Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Five Songs That Brought Me Closer to Christ in 2014

A couple months ago I posted a status update on Facebook requesting links to your favorite inspirational/spiritual/religious music. Y'all gave me some wonderful suggestions. I thought I'd reciprocate with a short post about five songs that brought me closer to Christ in 2014 - think of it as my little Christmas gift to you. Oh, and once you've had a listen, go support these fine artists by purchasing their music. I can't speak for full albums (with the exception of "Where My Heart Belongs" and "Christmas Portrait" - both fantastic albums), but you won't be disappointed in these songs:

(1) "Just Look Up" by Gladys Knight. From Where My Heart Belongs.

Best line: Just look up and know that he hears you / Just look up and know that he cares.

Gospel and R&B and pop legend Gladys Knight released her most heartfelt album in years with "Where My Heart Belongs", which hit shelves in September. With so many great songs (look up "Need You Love You", "Life", and "Midst of the Rain") it was difficult to choose just one for this list. What sets "Just Look Up" apart from the others is the prominent theme of hope relayed in Knight's earnest interpretation of the lyrics. When she sings "God's delay is not denial / In his time all things will be reconciled", you really believe her. And in a year when my heart has struggled to find patience and understanding in God's will for me, "Just Look Up" is just what I needed.

(2) "Something in the Water" by Carrie Underwood. From Greatest Hits: Decade #1.

Best line: Trust in someone bigger than me / Ever since the day that I believed I am changed / And now I'm stronger.

Some have criticized Underwood for overdoing it on this ballad about baptism. I don't understand the criticism, because I think her strong vocals are exactly what make these breathtaking lyrics so special. This is a song about change, hope, and (amazing) grace, and Underwood's voice is the perfect vehicle for the message. Also, anyone who can steal airtime from the relentless "bro country" boys deserves to be featured here. Bonus points for the gospel choir.

(3) "We All Need Saving" by Jon McLaughlin. From OK Now.

Best line: I don't know why it has to be this way / And I don't know the cure / But please believe someone else has felt this before.

McLaughlin's gentle voice lends strength to this beautiful song with unmistakable references to Christ's Atonement. Here he is encouraging a lover to "lean on someone else" because "we all need saving sometimes." Whether or not you're in a romantic relationship, you can view these lyrics through the lens of Jesus' love - a love he earned when he suffered for all of our pains, sorrows, and afflictions. McLaughlin reminded me that I've never been someplace Christ hasn't been before. That's comforting.

(4) "Christ Is Born" by Carpenters. From Christmas Portrait.

Best line: He is born / let us adore him / Christ the Lord / King of Kings.

Had "Christ Is Born" been written a couple hundred years earlier it would be considered a classic alongside the likes of "Joy to the World" and "Silent Night." The simple but memorable melody (penned in part by Ray Charles) is repeated over four verses, the first three sung tenderly and the last, from which the line above is retrieved, passionately. Karen Carpenter is backed by an orchestra and angelic choir, but the veteran singer didn't need those supports to get the beautiful message across. She treats this pastoral setting with deliberate care, affording the listener an unforgettable view of the Savior's storied birth.

(5) "Where Can I Turn for Peace?" by Mormon Tabernacle Choir. From This Is The Christ.

Best line: Constant he is and kind / Love without end.

Emma Lou Thayne, the writer of this beloved LDS hymn, passed away just a few weeks ago. You ought to read her obituary; you'll gain an appreciation for Thayne's life and work. My favorite interpretation of "Where" belongs to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Years ago I learned that the word "exquisite" means intensely felt or finely detailed. There's no better word for Mack Wilberg's convincing arrangement, which utilizes strings in all the right places to capture the intricate pain of Gethsemane. An allusion to another popular LDS hymn - "Lord, I Would Follow Thee" - reminds the listener to "take up his cross daily" and follow the Savior, who promises to make our burdens light and give us rest.  

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