My Favorite Devotional Albums

Every once in a while, I like to share some music from my collection that I use regularly or for certain purposes. This time I wanted to share my favorite devotional worship albums. For me, personally, there is a big difference between a devotional album and a normal worship album. Here are a few of the differences:

  1. It must help me listen and focus
    This means that the devotional music I listen to must not distract me from listening to His Spirit. This is not the time for a big rock-worship venue’s cd with driving drums and electric guitar. Rather it needs to be simpler and quieter. Usually this music is playing in the background as I pray and as I read the Bible. It should be a help, not a hindrance.
  2. It must be stirring
    One of the most difficult challenges when praying is to remain awake and engaged. Even the disiciples had problems with this when they were praying. While the music I need is quiet and restful, I do not need something that will help me to sleep. It must be engaging and stirring to my spirit. The music should draw me. The words should ring (here and there) in my spirit. It should help me to pray and to pray passionately.
  3. It must be worshipful
    I look for albums that were created for and by serious worshipers. It helps me to feel someone else’s passion for (and worship of) God. This means that I don’t use just any instrumental cd, even though there are some great (and even stirring) ones, I want to listen to something made wholly (and therefore “holy”) for the Lord.

My top six albums

pablo

Pablo Perez – Majestic Splendor 
This has long been one of my favorites. I spent a summer with other youth leaders praying an hour, three times a day. This cd was played the most. Pablo also has some incredible instrumental cds.

bethel

Bethel Music – Without Words
This is the newest devotional cd in my collection. Bethel did an amazing job with this project. I currently have this playing in my car. It helps me engage with God when I go to and from work or church. It also helps that I don’t know many of the songs that they made instrumentals of, so I don’t play the karaoke game. Rather it lets my brain focus into praying and my spirit into listening.

phil

Phil Wickham – Give You My World
Most Christians know Phil Wickham now thanks to some amazing albums and songs he’s written, but few know of his first album (before his self-titled debut). It is still (in my opinion) his strongest work. There is something that is incredible simple and deep in it. Sadly this album is in very short stock. Find it and get it if you can!

isaac

Issac Meyer – Acoustic Rhythms
Isaac is one of the best acoustic guitar players I’ve ever heard. That he is a worshiper at IHOP-KC is an added bonus. My wife loves this cd. In fact, this album is a great station to have in iTunes Radio.

mike

Michael Gettel – Change My Heart Oh God (Piano)
This is the first devotional cd I ever had. Vineyard’s “Change My Heart Oh God” series is pretty great (not as good as their “Psalms” series or their “Acoustic Worship” series) but this cd is once of the best albums they have ever produced. The pianist, Michael Gettel, isn’t a showy piano player, but rather plays gently and fluidly in a style that is wholly his own. I heard that this album was the most-sought after for a piano score (songbook), but sadly the artist did not make one (although you can find the first track’s score in the songbook for “Change My Heart Oh God: Volume 3”).

rita

Rita Springer – Love Covers
I can’t express how much I love Rita Springer. Ever since I first heard her on a Vineyard Worship album, I’ve been enthralled by her passion for God and her unique voice. “Love Covers” is, in my opinion, her best album (while I think “Created To Worship” comes super close). This album was a limited print and hard to find. If you can get it, I highly recommend doing so.

Should We Use “Oh Oh Oh” in Worship Songs?

While the trend has been growing for years now, I’ve been noticing that more and more songs (particularly fast songs) have entire sections where the singer just sings “oh, oh, oh” (and to a lesser extent “la, la, la”). I’ve been thinking as a leader whether this is beneficial for our congregation to sing and whether it is good for the global church as a whole. I’ve had leaders and friends in my life who have argued for them and against them. Let me lay out the argument the way I see it.

Why this is an issue

Before we look at the pros and cons of it, some may wonder why we even need to talk about it. There should be no part of a worship song that isn’t looked at. None. When we look at worship songs, we are looking at the tools that enable a congregation to corporately worship God in unity. Worship is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) purpose of the church and we should take the songs we sing very seriously. Every song teaches us something, even if it’s subconsciously. We need to look and ask “what are songs with lots of “oh, oh, ohs” teaching us and our congregation?” and “Is it helpful or harmful?”

Examples

Not every song with an “oh” in it am I dealing with. I think singing it here or there is fine. I am particularly dealing with songs that make entire second choruses of them. Here are some of the songs I’m talking about:

All of these songs feature (if not start out with) long “oh, oh, oh” choruses. Let’s look at the pros and cons of such songs. We’ll start off looking at the cons so that I can better argue both sides.

Cons

  1. Laziness in songwriting.
    I find (for the most part) that entire choruses built on “oh oh ohs” to be extremely lazy songwriting. As a popular satire video said, “all you have to do is sing ‘oh, oh, oh’ and you have a hit song.” Since songwriters put words in the mouths of worshippers, they should be carefully pondering every word of their song. Many times, what results from lazy songwriting is the congregation engaging in spiritual gibberish.
  2. Polarizing.
    The younger generation loves songs with “oh, oh, ohs”. Turn on any radio station (Christian or not) and you’ll be hard-pressed not to hear a song that doesn’t contain any of them. Many songs written by younger artists includes ohs. At the same time, many older artists do not. It was a rare thing to have a song that had a long extended “oh, oh, oh” section in it fifty-or-more years ago (Hey Jude from The Beatles were one of those songs). Many older worshippers don’t understand singing “oh, oh, ohs” to God. This is important. Since corporate worship is about everyone joining together and worshiping God, anything that would hinder an entire section of people from worshiping must be looked into. It is better not to do any “oh, oh, oh” songs than to hinder people from worshiping God.
  3. Untheological.
    I’m not saying that “oh, oh, ohs” are bad theology, but rather that they carry no theology. They are neither true or false. They are sugar. They are just a condiment in a meal. Depending on the “meal” (worship song/set), they may add to it, or they may take away from it. Relish is great on a hot dog, but not so great in chicken pot pie.
  4. Redundant
    I’m not sure is this is a terrible thing, but if “oh, oh, ohs” aren’t done well musically and melodically, they can be quite redundant. This only adds to the polarizing effect.

Pros

  1. Unity
    The greatest strength I see with “oh, oh, ohs” in songs is, if the entire congregation is engaged together, the incredible unity that happens due to the utter simplicity of the words. Sometimes, either due to a song being newer or too wordy, many in the congregation can’t sing along well enough to “sing in one voice” with the rest of the people. If sung with a deeply worshipful heart, I feel the ohs can add to the unity of a song.
  2. Heartfelt and heart-engaging
    Someone once argued to me that “oh, oh, ohs” in worship songs were pointless. I was quick to point out to them that if the heart is truly the thing worshipping, then it can worship by singing random syllables. In fact, I see it (possibly) in the same way as “singing in the Spirit” (also called “singing in tongues”). I’ve mentioned elsewhere:

    “I have yet to be able to sing in tongues and not engage my heart. Since speaking (and therefore singing) in tongues is a muscle of the will, usually my hardest fight is to start singing in tongues, but once I do, my heart immediately becomes engaged. It’s just another reason why I believe the gift of tongues are still active today.”

    While singing “oh, oh, ohs” is not the same thing as singing in tongues, due to the simplicity bypassing the stumbling part of our brain, I believe singing ohs can produce close to the same effects.

  3. Rejoiceful
    I was going to say that singing “oh, oh, ohs” can be fun (and they are when done right), but that didn’t seem like a good justification to use them. However, since we are commanded to rejoice, I see them helping us engage with that command. Laughter and joy are a part of worship, yet they have no distinct words, just sounds. If you are singing a celebration song, it may be good to allow the congregation to “take it up a notch” with some ohs.

Conclusion

So, now that we have looked at the pros and cons of songs with extended refrains of “oh, oh, ohs”, we can now ask: should churches sing songs with lots of ohs in them?

My personal opinion? It depends on your church and the song.

If the majority of a church is mostly older believers (let’s say >50 years old), I would advise against it. However, if the church has a good blend of ages (like mine does) then singing some songs like mentioned above are fine when used sparingly.

If the greatest part of the song is the “oh, oh, ohs” (meaning its the main purpose the band is wanting to do the song), I would advise against doing it, even if the church’s demographics are fine with ohs. We want to make sure that we don’t cause people to yearn and seek the sugary things or “condiments” instead of the main meal. Train them to yearn for songs with theology, songs that are built on the gospel.

If you sing deep, “full-meal” type of songs, a little sugar or “condiments” are fine to use here and there.

Worship Artists That Have Greatly Influenced My Songwriting

  

Matt Redman
Favorite album: 10,000 Reasons, Facedown

I know of no greater songwriter that has affected worship in this generation than Matt Redman. Every cd he makes is great. In my opinion, his live stuff is better than his studio recordings. He has been a spiritual father to me regarding merging worship songs and theology.

Heather Clark
Favorite album: Selah

I love singing scripture. I think the more word-for-word scripture a song has, the better it is. Heather Clark is a hero of mine. She was the first person I saw write worship songs 100% out of scripture. She opened her Bible and sung it. She didn’t just take themes or a few words from the Bible, she used it word-for-word with no additions. The above cd is crazy good.

  

Marty Sampson & Reuben Morgan (Hillsong)
Favorite album: Mighty To Save, Blessed

Hillsong has changed a lot in 20 years with many highs and some lows. Around 2002-2005, they hit their high point in creativity and writing, in my opinion. This was mostly due to the duo of Marty and Reuben. Each song they wrote who excellent, worshipful, and catchy. I learned more about singable melodies and lead rhythmic melodies from them than anyone else.

Various IHOP Artists
Favorite album: Constant

IHOP is a deep well of music. They have many, many worship songwriters, all who have their own unique style and sound. They are pioneering how to combine deep theology, prayer, and worship songs. It’s passionately beautiful.

Why I Rewrote “Seek”

I love songwriting. For the past 13 years, it’s been one of my greatest joys. I remember some of the first songs I wrote back in the day and I’m glad no ever heard them. They were trite and horrible, but I learned from them. I am now writing songs that I’m happy with and others think are good.

The first song I wrote that my church started singing was called Seek. Most of the song was written during a spontaneous worship time, but the verses were written quickly afterwards without much thought in a rush just to finish the song. Overall, I never took the time to craft the song to make sure its focus, grammar, and theology was right. Yet our church loved it! (Note: there’s a sermon there. Just because people like it doesn’t mean it’s good or theologically correct.)

It’s been 10 years since I’ve written the song. Since then it’s been played in multiple churches, recorded on my EP project, and memorized and loved by hundreds of people. In the last 3 years, I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with the lack of focus I’ve given this song, particularly theologically. I finally decided to re-write the verses to the song.

Here were the old words to the song. You can listen to the song here.

Verse 1
How lovely is Your temple
Majesty You bestow
Your name is holy alone
You are my loving Savior
Righteous in all Your ways
I bow before you Lord and say

Pre-chorus
That the one thing I always have desired
And the one thing I always have sought (is)

Chorus
To dwell in the house of the Lord
To worship Him, praise and adore
To stay in the presence of the King
This is what I want, this is what I seek
You are what I want, You are what I seek

Verse 2
I stand in awe and wonder
How You could love me so
How could you call me Your own
Your grace, it overwhelms me
It causes me to draw near
Knowing that You will hear my prayer

Pre-chorus
Chorus

Bridge
You’re all I want
You’re all I need
You’re all I’m asking for
You’re all I seek

Here are a few reasons why I decided to change the above verses.

Unfocused cliches

In the recent years, I’ve never liked how unfocused the verses are. They are basically random worship cliches  thrown together with no focus and nothing they truly link to. The verses don’t paint a story or declare a message. I wrote them in 2 minutes and that’s exactly how it reads. There is little weight or theology behind these words. While the pre-chorus and chorus are pulled from scripture (Psalm 27), the verses are lacking in any grandness of theology or greatness of God.

Self-centered vs God-centered

The biggest problem I’ve had with the old verses is how they are self-centered. In the last few years, I’ve been acutely aware how most worship songs (including mine) are more about us than about God. I’ve refocused my songwriting to make God the center of the song instead of me. Even singing us is better than singing I or me. While I still write lyrics that are personal, I am striving to write more and more about God and what’s He’s like and why He is deserving of worship.

Emotion vs a response

In reading the verses, they are quite emotional. While I like and believe in emotion, I wanted a higher vision for the song than our passion for God. In reading Psalm 27, where the song is taken from, the psalmist desires to dwell with God, not from his own personal passion but in response to what he has seen. I don’t think this point can be overstated: we worship God, seek Him, love Him, desire to stay by Him…all in response to God revealing Himself. When we see God, we love Him and want more of Him. I found this to be a much better source and foundation for the song than my own passion.

This even changes the implication of the song. The old words made it a lie if you weren’t passionate for God when you were singing it. I wanted the verses to declare that worship was about who He is and how He moves my heart to love Him, not how my performance sometimes moves me to self-centered worship.

Teaching by example

In our church, we have several people who are starting to write songs. They ask for my advice and help and I’ve been teaching them and giving them a few tips. I realized that while I can tell them that theology is important and crafting a song well is needed, it’s all meaningless if I don’t follow what I say. It’s just words unless I am willing to teach and lead by example. The song’s popularity can help drive this point home: there is no song too sacred or popular that negates the need to fix poor theology.

Seek, Revised

Here are the new words to Seek. The changes are in red.

Verse 1
How lovely is Your temple
Majesty You bestow
Your name is holy alone
You are the Lord of glory
Over all things You reign
You are now and always the same

Pre-chorus
And the one thing I always have desired
And the one thing I always have sought (is)

Chorus
To dwell in the house of the Lord
To worship Him, praise and adore
To stay in the presence of the King
This is what I want, this is what I seek
You are what I want, You are what I seek

Verse 2
You stand alone in wonder
Matchless in strength and awe
Who can compare to You o God
Your love burns like a fire
Your grace compels my soul
To draw near and approach the throne

Pre-chorus
For the one thing I always have desired
And the one thing I always have sought (is)

Chorus
To dwell in the house of the Lord
To worship Him, praise and adore
To stay in the presence of the King
This is what I want, this is what I seek
You are what I want, You are what I seek

Bridge
You’re all I want
You’re all I need
You’re all I’m asking for
You’re all I seek

I am praying that these new lyrics accomplish what I set out to do. While they make not be uber-artistic, my main concern was making the song focus more on God. In that, I feel more comfortable with this.

New Music I Love: Desperation Band, Sovereign Grace Music & Paul Baloche

Every now and then, people ask me what new music (mainly worship music) am I listening to, loving, and recommending. So every once in a while I post some music I’m listening to here on the site. Enjoy.

Desperation Band: Center Of It All

Buy it here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/center-of-it-all/id513137095

In my opinion, this is the best cd that Desperation Band has put out. It is the first where they have written all songs around a theme. That theme? The centrality of Christ. You can find the theme in every song. The album is a little more sedated than their previous cds and has a more electronic feel than any of their other projects with exception of their Sessions & Remixes EP.

Sovereign Grace Music: Risen

Buy it here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/risen/id425675118

This ministry is great. They are dedicated to writing songs for the local church that are highly scriptural and deeply theological. This project revolves around the resurrection of Christ. While most only sing resurrection songs during Easter, this album gives the church great songs to sing about the resurrection all year long.

Paul Baloche: The Same Love

Buy it here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-same-love/id511157126

It is of my opinion that Paul Baloche has released three great albums: Open The Eyes of My Heart, A Greater Song, and this one. The Same Love focuses on the love of Christ, but through the cross instead of sappy emotionalism. Paul’s writing on the cd is pretty top-notch. The only sad thing about Paul is that my generation and the next will most likely miss out on his great songs because his style isn’t cutting-edge. He’s revamped his sound recently and is pretty great now, but still falls short of high-energy music like current Hillsong United stuff. But unless your an avid fan of hyper music, you’ll most likely love this cd.

New Music I Love: The Wheat & The Tares by Pas Neos

Large-pasneoswheat

Buy it here:
http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-wheat-and-the-tares/id439939962

I have a special place in my heart for electronic and ambient music. I love listening to The Album Leaf, M83, Saxon Shore and other artists like them. So when I heard that there was a electronic worship duo from IHOP-KC that were coming out with a full length cd, I set myself to buy it the day it came out. I was not disappointed.

The greatest thing I can say about this cd is that the sound of Pas Neos is truly unique. They sound like no one I’ve ever heard. This is a welcome thing since worship albums are anything but unique sounding nowadays. All the tracks on the album are a feast for the ears. I was blown away by how intricate each song is. For this album they decided to blend electronic instruments while some real guitars, strings and drums. This gives the album a mixture of sounds at times. It feels etherial at times, it feels like garage rock at other times. Sometimes it’s soft and melodic, other times it’s loud and complex. After listening to the cd I posted this on Twitter:

Screen_shot_2011-06-04_at_6

That’s how I view the cd. It feels like a musical version of the movie Inception. It’s more than an album, it’s an experience.

The other thing that’s great about this cd are the lyrics. As complex and intricate as the music gets, the vocals and lyrics are never lacking or wanting. In fact it’s amazing to me how deep the lyrics are. The lyrics pass the David Crowder Band standard in regards to poetry and lyricism, but the lyrics aren’t just pretty or creative. They’re solid theology and in-depth Bible teaching. I feel like I’m eating a meal, both musically and theologically everytime I listen to the cd.

My favorite tracks are “The Day That Our Lord Came Down”, “Take It All Back” and “On Their Faces (Glory Song)”. You can also download the song “City of the Great King” here for free: http://pasneos.bandcamp.com.

I am looking forward to many more cds and songs from them in the years to come.