History of Hymns: ‘Come, Now Is the Time to Worship’
By Nathan Myrick
“Come, Now Is the Time to Worship”
By Brian Doerksen
Worship and Song, 3176
Come, now is the time to worship
Come, now is the time to give your hearts
For complete text see: https://genius.com/Brian-doerksen-come-now-is-the-time-to-worship-lyrics
Canadian worship leader and songwriter Brian Doerksen (b. 1965) was born in British Columbia, Canada. His career has been punctuated alternately by profound loss and success, as he has been recognized with Dove awards, Juno Awards (Canadian equivalent to a Grammy), and Covenant Awards (Canada’s Gospel Music Award). He is the author of numerous songs from the early canon of modern worship music, including “Refiner’s Fire” (1989), “Hope of the Nations” (2002), and “River” (2004), in addition to “Come, Now is the Time to Worship.” He produced the Vineyard album Hungry (1999, rereleased 2005), which has been the highest selling record in that community’s catalogue. He also led Vineyard’s worship leader and songwriting mentorship program that included Kathryn Scott (b. 1974) and Brenton Brown (b. 1973), and most likely influenced a young Marcus Mumford of Mumford and Sons fame.
Yet he has also endured profound loss and tragedy.
In the summer of 1997, he, along with his wife Joyce and their children, moved to London, UK, to serve as the worship leader at John and Eleanor Mumford’s Vineyard UK in Southwest London. Doerksen’s move from Canada to the UK was born of necessity when a musical that he had written, financed, and produced (Father’s House) failed spectacularly in 1996. Subsequent to losing his home and source of income, the offer to “serve someone else’s vision” (Doerksen 2009, p. 18) was the only option that seemed available to the 32-year-old.
It was there in London on a summer morning, shortly after learning of his sons’ Fragile X syndrome diagnosis, that he “heard” the song “floating in the air” during his morning prayer walk (Doerksen, 2009, p. 36. A typographical error in in Lindsay Terry’s 2008 book, I Could Sing of Your Love Forever, seems to be the source of the oft quoted date of 1977 [p. 45]). Doerksen admits that this is an odd way to write a song (“most of my songs are a labor of love”), but goes on to acknowledge that inspiration is from God, whether “downloaded from heaven” or devised through years of careful and difficult labor (Doerksen, 2009, p. 36).
Doerksen returned to Canada in the late 1990s to take over the family farm. He helped plant a church (The Bridge) in Abbotsford, BC, and in 2009 was writing another musical (Prodigal God). It is no longer available for streaming or purchase (although Tim Keller seems to have made quite a bit out of the title—the old Bandcamp hosting for Doerksen’s soundtrack is defunct, and the music is not available on Doerksen’s website). Difficulty followed Doerksen again in 2011-2012, when he experienced a “devastating relational breakdown in the faith community [The Bridge] he helped to found” (https://briandoerksen.com/biography).
Despite the “wordless winter” of 2011-12, he began writing and performing again with a new band, The SHIYR Poets (pronounced “sheer”) in 2013. The group has since released three folk rock albums that “do not censor the difficult verses of lament and anger” found in the Psalms and other parts of scripture. Doerksen currently teaches at Prairie College in Three Hills, AB, in the Worship Arts Program.
Structurally, “Come, Now is the Time” relies on timbral development in the form of additional instrumentation and layers for much of its interest. Organized around a four-chord progression (a vi chord substituting for the tonic in the third phrase, the chorus offers the fifth chord for those who are counting) that includes a second-suspension on the tonic chord to produce a IV-chord affect during the verse, the tune is iconic to much of the modern worship repertory from the late 1990s; driving “four on the floor” rhythm and dotted-eighth note delay on the electric guitar. The original (1998, live) recording features Wendy Whitehead as the lead vocalist during the verses, whose performative use of a glottal stop at the passaggio invokes Dolores O’Riordan’s famous yodeling in “Zombie” (The Cranberries 1994). In the liner notes to the album on Doerksen’s archived website, he notes that he loved Wendy’s voice so much that he mixed it too loudly, as her harmony on the chorus was mistaken for the melody by many listeners (https://web.archive.org/web/20061012052721/http:/briandoerksen.com/music/album_details/come_nowistime.html).
Whitehead’s sonic invocation of O’Riordan is perhaps the sole signifier of the darkness that enveloped the composition of “Come, Now is the Time.” In his book Make Love, Make War: NOW Is the Time to Worship (2009), Doerksen writes that in the summer of 1997 he was at a low point, questioning his calling and his purpose, and perhaps even his faith. The opening line of the song jarred him when it came to him; he was struck by the abrupt and comforting meaning of the word “now.” Now is the time to worship. Not when things get fixed. Not when my career takes off. Not when they’re done with “their bombs, with their guns.” Not after COVID-19. Now.
Instead of darkness, it is the joy of God’s call that is reflected in the musical gestures of “Come, Now is the Time.” “Just as you are.” There’s peace in that assurance, which is a sort of inversion of Nirvana’s snide, “Come as You Are/as you were/as I want you to be.” Whereas Nirvana’s song chides listeners for their unwillingness to accept difference and diversity, Doerksen’s song assures us that God does accept listeners, regardless of their own acceptance.
There’s something worth pondering here, I think. I find myself caught between the pointed lament of “Zombie” and O’Riordan’s tragic life in Ireland during The Troubles (and after), and Doerksen’s hopeful assurance of God’s worth. Caught still again between Nirvana’s cynical observation of our lack of acceptance and Kurt Cobain’s tragic response, and Doerksen’s counterpoint that God does accept us. It is tempting, for me anyway, to point to Doerksen’s song and say, “See? God offers a better way.” But then I remember that songs such as “Zombie” and “Come as You Are” are real, vital, necessary critiques of humanity’s—and especially Christianity’s—unwillingness to adequately address or even acknowledge our complicity in the evils those songs lament and disavow.
So maybe “Come, Now Is the Time” belongs alongside the other two. And vice versa. At least for now. I wonder if we could sing “Zombie” along with “Come, Now is the Time” as a sort of acknowledgment of the importance of both; how they read and re-read each other. I wonder if Doerksen would approve. It seems as though he might.
Brian Doerksen, Make Love, Make War: NOW Is the Time to Worship. Original edition. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2009).
“Come Now Is the Time,” web archive of Briandoerksen.Com - (October 12, 2006).
Jeremy V. Jones, “Prodigal God: Review.” ChristianityToday.Com (November 22, 2010), https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/novemberweb-only/prodigal.html.
Lindsay Terry, I Could Sing of Your Love Forever: Stories Behind 100 of the World’s Most Popular Worship Songs. (Thomas Nelson Inc., 2008).
———. n.d. “Story Behind the Song: ‘Come, Now Is the Time to Worship.’” The St. Augustine Record, https://www.staugustine.com/article/20150611/LIFESTYLE/306119979 (accessed March 30, 2020).
“Various - Winds Of Worship, Vol. 12: Live From London.” n.d. Discogs., https://www.discogs.com/Various-Winds-Of-Worship-Vol-12-Live-From-London/release/6098347 (accessed March 30, 2020).
Nathan Myrick, a native of Warroad, MN, received his M.A. in theology from Fuller Seminary and PhD in church music from Baylor University. His research focuses on musical activity and human flourishing in the context of Christian communities. He has produced two musical albums, and numerous articles and book chapters. He is the author and series editor of “Music Matters” for Ethic Daily, is the author of the forthcoming Music for Others, and co-editor of the forthcoming volume Ethics and Christian Musicking. He is currently assistant professor of church music at Townsend School of Music, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia. He gratefully acknowledges the work of Benjamin Gessner, Graduate Assistant in Church Music, for assistance in researching this topic.