History of Hymns: 'Open the Eyes of My Heart'
By C. Michael Hawn
“Open the Eyes of My Heart”
by Paul Baloche
Worship and Song, 3008
For the lyrics, see Google.com.
Paul Joseph Baloche (b. 1962) was born in Maple Shade Township, New Jersey. As a young person, he served as an altar boy and expressed a desire to become a priest. In his late teens, Paul became a rock musician, playing in clubs in nearby Atlantic City and Philadelphia.
His life changed direction when he went to an Amway conference one weekend to learn how to run his own business. Since those leading the conference were also speaking at a local congregation on Sunday morning, he decided to attend a nondenominational church, thinking he might get some ideas on being a successful businessman. The message he heard was much different than he had expected: “It’s not about money; it’s about Jesus.” These words changed his life. Baloche responded to the altar call: “I went forward and asked the Lord to come into my life, and he totally changed me.” (Terry, 2008, pp. 198–199)
Baloche moved to California, where he played guitar for those involved in worship ministries, studying music at Grove School of Music (Los Angeles). He attended two congregations—both with influential evangelical pastors: First Evangelical Free Church in Fullerton, where author and radio preacher Charles Swindoll (b. 1934) was the pastor, and Church on the Way in Van Nuys, pastored by Pentecostal preacher Jack W. Hayford (b. 1934), also a noted author and producer of radio and television programs. He served as worship pastor for Community Christian Fellowship in Lindale, Texas, for twenty-six years, moving to New York in 2015. His wife, Rita, is also a songwriter.
Paul Baloche participated in the spiritual discipline of journaling. Though not thinking of himself as a songwriter in his earlier days, he started to set some of his journaled prayers to music. This devotional practice led to the composition of his most famous song, “Open the eyes of my heart” (1997), inspired by a passage in Ephesians 1:18-21:
18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come . . . (KJV).
Verse 18 was the direct inspiration for the song. Baloche describes the spiritual intent of his song: “The essence of the song is our petition, asking God to open the eyes of our hearts. . . I began to realize that it is not more teaching we need, but a revelation of God and a crying out to him, saying, ‘God, open the eyes of my heart. Reveal to me how I might taste and see who you really are so that I might be changed from the inside out. Help me to have a response of gratitude and admiration, and a sense of awe and worship toward Jesus.’” (Terry, 2008, p. 199)
The “hook” of the song rests on the metaphor “open the eyes of my heart.” Combining two organs of the body—the eyes and heart—provides a compelling symbol for commitment and relationship. Scripture is replete with references to opening eyes in the Old Testament (for example, Neh 1:6; Dan 9:18; 1 Kgs 8:29; 2 Chr 6:40), especially in petitions offered to God. In the New Testament, Jesus assumes the agency for opening the eyes of spiritually and physically blind persons (for example, Matt 9:30; Luke 24:31; John 9:30; Acts 26:18). Sometimes scripture joins eyes and heart metaphors:
“Yet the LORD hath not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see, and ears to hear, unto this day.” (Deut 29:4, KJV).
“The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.” (Ps 19:8. KJV)
We gain a different insight from the dual metaphor in the New Testament:
“He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” (John 12:40, KJV)
The power of this song comes from the directness of its petition to God and its authenticity: “I want to see you.” The bridge verse begins, “To see you high and lifted up” —a trope found numerous times throughout scripture (for example, Ps 121:1; Matt 7:18; John 3:14). John 12:32 resonates specifically with this song: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all people unto me.” “Power and love” may be connected to 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and a sound mind.” (KJV) The reverberant Trisagion—Holy, Holy, Holy—echoes the vision in Revelation 4:8:
“And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, LORD God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.” (KJV)
The music begins by approaching God with the petition in humility, using the lower vocal register. The bridge verse employs a higher vocal range and builds in intensity to reflect the majesty of its message. The song ends with the repeated words “holy, holy, holy” as if echoing through eternity.
Baloche included the song on the album Open the Eyes of My Heart (2000) with other songs. He had no indication, however, that it would become popular until later when he heard it being sung at youth rallies. Contemporary artist Michael W. Smith (b. 1957) included it on his album Worship (2005), and country music and gospel singer Randy Travis (b. 1959) on Worship & Faith (2003). Baloche leads this song at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViBNqNukgzE. Michael W. Smith’s rendition is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fadU7b9aa78.
Baloche released his first album, He Is Faithful, in 1992, one of sixteen to date. Other top-ranked songs, according to CCLI [Christian Copyright Licensing International], include “Hosanna (Praise is Rising)” (2005), “Your Name” (2006), “Today Is the Day” (2009), and “Above All” (1995). CCLI’s SongSelect lists nearly 550 songs by Baloche. He produced the album, God of Wonders (2001) with Marc Byrd (b. 1970) and Steve Hindalong (b. 1959) and has been the winner of several Dove Awards. In 1995, Baloche began a series of VHS instructional recordings entitled Worship Guitar Series. In 1997, he started Leadworship.com to train local church worship teams. The site includes song charts, teaching videos, and other resources. He authored God Songs: How to Write and Select Songs for Worship (2008) with contemporary Christian worship artists and composers Jimmy (b. 1930) and Carol (b. 1931) Owens. In 2013, Baloche won a GMA (Gospel Music Association) Canada Covenant Award for the International Album of the year, Glorieux, a worship album in French.
Paul Baloche, Leadworship.com, https://leadworship.com/ (accessed August 12, 2022).
Paul Baloche (with Jimmy and Carol Owens), God Songs: How to Write and Select Songs for Worship (Integrity/Leadworship.com: 2008)
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.