WHILE undergoing brain surgery in 2015, Reuben Hill was asked by surgeons to sing, to reassure them that the speech centre of his brain was unharmed. The song he chose was “10,000 Reasons”, by Matt Redman and Jonas Myrin. “Whatever may pass And whatever lies before me Let me be singing When the evening comes,” he sang.
This is one of several stories told in Mr Redman’s book 10,000 Reasons, which recounts the dramatic part the song has played in lives around the world. One chapter recounts how it was sung by men convicted of drug offences in Indonesia as they faced a firing squad.
“The book is not really about showcasing the song, but how the song showcases these really inspiring lives in worship,” Mr Redman said.
An award-winning songwriter who helped to found the youth movement Soul Survivor in the 1990s, Mr Redman has written many popular worship songs, including “The Heart of Worship”, and “I will offer up my life”.
Although some songs take months to write, “10,000 Reasons” came to him in the early hours of a morning in 2012, after a long day composing in a chapel in the small village where he lives. “I wanted to go home, and Jonas said ‘I’ve just got this one other little thing, a tiny bit of melody that I think could be something special,’” Mr Redman recalled. “Immediately a song started pouring out of us.”
The album’s producer insisted on including it on the tracklist, despite Mr Redman’s reservations (it sounded unfinished, he feared), and it went on to win two Grammy awards.
But it was an email he received the morning after this ceremony that he cherishes more. In it, a woman described how her uncle had found faith shortly before his death, and requested that the song be played in his final moments. “I felt it as God’s kindness to reorientate me and say ‘Last night was cool, but this is the reason you write songs,’” Mr Redman explained.
The song echoes both Psalm 103 in its refrain (“Bless the Lord, O my soul”) and those that find the Psalmist exhorting himself to remember God’s goodness. It also contains a nod to John Newton's "Amazing Grace” in its anticipatory verse (“Still my soul will Sing Your praise unending Ten thousand years, And then forevermore”).
The inspiration for this verse, with its reference to failing strength and the end drawing near, was Mr Redman’s favourite lines: Charles Wesley’s “In age and feebleness extreme”, dictated on his death bed in 1788.
In age and feebleness extreme,
Who shall a helpless worm redeem?
Jesus, my only hope Thou art,
Strength of my failing flesh and heart:
O could I catch one smile from Thee,
And drop into eternity!
In addition to Wesley, he names Fanny Crosby and Horatio Spafford as his favourite hymn writers. He is particularly moved by the tale of the latter’s “It Is Well With My Soul”, reportedly written at sea as he made the same journey that had resulted in the drowning of his four young daughters.
“You think, how did you find your way to place of praise? How did you not just shut down?”
Pointing to the high proportion of laments in the Book of Psalms, Mr Redman spoke of the importance of songs that address pain. “There is no one who escapes pain, heartache, confusion, stress. . . It’s not just relevant to people in church. If you sing honest songs that are raw and real, they will be relevant to people’s lives outside the church. . .
“When you start to sing about troubles, you very quickly start to journey into the compassionate, kind, generous, caring heart of God.” It is the songs that he has written on these themes that have generated “the most beautiful stories”, he says.
Mr Redman’s father took his own life when Matt was seven. Shortly afterwards, a group from a Vineyard church in the United States visited his church, St Andrew’s, Chorleywood, and he was “fascinated” by the music they brought with them, and by the sense that “people were really talking not just about God, but to him, and it felt very living and active and real. . . I was seeing the people of God in the presence of God pouring out praise to God.”
During a “quite turbulent childhood”, learning to sing the songs and play them on the guitar “kept me stable”, he said. He began writing songs as a way of praying, and discovered that “If you get it right you can write in such a way that people can attach their stories to the song.”
Formative were the hymns of Graham Kendrick (“Some of the lyrics are just amazing poetry”), but he spoke, too, of the “treasure” of older hymns.
The “trick”, he thinks, is to get both those who like contemporary worship and those who prefer traditional hymns to appreciate both styles. The former was on display last month at the “Thy Kingdom Come” Pentecost gatherings at cathedrals across the country. Mr Redman recalls one of the staff at Winchester telling him that, despite not liking the music, “I have to celebrate it because I saw the cathedral full of 2000 young people devoting themselves to Jesus through the music. So my ears don’t love it but my heart loves it.”
Young people needed to be reminded, Mr Redman said, that “the Church is an ancient family, and we have this rich family history and heritage. . . It’s best not to write that off as we are standing on the shoulders of giants.”
The accusation that today’s worship songs were “not quite broad enough in terms of theological themes, and encompassing the whole spectrum of life”, was sometimes valid, he said.
Songwriting has brought Mr Redman commercial success and many awards, but his craft means that he is “automatically kept very dependent”, he says. “There is no formula to repeat . . . and anything that was meaningful, spiritual, powerful that happened, that definitely was not Matt Redman, that was the hand of God. . . Numbers fly around about how many people are at an event, how many albums sold. But the stuff I love is immeasurable stuff.”
10,000 Reasons: Stories of faith, hope, and thankfulness inspired by the worship anthem, by Matt Redman and Craig Borlase (David C. Cook, £9.99).