Lent: The Wondrous Cross

The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
Lent: The Wondrous Cross

SYNOPSIS: Greg talks about songs of devotion and songs of the cross, and various ways to include these songs in a Lenten series.


  • 0:00 – Introduction
  • 0:46 – Tunes and arrangements of “Jesus, Lover of My Soul”
  • 3:46 – Tunes and arrangements of “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
  • 8:26 – John Stainer’s “God So Loved the World”
  • 9:15 – Tunes and arrangements of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed”


Hello, friends. This is Greg Scheer and you are listening to the Greg Scheer Music Podcast. This episode is a continuation of our Lent series. It’s the third in the series; I’d encourage you to go listen to the first two. And now, the exciting conclusion to “what to do during Lent”!


So today we’re going to talk about, mostly about songs of the cross, and we’re going to include some things for choir. So if you have a choir and you’re wondering what to do during Lent, then stay tuned. We’re going to talk about some different things.

So, let’s start with “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” This is not a cross song; what I often do in Lent, is I start with more, songs of devotion and songs about Christ’s nature and our reliance on Christ in the beginning of Lent, and then focus, really, more and more on the cross as Lent goes on. I think that’s a good way to do that, and it slowly brings into focus the cross, and we get into Holy Week, and there’s a lot of impact there.

So, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” is a very, very well-loved hymn. What’s interesting is that Charles Wesley, who wrote it, his brother John was his editor, and John said, “No, this is, this is too intimate. We shouldn’t publish this.” And it was only published I think after his death, maybe, maybe after a number of years, but it’s one of his most beloved texts, but his brother John felt that it was too intimate. And it’s really interesting, you know, we don’t usually, well we shouldn’t really call Jesus a lover, our lover, because that has sexual connotations, but to say “Jesus, lover of my soul” is a different thing. And many people connect with this text.

There are a number of tunes to go with it, and that’s one of the things about this text that is unfortunate, is that there’s no tune that has just locked in with it. There’s the tune, I think it’s called MARTYN— “Jesus, lover of. . .” Oh, how does it go? Anyway, it’s in 6/4 time, and it’s not my favorite of them, but it’s a lot of people’s favorite, so it’s kind of surprising. So kind of check that out with your church if you’re going to do that.

The other one is a Welsh tune, ABERYSTWYTH. I can never pronounce the Welsh tunes because they have way too many Ys in them. But that’s the one— “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly. . .” I think that is just a beautiful tune, but it’s a minor tune, and so a lot of people, really, they feel like it’s too morose. So you kinda have to check that out. Into that fray I added my own version. And this is a choral version that’s published by GIA Music, and the tune goes “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly. . .” It’s really quite an easy anthem, so you should consider trying that out with your choir during Lent. That’s a good one.

Now, let’s move on to more cross-specific songs. The classic is “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” It’s an Isaac Watts text, and you just don’t get a better hymn text than this. It’s just beautiful the way the verse one leads into two, into three, and then in four. The first verses are observing the cross, when I survey, when I look at the cross. And it’s just contemplating Jesus and his sacrifice for us. And then verse four is this beautiful verse of response that responds and says, “If Christ can give all that to me, then certainly I can give my life to him.” What’s really interesting is the traditional tune for that only has five notes. Count em. . . So you get the point, only five notes. But with just five notes, it’s just such a beautiful tune. I don’t know how the tune is so beautiful with just so few notes.

So of course, there’s no reason not to sing that just as a hymn, but you can also do the Chris Tomlin version, which adds the “Oh, the wonderful cross. . .” It’s got a nice chorus that is added to that, so that’s another option for “When I Survey.” And you can try some creative things, especially if you’re in a blended setting. You could have your organist or pianist lead the traditional version of the verse, and then have your praise team take over during the chorus, and sing the Chris Tomlin chorus of it. You can go back and forth like that. All sorts of things that you can do with just very few resources like that.

Another thing to be aware of is the Gilbert Martin choral arrangement. It is just magnificent. If your choir has not sung this then you really need to sing it. It’s just spot-on, really sings well, it’s just, oh, it’s just lovely. So the Gilbert Martin arrangement of “When I Survey.”

Now, interesting, I actually think that the tune, I can’t remember the name of the tune. . . I think the emphasis is a little bit off in these words. “When I survey,” it just doesn’t work quite right for me. And I really like the tune O WALY WALY, “The Water Is Wide.” That, you remember— “The water is wide, I cannot get o’er. . .” Right? So that tune, and we use it for lots and lots of hymns as well. But I like it for this text: “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died. . .” Doesn’t that fit nicely?

So, something that you can do— I do this a lot— is I’ll take a song that I really want to pound out over and over during the season, but I know that I just can’t sing it every single week as is. So I’ll take it, and I’ll vary it each week. So I might do the traditional one week, I might do the traditional with the Chris Tomlin chorus the next week, I might do the Gilbert Martin choral arrangement the next week, and then just do a folk version. And this is a way of kind of, when we use different tunes, it’s not just to confuse people or irritate them, although that sometimes does happen. . . I led this one time in a church, and this guy walks up to me after the church and says, “Thanks for ruining my favorite hymn.” Like, I don’t know, do I say, “You’re welcome”? So it’s not always going to be a win. But I think the good side of what happens when we do different tunes, is that we hear the words in a different way, right? So we put a different frame on the words and we experience it in a different way. And I think that’s really important that we do that.

Another cross song, if you have a choir. It’s funny, John Stainer’s song, “God So Loved the World,” you know, it’s a classic, but it’s kind of tired, right? You know, a lot of, not many choirs would do that because it’s like, every choral library has it. You have the Hallelujah chorus, you have— I guarantee. Just go and look in your choir folders and you’re going to find John Stainer’s arrangement, or setting, of “God So Loved the World.” And I was, I kind of felt that way about this, and one year I just kind of said, “Okay, it’s a classic. I should do it.” And I sucked it up and I did it, and boy, there’s a lot of music in there. I really, it’s just really quite a beautiful song. So, this is one that if you have that in your choral library I’d encourage you to go look for that.

And then, another one: “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed.” There are lots of Jesus bleeding songs that you can use. And you kind of have to gauge your context, right? So you, in your context something like “There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood” might not be the right song. And I understand that “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed” is quite melodramatic, it’s quite graphic. I do think that every church should sing this, you know, once during Lent. And the beauty of this song is that there’s a lot of ways to sing it. So, there’s the traditional tune, I think the tune is called HUDSON— “Alas, and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die. . .” So it’s a little more of a. . . little more upbeat and sturdy, and that’s the one that many people know. There’s one by Bob Kauflin, I can’t recall offhand how that goes. There’s one by Annie Quick, which is really, I just like this version a lot. I’ll just play a little bit of it.

Alas, and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die?

I just completely butchered that, but you can see how it goes. It’s kind of a Irish kind of sound, and you can put just a hand drum— boom, chida, boom, dum, boom— and it’s really beautiful because it takes. . . Most of the other versions are quite sweet, and kind of melodramatic, and this one is just very muscular and almost dance-like, and I really like what it brings out in the text.

There is a great choral arrangement by Deborah Govenor, an arrangement of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed.” And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about my own setting of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” to the tune of MARTYRDOM— “Alas, and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die. . .” So it’s that tune, MARTYRDOM, you probably know that tune. And so, my choral arrangement, you can go to my website, and you can find it there. Just type in, “Alas, and did my Savior bleed,” and then you can find it. There will also be links to all of these resources below the podcast, so you can just kind of click through to all those things.

One of the things that I have done a number of years, and specifically with “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed,” some of these tunes that have been around, or texts that have been around for a long time, and have gathered lots of tunes to them, I’ve done a whole series during Lent. So I did a whole series where each week of Lent, we would do a different version of “Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed.” And so, what I would often do, what I often do when I do this kind of thing, a series like this, is I’ll write a, you know, I’ve called it different things over the years: a liturgy lesson, a bulletin blurb. But, you know, if you have some kind of publication that people read, or just put it in the bulletin itself where people are, you know, have the worship materials. And you write a little overview of the song and its history, and, you know, points of interest, points of devotion, things that people can be thinking about with that. I’m actually going to have a link in this podcast, to when I was at Church of the Servant, I did this during Lent, so you’ll have a link to the Liturgy Lesson that I wrote. Because it’s a very interesting story, and so it gives you an idea of the kinds of things you can do.

Don’t forget that at hymnary.org, if you dig in to the hymn record, you often will find notes on the hymn, and many of those are very well-written, and you can just pluck those out. That’s what they’re made for— you can pluck them out, put them in your bulletin. You don’t have to write anything yourself. You can give people an overview of the hymn, and I think that’s often a real big win, because not everybody is going to love a hymn that you choose, but when they read about it, then they suddenly have more of an affinity for it.

So, lots of cross songs, lots of blood songs, lots of devotion to Jesus songs, lots of good ideas that you can use for Lent. I think that by the, now that we’re finished with this series, the biggest problem that you’re going to have is too many resources. And I hope you don’t get overwhelmed with all these, but I hope that for each of these episodes you can find just a few songs, a few variations on a theme that might work for your congregation.

Thanks so much for staying with me, and I look forward to chatting later.

Lent: Devotion, Temptation, and Confession

The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
Lent: Devotion, Temptation, and Confession

SYNOPSIS: Greg talks about spiritual practices, confession, and songs of devotion for use during the Lenten season.


  • 0:00 – Lenten spiritual practices
  • 4:30 – Confession songs
  • 8:44 – Songs about Christ-likeness
  • 12:33 – “Jesus, Lord of Life and Glory” (choral arrangement by Greg)


Hello, friends. This is Greg Scheer, and you are listening to the Greg Scheer Music Podcast.

So, we started last time a series on Lent, and we’re going to continue that. This week we’re going to look at some Lent devotion songs. So, one of the things that we do during Lent, is that we have extraordinary spiritual disciplines during the time of Lent. So you’ve probably heard of people, and this often is a Catholic thing, where people will give up candy for Lent. Or, you know, Diet Coke, those kinds of things. And all those things are great. So this is, these are supposed to be things that remind you of your devotion to Christ and draw you closer to Christ during the time of Lent.


So, you know, a person that is not very liturgical could just poo-poo the whole thing, and say, you know, “That’s just ridiculous. I love God all the time.” Well, and that’s true. I’m sure it is. But in the same way that you might take a vacation with your wife, and that is a way of, kind of, rekindling your love and your passion. In that same way, we do those kinds of things in our relationship with Christ.

So Lent is a time when we do that kind of thing. And people often give up something, because that kind of deprivation of whatever it is, it’s a, those things can often be crutches that you do to comfort yourself. So every time you’re feeling stressed, you, you know, eat those kinds of things. So when you give up your kind of go-to food or your go-to drink or whatever the thing you’re giving up, then it’s a way of reminding yourself that Christ is to be our all in all. And, I have done this on a number of years, and it’s just been a very, very powerful thing to go through a whole season thinking about this. And some people will go through the whole season having given something up, and then they will fast for three days at the end of Holy Week. And, I remember an Orthodox friend saying one time, because they cook these yeast breads on Sunday morning of Easter. He says when you walk into the church and you smell those breads wafting up from the kitchen, he says it’s like no smell you’ve ever encountered in your life, because you’re so hungry, you’re so ready to celebrate and to break your fast.

I think my favorite thing that someone gave up for Lent was recorded music. It was fantastic. She gave up listening to any recorded music during the whole season of Lent. And she said it not only changed her devotion to Christ but it also changed the way she listened to music. So she was so eager to go to even student recitals where they’re just playing, you know, songs that you’ve heard a thousand times. It was like a big deal because that was the only music that she was hearing. So really that Lenten discipline is really about being hungry and making sure that our hunger is for God.

So, what does this mean liturgically? So, well, I’ll tell you one thing that it means for me liturgically, what I do in worship. One of the things I really like to do during Lent is to sing a capella. And, in fact, The Hymn Society often encourages a Sunday which is an a capella Sunday. And the reason that we would do this is that we get so connected, so focused on all the bells and whistles of worship. We want a band, we want the organ, we want the choir, we want all this stuff, right? And if that isn’t there then we get all cranky. But, I think that there is a layer of entertainment that happens in worship, that isn’t necessarily bad in and of itself, but I think that we sometimes need to step back, take it away, and just kind of have the purity of an austere worship service, of just the voice, and having that carry it. And there’s just an austere beauty to just the voice singing. So I do a lot of a capella singing during Lent.

Another thing that you’ll find is that you often are going to beef up your confessions. So if you’re a church that does a confession each week, you will often, this will be a little bit oversized during Lent because it’s a time of penitence and discipline. So what kinds of things might you want to do during a confession? We talked last time about Psalm 51, and that’s a fantastic place to start.

There are plenty of songs. I’m just going to choose one to look at today, and it’s “Purify My Heart.” It’s by Jeff Nelson, and for copyright reasons I can’t do the whole song, but it goes like this:

Purify my heart.
Cleanse me with your holy fire.

You know, you get the idea, so it’s by Jeff Nelson. It’s called “Purify My Heart.” I really like that song. It’s kind of an old-school praise song, but because it’s a ballad I think it works well. It continues to hold up over time. One thing that I did recently is I wove together a confession with that song. I like to do this— fairly often I will have people sing their confessions. And, there are a number of reasons to do this. One, is because when you sing something it engages your emotions in it more than it would if you just recited it. And this is one of the big reasons that we sing is because it enflames our hearts and stirs up our passions, and when you combine that with God’s Word, then it brings a new level to our love of the Word and our love of God.

So, I like to have that. . . Oh, and then I was going to say the second reason. The second reason is that I like to reinforce the idea that music is just, not just music. It’s not just some kind of wallpaper, it’s not just people simply flapping their jaws because that’s what they do when they go to church. Everything that you do, all the music that you sing, that you play in church is doing something. It’s helping you confess. It’s helping you proclaim Scripture. It’s helping us respond to Scripture. You know, there are all sorts of things, but if you look at it, every single song that you do in a service is going to be doing something. It’s very important that we understand that.

So, one of the ways that I reinforce that, in our bulletin, it says, “Call to confession, Confession, Words of Assurance.” And so what I’ll do is I’ll let those titles stand, and then I’ll have a piece of music in, for example, the confession. So it’s bringing home the point that we’re not just singing a song, we’re confessing. And so in this particular case, the call to confession, for example, the pastor, the liturgist will stand up and say, “We seek to do good, but our wills are weak, our motives are mixed, and our hearts are impure. Let us return to our God, the refining fire, who will burn away the chaff of our lives, leaving only what is holy.”

Purify my heart. . .

And often, I will be, actually playing underneath this, just as a way of kind of binding it together. So, I’ll go to the words of assurance.

“People of God, the prayer of our hearts has been answered. Jesus Christ has died to forgive our sins, and rose again to give us new life. Our faith has made us whole. And let us live lives worthy of the grace we’ve been given.”

Purify my heart. . .

Now, I just completely butchered that. Sorry. But, you see what can happen then, is that the liturgist is speaking over this light guitar, and then the people come back in to sing. And it really creates a really good spirit in the room as we do this. So that’s confession.

Now let’s move on to some other things. Another thing that we’re thinking about during Lent, is, how do we conform ourselves to Christ? How do, the whole idea is that we’re walking with Christ through the latter part of his life. And we are walking, this journey is ultimately going to take us to the cross, and we know that in following Christ, we also follow him to the cross. And that’s, that’s one of the, we talk about Christ-likeness, and one of the ways that we achieve Christ-likeness is giving of ourselves, is in giving of our lives, is how we, part of how we imitate Christ.

So what kinds of songs work for that? I’ve got two in mind, and these are classic response songs. One is “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior,” and then the other is “I Surrender All.” Now, the original versions I’m sure you know:

May the mind of Christ my Savior
live in me from day to day.

I don’t have the music in front of me, so I’m not going to play it on guitar. And then “I Surrender All:”

I surrender all,
I surrender all,
I surrender all. . .

I’m butchering this. Sorry. You know that song. Well, I have two songs that I have written that are based on those songs, that, if you are kind of growing tired of using “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior” and “I Surrender All” as things that you can respond to, songs of dedication, then here are some possibilities. The first one, “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior,” goes like this:

May the mind of Christ, my Savior
live in me from day to day.

So, it kind of turns this song into kind of, more of a folk song. So, if you’re in a more contemporary church, this would be a really good option for you to do a song like “May the Mind of Christ, My Savior,” a song that really responds to the Word, and says, “Yes, I want to be like Christ, I want to conform to the image of Christ.” Now, I just created a YouTube video of that song. So not only will a link appear in the podcast episode description, you can go to YouTube, there will be a link on the podcast, too, and you can go to YouTube, and you can learn how to play that song, so you can learn this fancy lick. Because who doesn’t want to learn a lick like that?

Now, the other one is “I Surrender,” and my version is also a little bit more contemporary.

I surrender all to you.

So, you hear how it kind of. . . So you could do this with a praise band. You could do it with just solo guitar. And it’s a song of devotion. It could be done right after a sermon. It could be done at the very end of a service. And, this is a great way to send people out, is to have them dedicating their lives to Christ. I also made a YouTube video for this, “I Surrender All to You,” and you’ll find the link in the podcast episode description. And, so, and that just kind of unpacks how I play that. You can download the music from the website.

The final thing that we’ll talk about is a piece that I wrote, I took an existing hymn by James John Cummins, and it’s called “Jesus, Lord of Life and Glory,” and I’ll just sing the basic melody:

Jesus, Lord of life and glory,
Bend from heaven your gracious ear.
As we wait for you, adoring,
Friend of helpless sinners, hear:
By your mercy, oh, deliver us, good Lord.
By your mercy, oh, deliver us, good Lord.

So this one, once again, the music is at my website. And there are a couple different versions of this, I just want to make you aware. The reason that I think that this is an important song, kind of going back to the beginning of this podcast, where we’re talking about the sense of journey that goes along in Lent, this one goes through a number of verses, so it says, “From the depths of nature’s blindness, from the hardening power of sin,” and then it always says, “In your mercy, O deliver us, good Lord, in your mercy, O deliver us, good Lord.” And verse 3 is about temptations. Verse 4 is, “When the world around us is smiling,” it’s talking about when things are good and we begin to be lured away, “In your mercy, deliver us.” And then “In the weary hour of sickness, and at the time of dying,” so this is one that really covers the whole of life, and says, always comes back to, “By your mercy, deliver us, O Lord.” So it’s a really good one. I have a lead sheet and piano music at my website, and GIA Music publishes a choral anthem of this that I wrote. The choral anthem is G-8892, “Jesus, Lord of Life and Glory.”

So these are a number of resources that you can use, and a number of things to think about as you come into Lent. I really hope that this has opened up some good doors for you, and I look forward to continuing this next series in the near future.

Lent: from 40 Days to 10 Commandments

The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
Lent: from 40 Days to 10 Commandments

SYNOPSIS: Greg talks about considerations for Lent, including an introduction to the church year, Psalms and songs, and the 10 Commandments.


  • 0:00 – Introduction to Lent
  • 3:02 – Ash Wednesday and remembering mortality
  • 7:49 – Psalm 51 and penitence
  • 10:44 – 10 Commandments



Hello friends. This is Greg Scheer for the Greg Scheer Music Podcast. This episode we’re going to begin a multi-episode series on Lent. I’m going to give you some resources that are going to get you up to speed on Lent.

Read More. . .

But of course, first, we have to discuss what Lent is. So for those of you who are not familiar with the church year, the church year is our basic cycles. You know, of course, Christmas and Easter, but the liturgical year, or the church year as it’s called, is a little bit more involved series of days. So generally speaking Easter and Christmas are the, kind of, pivotal moments, but if you follow the liturgical calendar then you would back up before Christmas with Advent, the preparation for Christ’s coming, and then before Easter with Lent, which is a season of preparation for Christ’s resurrection.

So Lent is a time that it tends to be. . . well, it has a number of themes that go along with it. So Lent is the 40 days before Easter minus Sundays. Now, 40 days minus Sundays. So there are some churches that do what’s called “hiding the alleluia,” and they don’t say “alleluia” for the whole of Lent. But actually, if you’re going to get really technical on this, then every Sunday in Lent is what’s called a “little Easter.” Every Sunday is a celebration, a little celebration of the resurrection. So, you know, officially speaking you can say “alleluia” all you want to during Lent, and we don’t have to get too law-driven about the whole thing.

But it’s 40 days of penitence and those type of things. This mirrors many of the 40s of the Bible. So think about Israel— 40 years in the wilderness, Noah— 40 days and nights on the ark, 40 days of Jesus’ temptation in the desert. So all those kinds of 40s. And there are indeed some songs that focus on this 40. I’m thinking, for example, there’s a song by James Gertmenian called “Throughout These Lenten Days,” and it’s one of these songs that talks about Lent. There’s another one called “Throughout These 40 Days and Nights,” [edit: Greg meant “Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days”] and it’s basically a call to observe Lent. Now, those, they can be useful in certain situations, but I don’t get a lot of mileage out of those. They’re kind of one-trick ponies in a lot of ways. But I can lead you to some other resources that I think are really quite useful.

So, for example, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. It’s the, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It marks off the season, and you’ll remember that in that service, you get the sign of ashes on your forehead. Usually what happens is they put the sign of ashes in the form of a cross on your forehead. And, it’s really quite a powerful service. It’s remembering that you are dust. It’s a service of mortality, and it remembers that you are completely reliant on God for life and breath.

So it’s a good way to go into this time of kind of extraordinary discipline, is to remember your own mortality. It’s also, I think, pretty important for us as Christians to always have an eye on the end game. So if we only talk about resurrection and joy and those kinds of things and never talk about death and the inevitability of our own departure from this world and into Christ’s presence, I think that we are underprepared for that.

So what I do with a congregation is I try to make sure that I have some songs that serve as bridges between the liturgical year and funerals. So, and I know this sounds very, very morbid, and I’m sorry. But one of the songs that I use a lot is one that I wrote called “From the Dust.” It’s actually a setting of Psalm 103, and it goes like this:

From the dust you shall raise us up.
From the dust of death, you shall raise us up.
From the dust, you shall raise us up.
From the dust of death, you shall raise us up.

So on the one hand it’s quite somber, but I think that one of the things that this serves is, from Psalm 103, where it says that God remembers that we are frail humans and that we come from dust and will return to dust. So it’s playing on that image. And it’s a really good one to sing on Ash Wednesday because we’re getting the sign of ashes, but it’s also one that I’ve used in funerals many times, and it’s a really good way to make a connection between what we do on Sundays, or on Wednesday in this case, and what we do in these kind of extraordinary circumstances like a funeral. And I think that we need to build in the hope of resurrection into the songs that we. . . Well, I should say it this way: We want to build in the inevitability of death and the hope of resurrection into all that we do on a week-to-week basis, so that it’s baked into our faith and that we’re ready to act on it when someone dies in our congregation.

So, Ash Wednesday. And then once we get beyond Ash Wednesday then we get into the Sundays of Lent. And I remember, it tends to be that Lent is quite, not morose, but it’s a little bit down, right? It’s not the happiest season; in fact it’s probably the lowest season in the church year. As I said, some people will not even sing “alleluia” during this whole time. And we tend to focus on issues of confession and contrition, those kinds of things. And I remember one time, I was in the middle of Lent, and someone comes up to me and says, “The music has all been so down lately.” And I said, “It’s Lent— you’re not supposed to be happy!” And I don’t know if that’s true, actually, if discipline and happiness don’t go together. But certainly there is that side of Lent, so penitence, discipline, confession, spiritual journey, all of those kinds of things are part of it, and I think are really good things to bring out. So, thinking spiritual journey, a really good one, and this is one that is not totally morose. It’s more just looking at the journey and thinking about following Christ wherever Christ will go, including to the cross.

Jesus, draw me ever nearer. . .

You know this one. So it’s the song by Margaret Becker and Keith Getty. That’s a really great one to highlight the devotional and the spiritual journey aspect of Lent.

Another place we’re probably gonna land a lot during Lent is Psalm 51. This is like the, they’re plenty of penitential Psalms, but this is the most famous one. This is the one that David wrote, sang, in response to Nathan’s prophecy saying that God saw his sin. And, so, a lot of times, you’ll read Psalm 51 in church during Lent, maybe you’ll have confessions based on it, those kinds of things. There are lots and lots of great songs based on Psalm 51. I’ll just give you a couple ideas. . . . We’ll see if I can do all these by memory! One is “God, Be Merciful,” and it’s to the tune REDHEAD. Love that.

God, be merciful to me. . .

You know that one, right? So that’s, it’s a hymn called “God, Be Merciful to Me.” That’s a great one. Then there’s the one from the 70s, I think.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit in me.

So that’s a classic one, and it goes along with Psalm 51. If you get creative you often can add a reading of Psalm 51 together with the singing of that. That’s a great way to do that. There’s another one that I really like. There’s a song called “Restore My Soul” by Andi Rozier. He’s from the Harvest, one of the Harvest churches, and it’s just a really wonderful setting. It takes the tune O WALY WALY, which is, the folk tune would be “The Water Is Wide,” and it’s been used as a hymn a number of times.

Restore my soul, O Lord my God. . .

I can’t remember the words. And then it says, “At the cross, I find a way. . .” It adds a chorus to O WALY WALY. That’s a great one. I use that lots and lots. I’m kind of thinking out loud here about the kinds of songs. . . When I go into a season, I often will just create a, kind of a big pile of songs, and some of these are songs that I know that I definitely want to do by the end of the season. You know, it won’t be Christmas until I sing this song, or it won’t be Lent until I sing that song. And, so, you know, you’ll have your bag of tricks and you come back to those. And sometimes what I’ll do is I’ll create a document on my computer that is just, you know, “Lent Songs,” or “Palm Sunday Songs,” something like that, so I can kind of remember over the years what I’ve done.

Another thing, kind of a go-to resource during Lent, is the 10 Commandments. Now, Psalm 51 is a little bit lower-hanging fruit because we can sing it. The 10 Commandments, there are a couple 10 Commandments songs but no one wants to sing a 10 Commandments song. Sorry, to all the people that wrote 10 Commandments songs. But, the 10 Commandments, even though we talk about, kind of, hooking our morality, our faith’s morality on the 10 Commandments, we very rarely use them in worship. And most of us, I read a statistic one time, that most Americans and even Christians can’t name even, like, three of the Commandments. And, I think that’s a shame. I think that we need to use that more often.

Now, in my tradition, which is Christian Reformed tradition, there are many churches that, every week, will follow the confession and assurance with a reading of the 10 Commandments. It’s kind of an interesting thing. So, first of all, that’s one of the distinctives of the Reformed faith, is a very prominent confession and assurance every week in the service. Now, you might not be of that persuasion, and that might seem like too much. I totally get that. I do think that you should be confessing sometimes, in your church, that this is not something only that you do privately, but that one of the things we do in worship is do as a group the kinds of things that we want to encourage in people’s private faith. So if we never read the 10 Commandments, if we never meditate on those, if we never confess in church, then why would we expect that our people will go home and will have any kind of spiritual discipline of confession?

So, now I’m preachin’! So, we were at confession and many Christian Reformed churches will end the confession with the 10 Commandments. And the interesting theological idea here, is that rather than the 10 Commandments being this kind of, truancy officer that comes in and beats you and tells you what you did wrong, that instead in this tradition, you confess and you hear the assurance that God still loves you and forgives your sins, and then you are called to renewed life, and that’s when you read the 10 Commandments. So basically, these are laws of life rather than laws of death. And it says, “God has given you grace, so now let’s live into that grace. And here are 10 things that you should keep in mind as you live joyfully and as well as you can before God’s face.” And that’s the 10 Commandments.

So, and I understand that the 10 Commandments is a really hard sell in a church service. They can feel very, very dry. So one of the things that I’ve done is I recently wrote a responsive reading of the 10 Commandments. So the leader will say each of the 10 Commandments, and after it the congregation will say, let’s see, in the first part it will say, “Let us love our God with our spirit, soul, strength,” something to that effect. And then in the second part, where it’s dealing with laws about how we relate to humans, it says, “Let us love our neighbors as ourselves.”

And so then the people are just, first of all, kind of baked into that reading is the fact that there are two, what they call the two tables of the law. The first is how you should relate to God. The second is, I think the second six Commandments, are how you should relate to people. And so, in the first part of it, it says the Shema, which is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.” That’s the response to how we relate to God. And then the people’s response in the last half of the law is what Jesus said when he had to summarize the law, which is “Love your God with all your heart, soul, and strength,” and, “Let us love our neighbors as ourselves.” And so, so we get that, you know, kind of New Testament eyes as part of the 10 Commandments. And it’s a reading that, it flows pretty well, and you can find this at my website. I’m going to provide a link in the podcast episode so that you can click through to that and use it in your own services. I think it’s quite effective.

So that is an intro to Lent, and gets us started a little bit with thinking about this. I’m hoping that this will help you as you start to kind of wrap your head around what the next few months will be as you start to prepare for Lent. I hope that this will be helpful and give you a few resources that will lead you a little closer to planning your worship services well.

So, thanks. I, once again, am Greg Scheer. This is the Greg Scheer Music Podcast, and I look forward to chatting again.

Psalm 123 and Mercy

The Greg Scheer Music Podcast
Psalm 123 and Mercy

SYNOPSIS: This episode is a recording of a chapel service that Greg led at Calvin University, looking at the themes of Psalm 123 and God’s mercy.


Welcome to the Greg Scheer Music Podcast. Today we’re going to do something a little bit different. I’m going to play you a recording of a service that I led this week.

Read More. . .

So, I led a service in the Calvin University Chapel, and that was part of the Calvin Worship Symposium. I led it on Tuesday, which was February 1st, 2022. And I thought I would just let you hear the talk. The talk is centered around Psalm 123 and God’s mercy. And there is also a video online of this, and the url will be in the notes below the podcast. And I would encourage you to watch the video, in part because the first song is my setting of Psalm 123. There is a beautiful dance to it. Rachit Kharel did a dance to it while people listened to it being played over the speakers, and it’s well worth the time of watching.

Now, in this podcast, because the sound wasn’t great live for that song, I spliced in the song from a recording, and you can listen to that, and then the talk starts after that.

The talk starts looking at Psalm 123, and sees this Psalm as a Psalm of being seen. After that, the congregation, I led the congregation in singing just the chorus of that song. And Psalm 123 is also a Psalm of mercy, so I talked a little bit about God’s mercy. And then we end the chapel with some more singing.

So, without further ado, listen to Psalm 123 and the God of Mercy in the Calvin University Chapel on February 1st, 2022.

Have mercy. Have mercy Lord.
Have mercy. Have mercy Lord.

Our eyes look to you.
Our eyes look to heaven.
Our eyes look to you
until you show your mercy, God.

Cast your eyes on us.
Cast your eyes on earth.
Cast aside the proud
who bind us with no mercy, God.

That song was based on Psalm 123. It’s something that I wrote a couple years ago, and we’re going to use that as a way in to look at Psalm 123 and God’s mercy. So, if we can have those words up.

So, side by side this is Psalm 123 and then my setting of Psalm 123. When you write a song based on a Psalm, you need to kind of dig into the Psalm and see what it is at its core. And this Psalm, I see it as a Psalm of being seen. So look at all the seeing words that are being used in that Psalm: “I lift up my eyes, I lift up my eyes to the heavens.” The first part of it is all about lifting up the eyes to the heavens. Of course, the servant-master language is troubling for us as modern readers, but it still gives that sense of dependence, looking up in dependence.

And then the second part is God looking down to us, God looking down in mercy. We’re basically praying for God’s mercy. And this is where I see this Psalm as being seen. And, you hear this word a lot— we want to be seen, we want to be known as we really are, and we often think of Jesus, I think, as someone who sees us, but not sees us in the way we want to be seen.

I think we see Jesus as the ultimate Santa. He knows when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for heaven’s sake. He’s just like, “I’m watching you.” But that’s not the way it is. The way it is is more like this, where we are being seen by God. It’s more like a parent who thinks that a child is just the most beautiful, smartest thing in the whole world, and because of that love, because of that sense of being known to the core of your being and being accepted, then you’re able to live into that love.

I want you to just keep looking at this for a second. We’re going to sing the chorus of that song. But I want you to just ask the Spirit to reveal something in these words, either the Psalm or the song, something that speaks to you. And then we’re going to pray that.

Just find that image in your mind. What is the Spirit saying to you?

Have mercy. Have mercy, Lord.
Have mercy. Have mercy, Lord. . .

This idea of mercy is also in this Psalm. And it’s one that I’ve been thinking a lot about as I have thought about, about meeting here. I think “mercy” is a word like “grace.” It has lost its power over time, right? If someone says to you, “What is grace?” What do you say? You say, “Unmerited favor,” right, because that’s what you’ve learned in Sunday School. But after a while, these words, they become associated with other things. For example, you say grace before a meal, and that kind of muddies the waters. Same thing with mercy, and you have to. . . I was thinking about, how do I reclaim this word? How do I reclaim this idea of mercy to some of the impact that it really has.

And as I was thinking about this, the first thing that came to mind, and this is kind of a silly illustration. Did any of you play Mercy when you were a kid? Some people call it Uncle. All right, so this is like the schoolyard thing, where, you know, young boys try to prove how tough they are. You grab each other’s hands, lock hands, and then go, right? It’s almost like arm wrestling, and you push, push, push, push, push. And if you start to overpower the other person enough so that it starts to hurt them, and of course boys are not going to give up very easily and not want to lose face. But at the very point that you feel you’re about to have your fingers broken, you say, “Mercy!” Right? And that’s the image that came to mind, and it’s helpful in the sense that this is the idea of mercy of relent. We’re saying, “Relent. Stop. I’m at your power. I’m at your mercy.” Right? Like, that’s the figure of speech closest to it. You say, “I’m at your mercy.”

And so there’s that sense of powerlessness, and being beholden. And many humans, we don’t like to be beholden to anything. Right, but we are beholden to lots of things. We are beholden to parents, we are beholden to disease, to addiction, to oppression. All of these things like this have power over us. And I think the beauty of Psalm 123, is that it says that there’s this ultimate power, and that’s who we appeal to for mercy.

As I continued to think about mercy, and I was trying to tease this out, suddenly a phrase came to my mind, that mercy is the anti-karma. So you know this idea of karma, right? That what goes around comes around. And I’m sure that Buddhist would have a more fuller, a fuller definition of what karma is. Right, “you’re going to get yours,” right? “Karma’s going to get you.” And there’s that idea of accusation. And the reason that we have this, I think, is because we have this innate sense that we deserve something bad, right? I was thinking about all of the kinds of phrases that we use. “Karma will catch up with you. You’ll get yours.” I was even thinking of the Nine Inch Nails song: “Bow down before what you serve. You’re gonna get what you deserve.” He’s got that really strong sense throughout that whole album. Trent Reznor has that really strong sense that he needs to pay for something.

And I think that humans have that inside them. We feel that we need to pay for something. And the idea of mercy is the anti-karma. It lifts that and says, “No, you don’t have to pay for that. Jesus has paid for that.” That you can appeal to God for mercy, and that your own personal sins, the oppressions of the world, will all eventually bow down to God, so that we are released from what we need to pay for that.It’s a really profound thing. Once again, it’s so easy to fall back to the Sunday School definitions of this, but it’s such a powerful thing and I would encourage you to contemplate on that.

Just like grace, we can remind ourselves that there’s no way that we can earn this. This is something that God does, and not something that we earn. Once again, in the same way that we have this internal sense of retribution, that we need to pay for our sins, we also have this sense that we need to earn love. Right, that God just can’t love us just because he has great affection for us. No, we have to earn it in some way.

So if we can’t earn it, what can we do? What is the proper response to mercy? It seems to me that there are three responses. The first, is simply a reflex of joy and thanksgiving. This idea of relief, of just exhaling, and saying, “I am at God’s mercy, and that’s a good mercy.” And just being so thankful for that. And anything that we do, when we respond to God we respond in thanksgiving.

The next thing that we can do is we can live up to that mercy. So if you think about, you know, all the classic movies where the no good person that is still somewhat loveable, you know, does something wrong and then the judge lets him off at the last minute. Now, there are two ways that this can happen when you find that mercy, when you find that you’ve been disentangled from paying for your sins. There are two ways that you can deal with this. The one is you can say, “Phew, I got away, now I can do something even worse and hope for the best.” And that’s the kind of scoundrel version of this.

But what we hope we’ll do is that when that person lets you off, when God lets you off and says, “I’m going to show you mercy because of my deep affection for you, because I know you’re better than that,” that the thing that we do is we live into that, we live up to that. That God says, “I’m not going to make you pay for this. Instead I want you to just be who you really are. I see you, and I love you as you are, and I know that you can live into this.” It’s a beautiful thing that that’s our response to kind of getting off the hook, is not just getting off the hook, but saying, “Well, what would a better person do? How can I respond in a better way?”

And then the third thing that seems to me is a response to mercy is that we pay it forward. It seems to me that Christianity in general is a pay-it-forward religion. There’s nothing we can do, right? So, I mean, we can give our praise back to God, but there’s nothing we can do to earn, to pay it back, anything like that. And I think that what God is always looking for us to do is to mimic what he’s done, and to go out and be merciful. So we think about in the New Testament the ungrateful servant who is shown mercy, the debt is paid, and then goes out and throttles someone that’s under them to get some money out of him. That’s the bad example. So, the paying forward of it is to have mercy to those around you, to see the best in people, and give them the chance that they need to live into that. And that seems to me what we really need to think about as we think about mercy.

We are going to respond with singing, which is a way of having joy and thanksgiving. Let’s stand together and we’re going to sing a couple songs.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in God’s justice
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven.
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.

For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind,
and the heart of the eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
Make our love, O God, more faithful.
Let us take you at your word,
and our lives will be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.

Praise the Lord! His mercy is more;
stronger than darkness, new every morn.
Our sins,  they are many; his mercy is more.

For copyright reasons I need to fade out at this point. You may recognize this song as “His Mercy Is More.” It’s a great song by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa. Before that we heard “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” by Gregg DeMey. Gregg is a friend, and I think he would be okay with me playing this song on my podcast. So that’s a beautiful new melody written for the old words of “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” Information on both of those songs will be in the information on the podcast below.

So thanks so much for being with me today. Once again this is the Greg Scheer Music Podcast, and I look forward to being with you again soon.