Posted July 21, 2015
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
We normally write devotionals connected to the Scripture we post, but this week we wanted to do something a little different. Zach Bolen from Citizens & Saints contributed the song for Galatians 6:14, and we asked him a few questions we were curious about. Hope this encourages you!
What stood out to you about this verse as you wrote music to it and meditated on it?
The way Paul explains this idea of the world being crucified to him and he to the world threw me off a little bit. I had certainly read that passage many times before but for whatever reason, when isolating it like that, it really got me thinking more about it’s true meaning. So in a lot of ways getting to put a passage to scripture was just as much a helpful tool for me as it would be for whoever listens to it. It was more than just memorizing words, it was actually aiding in a deeper desire to truly understand and believe it’s meaning. It’s altogether a really beautiful passage. After getting to spend so much time with it I would consider it to be a really great theme verse for a Christian. It reminds us that our boasting is solely found in the power of the cross which has put to death our old selves and is now displaying to the world who we are in Christ: new creations.
It seems like even beyond this song you just wrote for Verses Project, so many of your songs utilize imagery found in Scripture, particularly the Psalms (“I Am Living In A Land Of Death”, "Psalm 18”, “You Have Searched Me”, etc.). Why do you think singing straight Scripture is important?
Maybe it’s me but I feel like it’s taken almost 25 years to really understand the true meaning of the song ‘Jesus Loves Me.’ Now while that may not be explicitly singing a specific passage it is singing a foundational theme that took years and years of me singing what I knew, to actually believe. I think the same thing applies to singing scripture. We read it and sometimes understand it relatively quickly but, as time goes on and life happens, those passages begin to speak to us differently. Now combine that with song and it taps into our emotions in ways that just reading a passage doesn’t always do. Maybe it’s the way certain words and syllables get emphasized when we are singing them that causes us to focus on aspects of a passage a little more. Maybe the music helps to give it a mood that really captures what the passage is communicating. I don’t really know. I just know I need God’s word daily and one of the most helpful ways for me in learning and believing the words that God has given us has been to sing them. So that’s why I tend to write most songs with specific passages as their anchor.
What what fun about the process of putting Scripture to music? What was challenging?
The fun part is always getting to orchestrate melodies and music in a way that hopefully compliments the passage appropriately. I really enjoy those boundaries. It reminds me that my creativity is meant to submit to God’s word, not the word altered and diluted to adhere to my creative deficiencies. It’s subtle, but it’s definitely something I am easily tempted with each time. The most challenging is always trying to make a passage sing somewhat naturally. Because the word has been translated from ancient languages, not every passage reads in the same way we would say it in English, so you really just have to spend a lot of time singing the passage over and over until it feels like it has some type of meter to it and then from there see where you can alter the melody to hopefully make it musically compelling. This part always takes me the longest.
You mentioned that your kids started memorizing and singing this song with you as you recorded it. Have you done this with other Scripture songs? How have you incorporated this into your guys’ lives and rhythms?
In Seattle lots of space is hard to come by so you take what you can get. I do most of my writing and recording in our not so big bedroom and because it’s an old house, the kids hear me working. Not exactly a sound proofed space, but you make it work and in this case it comes with some pretty cool upsides. One of those being that my kids love music and are always really interested when I’m working on a new song. I think because they hear me working on so many songs that have scripture in them they kind of just assume that’s a natural thing to do with the bible; make songs about what you read. There a good bit of songs that they sing around the house that are just little melodies I made up for specific scriptures that my wife and I sing with the kids quite often. It’s been especially cool to get to reference those songs when we are talking through something really difficult or driving in the car to school, which often results in one of their favorite go to’s, “let’s sing our prayers today.” Though in theory it's a cool idea, I’m pretty sure there’s been quite a good bit of days they have used that as an excuse not to pray. And I’m honestly okay with that right now. They are still really young and if they are anything like me, it might take them a lot of years before these passages really come to life.
Anything you’d want to share with other worship leaders or songwriters?
Singing scripture is such a fundamental tool for memorization. I think as worship leaders we need to know God’s word so that as we lead we are ready and willing to exhort and encourage the congregation in the worship of God. The transformative word of God breathes life into people and it should really be those words that take precedent over our own. It can be really helpful to sing the scripture you intend to share with the congregation as a helpful means for memorization. So that come your gathering, you’re able to boldly and genuinely proclaim the word you have already spent time meditating on. The same can be said for songwriting, although there is at least one major difference. With songwriting, unless you are singing a specific scripture verbatim, there is an element of interpretation that has hopefully been vetted by others wiser than us before we have people sing the songs we write. Furthermore, if we are writing songs for the church, then we have to set our brothers and sisters who will be leading these songs up well by providing them with the scriptures that were used to instruct the writing of the songs. I suppose the other important aspect in all this is that not every song is meant for corporate singing, which I think we need a lot more of. Again though, if it is meant for the church, even if not for singing, we should be sure that what we are saying is clear and not just creating messy confusion. There are lyrics that take the listeners mind to wonderfully imaginative places in regards to the worship and wonder of God and then there are lyrics that send the listeners straight into a dreadful cul-de-sac of confusion. Just like sermons, the songs we write instruct people on response and belief. That’s a pretty weighty task. It doesn’t mean every song that has clarity is a great song, I suppose it just means that even if it hurts our ears to listen to because melodically it’s so bad, at least there’s truth to what it’s saying. That being said, I don’t think we should ever settle for bad art either. It just means we work hard to faithfully serve Jesus’ church.
Interview with Zach Bolen.
Song by Zach Bolen of Citizens & Saints.
Artwork by Jonathan Lindsey.