BEHIND THE SONG WITH KEVIN DAVIS
#458 - "This is Amazing Grace" by Phil Wickham
You've likely heard the Jeremy Riddle/Bethel version of this song, but co-writer Phil Wickham has his own version, too. He talks to us about his take on the declarative worship song.
 


I've long been a fan of Brit-rock bands like U2, Keane, Snow Patrol and others who make emotional alternative rock music, but don't always have edifying messages. The first time I heard Phil Wickham's song "Grace" from his self-titled major label debut, I was hooked by his enthusiastic and reverent songs, layered with a Brit-rock musical vibe. I've felt that he's improved with each new album and has breathed several new worship anthems into the Church, like "Always Forever," "You're Beautiful," "Cannons," "Because of Your Love" and "At Your Name (Yahweh, Yahweh)." We sing all of those songs at my church on a regular basis, and I was excited to hear Phil's latest offering, The Ascension, available everywhere on September 24.
 
The lead single from the album is "This Is Amazing Grace," which is another song for the Church, in the style of Phil's previous offerings of enthusiastic praise and worship about our King and Savior, Jesus. I'm also a big fan of Bethel Music, and this song also appeared on the last Bethel Music live album, For The Sake of the World, sung and co-written by Jeremy Riddle. I had the chance to speak with Phil Wickham about the song.
 
Please tell me about the background message behind the song.
This song has actually been years in the making. I originally wrote it several years ago with a buddy of mine, Josh Farro, who was in the band Paramore at the time. He wanted to get together with me and write a worship song. I guess he just wanted to get out of his musical world for a little bit. We had a great hang, and hung out together and worshipped the Lord together. He brought an idea, and I had an idea, and that became the bones for this song. We wrote the chorus, and had some verse ideas. It happened in about 20 minutes, and we high fived and just hung out the rest of the day. We did record a really lo-fi demo version into my laptop just to remember the song. Over the next year or two, somehow he passed the song idea on to a pastor friend who went to the UK and passed it on to someone else. I'm not totally sure the story, but it ended up on someone's iPhone who went to a conference at Bethel Church in Redding, CA. 
 
Jeremy Riddle, who is one of the worship leaders there, asked if he could rewrite the verses and put it on their Bethel Live CD. Honestly, since we hadn't thought of the song in years, we were totally cool with that. Like Jeremy does, he nailed it and hit it out of the park with amazing lyrics about the greatness of the God who gave His life for us. What he did with it was so great, and ever since, I've been leading the song in its current form at my home church. I recorded it because I wanted to include the song on my album. We started singing it the way Bethel recorded the song, and there was more of brooding, moody, passionate vibe. We decided to make the song more of a celebration and a party. We made it a little more uptempo, with a four on the floor synthesizer musical vibe. I'm just so happy to have been part of the writing of the song.
 
Which Bible verses connect to the message of the song?

2 Corinthians 6:18 (The Voice): "'And I will be for you as a father, and you will be for Me as sons and daughters,' Says the Lord Almighty!"
 
Revelation 5:11-13 (NIV): "Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!' Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!'"
 
What's the takeaway message for listeners about the song and album?
 
There's Truth after Truth about the greatness of God in the song. There are Bible references throughout the song. It's an amazing story. It's a story I've known my whole life as a pastor's kid, but it blows my mind every time I think about God's amazing grace. The fact that our Creator God would walk on the earth and gave us grace we don't deserve. That is something so worthy to be celebrated.

The song is simply about the amazing grace and unfailing love that this God, this King of glory, this King above all Kings, has shown to us. The verses are all about His majesty and what He has done, how He spoke the world into existence, how He brings order to our chaos, how He has made orphans and sinners His sons and daughters! By taking our place on the Cross, He bore our sin and went to the grave so that we may be set free, so that we may be forgiven. It's an amazing thought, and the verses are saying look at this amazing God. He creates the stars, brings the chaos back into order. He shakes the whole earth with thunder. It's the story that God has written, and a story that He lets us be a part of. It's a song of celebration. Some songs have an adoration quality. Some songs are reminders. Some songs are about thankfulness. Some songs are prayers, or declarations.
 
I feel like I've poured 100 percent into every song on this album. We didn't rest until we felt it said what we wanted to say. I feel like recording this album was extra special from beginning to end. I'm so thankful to experience these songs. My wife and I have two daughters now, and I feel like that has brought me to a different place in how I view God and how I see Him as a Father. I'm so much more thankful for His love and His grace.

It's my favorite album that I've made. The idea of the album is in the title, "The Ascension." Many pastors teach about the Psalms of Ascent. What many believe is that these Psalms were saved for the moment when the people of Israel were gathered together at the temple in Jerusalem to honor God, for Who He is, and for what He's promised to do. I imagine in my mind families, and towns and communities coming together and singing these songs that are sacred. I love that picture of the people of God being excited to be in His presence.

Now we don't need to go to a temple, He is in us. The Church is His body, and every time we gather together and sing to Him we are ascending together. I want people to not just stop at the status quo or think of Christianity as something to check off a list every week. I want listeners to know that their faith is living and alive and growing and real and will never stop. I hope this album is some type of inspiration for people to do that in their hearts. This album did that in my heart, made me want more of God.
 
Lyrics:
Who breaks the power of sin and darkness
Whose love is mighty and so much stronger
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

Who shakes the whole earth with holy thunder
Who leaves us breathless in awe and wonder
The King of Glory, the King above all kings
 
This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You would lay down Your life
That I would be set free
Jesus, I sing for
All that You've done for me

Who brings our chaos back into order
Who makes the orphan a son and daughter
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

Who rules the nations with truth and justice
Shines like the sun in all of its brilliance
The King of Glory, the King above all kings

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
Worthy is the King who conquered the grave
 
In talking with Phil about this song, we discussed that there is a passion and sincerity to the lyrics and message of the song. I really like the Bethel Music version of the song, and then I was blown away when I heard how Phil re-recorded the song musically more up tempo with the synth-rock musical bed.
 
I've been listening to the song leading up to hearing the whole album The Ascension, and I love where the song is placed in the order of songs on the album. I feel like the preceding songs build up to this celebratory moment on the album. This song kind of reaches a crescendo, and anchors down one of the adoration and celebration moments in the context of the other songs. This song and this album takes me to another realm of holiness and thirsting for God's presence.
 
The song references that we are God's sons and daughters. That is one of the truths we can cling to as believers. That's an example of God's amazing grace. In our fallen and sinful tendencies, He still thinks of us as His children, His sons and His daughters if we've accepted Jesus as our substitute and Savior. God views us "white as snow" through the blood of His son instead of in our dirty states. That alone is cause for celebration. 
 
The bridge is a glimpse of Heaven and what followers of Jesus will be singing for eternity. If you have put all of your hope and trust in Jesus Christ for your salvation, one day you'll be singing with a loud, celebratory voice: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, Worthy is the King who conquered the grave!" Amen to that!

NRT Lead Contributor Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.

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