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I thought it might be fun to introduce each of the songs on SHELTER here on the blog, one a week. First song up is Wonderful Grace!

Before I start though, let me say here as I have elsewhere that rewriting hymns does not mean I dislike the original melody or find it invaluable. I have varying levels of love for the old melodies, some more, some less, and I respect both that they communicated powerfully when they were written, and still can communicate today. However, we humans have a tendency to let our minds run on auto-pilot and stop paying attention to the familiar; in so doing we can lose our first love. Rewriting hymns is one way to renew our thoughts, to listen again to what we are singing, to love God anew.

Generally the full title of this hymn has been Wonderful Grace of Jesus. I grew up singing this almost frolicking song (with its original melody) often, especially at more casual gatherings, outside church services and such. It is one of those songs that people just had to sing parts on, often a capella. It calls to mind an older sense of community worship with back and forth singing between men and women on the chorus.

This is one of the more recent re-writes I’ve done, and I admit an ulterior motive- my sister often says “Do you sing any upbeat songs?” I wrote this partially to prove that I do. (Although this song probably still sounds restrained to many.) 🙂

As I wrote the music for this, I wanted to retain a sense of abandon, of the broadness, highness, deepness to the grace of Jesus, while moving away from the jolly side of the old towards a more thoughtful joy. Instead of bouncing on a repeated note, I chose a more linear melodic line. I put it in 6/8 meter to give it a lilting feeling yet one that pulls you forward. At different times though, the various instruments (first guitar, then piano, then cello) still maintain a rhythmic stability that says this grace is not just high and broad, but strong and sure.

I also modified the words slightly, mostly removing a few words from the chorus that made the lines a bit unwieldy, while hopefully retaining the descriptiveness of the text.

Overall these lyrics are ones that are willing to dwell on one word, grace, and celebrate it with joy, a humble joy that knows its own need and debt to that same grace. As I sing this song it reminds me that this is indeed cause for celebration.

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Wonderful Grace

Wonderful grace of Jesus,

deeper than all my sin,

How shall my tongue describe it,

Where shall its praise begin?

Taking away my burden,

Setting my spirit free!

For the wonderful grace of Jesus

Reaches even me.

 

Chorus:

Wonderful the grace of Jesus,

Deeper than the sea!

Higher than the mountain peaks,

Reaching down to me.

Broader than all my transgressions,

Greater than all my sin and shame.

O magnify the precious name of Jesus!

Praise His name.

 

Wonderful grace of Jesus,

Reaching to all the lost,

By it I have been pardoned,

Saved to the uttermost!

Chains have been torn asunder,

Giving me liberty!

For the wonderful grace of Jesus

Reaches even me.

 

(Chorus)

 

Wonderful grace of Jesus,

Reaching the most defiled,

By its transforming power

Making me God’s dear child.

Purchasing peace and heaven

For all eternity!

For the wonderful grace of Jesus

Reaches even me.

 

(Chorus)

 

Magnify him, praise his name!

Wonderful grace of Jesus.

Text by Haldor Lillenas, modified by Ami Andersen

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