Glory In The Darkest Place - Brittany Hope

In the darkness of night, in the garden of Gethsemane, our Saviour sang a song of glory. One of struggle and surrender, pain and trust. He teaches His people how to sing in the darkness and the hollow and the confusion. He is worthy of hope in the midst of perplexing and unwanted longing.
— Brittany Hope

Have you bought into the lie that God only wants, others only need, and therefore we ought only offer our brightest, happiest, and most palatable affections to God in worship?

Truth: God has both given us and desires to rightly stir in us a whole army of varied affections and emotions for both His glory and our edification.

Brittany Hope has gently crafted a whole record of holding some of these less voiced, darker emotions out for us where we can see the gospel of Christ deal with our places of pain, sorrow, loneliness, depressions, and anxieties. Just like the psalmists (Psalm88) and the apostle Paul (Rom 8:22-27), we see in these moments of darkness a heavenly Father who is ready to listen and be with us in these places, give us gospel assurance in these places, and point us to heavenly hopes that surpass our expectations for more in this life… take some time, open up your gates and spend some time with your loving Father listening to these honest, raw, edifying tracks. My personal favourites are “Rest in Jesus”, “Immanuel” and “Weary One”.

Prayers of the Saints Live - Sovereign Grace Music

One day the waiting will be over, every wrong will be made right, and all creation will bow before the returning King and Savior, Jesus Christ. Until then, we praise… we trust…we hope…we pray, knowing that the God who gave his only Son to redeem a people for himself will never go back on his promises.

In a culture where churches often steer towards either "heads" or "hearts" in their congregational music,  Sovereign Grace's desire to provide 'doctrinal fuel for emotional fire' has often served us with great songs that speak to and express both deep truths and the emotions that rightly should follow them.

Sound wise, this album is not breaking any new territory, and nor does it intend to.  But don't misread this as a criticism - it is really well produced and great to listen to.  And what it does do is present simple but intentional and effective arrangements that really serve the songs.  Often our music leaders have the task of seeing through layers of production and arrangements to gain an idea of whether a song will "fly" with our congregations - but the simplicity of this recording gives an immediate impression of how these songs might work with your team and church.  It generally sits in a comfortable balance between sharp production and ambient 'crowd' vibe - you get a real impression of being there, but not to the detriment of listenability.

A liturgical flow is very evident in the album as a whole.  Its starts with a couple of solid anthemic songs praising God for his character, sovereignty and holiness, that you could hear working in most contexts.  This includes their take on "All Creatures of Our God And King", which would have to be one of the best 'edited' hymn that's been written recently - the final additional verse completes the hymn (however, I think I still lean towards the West Coast Revival version music wise!).

Then the songs move into a tone of confession and assurance, and this is where I think this album may really serve to add depth to the scope of our song lists.

"Forgiven" is quite unique in the way that it takes the truth of God's forgiveness through Christ - "Forgiven, forgiven / Through the blood of Christ / We are forgiven" - and then really applies it to the complexities of our broken hearts; our pride, judgementalism, greed...and even the way our shame often leads us to forget our righteous status in God's eyes.  There's a universality to the verses that will apply to all believers, but also a particularity that refuses to be held at arms length.

Lord, forgive us for our shame
When we can’t release the past
When we’re quick to take the blame
But forget we’re free at last
We avoid Your sons and daughters
For the fear we don’t belong
Give us eyes to see each other
Through Your only Son
— Music and Words by Kate DeGraide, Rebecca Elliott, and Brittany Kauflin © 2017 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)/Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

It then moves to probably the strongest song on the album.  The three verses of "Lord, Have Mercy" move from humble confession to celebrating our assurance to longing for Christ's return.  And the beauty of the music and lyrics together help us both express our present confidence and yet still cry out with Godward longing in the chorus.

O God, we come before Your throne
And in our weakness we confess
We go astray and sin each day;
We cast ourselves upon Your grace
O Lord, have mercy on us,
Sinners in need of grace
Forgive us our transgressions
And lead us in Your righteous ways
God, lead us in Your righteous ways

The blood You shed has paid our debts;
Jesus, You’ve washed our sins away
We trust Your grace, believe by faith
In You we have all righteousness
O Lord, You’ve shown us mercy;
Sinners are washed as saints
You’ve shown Your loving-kindness;
Sons of disgrace are righteous made
Sons of disgrace are righteous made

We fix our eyes on You, our prize
Jesus, the Author of our faith
Till You return or bring us home
You strengthen us to run the race
O Lord, forever faithful
All glory to Your Name!
We have no other Savior
Our great Redeemer, God and King
Jesus, Redeemer, God and King
— Music by Marc Willerton, Words by Marc Willerton and Jordan Kauflin © 2017 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI)/Sovereign Grace Worship (ASCAP)

A Home and a Hunger - Caroline Cobb

A Home & A Hunger: Songs of Kingdom Hope is a journey through scripture, beginning with the Fall and the first “hunger pangs” in Genesis 3, and ending in Revelation when God will make His home with us tells of exile and Eden, of restlessness and rest, and of God’s beautifully “upside-down” kingdom.

We're often a bit hesitant about poetry in Christian songs. If you're like me, our post-modern flavoured education has taught us that truth in art and poetry lies in our individual experience and what we choose to believe its saying. And so we've often steered away from the poetic and towards the concrete in our Christian songwriting - in fear that these precious and timeless truths we're trying to share might be obscured or misunderstood.

But this is not necessarily the case with poetry.  Good poetry can actually help us perceive the truth that often lives "between the lines"*, and require us to place ourselves in the picture and apply it to our lives.

This is the gift of Caroline Cobb's album.  Her lyric writing is clearly tethered to scriptural truths - you can always see the passages she's drawing from, and she shows a real concern to not just pop in scriptural references, but to convey the overall intent and meaning of the passages and books they come from.  But at the same time, she does this with metaphors and word plays that require you to 'flesh out" the truth.

In telling the story of the two sons in Luke 15, she succinctly encapsulates the issue with both these sons with the phrase...

But you were more of a means than a Father
— Words and music by Caroline Cobb (ASCAP). Copyright 2017 Sing the Story Music.

...and in doing so, invites - almost forces - us to see that same way that we so often treat our Father God.

Probably my favourite song is the opening track "There Is A Mountain".  There's not much that is harder for our self-centred , fallen souls to grasp than the upside-down good news of the Kingdom of God.  But by skilfully building scriptural image upon image, Cobb helps us ponder and yearn for this intangible reality. 

There is a mountain only the lame can climb
There is a table only the hungry find
Only the beggar will have the currency
When need is all you need
— Words and music by Caroline Cobb (ASCAP). Copyright 2017 Sing the Story Music.

While most of the songs don't immediately lend themselves towards congregational singing (an exception being "Emmanuel"...worth checking out for Christmas), I can see a really helpful place for many of them as items, and particularly in an outreach setting.  When people are exploring the truths and claims of Christ, its often not the objective 'facts' of Christianity that are barriers or hurdles for them, but how these facts intersect with the played out reality of their lives.  And so songs like "All Is Vanity" could really serve to draw people into this deeper, embodied contemplation of these truths.

Wisdom is good, it puts eyes in your head
But it’s foolish to think it’ll save you from death
Both the fool and the wise man are numbering their breaths
And in the end, all this wisdom is just meaningless
— Words and music by Caroline Cobb (ASCAP). Copyright 2017 Sing the Story Music.

* JKA Smith's recent talk at the Art House, Nashville really helpfully explores this concept.