been a core principle with my local church. And now with UA, we look to expand that reach and impact beyond. We now look to the global church.
Worship is taking the focus from ourselves and gazing at perfection.It is always at the heart of revival because true worship ALWAYS transforms the worshippers.
So, why write new worship songs when there are so many good ones already?
Write them because it may just change yourself, your local church, and maybe even inspire a nation. Write them because you know that the power of worship is the power of God to transform us.