The earliest songs I can remember learning were hymns. From the time I was a toddler in the church nursery, I heard the great songs of the Christian faith. As a writer, I’ve grown to appreciate more and more the theological substance and artistic beauty of the hymns that have stood the test of time.
In April, I had a good conversation about hymn writing with Matt Boswell at The Gospel Coalition’s National Conference. I’ve long appreciated Matt’s work, and I told him I was interested in writing lyrics for the Church to sing. He encouraged me to start with an idea—a song title—for which he would develop a melody.
Right now, I serve as the primary teaching pastor at my church. Every week, I pray that the Spirit would move among us—showing us the glory of Jesus through his Word, through our worship, and in our church’s service to the community. I wanted to put those prayers to music, so that our congregation could sing/pray together. That’s how the title came about: “O Spirit, Lift Our Eyes to Jesus.” Once we had the title, Matt got to work on the melody, and I worked on the words.
The first verse asks the Spirit to lift our eyes to Jesus, to help us see how all the Bible points to him. As a preacher, I want my congregation to have an Emmaus road experience every Sunday, so that our hearts “burn within us” when we see in all the Scriptures Jesus, the “Hero of our great redemption.” “Clouds of sin and sorrow” blind us from his beauty, and so we pray that the Spirit would open our eyes, so we can see him and sing his praises.
O Spirit, lift our eyes to Jesus
Help us see him in your word
The Hero of our great redemption
Suffering Savior, Risen Lord.
Over clouds of sin and sorrow
Raise us up to see our King
O, make our hearts to burn within us
Open eyes, and we will sing.
Verse 2 asks the Spirit to lift our hearts to Jesus. Here, we pray that the Spirit would engage our emotions and affections until we find our full satisfaction in him. First, we see Jesus in the Word (verse 1), and now we pray for God to energize our hearts, so that he becomes our “sole delight.” Too often our hearts are cold. That’s why we need God’s kindness to overwhelm us, his gospel to wake us up from worldly slumbers, and set “set our souls ablaze.” Verse 2 alludes to the Lord’s Table, with Jesus as the “ever-living bread from heaven” who satisfies “hungry beggars.” Liturgically minded worship leaders will notice my nod to the sursum corda here, where we lift up our hearts to the Lord and pray we “taste his goodness.”
O Spirit, lift our hearts to Jesus
Make His love our sole delight
With ever-living bread from heaven
Hungry beggars, satisfy
Overwhelm cold hearts with kindness
Wake us with good news of grace
O, Lift us up to taste His goodness
Come and set our souls ablaze
Verse 3 is all about mission. After we’ve prayed the Spirit would lift our eyes to see Jesus in the Word, and lift our hearts to taste his goodness, we pray the Spirit would lift our hands to the Lord in service. True Christianity engages our heads, our hearts, and our hands. When the worship service concludes, our service as God’s people is just beginning. Throughout the week, we need the Spirit’s “strength to do his will” from a heart of “true compassion.” It is not the command of the Lord that breaks down “our hearts’ resistance” to obedience; it is the “beauty of his scars” that frees us “for love and service” and replaces our self-centeredness with the love of Jesus.
O Spirit, lift our hands to Jesus
Give us strength to do His will
With open arms and true compassion
His commands we would fulfill
Overcome our hearts’ resistance
With the beauty of His scars
O, Set us free for love and service
Make His hands and heart be ours
This is my first attempt at writing a hymn. I’m grateful for the beautiful melody that Matt Boswell gave these words, and I pray the hymn serves the church well.