3 Things Mary The Mother Of Jesus Teaches Us About Worship Songwriting

by Bobby Gilles

in Songwriting/Hymn Workshop

Magnificat, painted by MaulbertschWhen the virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, the Holy Spirit prompted Elizabeth to pronounce a blessing upon her. Mary replied with an exclamation of praise that became an early canticle (which means “hymn”) of the church, known as The Magnificat.

Let’s read this brief passage and learn what it can teach worship leaders, songwriters and hymnodists about choosing and writing new music for Christian worship — whether in congregations or for private devotions:

Luke 1:46-55 (ESV):

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Here are three things we can learn from this very young woman’s exclamation of praise and worship:

1. It’s About God, Not Us. Even When It’s About Us

This song is the cry of Mary’s heart to God. She is “called to worship” by the Lord’s extreme blessing. The Magnificat is Mary’s response to that call. Notice she begins by giving God praise for what He has done for her:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,”

Then she gets specific, saying “All generations will call me blessed … He who is mighty has done great things for me.”

It is good and right for us to praise God and testify to others of how He has delivered, healed, enriched and blessed us. But Mary doesn’t keep the focus on herself. Her spotlight is on God. And this leads us to the second point:

2. Write About The Concrete Acts and Character of the One True God, Indistinguishable From All Others

The Magnificat is not in the least bit an abstract worship song — we know exactly who Mary is praising. Although she begins with her personal account of how God has blessed her, she spends most of her time expounding on the mighty deeds of God in the history of His people. This is a panoramic, epic view of God’s saving work.

This does not mean you cannot write or sing a personal song of deliverance. It means that the breadth and width of your psalms, hymns and spiritual songs should contain more than just “Me and Jesus” stories, though. Include songs about God’s work in history, and the attributes that set him apart from all the false gods of this earth.

3. Worship Leaders and Songwriters Must Be Steeped in the Knowledge and Language of Scripture

Mary’s song alludes to several Old Testament prophecies, songs and prayers, perhaps most notably the Prayer of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Hannah had given birth to Samuel, and presented him to Eli the priest at the Lord’s House. This fulfilled her vow to dedicate Samuel to God. Notice her triumphant prayer is the same pattern of the Magnificat: praising God for personal blessing and then praising Him for His holiness, power, mercy, justice and His acts in history.

Like Mary, we should become so saturated with the teachings and patterns of God’s Word that scripture shapes even our extemporaneous prayers, songs and testimonies of praise. Read scripture, pray scripture, sing scripture. Let the truths of scripture fill your heart to overflowing.

You’ll always find it worthwhile to study psalms and hymn fragments in the Bible. Some of them explore many of God’s attributes and works in history, while some are simple declarations, like “Holy, holy, holy.” The one thing they have in common is that they all testify to what is true. Let the truth of the gospel shape everything you do, including the songs you sing.

Previous post:

Next post: