I had long since given up that I would ever contribute to church music as a songwriter. Seven years before, I had my one and only (to that point) cut when Brent Lamb recorded a song that I had written for my wife – “Side By Side.” Since then, no one would even give my songs the time of day – and I quit trying.
Until one day, I wandered into the sanctuary of Crossgates Baptist Church where I was serving and started to play the piano. It was Easter season, and I had been reading the Biblical accounts of the crucifixion, so naturally my thoughts went right to the scene at the foot of the cross.
I mumbled through a verse – “You’ve heard the story, many times before – how soldiers gambled for the robe of the Lord. Their laughter drowning out the Savior’s cry – ‘Father forgive them’ – as He bows His head and dies.”
I went on… “And they were playing games…”
It was several days later before I went back to the piano and wrote the second verse – “We’re so quick to judge them but slow to see – how their games resemble the ones played by you and me. As we fight for position in the church of God – while the world just goes on dying without the Savior’s love.”
It was a song written just for me. I didn’t record a demo, type up a lyric sheet or put together a pitch packet. But from time to time, whenever I was alone and wanted to play and sing, I would play the song.
And then a tenor showed up.
Luke Garrett had moved to my community and joined our church. One day, he asked me to go to lunch, and I was genuinely excited about getting to know this marvelous Christian singer and songwriter who was now part of my choir. After lunch, we went back to his apartment and he told me he had heard I had written a few songs. “Play something for me,” he said. About the third song in, I sang, “Playing Games.” When I turned back around to talk to him about it, he was emotional and said, “I’m going to record that. I’m supposed to sing that song.” And sing it, he did. And he has sung it ever since.
That song became my introduction to the world I now live and work in. If I were to analyze it now, the way we would analyze a submission from a writer, I’d find all kinds of things wrong with it. When I wrote it, I was not attempting anything… only expressing a deep sense of worship and sorrow over the cross of Christ and the indifference of the Church at times about His sacrifice.
The stories about how God has used that song have flooded in through the years – not as much lately as time has gone by. There’s the story of the state conference when every pastor fell prostrate at the altar while it was being sung. And the one about the girl who called in to a radio station to say she had heard the song and had changed her mind about having an abortion.
One time, I was with Luke at a Pastor’s conference where he was singing. The iconic Adrian Rogers was speaking. As Luke was singing the song, Dr. Rogers got up from his seat and went to the altar facedown. Every preacher in the room followed him. And I sat there and wept at the thought that the song God had given me could impact great men like Dr. Rogers and the other pastors.
And to this day, the lesson of the song for me is that God does what He chooses to do with whatever He chooses to do it with. I believe He does this because He has no intention of sharing His glory with any man, no matter how clever the man may be – or in my case, how simple.
So whenever I start to think I’m really something else and that God is lucky to have me on His team, I think about the journey of my life and the song He gave me that really turned my life in a strange direction I would have never chosen on my own.
And I dare not touch it – because it never really belonged to me.
And I’m also prompted to pray, “Lord, help me not be guilty of indifference about something that cost you everything – and gave me everything.”
Mike Harland is the Director of LifeWay Worship. When he’s not directing 30+ employees, you’ll find him leading worship at various churches around the country, writing/arranging worship songs and/or, writing his next book. In his spare time, he loves playing basketball and spending time with his family. Mike can be found on Twitter @MikeHarlandLW and on facebook.com/Mike.Harland.37.