Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: 'Change My Heart, O God'

History of Hymns: 'Change My Heart, O God'

By Bora Cho, Guest Contributor, and C. Michael Hawn

Eddie Espinosa

“Change My Heart, O God”
by Eddie Espinosa
The Faith We Sing, 2152
Zion Still Sings, 178

Change my heart, O God,
make it right and true.
Change my heart, O God,
may I be like you.

©1982 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing. All rights reserved.

An educator, counselor, administrator, musician, worship leader, composer, and producer, Eddie Espinosa (b.1953) was born in Los Angeles, California. His family moved to Phoenix when he was in first grade. Though raised a Catholic who served as an altar boy, he made a profession of faith on August 24, 1969. Soon afterward, he attended a Dave Wilkerson Youth Rally and experienced Andraé Crouch “taking people into the presence of God.” At that point, he understood his calling (Westermeyer, 2010, p. 674 cited in Canterbury Dictionary, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/e/eddie-espinosa).

According to Espinoza’s biography in the Canterbury Dictionary (http://www.hymnology.co.uk/e/eddie-espinosa):

He received degrees from California State University, Fullerton (BA, 1976, in Spanish Linguistics and Education) and two graduate degrees from Azusa Pacific University (MA in Counseling, 2003; MA in Administration, 2007).

Though he has spent much of his career in public school education in southern California, he has served as a pastor and traveled the world as a worship leader, including England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Germany, Korea, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, and throughout the United States. In addition to serving many years as a worship leader at the Vineyard in Anaheim, he and his wife, Elsie, have led Spanish-speaking congregations as pastors. Espinosa was on the worship team for Promise Keepers stadium conferences in the mid-1990s.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Espinosa participated with the worship leadership of Faith Assembly Revival Fellowship, a California Pentecostal church. In 1979, he was recruited by Vineyard founder John Wimber (1934–1997) and joined the worship team at Anaheim Vineyard Christian Fellowship, working as a bi-vocational church musician. The name “Vineyard” comes from Isaiah 27:2–3 and John 15:5. Vineyard-associated churches took a central role in the Jesus People movement, rooted in Pentecostal and charismatic renewal.

These churches followed the “neo-Pentecostal” worship style and developed what has become known as “Praise and Worship.”

According to the Canterbury Dictionary (http://www.hymnology.co.uk/e/eddie-espinosa), Espinosa left teaching from 1984 to 1996 to focus on . . .

training worship leaders and nurturing fellowship through guitar classes in home groups. By the mid-1980s, he developed models to guide the sequencing of songs in worship to achieve flow. He used John Wimber’s five-phase pattern—invitation, engagement, intimacy, visitation of God, and giving of substance—to shape his worship leading and to train new leaders. Espinosa is credited as one of the first contemporary musicians to add lead guitar to the band’s sound during the early Vineyard movement and is considered one of the pioneers of the modern worship movement. As a songwriter, he wrote many songs from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, including “Change my heart, Oh God,” “Worthy is the Lamb” (1993), and “You are the mighty King” (1996).

Espinosa at V Ineyard
Vineyard worship team in the early 1980s with John Wimber (keyboard), Carl Tuttle (standing with acoustic guitar), and Eddie Espinosa (partially behind cymbal with electric guitar), courtesy of Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard (cover)

Written in 1982, “Change My Heart, O God” is arguably Eddie Espinosa’s best-known song. Espinosa tells the song’s story:

The year was 1982. I had been a Christian since 1969, but I saw a lot of things in my life that needed to be discarded. I had slowly become very complacent. I acknowledged my complacency, and I prayed to the Lord, “The only way that I can follow you is for you to change my appetite, the things that draw me away. You must change my heart!” . . . Shortly thereafter, I was in my car on the way to my work, feeling a desire to draw near to God and with the wrestling still going on in my heart. Suddenly, a melody and some words began to flood through my mind. As I stopped at a stop sign, I reached for something to write on. The first thing I found was a small piece of yellow paper, which, by the way, I still have, and began to write as rapidly as I could. It was like taking dictation. I wrote the words on the paper and kept the melody in my mind. (Terry, 2008, pp. 40–41 cited in The Canterbury Dictionary, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/c/change-my-heart,-o-god)

Espinosa shared the song with a Bible study group that was meeting in his home. Someone in the group mentioned the song to the pastor at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California, and suggested that it be a song of invitation. The pastor invited Espinosa to sing the song with his congregation. Within a short time, Espinosa heard his song in San Diego and Los Angeles area congregations. Vineyard Music included it on an album. The song was a personal prayer of confession and “[I] never intended for anyone but God to hear it. It was my Psalm 51.” (Westermeyer, 2010, p. 674 cited in cited in The Canterbury Dictionary, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/c/change-my-heart,-o-god)

“Change my heart, O God” is a first-generation contemporary worship song with a refrain and single stanza in a simple ABA musical structure. Many worship leaders use it as an invitation or welcoming song at the beginning of worship. However, it can be heard in many different places of worship depending on the arrangement or season in which it is sung. This may be seen in the various sections of hymnals in which it has appeared. Hymnal editors have classified it as a song for stewardship, confession, and aspiration.

As Espinoza intended, the tuneful and repetitive melody and simple chord progressions enable worshipers to learn this song quickly without using printed materials. Because of its short length and open-ended structure, it has frequently been performed as a part of praise and worship medleys.

The Canterbury Dictionary’s exposition of this hymn notes:

The text of the refrain draws upon Psalm 51:10 and Ezekiel 36:25–27 with images of renewal and repentance, making it well-suited for use during the Lenten season. Psalm 51, believed to be written by King David after the prophet Nathan reminded him of his sin with Bathsheba, is the appointed Psalm in the Revised Common Lectionary for Ash Wednesday. It is David’s confession and appeal for God’s grace and forgiveness. Ezekiel 36:25–27, included in the appointed readings for the Great Vigil of Easter, bookends the season with God promising “a new spirit” and “tender, human heart” changed from the “stone heart” and made to “obey my laws.” The last phrase of the refrain, “May I be like you,” is a prayer of repentance seeking God’s grace and forgiveness and the promise of renewal in the relationship between God and God’s people.

The text of the brief stanza draws on other scriptural images. The potter (God) and clay (a human being) motif echoes Isaiah 64:8 and Jeremiah 18:4–6 rewritten from a first-person perspective. Interestingly, Espinosa’s words— “You are the Potter, / I am the clay; / Mold me and make me”—are similar to those by Adelaide A. Potter (1862–1934) in the first stanza of her famous hymn, “Have thine own way, Lord” (1902): “Thou art the Potter, I am the clay. / Mold me and make me after Thy will.” In both scripture passages, the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah use this metaphor, linking the potter image with a prayer for renewal in the chorus, reflecting God’s sovereignty and will. -- The Canterbury Dictionary, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/c/change-my-heart,-o-god.

With “Change My Heart, O God,” Eddie Espinosa influenced changes in worship, including less dependence on a printed score, creating a hands-free worship experience, and becoming the model of modern praise and worship with praise bands. The scriptural text is applicable today. The first-person viewpoint makes it personal, a feature of the Pentecostal and Vineyard style. The simple melody, rhythm, and harmony allow musicians and worship leaders to alter the instrumentation, adding harmony, different chord progressions, looping the refrain, and connecting to other songs.

According to the entry in the Canterbury Dictionary, the song’s popularity grew outside the church.

Since its initial recognition, the song has been included in printed resources across denominational lines and recorded numerous times in various arrangements and instruments. The earliest collection to include this song was initially published as an octavo in 1982. Renew! Songs and Hymns for Blended Worship (1995) included it, followed by nearly twenty additional hymnals. Several twenty-first-century collections feature the song, including Baptist Hymnal (2008), Complete Anglican Hymns Old and New (2000), Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), Glory to God (2013), and Santo, Santo, Santo (2019), the latter with a Spanish translation by bilingual pastor and composer Marcos Witt (b. 1962). The song is translated into Korean in Come, Let Us Worship (2001). It has appeared on several Maranatha! Music and Vineyard albums, including Change My Heart Oh God (1996), Change My Heart Oh God: 25 Top Vineyard Worship Songs (2002), and Heart of Worship: Prayer (2012). . -- The Canterbury Dictionary, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/c/change-my-heart,-o-god.


CMH. "Change My Heart, O God." The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology. Canterbury Press, http://www.hymnology.co.uk/c/change-my-heart,-o-god.

. "Eddie Espinosa." The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology Canterbury Press, , http://www.hymnology.co.uk/e/eddie-espinosa.

J. Randall Guthrie, “Pentecostal and Renewal Music,” Grove Music Online, https://doi.org/10.1093/gmo/9781561592630.article.A2257764 (posted January 31, 2014; accessed June 8, 2023).

Joan Huyser-Honig and Eddie Espinosa, “Eddie Espinosa on Changes in Contemporary Worship Music,” Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, https://worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/eddie-espinosa-on-changes-in-contemporary-worship-music (posted August 22, 2018; accessed June 8, 2023).

Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth, A History of Contemporary Praise & Worship: Understanding the Ideas that Reshaped the Protestant Church (Michigan: Baker Academic, 2021).

_____, Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017).

Andy Park, Lester Ruth, and Cindy Rethmeier, Worshiping with the Anaheim Vineyard (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017)

Lindsay Terry, I Could Sing of Your Love Forever (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008).

The Ferment Podcast, “Live Video Interview w/ Eddie Espinosa: Hunger, Integrity & Singing Songs to God” (posted April 5, 2021), https://theferment.libsyn.com/eddie-espinosa-hunger-integrity-and-singing-songs-to-god (accessed June 9, 2023).

VineyardUSA, “History and Legacy,” https://vineyardusa.org/about/history/ (accessed on April 14, 2023).

Paul Westermeyer, Hymnal Companion: Lutheran Evangelical Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2010).

Bora Cho is the choir accompanist at Sarang Mission Church in Carrollton, Texas. She is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts at the University of North Texas, where she studies sacred music with Dr. Michael Conrady and Dr. Joshua Taylor.

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