You are Beautiful Beyond Description (I Stand in Awe of You)

 Sof 621 Mark Altrogge 1987

This is a song of awe and admiration. Singing it personally is a chance to meditate on God’s beauty and unsearchability, his power, his wonder as well as to confess that you find yourself ‘over-awed’ by God. And singing it collectively is similar, but when we sing it in congregation we have to be more vulnerable to one another – expressing that we find God beautiful, in whatever way we choose to understand that. You may be admiring God for his beautiful love in sending his Son, and your pewmate may be in love with the God who makes all things new.

Singing of the beauty of God can feel strange, even after years of adoring him for his ‘majesty’ and his ‘faithfulness’. I suppose the inhibition we can feel stems from our inability to see him with our earthly eyes as well as a hesitation to use ‘romantic’ language to praise God. But this isn’t a modern blending of romantic songs with sacred music – what too many people dismiss as ‘boyfriend songs’ (as in ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’). People have sung of God’s beauty for centuries. I particularly enjoy ‘Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of Holiness’, Monsell’s high victorian hymn that starts with words found in Chronicles 16 and Psalm 96. If you can sing of the ‘beauty of God’s holiness’ in those terms, then you can be reassured that we’re singing of the same thing in Altrogge’s verse.

The music of the song puts it pretty squarely in the ‘less-is-more, speak-the-simple-truth’ camp, not quite at the sparse power of a chorus like ‘I am the God that Healeth thee’, but still within the sing-it-first-timeable. But it’s a song built essentially to contain that cry of the chorus – ‘I stand, I stand, in awe of you’. This song is all about prompting the worshipper to consider their position before God. Worshipping him demands our awareness of his greatness, our littleness, his goodness. Why do we worship him? Because he is the ‘Holy God, to whom all praise is due’.

That chord change beneath the penultimate line throws the emphasis on God in ‘Holy God, to who all praise is due’ and it feels like a surprise to be talking to God himself, strangely supernatural. I love the finishing phrase of the melody as well: the leap to the high note of ‘in’ during the final ‘I stand in awe of you’. Listening to the congregation, this jump often leaves them breathless… which is the perfect time to sing about awe.

In this recording posted by melissaxxdv, and sung by Beth Croft, you can hear the song sung both to express her own worship and to exhort a congregation to admire and express their admiration for an awesome God. The simple piano intro rises and falls like the breath, a little touch of slide guitar pulls our ears into key, and when the vocalist asks ‘Who can grasp your infinite wisdom?’ we should shake our heads and admit that we cannot grasp the wisdom of a God whose ways are so good and so high. The rise at the chorus is a natural encouragement for the raising of hands. That’s not manipulation – it’s invitation by good musicianship. Don’t dismiss the feeling with the thought ‘the music made me do that’. That’s more than a feeling – that’s the reaction of the Holy Spirit within you to the praise of God.

When we really appreciate who God is and what he does, we should really have fewer worries about how we sing and how we live. This is a ‘Turn your upon Jesus’ fact, and singing the simple truth that God is awesome – both good and mysterious – recalibrates, reassures and rests us.

I will Worship with all of My Heart

 SoF 859 David Ruis 1991

This song has a thousand different aspects on account of its simplicity. It’s a declaration song – and that gives it a power when we sing it in the face of trial or suffering. Those first words, echoed in affirmation, have a simple melody, only intensifying the sense that we choose to sing this song. It begins with ‘I’, takes the starting point of the individual’s decision, their ‘will’ to worship. Worship is always a decision – it cannot simply be an action.
How shall I worship? ‘With all of my heart.’ Having first declared that at the time we’re singing and in the future I individually choose to honour God with adoration and praise and service, I then state aloud for my family to hear that I will do it whole-heartedly. We’re choosing Jesus’ way: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ [Matthew 22:37, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5].
The repeating melody creates a parallel between the first line, ‘I will worship’ and the fifth, ‘I will seek you’, implying an equality between them. To worship God is to seek God – to seek first the Kingdom of God is to give him his rightful place as Lord of all, to seek his face is an act of love and adoration. And the promise to do this ‘All of my days’ echoes God’s promises to act in our lifetime, but also serves to remind us that our promise binds us to a daily life of small actions of worship – that today is as vital as the first or last in this life-marathon of worship.
I like the part ‘I will follow all of your ways’. For me I hear, ‘I will walk and travel to the places that you go’ as well as ‘I will seek to understand how you do things’ and ‘I will try to learn to copy your manner of going about life’.
The song is very clearly voiced in the first person, but it doesn’t have to be an isolating declaration. No, rather when we sing it together we become aware of the great purpose we share with people around us, different to us, and all of creation. Each person and each thing can sing, in their own voice, ‘I will worship’.
When you want to emphasise the corporate side of this, simply switch pronouns! ‘We will worship with all of our hearts… We will praise you with all of our strength.’ No problem with rhythm or rhyme.
You can’t argue with this song. It isn’t sung to people and it can’t be sung to anything less than an awesome, all-powerful God, someone whom we will ‘give everything’, ‘serve’, ‘hail’ and ‘trust’. When in the chorus we declare again why we live and what we’re doing – ‘I wil give You all my worship, I will give you all my praise’ we have to admit that this is what we long to do and what we live to do. I believe that all people and all created things deeply desire to worship God in an unashamed, honest, free relationship of love, gratitude and adoration. As we grow in Christian faith, that desire and longing seeps out from the the core our being where it may have lain dormant for a long, long time. But out it comes and we find that singing, dancing, and acting in ways that glorify our Father in heaven become more and more delightful, more and more purposeful. We should grow in it all our lives.
And the truth is that we can still sing this song in Heaven. We can still sing that ‘You alone are worthy of my praise.’

Practically, in congregation, this song is a great starter, but the family have to be ready to sing it. It’s very difficult to mean it if you’ve only just woken up, and it’s a hard song to sing well softly. It can be done – particularly the chorus, sung on a loop, with just voices or a minimal instrumentation. It can be an excellent expression of our desire to honour God as we leave the gathered church, or a quiet way to prepare to leave in silence after a late-night offering of praise. It does do very well as an acappella piece because of it’s simplicity, as well as the call-and-response structure. This is about the heart of worship, not the instruments or the expression, but about the will, the decision, the voice and the desire for God. Whether that desire roars like a furnace or glimmers clearly like a candle flame, we can sing this song and mean every word.