A Deeper Look at the Most Popular Worship Song of 2013
The first time I heard Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” on the radio, I knew I was listening to a song that would soon be sung in churches across the United States. The plaintive melody perfectly suits Redman’s paraphrase of Psalm 103, and the chorus was singing in my head the rest of the day.
According to CCLI’s biannual list of 25 songs reported by churches across the country, “10,000 Reasons” is now the most-often sung contemporary worship song in America.
Since Redman’s song is so popular, I thought it may be helpful to take a deeper look at the main themes of the song, in comparison to the themes of the psalm on which it is based. I enlisted a hymnwriter and student at Belmont University (Bryan Loomis) to analyze the song’s message, and the two of us had a lunch conversation recently about its strengths and weaknesses.
The song begins with the chorus, a paraphrase of the beginning of Psalm 103:
Bless the Lord, O my soul
O my soul
Worship His holy Name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy Name
Redman’s chorus is close to Psalm 103, with its focus on the holy name of God and the need to tell our souls to praise the Lord for who He is. Some may wonder if the line “Sing like never before” implies that every worship experience should be utterly unique, unlike anything we’ve ever been through before. I think that interpretation is doubtful. More than likely, this line is a paraphrase of “all that is within me” from the psalm. In other words, like the psalmist, Redman is summoning his soul to fully engage as he blesses the Lord. Going through the motions is not enough.
The first verse is about a new day in which we are summoned to bless the Lord:
The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes.
There isn’t any specific parallel from this verse to Psalm 103, although the psalmist does speak of God redeeming our life from the pit (which may be implied in Redman’s desire to be resolute in his worship, no matter the circumstances). There’s something to be said for worship being one of the ways we fortify ourselves for the trials and struggles of life. Before entering a trial, we pray that God will keep us faithful, so that we will continue to praise the Lord when the hard day is over.
The second verse is most reflective of Psalm 103, and it’s here that the title’s “10,000 reasons” is first used:
You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger
Your Name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find
Psalm 103 focuses on the Lord as merciful, rich in love, and slow to anger (verses 8-9). The goodness and kindness of the Lord is also a theme of the psalm. The biggest difference between Redman’s song and Psalm 103 is that the psalmist specifically spells out the actions of the Lord that show His kindness and mercy, whereas Redman focuses primarily on the character of God.
I like the 10,000 reasons line because it implies that we are on a deepening journey of discovering different facets of God’s love. Our praise will never end because we will never come to the bottom of God’s goodness toward us. We continue to discover more and more things about God that are worthy of our praise.
The third verse paraphrases the theme of human frailty and mortality in Psalm 103:14-17:
And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore
This is one of only a handful of contemporary worship songs that bring us face to face with our mortality. Looking back, we see some of the greatest hymns end with a statement about death and eternity. Think of the last verse of “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood” and its image of a “poor, lisping, stammering tongue” lying “silent in the grave” but singing “a nobler song.” Or consider the later addition to “Amazing Grace,” with it’s opening line: “When we’ve been there ten thousand years.”
What’s interesting is how Redman follows the pattern of famous hymnody rather than the progression of Psalm 103. Watch how Psalm 103 builds poetically on human mortality, and then shifts to the Lord as the subject:
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting…
Instead of shifting to the eternality of God’s love, Redman follows the pattern of “Amazing Grace” and “There is a Fountain” and focuses on our response to that love. Our praise will not end with death; we will continue to sing.
Strengths and Weaknesses
I appreciate Matt Redman’s work, and “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)” is one of his best songs. I’m grateful for gifted songwriters who stir our hearts to worship by pointing us to the Lord and His goodness to us.
The strengths of “10,000 Reasons” are numerous. As I mentioned above, it uses a psalm as its base, it focuses our attention on the character of our loving God, it fortifies and prepares us for suffering and eventually death, and it teaches us that worship is unending because we never come to the end of exploring God’s attributes.
If there is a weakness to “10,000 Reasons,” it’s one that is common among many worship songs today: the actions in the song refer to the singer, and the attributes in the song refer to God. By itself, this is not problematic, but worship leaders will want to balance their song choices in such a way that God’s saving acts are extolled along with His attributes. Or better said, we want to focus on the actions that best display His attributes. For example, Psalm 103 begins with the command to “Bless the Lord, O my soul” and then continues with multiple lines extolling God’s saving acts. Psalm 103 has 13 action verbs in which God is the subject; the action verbs in “10,000 Reasons” belong to the one worshipping. We don’t want characteristics of God (“slow to anger,” “Your goodness,” “rich in love”) to be interpreted “timelessly,” apart from their greatest expression through God’s saving acts. For this reason, worship leaders who use this song will want to surround it with hymns and songs that link attributes like “slow to anger” and “rich in love” to Christ’s death and resurrection.
Overall, “10,000 Reasons” is one of the worship songs I most enjoy singing. It’s a beautiful melody based on a beautiful psalm, and I’m thankful for songwriters like Matt Redman, who focus our attention on the goodness of God and call us to worship Him no matter our circumstances.