Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: 'Here I Am to Worship'

History of Hymns: 'Here I Am to Worship'

By C. Michael Hawn

Tim Hughes 72px
Tim Hughes

“Here I Am to Worship”
by Tim Hughes
Worship & Song, 3177

Here I am to worship,
here I am to bow down,
here I am to say that you’re my God.
You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy,
altogether wonderful to me.*

*©2000 Thankyou Music

British worship leader, songwriter, and Anglican priest Timothy David Llewelyn Hughes (b. 1977) was born in High Wycombe, just outside of London, England. He moved to Birmingham as a teenager when his father, an Anglican vicar, took a parish in nearby Harborne. His career as a worship leader began with an invitation to participate in a Soul Survivor festival in 1997. Soul Survivor, founded by evangelist Mike Pilavachi and worship leader Matt Redman, is a Christian movement based in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, that sponsored Christian summer festivals and produced recordings through 2019. When Redman departed from Soul Survivor Watford Church, Hughes succeeded him as Worship Pastor for several years before becoming Director of Worship at Holy Trinity Brompton, London, in 2005.

Hughes studied history at Sheffield University, graduating in 2000. He then attended St. Mellitus College, a non-resident Anglican theological college in London, and he was ordained in 2013 as a deacon in the Church of England during a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. He received his ordination as a priest in 2014. Hughes served his curacy at Holy Trinity Brompton in the Diocese of London (2013–2015) and launched his own congregation in 2016, using a renovated derelict warehouse that was consecrated for ministry. Tim Hughes and his wife, Rachel, now serve as senior pastors at St. Luke’s, Gas Street Church, Birmingham, a congregation affiliated with the Church of England (https://gasstreet.church/).

Tim Hughes wrote “Here I Am to Worship” while a student at Sheffield University as a result of meditations on the cross in Philippians 2, a chapter that contains the famous kenosis hymn (vs. 6–11), emphasizing Christ’s self-emptying manifest through his servanthood and humility that led to his death on the cross.

I sat down in my room and began worshipping him as a response to those thoughts. It was then that the initial inspiration of the song came. I began, “Light of the world, You stepped down into the darkness . . .” and on and on until I had two verses finished. I then began to try to write a chorus that I thought would be an appropriate response to the verses. I tried and tried but could not finish the song. I didn’t know where to take it from there. I became so frustrated that I put the song away and pushed it out of my mind (Terry, 2008, p. 91).

Returning to the song about six months later, he reviewed some melodies he had stored on a mini disc player. One melody, in particular, seemed to complement the verses well, and he decided to use it for the chorus.

I wanted the chorus to be a response to our Lord’s amazing sacrifice. . . I began to ask, “How are we going to respond to that great happening? Do we bow down? Do we scream out? How do we say, ‘You are altogether lovely—You are worthy?’” Sometimes we don’t know how to respond even though we desperately want to. As I finished the song, I felt as if the pieces had all come together and it was complete (Terry, 2008, p. 91).

The opening line of “Here I Am to Worship” begs the question, “What does the composer mean by worship?” Worship professors Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth discuss a “new sense of worship” in their text, Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship. According to them, “worship” in the contemporary Christian context includes:

the importance of congregational singing, the focus in the singing on heart-felt love for God (or Jesus), the criticalness of singing to God (or Jesus) and not just about God, the full, sincere engagement of the worshipper, and an experience of God during this kind of worship. This combination of emphases stands behind the development of making worship and music synonymous terms to many worshippers. (Lim and Ruth, 2017, p. 13; italicized emphases in the original)

The composer had a transformative worship encounter as an eleven-year-old boy that supports this description: “I went to a conference and had the opportunity to observe young people who were passionate about singing, it dawned on me that they weren’t singing about someone or something, but that they were singing to someone. That really challenged me. I made a commitment to take Jesus as my Lord and Savior” (Terry, 2008, p. 91; italics in original). “Here I Am to Worship” (1999) embodies many of the characteristics described by Lim and Ruth. The song is written from the first-person singular perspective. The words of the refrain are addressed to God in the second person with words of sincerity— “You’re altogether lovely, altogether worthy, / altogether wonderful to me.”

The opening stanza begins, “Light of the world,” a reference to John 8:12. Hughes explores a meaningful extension of this passage: “You stepped into darkness, / opened my eyes, let me see.” Christ's light exposed “beauty” in the darkness, bringing “hope of a life spent with you.” The second stanza draws upon Philippians 2, capturing the paradox of the “King of all days . . . highly exalted, / [who] Humbly . . . came to the earth you created, / all for love’s sake became poor.” A bridge repeats a personal response to the biblical passage several times, “And I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon that cross,” leading to the final chorus.

Hughes released the song on his debut album, Here I Am to Worship (2001), receiving a Dove Award (2003) for Inspirational Recorded Song of the Year. The song maintained a number one ranking on the Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) charts for two years in a row and was still ranked at 31 as recently as the end of 2022. In addition to Hughes’ original recording (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DJdS2Z4FqQ), contemporary Christian artists Darlene Zschech (Hillsong) and Chris Tomlin (Passion) have also performed the song widely. To date, Hughes has released six albums. He also leads Worship Central, an international training academy for worship leaders (https://worshipcentral.org/).

Rev. Tim Hughes was recognized with the Cranmer Award for Worship by the Archbishop of Canterbury “for outstanding contribution to contemporary worship music” (2017). A portion of the citation reads as follows: “His lyrics are shaped by a deep experience of renewal as well as strong biblical references. His songs have clearly succeeded in his stated aim, on moving to Birmingham, of reaching young people, students, and families—those, in short, who might otherwise not hear the Gospel message. His contribution in this respect has been outstanding.”


“The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Awards,” (June 2017), Citations in Alphabetical Order (pp. 17–18), https://web.archive.org/web/20170619185947/http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/data/files/resources/5876/2017-Citations-Alphabetical.pdf (accessed November 20, 2022).

Vicky Beeching, “Interview with Tim Hughes, writer of ‘Here I Am To Worship,’” Women in Worship Network (posted September 2, 2010), https://web.archive.org/web/20120314060807/http://womeninworshipnetwork.com/2010/09/interview-with-tim-hughes-writer-of-here-i-am-to-worship/ (accessed November 20, 2022).

Swee Hong Lim and Lester Ruth, Lovin’ on Jesus: A Concise History of Contemporary Worship (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017).

Lindsay Terry, I Could Sing of Your Love Forever: The Stories Behind 100 of the World’s Most Popular Worship Songs (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008).

C. Michael Hawn, D.M.A., F.H.S., is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Church Music and Adjunct Professor, and Director, Doctor of Pastoral Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.

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