More than hymns – songs to swell the spirit

By Stephen Acott

Music speaks in a way words fail to. It has its own language yet is understood by everyone. And the very best music speaks to the soul.

Little wonder then that it has been synonymous with religious worship for centuries. It has several references in the Bible – such as the “psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit” quoted in Ephesians –  but not all churches have restricted themselves to this type of song (think Gospel).

Nor have songwriters stayed within these boundaries as they search their spiritual selves. As music has evolved through the centuries, spirituality has been a constant source of inspiration. Even today, with the myriad styles populating playlists, God is ever present.

One of the most acclaimed movies of 2019 is a gospel concert performed by Aretha Franklin in 1972, appropriately called Amazing Grace. That a concert recorded 47 years ago, on equipment far from stereophonic, still resonates so strongly testifies to the timelessness of spiritual music.

But Gospel music is not the only format giving rise to God. Popular music, as defined by what’s on the radio (or Spotify in today’s parlance), continues to spread the word.

From Elvis Presley crying in the chapel in 1965 (“take your troubles to the chapel, get down on your knees and pray, your burdens will be lighter and you’ll surely find the way”) to Stevie Wonder having a talk with God in 1976 (“when you feel your life’s too hard just go have a talk with God”) to U2 feeling 40 in 1983 (“I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined and heard my cry”) to Prince staring at the cross in 1996 (“soon all of our problems will be taken by the cross”) to Johnny Cash finding his own personal Jesus in 2002 (“lift up the receiver, I’ll make you a believer”) to Chance The Rapper counting his blessings in 2016 (“when the praises go up the blessings come down”) Christian music has manifested itself in many forms.

Even Kanye West has been delivering Sunday services this year in a bid to “communicate love effectively,” according to long time collaborator Tony Williams.

So the challenge for churches is not to find fitting music, but to fit this music into the church. Sing it and they will come? Chances are they will, especially younger people.

As Mat Harry observes: “If you flick on a radio you cannot hear organ music anywhere, on any station. Whenever I’ve gone to a worship service where the music has been more upbeat and not organ music, the people who are there are younger – without exception.”


10 songs that get into the spirit of things

Spirit In The Sky
Norman Greenbaum, 1969

“I got a friend in Jesus so you know that when I die He’s gonna set me up with the spirit in the sky.”


My Sweet Lord
George Harrison, 1970

“I really want to know you, I’d like to go with you, I want to show you Lord that it won’t take long.”


On The Road To Find Out
Cat Stevens, 1970

“Yes the answer lies within, so why not take a look now, kick out the Devil’s sin, pick up a good book now.”


When You Gonna Wake Up?
Bob Dylan, 1979

“God don’t make promises that He don’t keep, you got some big dreams baby, but in order to dream you gotta still be asleep.”


Whenever God Shines His Light
Van Morrison, 1989

“In deep confusion, in great despair, when I reach out for Him he is there.”



God’s Sure Good
Dr John, 2012

“God’s been good to me, better than me to myself, saved my soul, when it was all I had to sell.”


I Still Pray
Kasey Chambers, 2014

“I still cry for baby Jesus and I still pray when I’m alone, and when I’m lost He’ll come to find me because He died to save my soul.”


Adele, 2015

“When the world seems so cruel and your heart makes you feel like a fool, I promise you will see that I will be your remedy.”



Leon Bridges, 2015

“Take me to your river, I wanna go, Lord please let me know.”



You Want It Darker
Leonard Cohen, 2016

“Magnified, sanctifies be Thy Holy Name, vilified, crucified in the human frame.”

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