Home Worship Planning History of Hymns History of Hymns: 'Order My Steps'

History of Hymns: 'Order My Steps'

By M. Roger Holland II

Glenn Burleigh headshot
Glenn Edward Burleigh

“Order My Steps”
by Glenn Edward Burleigh
African American Heritage Hymnal, 333

Order my steps in your word, dear Lord.
Lead me, guide me, every day,
Send your anointing, Father, I pray.
Order my steps in your word.
Please, order my steps in your word.*
*© 1991 Burleigh Inspirations Music.

“Order My Steps” is one of the most well-known gospel songs written in the late twentieth century. Its popularity transcends the Black church experience and has found popularity with numerous grade school, community, and college choirs. Several arrangements have been published in various choral voicings, including SATB, TTBB, SAB, and SSA.

The song was written in 1991 by African American composer Glenn Edward Burleigh (1949–2007), an Oklahoma native. Born in Guthrie, Oklahoma, Burleigh studied piano at the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma City University (Gratto, 2008, 101). He was highly regarded as a composer, pianist, conductor, and clinician.

One should be careful not to define Burleigh as a gospel composer but as an African American composer who wrote many works in varied styles and genres, calling upon African American idioms to inform his writing. Burleigh successfully integrated the genre of Western classical music with the African American idioms of blues, jazz, and gospel music (Tipton, 2013, 350). In this regard, Burleigh follows in the footsteps of other African American composers such as William Grant Still (1895–1978), Florence Price (1887–1953), Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington (1899–1974), William Levi Dawson (1899–1990), and Canadian-born R. Nathaniel Dett (1882–1943).

A critical component of Burleigh’s choral works was his incorporation of biblically based texts. He employs biblical allusion (references to scripture) or scriptural quotations in the lyrical content. One example is the song, “Lay Aside Every Weight,” which appeared in the motion picture, The Preacher’s Wife (1996), featuring Whitney Houston. Houston sings the song in the movie along with the Georgia Mass Choir, though the song was not included in the movie soundtrack. In 1999, gospel legend Dorothy Norwood (b. 1935) recorded the song on her album The Lord Is a Wonder (Malaco). The refrain of this song quotes Hebrews 12:1, beginning with “Lay aside every weight” in its entirety. Subsequent lines in the song are taken from Hebrews 12:2 and Ephesians 4:22, 29. Other songs of Burleigh’s that either quote scripture or make use of biblical allusion are “Faithful Over a Few Things” (Matthew 25:21) and “If My People” (II Chronicles 7:14).

Burleigh draws directly on Psalm 119:133, “Order my steps in your word” (BSB). The song is structured in three sections: A – B – C. The A section contains three stanzas before moving to the bridge section (B). The C section, an atypical vamp (most vamps are composed of a short figure repeated multiple times with ad-libs from a soloist), is not included in hymnals. The beginning of stanza three, “Bridle my tongue, let my words edify,” alludes to Ephesians 4:29. The next line in stanza three extracts portions of Psalm 19:14. The B section alludes to lines in the second stanza of the Charles Wesley hymn, “A Charge to Keep I Have” (1782). Burleigh cites “My calling to fulfill” and a paraphrase of the line “to do my Master’s will” in his composition: “I want to walk worthy / My calling to fulfill / Please order my steps, Lord, / And I’ll do your blessed will.”

The song was conceived while Burleigh served as minister of music at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. While there, Burleigh and the church choir accompanied the pastor to St. Agnus Baptist Church, also in Houston, for a preaching engagement. It is at this service that Burleigh received the inspiration for the song. St. Agnus was well-known for its outstanding youth program, which included a “Drill Team.” (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0ZO418hdDc.) The St. Agnus Drill Team is a variation of a step team. Step teams are common on college campuses at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The activity of “stepping” is a combination of dance and rhythmic sounds created on the body, executed with complex choreography. This expression is an outgrowth of music created by enslaved Africans in the United States in the antebellum South who were forbidden to play drums. They, therefore, created another means of expression that simulated the sound and rhythm of the drum. Many church step teams and liturgical dance ministries employ scripture references during their presentation, which helps place the activity within a sacred framework. The Drill Team at St. Agnus engaged in this practice, uttering a scriptural passage while performing that inspired Glenn Burleigh. “Burleigh was sitting at the back [of the church] with a tablet, writing ferociously, steadily writing as the children performed,” says singer Barbara Johnson Tucker, a member of Good Hope. As the young people performed, the idea for “Order My Steps” came to Burleigh. “Burleigh said, ‘the Lord gave him all of the verses, the whole song.’” (Conversation with Tucker, January 13, 2013.)

Burleigh later shared a portion of the song with the choir at Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church and taught them the B section beginning, “I want to walk worthy.” According to Ms. Tucker, they repeated that section in the rehearsal for some thirty minutes and were so moved they couldn’t stop singing it. Later, Tucker convinced Burleigh to allow the choir to sing this portion of the song as the benediction for a choir concert at Good Hope. The choir ended up singing the entire piece. Tucker recounts it as a moving experience for all in attendance. Barbara Johnson Tucker, a coloratura soprano, was the first to sing and record Burleigh’s iconic piece. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q86RElOOO84.)

Burleigh subsequently presented the song in several church settings and workshops, such as the Church Music Workshop held at Jackson State University (JSU), Mississippi. The workshop was a joint venture between JSU and the Eighth Episcopal District of the AME Church. Burleigh eventually presented the song to the Gospel Music Workshop of America, Inc. (GMWA, 1968), founded by the King of Gospel Music, Rev. James Cleveland (1931–1991) [Harold, 2017, 167]. The GMWA has a tradition of cultivating and catapulting the careers of many gospel artists, such as Kurt Carr, John P Kee, and Kirk Franklin.

The GMWA meets annually in cities across the United States. In 1993, the convention convened in Indianapolis, Indiana. Burleigh presented the song to the National Mass Choir at GMWA for consideration to be recorded, but it was not accepted. He then shared the song with the women’s division, which accepted the song. The Women of Worship recorded the song that year at the convention. However, the person designated to sing the solo fell ill unexpectedly. Mimi Redd then stepped in at the last moment and recorded the song with the Women of Worship. The song was released to great acclaim in 1994 on the album It’s Our Time. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCSuw1zs8Kw.) “Order My Steps” was subsequently named Song of the Year in 1994 at the Texas Gospel Music Awards. In 1995, it was nominated for a Dove Award and was on Billboard Magazine’s Gospel Music chart for ninety-four consecutive weeks (Gratto, 2008, 101). The song was then recorded by Grammy-award-winning choir The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir on their 1996 project, Favorite Song of All, released November 7, 1996.

“Order My Steps” appears in several African American hymnals produced in the twenty-first century, as well as in other congregational collections.


Sharon Gratto. “Ethnics and Multicultural Choirs: A Tribute to Composer Glenn E. Burleigh (1947–2007).” The Choral Journal 49, no. 2 (2008), 101–102.

Claudrena Harold. “‘Lord, Let Me Be an Instrument’: The Artistry and Cultural Politics of Reverend James Cleveland and the Gospel Music Workshop of America, 1963–1991.’” Journal of Africana Religions 5, no. 2 (2017), 157–180.

Carrie Allen Tipton. “Glenn Burleigh, Let God Arise: Opus 35, Cantata for Eastertime. The Ambassador’s Concert Choir; Graceway Baptist Church Choir; Glenn Burleigh, conductor. Burleigh Music Inspirations, 1997, 2 CDs.” Journal of the Society for American Music 7, no. 3 (2013), 350–353.

Scripture verses marked BSB are from The Holy Bible, Berean Standard Bible, BSB. Copyright ©2016, 2020 by Bible Hub Used by Permission. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

M. Roger Holland II is a Teaching Associate Professor in Music and Religion and Director of The Spirituals Project at the Lamont School of Music, University of Denver. He holds degrees from Westminster Choir College, Manhattan School of Music, and Union Theological Seminary (New York). He is a candidate in the Doctor of Pastoral Music program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, where he has studied hymnology with Dr. C. Michael Hawn.

Contact Us for Help

View staff by program area to ask for additional assistance.



* indicates required

Please confirm that you want to receive email from us.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please read our Privacy Policy page.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.