A twenty year retrospective Ultimate Collection was recently released, featuring his most beloved and popular worship songs sung in churches weekly around the world. His songs all express the deep love Jesus has for us and how His mercy and grace is something we don't deserve, which causes our hearts to overflow with gratefulness. Paul's songs consistently are great expressions of our thankfulness back to God and this song is no exception. I had the chance to speak with Paul about "Once For All."
Please tell me the personal story behind this song.
As a songwriter, you are always praying and hoping that the combination of melody and lyrics in your songs will inspire a sense of awe. I read a book last year that said there are essentially three types of prayers: "help, thanks, and wow." I think of that often during a night of worship, and mention that "we've prayed songs of thanks, Lord, we've prayed for Your help and to live for You, and ultimately we long for those moments of awe and saying 'wow' before You God."
We want to expand our sanctified imagination, if you will. Matt Redman and I wanted to paint this picture in this song. A lot of times you can say concrete things in a worship song like, "Lord we come before You." Oftentimes, I'm challenged to think about if there is a word picture we can paint in a three-and-a-half-minute song that creates a visual. Ergo the beginning of this song, "behold this King so innocent," the implication of thinking about beholding our King on the way to His crucifixion and thinking about "the crown of thorns upon His head." "Feel His heart of grace" points out to people that we can experience Him personally. We go on to sing "behold this Man of suffering, who bore the cross and all our shame," reminding us to "breathe again this mystery." That's for us as the church now. We've become so accustomed to the fundamentals of the gospel that we kick into autopilot, and we wanted people to remember to "breathe again this mystery."
I remember when my kids were small, and we were sitting around the table before a meal, and they would kick into some fast prayer. Sometimes I'd remind them that we don't talk to one another in a speedy, "let's get it over with" way. We are talking to our Creator and Savior, and we need to breathe that in. He's our provider who provided our meal. The song continues in that light, like you are talking to a stranger who has wandered in and you are telling them about Jesus.
Which Bible verses connect to the message of the song?
2 Corinthians 5:21(NIV): "God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."
Romans 8:18(NKJV): "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."
Hebrews 10:10(NKJV): "By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
Hebrews 2:17(NIV): "For this reason He had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people."
Hebrews 4:15(NKJV): "For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin."
1 Corinthians 15:3-4(VOICE): "For I passed down to you the crux of it all which I had also received from others, that the Anointed One, the Liberating King, died for our sins and was buried and raised from the dead on the third day. All this happened to fulfill the Scriptures; it was the perfect climax to God's covenant story."
2 Timothy 3:16-17(VOICE): "All of Scripture is God-breathed; in its inspired voice, we hear useful teaching, rebuke, correction, instruction, and training for a life that is right so that God's people may be up to the task ahead and have all they need to accomplish every good work."
What is the takeaway message?
The song is written out of Hebrews 10:10. I've been carrying around that verse: "we have been made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus, once for all." We have been made holy by His sacrifice. How did we get there? "Nailed to a cross, there in our place, oh Lamb of God You made a way, once for all."
Matt Redman came up with the "feel His heart" and "we feel Your heart" lyrics in this song. He felt like we needed to express how we feel as well as giving information about Jesus. Oftentimes we can convey information in a song, and we wanted to also express the emotional element of our relationship with Jesus. "Behold," "feel," "breathe" and "see" are all words we use in the song to express our response to Him. We had a line in the song that we changed because of Matt's observations of adding the emotional elements of our reactions to Him.
As I reflected upon the songs that are on the Ultimate Collection, each song reminds me of where I was in that season of my life in my local church. Going back to "Open the Eyes of My Heart," I can remember the season and where I was spiritually at the time. All of us can mark time by songs in our lives, and they can take us emotionally back to a certain place. That's the power and the mystery of a song and how it can get around our conscious minds into our hearts and emotions. I don't know how that works, but I love the mystery of that.
I've written hundreds of songs that people will never hear. It's interesting for me to see which handful of songs really resonate with people as I look at this collection. I ponder that, and as I go forward and write new songs, the goal is always the same: to write a movie that fits into a three and a half minute song that, while others sing these words, it will spark their imagination and hopefully get them to look at God and reignite their devotion, joy and love for the Lord.
Lyrics: Behold this King so innocent
A crown of thorns upon His head
Feel His heart, His heart of grace
Behold this Man of suffering
Who bore the cross and all our shame
Breathe again, this mystery
Nailed to a cross
There in our place
Oh Lamb of God
You made a way
Once for all
You died so I could live again
Once for all
You washed away our sin
Streams of mercy and love
Flowing free forevermore
And Your blood ran down
Once for all
The scars of love can still be seen
On Your hands and on Your feet
We feel Your heart, Your heart of grace
Heaven's gates opened wide
You have raised us up to life
We breathe again, this mystery
In the shadow of the cross
We see our shame for what it was
And feel Your heart, Your heart of grace
We see Your power breaking through
And all that we've become in You
We breathe again, this mystery
Up from the grave
Now raised to life
Oh Son of God
We lift You high
Worship is really about submission, and our roles as worshippers are really defined in this song: to just be amazed and in awe of God. Worship is about giving God our best, offering all of ourselves to Him. All we can do is submit to Him and give everything we have to Him. As Christians, we all have a reason to reflect on God's Holy and Perfect sacrifice of His son Jesus. He died for us so that in Him we might know God's righteousness.
We can't earn grace, and we can't do anything to gain life other than accept Jesus. Jesus loves us so much that He came down and took our punishment so that we can be with Him forever. We can rest on Hebrews 10:10 (NKJV): "By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." This song encapsulates my testimony of how biblical messages in Christian music led me to Christ. A great outcome of memorizing the words of this song is that you are ultimately singing God's Word.
This timeless passage, Hebrews 10:10, has application for us today as we live in uncertain times or when we question whether God can really love us after all of our mistakes. As this song proclaims, "In the shadow of the cross, we see our shame for what it was, and feel Your heart, Your heart of grace." I sing this song to God with all of my heart and know that "once for all, You died so I could live again. Once for all, You washed away our sin. Streams of mercy and love flowing free forevermore, and Your blood ran down, once for all." Amen to that!
Watch the lyric video:
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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