The Story Behind "Hallelujah (Your Love Is Amazing)
Featuring Brian Doerksen Posted on April 3, 2010
God’s people sing! They always have, and they always will. And what is it that makes us sing? What causes words to be lifted out of simple prose and speech and launched heavenward with melody? The sheer overflow of our hearts! Our songs spring from the intensity of emotion and conviction that cannot be contained.
I can still remember clearly the day when Brenton Brown and I started singing this song. Actually Brenton had started it on his own, and I helped him finish it in a surprising and funny way.
Brenton is originally from South Africa, and in the mid-1990s he moved to Oxford, England, to study at the university. I met him at a Vineyard event in 1997, and he became one of the emerging worship leaders I mentored while we lived in England. Around the beginning of 2000, shortly after we had moved back to Canada, Brenton came over for a visit to catch up with our family and to do some cowriting. On this particular day things were not going so well on the home front. Isaiah, our “Made in England” souvenir, was not a happy baby! My wife was in the kitchen, trying to make the family dinner, and Brenton and I were trying to be creative and write songs in my home office. Finally, in exasperation, Joyce brought crying Isaiah to me—put him in my arms and said, “You look after him for a while!” (Ironically, as I write these words, Joyce has left to run some errands, and I am looking after our now ten-year-old Isaiah in the very room where this story took place. Because of his special needs he can’t be left unsupervised for too long.) So I headed to the living room to try to calm Isaiah down by sitting in the rocking chair. I sat there with him for a while, but he was still crying and still very fussy. A short while later Brenton burst into the living room with another idea. Now, being the clueless single that he was at this time, he didn’t get the direct and indirect messages that our songwriting session was over for the day! Isaiah was crying on my lap and not very impressed with the noisy singing going on, and I was looking at Brenton with a look that said Perhaps now is not a good time … and he just launched into his idea anyway: “I have this idea for a song that I haven’t played for you yet—I have a strong start to a verse, but I have no chorus …” (All you songwriters out there can relate to this situation!)
And to my disbelief he started singing before I could tell him to shut it down: “‘Your love is amazing, steady and unchanging. Your love is a mountain firm beneath my feet. Your love is a mystery— how You gently lift me—when I am surrounded, Your love carries me …’ And that’s all I have!”
And so with Isaiah squirming and fussing, I called out just to get Brenton off my case: “Why don’t you do this for the chorus?”— and I sang out the melody literally as you know it—“Hallelujah … Hallelujah … Hallelujah … Your love makes me sing,”—and then sang it again!
Brenton looked at me and said, “No way!”—and I said, “Yes way!”
I immediately began to fight for the idea. I told him that I actually had been waiting for a fresh song where we just would sing the word “Hallelujah.” It’s such a rich God word, and I thought this would be a fresh, upbeat way to do it!
Well, I am still singing this song … and Brenton is too, along with other recording artists and worship leaders! It’s been so fun to see the joy and celebration this song has released around the world— a very special gift for me, because my songs have tended to land more on the intense and intimate side.
What I intuitively did in that moment was I connected the God word with the concept of love in the verse—it’s the love of God that causes these God words to burst forth!
And these words of worship that stir in us are such gifts. Consider the word this song is built around—a wonderful, rich Hebrew “God” word—hallelujah.
The first part of the word—hallelu—means praise. This form of praise is a plural imperative verb, and that’s important, because that means that the worship leader is urging the community to praise— the song is not intended to remain an individual act of praise.
The ending of the word—the jah in English—is actually Yah, the shortened form of “Yahweh” or YHWH. This was God’s personal and intimate name that revealed God’s special covenant relationship with His people.
Most English versions of the Bible translate the first phrase of Psalm 111:1 as “Praise the Lord”; in Hebrew it’s simply hallelu Yah. Eugene Peterson follows the original form in The Message. Note the connection to community.
Hallelujah! I give thanks to GOD with everything I’ve got—
Wherever good people gather, and in the congregation. (Ps. 111:1 MSG)
Now there are three meanings of this hallelu due to the three consonants—the “h-l-l.” (In Hebrew only the consonants were written out.)
The most common use is to praise, to raise a cheer, to lift up a song of joy in adoration and admiration.
A less common but related use of the “h-l-l” is to shine or flash forth light. Isn’t that an interesting thought? When we “Hallelujah,” we are shining—reflecting the light of God back to Him, for He is light.
There is a third and rare use that has to do with infatuation, acting like a madman, boasting, and even looking foolish! We can remember the story of David dancing as the ark was brought back— I guess we could say that this was David doing the “Hallelujah.”
In all of these meanings of hallelu, we recognize that this word is calling us to whole-minded, wholehearted, and whole-bodied praise. It’s not a call to mere intellectual assent.
And one more thing about this word that’s really interesting: The combination of hallelu and Yah is found only in the Psalms. It makes me think that we are meant to sing this wonderful God word. For the ancient followers of YHWH, when the phrase hallelu Yah was on their tongues, they were singing it! Perhaps God meant it to be set to music.
I think God gave hallelu Yah to us songwriters to inspire us to keep on finding fresh ways to sing the praises of God!
Now songwriting is not always as easy as it was for me that day. There have been a few “gift” moments like this where God seems to have taken the perspiration on Himself. But usually writing a song is hard work—like Thomas Edison once famously noted about success, it’s usually 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.
I am willing to do the work of a songwriter. The work of writing. The work of research. The work of rewriting and taking my time with a creative idea. The work of simply disciplining myself to show up for a writing appointment even when I feel nothing creative bubbling in me. I am willing to do all of these things and will continue to be willing for as long as God gives me breath. But I’m not going to turn down the gifts when they come. I’ll just say thank you and know that the moment will not be repeated. More gifts will come, but no two of them are ever the same. And I’m still grateful for that gift in early 2000 when Isaiah was crying on my lap and Brenton was badgering me with his latest idea!
God loves hearing us sing. Especially when our songs are “God songs” … filled with God words and truths. But He longs for much more than that.
I remember a particular time when I was swept up by the power and beauty of a song. The song captivated me. The poetry, truth, and compelling melody drew me in. The arrangement was magnificent as well—the producer had chosen creative and interesting sounds to awaken my aural senses. As I was enjoying this musical moment, God questions popped into my head.
Is God enjoying this song the same way I am? Is the beauty of this singer’s voice enough to bring delight to the heart of God?
Maybe we need to step back and ask a bigger question: Does God get delight from music? He must—He created it! Does God love creativity? How could a Creator not love our expressions of creativity? He delights in our songs … He loves all our expressions of creativity— until we are using those expressions of creativity to fake how we are really doing … until we are hiding behind our songs, even our songs of praise. A few fig leaves woven together, though creative and beautiful, were a sign that Adam and Eve were hiding who they really were from their Maker.
God does not need our music and our creative expressions of art to communicate truth or love. All of creation (even in a fallen state) does a pretty amazing job of that already!
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. (Ps. 19:1–3)
So what does God need from us? What does He love to hear in our music?
When we hear recorded music, our hearing is limited. We don’t hear the life of the musician or songwriter. And musically all the mistakes and out-of-tune notes have been edited out. Or to think about it another way, we have started to see life through our culture’s fascination with film and photography; now we often see only what’s within the frame. Outside of the frame and behind the facade and props built for the film set or photo shoot, it’s often not a pretty picture. For sure, the stuff outside of the frame is not the part of the picture that we let others see. But it’s at this point that there is a big difference between God and us.
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