Tapping into the Reservoir (Behind the song “Mighty River”)

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I’m really excited to include a song I’ve been leading in churches for a few months now called “Mighty River”. This song has essentially given me the inspiration for the Reservoir Tour which I’ll be on indefinitely through 2012. Anyway, I’ll share a little bit about how this song came about and what it means to me. I’ve included a rough demo and lyrics of the song for reference below.

Behind the Song: Mighty River
Near where I live is a large reservoir called Lake Murray. It covers approximately 50,000 acres of land, and has roughly 500 miles of shoreline. It’s not vast in the sense of one of the Great Lakes (I visited Lake Michigan this summer and they might as well have called the Sea of Michigan!). But it is a large body of water fed by the Saluda River, damed off to power an hydroelectric plant that keeps my lights on. I have no idea of it’s volume, but it is large enough for the electric company to build a back-up dam in case the original dam were to break.

Every time I drive over the dam and look out on the water I get a certain feeling. It’s the same feeling I get when I stand near the ocean, or when I walk by a river. Peace.

It’s that same sense of peace the writer of Revelation conveys when he describes a certain river flowing from the throne of God. John, the author of the Book of Revelation, describes a scene from heaven where a crystal river is flowing from the throne of God, quenching the saints who reside in God’s eternal city. He’s describing the end of time as we know it. No war, no death, no pain or tears. A time of absolute peace.

As I mediated on these last few chapters of Revelation I couldn’t help but be reminded of those moments when all the worries of life fall away at the sight of an enormous body of water. That God, like a reservoir, is beyond our description. That He himself is our peace, our steady place and our reservoir of hope. It’s in His presence that we are restored, that we are made whole again.

This is what was stirring when I wrote “Mighty River”. It’s written in the style of an old hymn, a simple verse-chorus arrangement. I tried to write using as much imagery and poetic device as I could muster, searching for word pictures that you could see as you sing. I’ll break the song down and talk about each section as I go:

MIGHTY RIVER

VERSE 1
There is a beautiful river
Winding from Your heavenly throne
With peace and strength for the weary
Filling the saints with Your love

Verse 1 sets the stage with a description of the river in the Revelation passages. This is important in creating a mood in a song from the outset: establish your setting. The singer immediately knows where the song is and is given a sense of what the song is about: A river, symbolic of God’s love, is a thirst-quenching source for God’s people, the saints. The verse is horizontal in nature.

While the 1st VERSE is descriptive, telling you what the song is about and establishing setting, the CHORUS allows the singer/listener to enter into the song by singing to God, describing Him to Him.

CHORUS
You are a mighty river
A reservoir for the thirsty soul
My God and my deliverer
You are the only one who makes me whole

Sometimes the most powerful truths we sing are the truths we sing about God to God. What this chorus attempts is telling God what He already knows, that He is the ultimate source for our lives. The chorus is vertical in nature because we begin singing directly to Him. In doing so we are reminded that He’s the one who makes us whole.

VERSE 2
There is a bountiful harvest
For the one who stays the course
With faith and steadfast devotion
A crown awaits for those whose hope endures

Now we shift to our hope in God. We’ve sung about this mysterious river flowing from God, that He himself is the river, our source of strength and life. Now we look forward to our eternal hope, reaffirming that since we have such a great hope, we need to stick it out, to finish the race. Again, this is descriptive, stating what is and will come. The chorus serves to bring us back to the big idea of the song, rooting us in the central truth.

VERSE 3
When fear dims the light of my vision
When sin steals my will and resolve
Your mercy I will remember
That a river of Your blood ran down the cross

The final verse gets more personal. These are truths I know all to well. I’m afraid a lot. I sin a lot. Sin and fear constantly battle for my will to trust and not be all about myself. If I forget the work of the cross in my life then I slip deeper and deeper into things that numb me to the truth. This verse is essentially the story of my faith journey from beginning to end.

So, if you’re a songwriter or you just like the back story on how songs come about, thanks for sticking this out. I’d love to hear your thoughts, for all two of you that are actually reading this :)

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