The story of one man’s wilderness journey and the song born from his heartache
By Brian Doerksen
At the end of 1996, I was at a low point, a point where I was not even sure I believed in God anymore. Or maybe I believed in God but had decided he simply wound up the universe and for the most part abandoned us to sort ourselves out.
In the mid-1990s I had become somewhat disillusioned with worship music and the ministry connected with it. I grew tired of the striving, weary of artists jumping on the worship bandwagon just because worship music projects were selling. And there was my own shallowness as I compared myself with some of those artists.
In the previous five years, I had experienced some success with songs and recording projects (all of which were a surprise) and some failures, too (not a huge surprise but still discouraging). I had also spent a good portion of those years pursuing a dream to communicate the Father-heart of God through music and story in a musical called Father’s House. This project collapsed for several reasons at the end of 1996, costing us our house and causing much other heartbreak. Looking back, I can see that I was passing through a patch of wilderness.
Rather than finding a figurative corner to feel sorry for myself, I decided to find a place in the church where I could serve someone else’s vision for a few seasons, rather than try to keep my own visions alive. And so God, in his great compassion for my family and my wife, Joyce, moved us to England.
Going through the motions
I was given two jobs upon arrival. The first was as the worship pastor at South West London Vineyard, under the leadership of John and Eleanor Mumford. The second one involved training songwriters and worship leaders in the Vineyard movement throughout England, Scotland and Ireland. There were about 75 Vineyard churches in the United Kingdom and Ireland at that time.
It was challenging to do a good job leading worship when so much of my heart was still ravaged by confusion and disappointment. But I had served long enough in the church to know how to effectively gather up people in the presence of God through intimate worship, and so I just got on with it, believing that eventually my feelings and the restoration of my heart would follow.
Most mornings I would get up before the kids to go for a brisk walk. It was some light daily exercise and a chance to clear my mind before the day began. And it was also time to pray, to sing and to speak out Scriptures. It was on one of these walks that I heard the beginning of a song floating through the air, and in that moment my life changed again. I intuitively knew I was tuning into God’s invitation, the invitation that goes out “day after day,” as it says in Psalm. 19:1-4. I sensed the presence of God in a way that I had not for some time.
Once the idea came, I kept singing it over and over so I wouldn’t lose it. When I got home I raced upstairs to the piano, and I started playing the idea over and over. I jotted down some notes and phrases. In the few minutes before I walked my kids to school, I managed to document the basic idea of the first section of the song. Over the rest of the week I continued to sing the song—morning, afternoon and evening.
If you had told me that this song would travel the globe, get translated into numerous languages and be recorded by dozens of artists, I probably would have chuckled in disbelief…but just maybe I would have said, “Yes, that’s going to happen.” I sensed that God was designing and building something special, and by his grace he was letting me in on the ground floor.
Building something special
About a week later I felt like the song was basically finished. That’s pretty quick for me—sometimes I take months with songs as they go through multiple drafts. The next Sunday I tried the song out at the SW London Vineyard. The song connected right away. Only a few weeks later I heard that the song was already being used in South Africa. Often people interested in or connected to the Vineyard Movement would visit our church as they passed through London, sometimes taking songs with them as they headed home to other places. I had heard stories of other songs that spread quickly, but to have it happen to a song I had written seemed crazy!
But even crazier is this: I wrote this song at one of the lowest points in my life—the point where I had failed in a big way with a project publicly, the point when private doubts raged about this whole “Christian ministry” and serving God thing. But that explains some of the lyric choices I made.
Had this song been written by someone who was flying high, the focus may have been more on the good that we could do for God—but I was feeling broken. I needed to know that I could come and worship God just the way I was, and that he would receive me even though my life was not all together. I needed to know that worship was about our hearts, not our accomplishments. And so I wrote lines like “give your heart” and “just as you are before your God” because those were the things that I needed to reaffirm. I needed to know that those lines were true.
Would you like to know a songwriting secret? We basically write the songs that we need to sing. God by his mercy sometimes enables them to become songs for other people too, but we are writing the things that we really need to say to stay sane and alive. And I think that’s a good thing. That’s why I challenge worship songwriters to stop trying to write songs that the church around the world will sing and instead try to write a song that they have the courage to sing in their private time with God.
Come, Now Is The Time To Worship
Come, now is the time to worship
Come, now is the time to give your heart
Come, just as you are to worship
Come, just as you are before your God
One day every tongue will confess
You are God
One day every knee will bow
Still the greatest treasure remains for those
Who gladly choose you now
Willingly we choose to surrender our lives
Willingly our knees will bow
With all our heart, soul, mind and strength
We gladly choose you now
By Brian Doerksen, 1998, Vineyard Songs
So I wrote the first section of the song as an urgent invitation from God. The key elements were come, now, time, heart and just as you are. The second section declares the contrast between the “one day” that is coming and his amazing treasure we receive when we choose to worship God: The treasure of relationship with God.
Think about it this way: Worship is reality.
Being aware of God, focused on him and in relationship with him, is ultimate reality. Worship brings that reality into focus. One day this reality will be forced on everyone. All people will have to accept the truth that God exists, and that he is their Creator and Judge. The tragedy is that God also longs to be their Savior, Father and Bridegroom. The greatest treasure I refer to in this song is the treasure and pleasure of worship: a living, loving relationship with God. Instead of living for God, some spend their days seeking earthly treasure, treasure that will be revealed as worthless on that “one day.” God remains the only treasure that will always be worthy of our pursuit and devotion.
Now is the time to choose God, to choose to love and follow him. We don’t know how much time we have left, but we do have today. We have this moment to respond to God’s invitation, to reorder our priorities. It’s time to return to this truth: Worship is first…always has been, always will be. It’s the way we were made; it’s what we were created for.
Worship is the highest privilege and pleasure in the kingdom of God. It is the response of our lives to the greatest commandment in Scripture: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).
And so our calling is to clearly and urgently sound the call to worship God. And what is the core of that calling? Nothing less than our hearts—loving God with all of who we are. And if worship is first and foremost a matter of the heart, it’s not about where we worship or what we look like when we worship. It’s not a performance for God. It’s a surrender of love to God, just the way we are.
The Father is looking for worshippers, which means he is looking for people. The Father is looking for sons and daughters who will come just as they are, whether weeping with tears or dancing with joy. It’s time to worship the Father in spirit and truth. Come, now is the time to worship.
Brian Doerksen, who was raised in a musical Mennonite Brethren family, is an award-winning songwriter of some of today’s most acclaimed songs of worship. He is also a recording artist, author, conference speaker and pastor. Doerksen’s latest album, It’s Time, was released in October 2008 worldwide through Integrity. This article is excerpted from his book, Make Love, Make War. Copyright 2009 Cook Communications Ministries/David C. Cook. Reprinted with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved. Doerksen, his wife, Joyce, and their six children live in Abbotsford, BC.
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