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Songs from Scripture Interview with Josh Garrels, Dustin Kensrue, Robbie Seay, and Jenny & Tyler

In Part I, II , and III of this series, we talked about writing songs from scripture both creatively and faithfully, giving specific ideas and writing prompts to help get you started. 

In todays post, we’ve asked 4 songwriters (Jenny & Tyler, Josh Garrels, Dustin Kensrue, and Robbie Seay) to pick a specific song they’ve written from scripture and answer 2 questions: 1) What inspired you to write this song or drew you to tell this story from scripture?  2) How did you approach and use scripture in your songwriting process?  We hope their answers will inspire and encourage you.

Artist: Josh Garrels

Song: “The Revelator”, from Love and War and the Sea In Between

Scripture: Revelation, especially 1:9-18; 4:5-11; 5:5-14; 19:11-13

 

1) What inspired you to write this song?

“Many of the great prophets in the New and Old Testament were given visions of the great and terrible “day of the Lord,” and for some reason I’ve always resonated with these passages deeply. As humans, we have an instinctual aversion to death for it represents the end of all that we know…how much more disorienting to consider the end of all things? The Jesus that returns to earth at the threshold of this cosmic change, is a Jesus who is warrior king, bringing forth full justice, and wearing a robe as red as blood, and yes, the vision is both great and terrible. John the Revelator gives us the most exhaustive vision of the returning king, and I used his imagery for my song “The Revelator”, in which I put myself in John’s place. Many have an aversion to “end time stuff,” and I can understand why, but for me, these prophetic visions not only give the promise of good and powerful end to an epic story, but it’s a story that we’re all part of, so a vision of the end is also a reference point that I use to guide my steps day by day.”

2) How did you approach and use scripture in your songwriting process?

“I used an interweaving of direct scriptural quotes mixed with my own poetic interpretations (my own condensed paraphrase). In a song, you’re only given a few lines to say all that needs to be said, so there has to be a choosing of which images and truths need to be present, and which are excluded. Exclusion is the hardest part, especially when dealing with God’s Word, but when it comes to a song or teaching it helps to sparingly build toward a focused point. I knew I wanted the song to encompass the mystery and severity of Christ in Revelation, but also to offer the hope and triumph he brings upon his eminent return.”

Josh Garrels is a singer-songwriter based in Portland, OR. His album Love & War & the Sea In Between won Christianity Todays Album of the Year award in 2011.  Some of the other songs he has written from scripture include 107 (Psalm 107) and Blessed is He (Matthew 23:29).

 

Artist: Dustin Kensrue

Song: “The Suffering Servant” from his latest release, The Water & the Blood

Scripture: Isaiah 52:13-53:12

 Stream the full song here.

1) What inspired you to write this song?

“Seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah wrote about someone he referred to as God’s servant, who would suffer for the sake of his people.

No matter how many times I go back and read about the Suffering Servant, I simply cannot get over my amazement in seeing such a clear and moving portrayal of the atonement of Jesus. Every time I read it I come away even more amazed.”

2) How did you approach and use scripture in your songwriting process?

“I’ve always loved this section of scripture and I had wanted to put it to song for some time. I basically tried to fit the entire section of scripture in by rephrasing portions of it, and also by rearranging the order as well. The original text is not necessarily in chronological order. Some of the exaltation language is at the front of the text, but with the dynamic flow of the song, I stacked all of that language at the back after the key change, so that it just piles on, one thing after another and overwhelms you with the glory and wonder of Christ’s victory.

Something else I purposely did was to not pull in any influence from any other portion of scripture. There is no mention of Jesus by name, and no mention of what else the Bible said he would or did accomplish. I wanted it to stand out in the same way the biblical passage stands out, in that it is an amazingly clear picture of what Christ would do through his death and resurrection. Most people would sing it and never realize that it is so self-contained, because it is so obviously about Jesus.” 

Dustin Kensrue is a singer-songwriter based near Seattle, Washington and a worship pastor at Mars Hills Bellevue campus. Some of the other songs he has written from scripture include Messenger (from Isaiah 6), Hold Fast Hope (Jonah 1), Moving Mountains (1 Corinthians 13), and The Voice of the Lord (Psalm 29).  He talks more about The Suffering Servant on The Resurgence Blog here.

 

Artist: Robbie Seay

Song: “Psalm 62”, from Psalms EP, Volume I

Scripture: Psalm 62

 

1) What inspired you to write this song? 

“Psalm 62 is a favorite of mine and as we set out to begin these Psalms EP’s, I had hopes that it would be included. Verse 8 to me is so powerful: “Trust in him at all times, O people. Pour out your heart before him for God is a refuge for us.”

2) How did you approach and use scripture in your songwriting process?  

“We are recording a Psalms series in 3 EP’s. Our hope is to give a snapshot of the Psalm. So, in Psalm 62, we are not singing the entire Psalm but hopefully including enough of it so that the listener is engaged with the Psalm and longs to put it in the full context of the entire passage. Our goal is pretty simple: write great melodies and provide an opportunity to engage the Psalms in a new way.”

Robbie Seay is a worship leader and singer-songwriter based in Houston, TX.  The Robbie Seay Band is currently working on a series of EPs based on the Psalms. Volume 1 released in the fall of 2013 and included tracks based on Psalm 96, 62, 91, 42, and 63. Volume 2 will release this spring, and Volume 3 will release this summer.

 

Artist: Jenny & Tyler

Song: “Kingdom of Heaven”, from their latest full-length album Open Your Doors

Scripture: Revelation 21 and 22

 

1) What inspired you to write this song?

“The book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ given to the apostle John is truly wonderful.  The verses of ”Kingdom of Heaven” revolve around chapters 21 and 22.  When I read the text, I feel like a little child reading the last chapter of his favorite storybook.  The words reawaken in me both a reverence for God (and an overwhelming awareness of my smallness) and an excitement – almost a giddiness – rooted in the glorious expectation of the new heaven and new earth.  The chorus of the song comes from St. Paul’s exhortation in his letter to the Colossians (chapter 3) to think on the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

2) How did you approach and use scripture in your songwriting process?

“I think I was using the English Standard Version of the Bible at the time, flipping back and forth between Revelation 21 and 22.  The words seemed to fit so well with the music, the songwriting process was like piecing a puzzle together.  The music was the final picture and I arranged the words accordingly.  It was a relatively easy process (as I was essentially plagiarizing), so much so that in the original version, there were actually 5 verses instead of 3.”

Jenny & Tyler are a married, folk pop duo based in Nashville, TN. Other songs they have written from scripture include Psalm 86, Psalm 46, and Called Beauty (based on Ezekiel 16).

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