As I’ve led worship increasingly in various countries and foreign cultures in the past few years, I’ve had the chance to not only share some of the worship songs God’s been using in my local community, but I’ve also had the distinct privilige of hearing some of the indigenous worship songs that are being written around the world.
Long story short: I’m blown away, and I’m eager for us English-speakers to be able to hear these songs, sing these melodies, and celebrate what God’s doing around the world! In the spirit of the church being a kingdom of priests where everyone gets a turn to contribute, how wonderful for us, in the English speaking world, to begin to embrace the songs of the nations.
For a long time, we, in the west, have been exporting worship songs to the rest of the world. From the USA, the UK, and Australia, many great songs have been translated and adapted to serve in other cultures, and this has been beautiful. But times are changing. God is raising up worship pastors everywhere and stirring up songwriters in many of those cultures now, and some of what they are creating abroad is absolutely brilliant, altogether beautiful and acutely refreshing. This isn’t going to be a one-way street anymore.
Think about the song How Great Thou Art. This has been called the 2nd most-beloved hymn of all time (second only to Amazing Grace). We all know this song, we’ve all led this song, and we’ve all, most likely, been enriched in our worship of God because of this song. What most don’t know about this song is that it wasn’t originally an English song; it was Swedish! O Store Gud, literally “O Great God,” was written in 1885, and was then translated into German, then Russian, then finally, English.
Imagine never having heard How Great Thou Art. Had it not been for a college professor writing an initial English version in 1925, we may have never known this song, and I suggest that we would have missed out on a beautiful piece of our history in worship because of it.
I have started translating songs that weren’t "born in the USA." Rather than strictly translating these songs word-for-word and line-by-line (which often ends up terse, difficult to sing, and far from inspiring), I’ve been working with the original songwriters to re-write these song lyrics for English-speaking worshipers. It has been amazing to see how strongly our church congregations have been responding to these “imported" songs, sensing a stronger connection to the global church and body of Christ in our times of worship.
My humble hope - is that this will become an epidemic with hundreds and hundreds of these songs being translated between cultures.
God is the God of All Nations. One day, we will be around his throne with worshipers from every tribe and tongue. We will be surrounded by worship in very language, every culture, with every beautiful and distinct nuance of every one of those beauitful and distinct people. Until that day, may we have eyes to see what God’s doing in those other tribes, and ears to hear the beautiful songs he’s releasing through their tongues.
Below you’ll find one of the first songs I’ve sought to import. This Swedish song (by Johan Åsgärde, Mattias Frändå and Oliver Lundström) arrested me the first time I heard it. Originally called Klippan (The Rock), I’ve re-created it in English and renamed it as Crying Holy. Far left will show the original Swedish lyric, then the literal translation, then on the right you’ll see the final rewrite of how we’ve been singing it in church.