It’s #SundaySong time–even though my SundaySong post has crept into the wee hours of Monday morning! LOL!
This is a traditional English hymn that my husband Aaron Johnson reimagined for our context at Epiphany Fellowship. The lyrics were written by Samuel Trevor Francis, a bivocational minister who once contemplated suicide on a bridge over the Thames River–but God met him there in his deepest despair. That short historical note gives this song so much meaning. Just imagine–what if the author thought back to that moment when he wrote this song? Rather than focusing on his deep despair in that moment of contemplation, what if God gave him deep waters as a word picture to describe His vast love for him at the point of his deepest need? Mercy!!
Introducing an English hymn to a varied urban context like ours means making artistic choices that include considering who’s attending our gatherings, as well as who we would like to attend. While our context is not comprised solely of African-Americans, a large number of our attendees and residents of the surrounding neighborhood are.
I think the minor feel of this song speaks to the history of African-Americans. Much (not all, but much) of Black history is steeped in injustice, tragedy, suffering, loss, grief, etc., and those stories simply can’t be fully communicated and experienced with major scales. By the same token, African-Americans have experienced joy in the midst of pain, and we have tasted hope and victory in the midst of adversity.
We need both the black keys and the white keys as a robust musical palette to paint the spectrum of our human experience. And in a song with hopeful, heavenward lyrics like this one, isn’t it good to experience the promise of the major chords in the midst of the minor ones?
I think Aaron’s arrangement captures a great perplexity and breadth of the human experience. He kept the original melody and gives it a rich bed of harmonies to relax in. The accompaniment includes piano (with jazz flavor by Brett Kinard) and organ (common in African-American church contexts, like the ones in which my husband learned to play), as well as guitar (with a rock edge by Harry Wilson). And the horns? Even more ear candy.
In our gatherings
As are most hymns, “Oh the Deep” has a simple, easy-to-learn melody that makes it a great fit for corporate worship at Epiphany Fellowship. We might place this song in the middle of our opening set–it is mid-tempo, but has enough movement to keep the momentum from the first song going (always a mid-to-up-tempo selection). And the mood set with the lyrics and arrangement are a great setup (both theologically and artistically) for wherever we land with the final song in the set list.
I am always thinking of ways to communicate the love of God through Jesus Christ to believers and unbelievers. Depending on the flow of songs on a given day, I might introduce this song by pointing to our depravity to show the depth of our need for God’s love. And I might end the song by exhorting us to consider the expression of love in Jesus’ death in our place on the cross, to bask in and celebrate God’s great love for us (in light of our depravity), and to share that love with others using both our lives and our words.
How it speaks to me
I am called to a life of love, yet all my attempts at loving are marred by my brokenness. I need the love of God to dictate and direct my affections so that a Godward focus allows me to love people as He loves them–as He would if He were in my body.
I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live; and the life I now live, I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me (Gal. 2:20, loosely quoted).
The essence of my loving well is completely wrapped up in my identifying with Jesus’ death for me, allowing the Holy Spirit to apply Jesus’ death and life to me, and sharing that love with everyone I encounter.
How it can speak to you
Let’s worship the Lord as we consider a few ideas from “Oh the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” and apply them to our lives:
- Do you think of Jesus’ love as big, broad, deep, vast? Do you see His love as being for you? for you? Or do you feel like you aren’t a candidate for that love, maybe because something you’ve done (or are doing) that isn’t pleasing to God? Confess. Repent. Embrace the love of God!
- How can you “spread his praise from shore to shore” in practical ways? Is there someone in your sphere of influence with whom you can share the good news about Jesus? How is God raising you up to be a goer and/or a sender in local, national, and international missions? Pray for an open door (Colossians 4:2-6) to share the gospel with someone this week. And pray that God would clarify the role He’s calling you to participate in for the spread of Christ’s fame in missions.
- Are there other loves in your life that is attempting to compete with Jesus for your nearest and dearest affection? What are they, and what are you willing and able to do to put these lesser loves in their rightful place?
Centered was released on 1/30/2015, by God’s grace. Thanks so much to everyone who has already supported the project and spread the word to others!
Leave a comment below and let me know what you think about the album or about today’s #SundaySong, how God is using it in your life, etc.