Epochal Song 5: Ancient of Days (Jamie Harvill and Gary Sadler)

Today, I’m continuing the series on Epochal Songs of the Praise and Worship Movement.  At number 5 is “Ancient of Days” which in my view, was the high watermark for musical excellence.

Hosanna Music had been slowly building up its musical prowess before deftly unleashing some of the best, world-class Christian worship musicians onto the praise and worship scene, including the likes of Abraham Laboriel, Alex Acuna and Justo Almario.  Listen out for the instrumental solo halfway through and you will see just how far the praise and worship movement had come.  No longer was worship relegated to the amateurs, but professional musicians would now share the stage with those who grew up learning to play music in the church.  Since then, musical excellence has become a pursuit for worshippers alongside presence and anointing.

“Ancient of Days” was recorded on “Lift Him Up with Ron Kenoly”, one of the best selling Hosanna Music albums of all time and one which would set up Ron Kenoly as a force in praise and worship for the next decade.  The final medley on the album, culminating in “Whose Report Will You Believe” and “Can’t Stop Praising His Name” would be well remembered by all those who led worship around that time.

It certainly became a staple for many final night camp worship sessions, where we would keep singing “Can’t Stop Praising His Name” ’til we were all covered in sweat; had gone through three rotations of musicians; and were all hoarse in the throat; and yet unwilling to leave that place of high praise and celebration.  Ah, good times!

How to Choose Songs

Whenever I teach on worship leading, one of the most common questions I am invariably asked is: “how do you choose the songs?”

I think a lot of people presume that the songs are found in a special room in my apartment called “the secret place” where I go “beyond the veil” to “download” the “songs from heaven”. Some people think that worship leaders only come up with songs after an extended time of prayer and fasting.

I hate to burst bubbles, but the process of song selection is not as mystical as some people think. In fact, it is quite a natural process.

For me anyway, the process can be quite varied.

// Sometimes, I might come across a song that really speaks to me and I feel that it is the right song to be sung on Sunday and then I just start constructing a song list around it.

// Other times, I am worshipping at home on my guitar and a flow of songs just comes to me and that becomes my song list.

// On occasion, Wednesday night rehearsal is rolling around and I’ve got nothing. So I just cobble a few songs together in faith and hope for the best! If I’m really desperate, I might pick up a songbook and skim through it to see what appeals to me.

At the end of the day, there is no “hard and fast” prescription.

In this post, I want to share with you some of the parameters that I use to help me choose songs for a Sunday worship set. The important thing to note is that half of the work of a worship leader is already done well before Sunday, and in fact, well before rehearsal.

A well-constructed songlist can often “work itself out” so that the worship leader can almost step into the set and go on “autopilot”. That way, when the worship leader is actually on stage, far less concentration is required to make sure the songlist is executed properly to focussing on what the Holy Spirit might want to do during a meeting.

So here are some guiding principles to choosing good songlists:

1. Pray!

It might sound like a given, but so often, we take the process for granted. I remember when I first started worship leading, I used to put a lot of effort into praying and seeking God and worshipping before I could come up with a songlist. Looking back, I realised that I was just being overly religious: going through particular motions in the hope of getting a particular result. My notions of God have changed since those days: now I believe that God wants to speak to me in every moment and in any place, so I don’t really need to go through a convoluted ritual to somehow “birth” a songlist. The risk in this approach, however, is to becomes so blase that you don’t even involve God in the process.

A friend of mine utters a very simple prayer as he prepares: “Lord, what is it that you want your church to express to you this Sunday that will really bless your heart?” I love that childlikeness and I believe that God honours our approaching him with boldness and simplicity.

Such a prayer also makes us think about the congregation and how to pastor them into God’s presence: something we need to remind ourselves of more and more as worship continues to risk crossing the line into consumerism, entertainment and a musical showcase.

2. It’s Not About Me!

Quite often, we can construct a songlist around our preferences. We can become so conceited that we start thinking: “does this song suit my vocal range?”, “I don’t really like that song” or “this song will really show off my guitarist’s awesome skills”.

We need to set aside those preferences. Often, I will do a song because I feel that it captures the heart of the church towards God in a particular season even if I personally don’t like the song or I don’t sound good singing it. My job is to capture the church’s expression of praise to God, not to show off or pander to my own likes and dislikes. In fact, worship shouldn’t be about me at all! That’s the furthest point we can be from the throne of God.

3. Focus on Flow

This is a lost art! When I started learning about leading worship, Hosanna! Music put out lots of worship cassettes which captured the flow of a worship meeting. Kent Henry used to record albums where the starting song flowed seamlessly through free worship, prayer, Scripture reading all the way through to high praise without interruption.

These days, worship albums are more about showcasing artists than capturing the atmosphere of worship.

We should approach a worship set like a seamless journey that tells a story of our approach to God. So for example, there should be thematic unity. God is so infinite and varied that we could never sing about every aspect of His nature in 30 minutes. So choose one or two thoughts to centre around, e.g. the love of God, intimacy, his power and might, his presence, comfort, healing etc. Just make sure that the themes aren’t diametric opposites because a sure way to kill the atmosphere is to go from “Jesus Loves Me This I know” to “Mighty Warrior”.

Key selection is also important. Choosing songs in the same key allows you to move seamlessly into the next song without having to rely heavily on clever musical interludes. It allows the worship leader to have various entry points into the next song and to even move back and forth between two songs if necessary.

Once you have chosen the songs, you should be able to pretty much visualise the flow of the worship service from start to end. This also helps you to communicate better to your team during rehearsals so that you can plan your transitions well.

4. Give Room for the Holy Spirit

We can be clinical and plan everything to a tee and then hope for the Holy Spirit to move. Or we can “plan to be spontaneous” by not overloading the set so that there is some inbuilt time buffer within which we can allow and expect the Holy Spirit to move.

When I first started leading worship, I thought that on average a song might last 3 to 4 minutes so for a half-an-hour set, I could probably fit about 7 songs in there easily. Boy, was that a mistake! I just ended up rushing through everything without giving anyone (let alone the Holy Spirit) any chance to breathe.

For a 25 minute set, I recommend about 3 to 4 songs (or at most 4 songs plus one short chorus to finish). Within that, allow for free worship; allow for times for the music to play; allow for the Holy Spirit to inspire you to give a word, exhortation or prayer.

5. Include Various Expressions of Worship

When I first led worship on a Sunday, I had a disdain for fast songs. I thought they were shallow and emotional. No, the real spiritual songs are the slow songs. That is when you really pour your heart out to God.

I have since realised that, in fact, all songs directed to God in worship are spiritual! The Psalms indicate that it is just as valid to worship God with dance, shouts and celebration as with intimate cries of the heart.

So now, I don’t shun fast songs. In fact, I think they are necessary and to not do them is to deprive the church of a very real expression of praise.

Further, fast songs are an important tool to engage and bring people with you, especially because when people first enter the sanctuary, they are not emotionally prepared to engage with God. A fast song will often help get them onto the same page before releasing them to express worship to God in their own way!

Of course, there may be times when you might feel God doesn’t want you to do a fast song, but I have the fast song on as a default setting unless directed otherwise.

So those are some of the parameters that guide me when I choose songs for a worship set. I hope they have been helpful! Remember, if you can put together a good songlist, half of the work is already done!

Epochal Song 1: All Hail King Jesus (Dave Moody, 1977)

The story goes that Dave Moody, as he was preparing to lead a worship service, sat at his piano and began to worship.

A prophetic song came to him and the words and melody began to flow.  “All Hail King Jesus” was birthed in that moment.  Moody was then prompted to sing it in the service.  As he did, people began responding by bowing in worship all throughout the church.  The song was then popularised through conferences and began to spread throughout the worldwide church.

“All Hail King Jesus” was significant in that it began to focus the church on objective praise, moving away from the subjectivity of presentation songs.

It is amazing how a cultural change would begin in the intimacy of a believer’s private worship.

The song also became the title recording of the first Integrity Hosanna! album led by Kent Henry.  Hosanna Music would later become a leader in the worship cassette revolution (before CD’s and iTunes were invented!).

The distinctive of Hosanna Music was its ability to capture the atmosphere and flow of a worship set from start to finish.  This is something which most worship labels have failed to replicate  even to this day – preferring instead to heavily edit and chop and change the positioning of songs.

My first Hosanna Music album was “The Lord Reigns” with Bob Fitts.  I was very much taken by the idea of being able to put on the tape and have a church service right there in my Walkman and to experience the presence of God through recorded worship.  I began memorising every song on the tape and even the things Bob Fitts said in between songs.  Listening to Hosanna  Music was one of the ways I learnt to lead worship.

I am sure Dave Moody could not have imagined how a simple song like the one he wrote in 1977 would change the entire worship landscape of the church and that its influence would reach down to the generations to come after him!

Epochal Songs of the Praise and Worship Movement

I have been leading worship for the last 19 years within the Charismatic Renewal and I have seen the style (and to some extent) the content of our worship evolve. Rewind 20 years back and it would have been unimaginable for the church back then that we would sing the types of songs we sing today.

The instrumentation has changed. From keyboard-driven and big band orchestral music, the forerunner music of today’s worship is guitar-driven grunge and electronic techno.

We have also moved on from traditional hymnology to a much more prophetic, apostolic lyric but at the same time, injecting elements of heartfelt personal poetry and imagery. Worship music is beginning to bridge the cultural divide between sacred and secular.

The praise and worship movement had its origins in the 1960’s. Two streams were particularly influential: presentation blue-grass gospel songs (popularised by the Gaithers) and the Jesus People movement (which brought rock-and-roll music and musicians into the church). (It is interesting to see even then how the generations converged in Charismatic worship).

Since then, those on the cutting edge have continued to revolutionise worship music, bringing to it strong artistic merit without comprising biblical content.

An epoch means an era or season. And so when I refer to “epochal songs”, I am referring to songs that are significant to an era or season of the church in one of two ways: either it defines the season (i.e. it captures and articulates the heartcry of the church at a moment in time, usually an emotion or perspective which was felt but not yet expressed) or it is defining of the season (i.e. it catapults the church into a new prophetic direction).

Here, I want to list what I believe are the epochal songs of the praise and worship movement. I don’t pretend to be an expert on this but my opinion is based on extensive reading, listening and thinking about praise and worship and also experiencing it first hand for the last 22 years of my Christian walk.

So here they are – my list of the 15 epochal songs of the praise and worship movement in chronological order:

  1. All Hail King Jesus (Dave Moody, 1977)
  2. Give Thanks (Henry Smith, 1978)
  3. I Love You, Lord (Laurie Klein, 1978)
  4. As the Deer (Martin Nystrom, 1984)
  5. Ancient of Days (Jamie Harvill and Gary Sadler, 1992)
  6. Power of Your Love (Geoff Bullock, 1992)
  7. Shout to the Lord (Darlene Zschech, 1993)
  8. Everything That Has Breath (Michelle Hira/Parachute Band, 1994)
  9. I Could Sing of Your Love Forever (Martin Smith/Delirious, 1994)
  10. Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble (Martin Smith/Delirious, 1994)
  11. Breathe (Marie Barnett, 1995)
  12. History Maker (Martin Smith/Delirious, 1996)
  13. The Heart of Worship (Matt Redman, 1997)
  14. How Great is Our God (Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash and Jesse Reeves, 2004)
  15. How He Loves Us (John Mark McMillan, 2005)

In my next several posts, I will explain why I have picked these songs and their significance to the worship life of the church. You may not agree with my list or you may think other songs should be included. What would be interesting for me (as a bit of social research) is to hear your thoughts on my list. What songs do you think should be here? Why do you think they are significant? I look forward to reading your comments!