Christian music is often meant to offer praise to God, but many of the songs and hymns are as much for the singer and the listener. The music can help believers feel closer as a congregation or a community. It can provide comfort in times of trouble and give them hope.
But these songs don’t always come from a place of divine devotion. Some of the best-known hymns come from times of desperation, depression and pain.
Matt Maher, who performs Wednesday night at the Charleston Civic Center as part of Chris Tomlin’s Worship Night In America Tour, said, “To me, knowing that makes those songs way more powerful.”
A few examples Maher pointed out:
John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” was inspired by a violent storm at sea. Newton feared for his life and called out to God for mercy, which led to his religious conversion.
“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” was written by Joseph M. Scriven, an Irishman living in Canada. Too ill to travel home to visit his sick mother, Scriven sent a poem to comfort her. It later was published and then set to music.
“Just As I Am” by Charlotte Elliott was written during an existential struggle during the author’s illness. The song touched the late Reverend Billy Graham during his own religious conversion. The evangelist later used it during altar calls for the Billy Graham Crusades.
Maher said telling the stories behind songs is important.
“I feel like that’s the stuff that makes it relatable,” he said.
The Contemporary Christian singer/songwriter has his own songs to add to the American Christian music tradition — and they come with their own stories.