History of Hymns: 'I Love You, Lord'
by Nathan Myrick
“I Love You, Lord”
by Laurie Klein
The Faith We Sing, 2068
The brief lyrics (see https://genius.com/Laurie-klein-i-love-you-lord-lyrics) penned by Laurie Klein (née Brendemuehl, 1950) in 1976 are some of the most widely recorded in all of contemporary Christian worship, having been covered at least 70 times by the year 2000. Beyond that, they are some of the most sung by believers the world over, appearing in more than 25 hymnals. Their elegant simplicity, theological openness, and sincerity have made them an endearing and enduring contribution to Christian hymnody. Yet interestingly, they do not arise from a popular, or polished, or even professional composer, but rather seem to have arisen out of austerity and longing.
Klein, a native of Wisconsin, displayed musical talent and interest at a young age. Encouraged by her mother, she learned to play piano, autoharp, and guitar. She started writing songs at age 16, the first one titled “Loving Unconditionally.” At age 24, she met and married Bill Klein while at Central Oregon Community College. Their life was simple and difficult, as they started a family with no money to spare. Laurie described “I Love You, Lord” as “a gift from heaven” – as the lines flowed effortlessly, one after the other. She has published about a dozen songs and is a freelance writer of poetry, devotional thoughts, and personal experience (Terry, 2002, 97-100).
As Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald note, Laurie Klein was a young mother, living in a small camper while her husband attended college in 1974 (by Klein’s own account it was 1976). Isolated in the Oregon wilderness, she had no community, no nearby friends, and no local church body to call home. Making things worse, she did not drive, so she could not go visit friends or family who lived farther away than walking distance. Her loneliness drove her to invest more fully in her daily time of devotion to God. The song rose out of her daily quiet time in the morning before her toddler woke up. The words tumbled out of her mouth as she was quietly playing guitar. Recognizing that they had some merit, she quickly wrote them down (Christensen and MacDonald, 2000, 68-69; Klein, 2001, n.p.).
Later, she sang the song for her husband, who suggested she play it for a local pastor and some musicians. The song found its way to Jack Hayford’s Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, and was recorded by several musicians of the budding Christian music scene, including Buck and Annie Herring (2nd Chapter of Acts). The song gained greater recognition when it was released on Maranatha! Music’s Praise 4: In His Time (1980). Since then, the song has “quietly made its way around the world” (Klein 2001, n.p.).
Klein describes herself as a “lifelong creative with a growing contemplative streak,” and notes that she has “switched hats more often than hobos in a vaudeville skit.” Currently, she “scribes” on her blog, lauriekleinscribe.com, which includes reflections on nature, beauty, and human experiences—all through the lens of an ongoing relationship with God. She wrote a short account of her life at the time she penned “I Love You, Lord” titled “Tulips in the Desert” that she was kind enough to send me during my research for this essay. (She notes that it was originally published in Stories for the Spirit Filled Believer [2001, 94-97].) In it, Klein describes the wilderness of life in her mid-twenties as a time of waiting on God.
Klein describes herself as a “lifelong creative with a growing contemplative streak,” and notes that she has “switched hats more often than hobos in a vaudeville skit.”
The significance of “I Love You, Lord” does not lie in the celebrity of its composer, nor in its magnificence as a work of art, but in its sustained ability to interact with other songs and productions in the contemporary worship music (CWM) oeuvre. It expresses something profound about our relationship with God that resists efforts to co-opt it into some sort of political agenda— the attempts of popular preachers such as John Piper to bend the song’s theology to fit their schemes, notwithstanding (https://www.fundamentallyreformed.com/2006/04/11/i-love-you-lord-with-additional-verses/). While the story of the song’s origin is no doubt told in a way that reflects a late-evangelical/neo-charismatic theology of human agency coupled with God’s immanent and ongoing engagement with humanity, the song itself does not preclude other theological positions. This is perhaps nowhere as obvious as in its manifold covers and recordings. While Christensen and MacDonald note that the rock band Petra had recorded the song on Petra Praise 2, the song has also been featured by less accessible acts, such as hardcore-ska act Five Iron Frenzy, who closed many concerts with a performance of the piece during their initial iteration (1995-2003) and included the first few lines in the fadeout of their live album, Proof that the Youth are Revolting (1999).
As I read Klein’s account in “Tulips,” I found myself thinking back to when I was that age and remembered my own wildernesses. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t occasionally sing “I Love You, Lord” softly as I traversed those barren lands. There is something very honest about that song, something that continues to resonate, quietly, through the forests and deserts, hilltops and valleys of life. There is something theologically rich about it—the central ethic of our faith: love of God. Even when we don’t feel it. Even when God is silent. Maybe that’s when God is listening. May our words be a “sweet, sweet sound” in that ear.
SOURCES AND FURTHER READING
Christine Boley, ed., Stories for the Spirit-Filled Believer (Croydon Park, South Australia: Starburst Publishers, 2001).
Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Our God Reigns: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2000).
Laurie Klein, “Scribe: Immerse in God, Emerge Refreshed,” https://lauriekleinscribe.com.
_____, “Tulips in the Desert,” personal correspondence with the author.
Lindsay Terry, The Sacrifice of Praise: Stories Behind the Greatest Praise and Worship Songs of All Time (Nashville: Integrity Publishers, 2002).
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 currently assistant professor of church music at the Townsend School of Music, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.