Songs that changed the way we worship

Integrity is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with a double CD compilation jam-packed with some of the most definitive worship hits of the last quarter century.

These songs have inspired us through the seasons of our lives but do you know what inspired the writers behind them?

Here are just some of the stories behind the songs that changed the way we worship.

“Shout to the Lord”
Artist: Darlene Zschech
Writer: Darlene Zschech

Some of the most moving songs of praise are often birthed from times of despair. Such was the case with “Shout to the Lord”. While going through a difficult time and desperate for the peace of God, Darlene Zschech sat down at her old piano, the same one she’d had since she was five years old. She turned to Psalm 96, and without setting out to do so, she penned one of the Church’s most well-known praise songs in about 20 minutes.

Though she had been writing songs since her teens, Darlene never considered herself a songwriter. And it was with trepidation that she shared the song with her church. But the response was immediate and the song quickly travelled around the globe, giving believers new words to express their hearts to God.

“You Are Good”
Artist: Lakewood Church
Writer: Israel Houghton

Born to an unwed teenage mother whose parents had urged her to have an abortion, Israel Houghton could easily have become a statistic, but for the goodness of God.

Eight months into her pregnancy and abandoned by her family, Israel’s mother met Jesus on a street corner when a complete stranger walked up to her and shared the Gospel. That “chance” encounter radically changed his mother’s life and his own. So when Israel penned “You Are Good”, drawing from Psalm 100, he did so from a very personal place. He knows the radical goodness, love and mercy of God.

“Open The Eyes Of My Heart”
Artist: Paul Baloche
Writer: Paul Baloche

While leading worship one morning, the phrase “Open the eyes of my heart” popped into Paul Baloche’s mind. “I’d heard a pastor pray that a couple of years before and I had written it in my journal,” recalls Paul. “Later, I looked into Ephesians 1:18 and spent some time there, praying that.”

So as Paul was leading, he sang out, “Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord. Open our eyes, Lord. We want to see You.’” He wasn’t sure of how the rest of the song came, other than that he was thinking about Isaiah, “Lord, to see You high and lifted up.” Thankfully, Paul’s sound technician was recording the service and captured the moment. “It just felt like the sincere prayer of our hearts at that moment,” Paul remembers.

“I Am Free”
Artist: New Life Worship
Writer: Jon Egan

For years, Jon Egan struggled with anxiety and depression. After a particularly difficult struggle with anxiety over his ability to lead worship, he found himself once again asking God for freedom from fear. But this time, he distinctly heard God tell him, “You are free … look to the cross and open your eyes.” Jon recalls hearing God tell him to quit focusing on his fears and instead focus on who He said Jon was, not who Jon thought he was.

As this truth settled into Jon’s spirit, he picked up his guitar and decided that rather than singing about how he wanted to be free, he would instead declare the truth that he IS free!

“Give Thanks”
Artist: Don Moen
Writer: Henry Smith

In 1978, a young seminary graduate named Henry Smith was struggling to find work and coming to terms with a degenerative eye condition that would eventually leave him blind. Despite those hardships, Henry found hope in 2 Corinthians 8:9 and penned “Give Thanks”, one of the most beloved songs of our time. And now let the weak say, ‘I am strong’; Let the poor say, ‘I am rich’ because of what the Lord has done.

Years later, a young worship leader named Don Moen would record Henry’s song, helping to carry it around the world. Today, you can hum “Give Thanks” at almost any church in the world, no matter the country or the language, and someone will recognise this simple song of thanksgiving and trust.

“God Will Make A Way”
Artist: Don Moen
Writer: Don Moen

After learning that his young nephew was killed in a car accident, Don Moen searched for some way to help bring comfort to his grieving family even as he struggled with his own sorrow. While reading Isaiah 43, he asked God to give him something that would bring hope to the family in the middle of a hopeless situation. As he prayed, the words for “God Will Make A Way”, came to mind. He works in ways we cannot see, He will make a way for me.

For a while, that song remained a private message for his family. But slowly, he began sharing it with others and soon found that it was a message for the whole church. A message to cling to when “there seems to be no way”.

“Lord Have Mercy”
Artist: Eoghan Heaslip
Writer: Steve Merkel

Before the Berlin Wall came down, Steve Merkel spent time in Poland ministering with Catholic believers. It was a season that opened his heart to the beauty of liturgy and the richness of our shared faith. When he returned home, he often led worship at his local charismatic church on Sundays and at Catholic services during the week. Along the way, it became clear to Steve that both streams needed the other. So while working on a liturgical worship album for Integrity Music in the late 90s, Steve was inspired to write a “Kyrie for the Common Man”.

“I dropped the bucket down into the well of my life and truly documented the things for which I needed the mercy of the Lord,” says Steve. “‘Lord Have Mercy’ became the musical setting formed from the prayers that came up from that well.”

“Above All”
Artist: Lenny LeBlanc
Writers: Paul Baloche and Lenny LeBlanc

Paul Baloche didn’t start out to “write” a song when the words to “Above All” came to him. He was just spending time alone, worshiping the Lord. But as he meditated on Jesus, the words poured out. “Lord, you are above all kingdoms, above all thrones, above all the wonders the world has ever known.” Paul struggled for over a year to write a chorus that fit the verses. But it wasn’t until he sat down with friend Lenny LeBlanc that the song began to fully take shape.

Lenny suggested, “Crucified, laid behind a stone… like a rose trampled on the ground…” and suddenly they realised that something wonderful was coming together. By the time they had written “You took the fall and thought of me… above all,” they were in tears.

“There Is None Like You”
Artist: Lenny LeBlanc
Writer: Lenny LeBlanc

In the late 80s, Lenny LeBlanc, formerly of the hit-making duo LeBlanc & Carr known for their pop single “Falling,” began writing songs for his local church. He also began recording with Integrity Music. While working on the album Pure Heart, Lenny found himself on a deadline to pen new songs for the project.

Ordinarily when writing, Lenny says he would play the piano, humming along to stir up ideas. But one morning, as he sat down to work through the process, he immediately started singing the words “there is none like you.” Lenny took a break from writing, mulling over this new song and wondering if he might be on to something. When he went back to the studio and began playing it again, the weight of the words hit him. Lenny recalls weeping, not only because of the lyrics, but also in thankfulness that God had given him the song.

“Ancient of Days”
Artist: Ron Kenoly
Writers: Jamie Harvill and Gary Sadler

As writers Jamie Harville and Gary Sadler were working in a converted studio at Jamie’s house, they were inspired by the description of God as the “Ancient of Days” from Daniel 7:22. Gary had already decided upon the title for the song and a basic verse melody, and Jamie had been listening to a South African artist who inspired him to pursue the ethnic drum patterns in the song.

Following the song’s completion in 1991, it was featured on a live recording by Ron Kenoly. Jamie remembers being at the recording with his family and parents and seeing the look of pride and wonder on his mother’s face as they performed the song, a memory he’ll never forget. He knew at that moment that his music lessons had paid off and a songwriting career had begun.

“Days of Elijah”
Artist: Robin Mark
Writer: Robin Mark

In late 1994, Robin Mark watched a recap of the year’s news stories, including the horrific Rwandan genocide, and was struck by despair over the state of the world. As he prayed, he felt assurance that God was very much in control. But he also sensed that we are living in a season that would require Christians to be filled with integrity, taking a stand for God as Elijah had. Drawing from the Old Testament, he examined the virtues and attitudes we would need in such days - - Righteousness, Justice, Revival, Unity, Worship and Praise.

“It is in essence a song of hope for the Church and the world in times of great trial,” says Robin. “The chorus is the ultimate declaration of hope – Christ’s return.”

“Friend of God”
Artist: Lakewood Church
Writers: Israel Houghton and Michael Gungor

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. – James 2:23

Cowriter Israel Houghton has said that “Friend of God” is a song that has deeply impacted him. Recalling the writing process with Michael Gungor, Israel says they were “blown away” as the lyrics hit them.

“It’s one thing for us to call God our ‘friend,’” says Israel. “But when you are singing, ‘He calls me friend,’ and you begin to really understand how He sees you… that’s powerful.”

“Your Name”
Artist: Paul Baloche
Writer: Paul Baloche and Glenn Packiam

While visiting New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Paul Baloche suggested that he and Glenn Packiam, a songwriter and associate pastor at New Life, connect for a writing session. “There really wasn’t a place for us to meet except in the nursery,” recalls Glenn. So, there they sat in the nursery, with a beautiful view of the mountains but with the very present smell of a church nursery.

Glenn shared with Paul a message that he’d given recently that was drawn from Psalm 65 about rediscovering awe and living in wonder. Then the two worshiped for a while. Glenn read the scripture and almost immediately, the song poured out. Though that was the first time the two had written together, it was the beginning of many writing sessions that would birth numerous new songs for the Church.

“Revelation Song”
Artist: Gateway Worship
Writer: Jennie Lee Riddle

Jennie Lee Riddle traces the inspiration for “Revelation Song” back to the classic Gerrit Gustafson song “I Hear Angels.” Jennie loved the picture of heavenly worship in Gerrit’s song and for years sang it over her children as a lullaby. One day, while caring for her son and thinking about that imagery, she asked the Holy Spirit to help her write a song that painted a picture of creation worshiping around the throne.

Recalling Ezekiel 1:26-28 and Revelation 4, Jennie put her son down to play and picked up the guitar she had only just learned to play. And out poured the words, “Clothed in rainbows of living color, flashes of lightening, rolls of thunder.” Jennie shared the song with her local church and from there it quickly spread to the global Church.

“How He Loves”
Artist: John Mark McMillan
Writer: John Mark McMillan

In November of 2002, while in a Jacksonville, Florida, to record a new album, John Mark McMillan received word that one of his closest childhood friends had died following a car accident. John Mark was devastated.

“I had pages of dialogue with God in the days that followed, some angry, mostly confused, but also I wrote a lot of songs,” he says.

The first song from that season, much of it written the day after the accident, was the song “How He Loves.” John Mark says the song was every bit a “tribute to a friend, a cry for understanding, and the worship that resulted from it all.”