It wasn’t unusual for meto start my day at the piano in the Worship Center of Crossgates Baptist Church. But, there was something different about that day… just one week before Easter.
I had just read Matthew’s account of the crucifixion in chapter 27 and noticed verse 35 again. It was a direct fulfillment of the prophesy of Psalm 22. The soldiers cast lots for the robe of Jesus.
With my limited piano ability, I started playing – key of C, of course – and singing what I had just read: “You’ve heard the story many times before, how the soldiers gambled for the robe of the Lord,” and the first verse of a song was underway.
I started writing the chorus, “And they were playing games at the foot of the cross…” Before long, I had half of a song – but I was stilled dry-eyed in the writing of it.
The song stayed just like that for several days, until later in the week when I sat down again to sing it. That’s when the second verse came, “We’re so quick to judge them, but slow to see – how their games resemble the ones played by you and me…” But now, all of a sudden, I started feeling something, “As we fight for position in the Church of God, while the world goes on dying without the Savior’s love –
And we’re just playing games…” The water works erupted. I couldn’t even sing it – I just bawled as I contemplated what I had just written.
I have never been so caught off guard by a song – before or since. I didn’t see it coming. I had no idea how it would turn out when I started the second verse. But once it was done, the song completely caused me to be undone for several hours.
It would eventually become the very first song I ever wrote that went into print — Playing Games (at the Foot of the Cross). Tom Fettke put it in a musical for Word, and it was later released as an anthem. My friend, Luke Garrett, recorded it and, for years, sang it everywhere he went.
I still can’t believe it.
Last summer, I went to Israel with our friend and ministry partner, Phil Barfoot. One of the chilling moments for me was seeing a diagram in the floor of a chapel on the Via Dolorosa that outlined the board for “The King’s Game” – a game the soldiers would play during executions. When I saw it, it took me right back to the day I first “heard” the song.
Yes – I didn’t say, “write” the song. Because of all the people who ever heard it, I am sure I am the one that was most surprised by what it said.
And that’s just like everything we do, Jesus does His work through us – and we get to be the ones most amazed by it all!
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.