Tell A Story In Your Worship Songwriting

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop

"Christ In The Garden Of Gethsemane" by Giacinto Brandi, 17th century

"Christ In The Garden Of Gethsemane" by Giacinto Brandi, 17th century

We are all part of one grand story; the story of God. Many pastors and authors have taught on the importance of Story, yet few worship songs include storytelling elements. Those that do so include Townend-Getty collaborations like “See What A Morning” and “In Christ Alone,” two of my favorites. But you need not make your entire song a plot-driven ballad.

You can include elements of story — including linear plot movement — within a song that otherwise “steps outside” of the plot to declare praise. Southern Gospel music contains numerous examples of story songs, often with a formula like:

  • Verse One: a quick retelling of a Bible story, like Jesus healing the blind or Moses at the Red Sea.
  • Chorus: a celebration of the attribute of God at work in the story, like his grace, power or forgiveness.
  • Verse Two: An obvious application to the believer’s current life circumstance (“Now just like that blind man, I could not see ..”)

Matt Redman does something similar in the praise & worship song “Lord, Let Your Glory Fall” but in subtler fashion — the verses recount an Old Testament story, and are separated by a chorus that lets us belt out the great truth:

“You are good; you are good, and your love endures …”

When Kristen and I wrote “My Song In The Night,” which you can listen to or even download for free on the right-hand side of this page, we wanted to tell a story that would move from Jesus’ ordeal at the Garden of Gethsemane to the cross. The anonymously-written gospel hymn which inspired our “My Song In The Night” contained no story or explanation of how Jesus is the believer’s “song in the night.”

We wrote three verses in 11.11 hymn meter (for a brief overview of hymn meter, see our Modern Hymns page) and an unmetered chorus. The first verse sets the stage. It neither begins nor advances the plot; we wanted to establish the fact that this is a song of praise that believers can sing in their current life circumstances:

Oh Jesus, my savior, my song in the night,
The rest for my soul; the strength for my fight,
To you, O Lord, in affliction I call,
By day my comfort; by night my song.

The plot begins in verse two, which immediately follows the setting of the stage in verse one:

Oh Jesus, my savior, my song in the night,
A servant by choice; a king by all rights;
In your darkest hour I could not stay awake,
But still, you pressed on to the cross for my sake.

We wanted those last two lines to begin the forward motion of the plot and reorient worshipers who are singing or listening: “Wait a minute, I’m at Gethsemane. The part that I’ve been given to play in this song is that of the disciples who kept falling asleep while Jesus prayed in anguish on the night before his crucifixion.”

The chorus further establishes this setting and then moves to the story’s climax:

You sang no song in Gethsemane,
But cried “My God, take this cup from me!”
Yet for sinners’ sake, you gave up your rights,
And died for all wrongs — my song in the night.

Our third verse steps out of the plot’s forward motion since we’ve reached the climax. It celebrates what the sacrifice of Christ has accomplished for the believer. And in doing so it teaches the doctrine of Adoption, which is under-represented in modern song (and some would argue, in hymnody as a whole). Dr. Russell Moore’s clear, continuous teaching on the doctrine of adoption provided the inspiration here.

The third verse also brings the worshiper around to the point of the title: Why and how Jesus is our “song in the night”:

Oh why should I wander away from your care
Or fear for my future — You’ve made me an heir;
Adopted by God to the Kingdom of Light —
You conquered the darkness, my song in the night!
Writers work at a songwriting workshop at our church, Sojourn

Writers work at a songwriting workshop at our church, Sojourn

“My song in the night” then is not just a poetic phrase. It’s a game-changing exclamation that we have been saved, adopted, enlightened and protected by Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. We sing in the night because he conquered the dark. Saying that Jesus is my “song in the night” is the same as saying he is my champion, my redeemer, my savior, my rescuer.


Infuse story into your next song. Either write an old school ballad that recounts a story (like “See What A Morning“) or experiment with ways to weave the plot of a story into the larger framework of your song. Let us know what you come up with!

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