History of Hymns: "Blessed Be Your Name" by Matt Redman
By Nelson Cowan
“Blessed Be Your Name”
by Matt and Beth Redman
Worship & Song, No. 3002
The “worship wars” of the last three decades have incited a multiplicity of reactions: hurt, anger, confusion, defensiveness, and even an uncritical acceptance of this war as the status quo. Despite noteworthy attempts by scholars and practitioners to dismantle the dichotomy of “traditional” and “contemporary,” it has not escaped popular parlance. At the same time though, the former novelty of contemporary Pentecostal, Evangelical, Charismatic (PEC) expressions of worship—the novelty that started these “wars”—has become increasingly normalized. Put simply, there are still “sides” taken and tension abounds, but war? No. That ship has sailed.
In light of that aforementioned ship sailing, this month, the History of Hymns series is dedicated to hymns written by PEC artists and movements. Whatever you want to call it—whether CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), CWM (Contemporary Worship Music), Praise & Worship, CPM (Christian Popular Music), CCS (Christian Congregational Song), or any other insightful acronym—the point is that this genre of congregational song produces hymns. This month is not an aberration; it is not derivative; it is not a perfunctory nod to this particular "style" of worship. These hymns are part and parcel of the church’s life of worship, and I invite you to experience them in their fullness.
Our journey begins with Matt Redman, a contemporary worship artist and author born in Watford, Hertfordshire, UK, on February 14th, 1974. Since the age of 20, Redman has served various churches and movements as a worship leader, regularly leading with an acoustic guitar. Most notably, he is a worship artist associated with the Atlanta, GA-based Passion Conference, which is spearheaded by Louie and Shelley Giglio and regularly features other prominent worship artists such as Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Christy Nockels, and Kristian Stanfill, among others. The Passion Conferences draw thousands of college students and young adults each year and have produced many hymns regularly sung among PEC churches and others.
Matt Redman is known for hymns such as “Better is One Day” (1995), “The Heart of Worship” (1999), “You Never Let Go” (2005), “10,000 Reasons” (2013), and the subject of this article, “Blessed Be Your Name.” Penned in 2001, “Blessed Be Your Name” was co-written by Matt Redman and his wife, Beth, in part as a response to the tragedy of the September 11th attacks in the United States. While in California shortly after the attacks, the Redmans observed that among PEC hymn repertories, there was not enough language to grapple with grief. The Redmans write,
“Where were the musical poets and prophets to help the people of God find a voice in worship at this tragic time? The truth was, in most places we visited (or led worship in), there was a distinct lack of songs appropriate for this time…when it came to expressions of pain and lament, we had very little vocabulary to give voice to our heart cries.”1
“Blessed Be Your Name” is one approach to grief and lament, a theme that to this day remains underdeveloped in PEC hymns. However, the song does not focus on lament, but instead takes the worshiper on a journey. Stanzas one and two bless God’s name in times of abundance and in times of wilderness. Similarly, stanzas three and four echo this balance of blessing God in good times and bad.
In all seasons of life, the hymn calls us to bless the name of God. Though unproblematic when life is going well, it is certainly a tall order to bless God for many who have experienced intense grief or the loss of a loved one. The bridge reinforces this call to bless God in all circumstances:
You give and take away;
My heart will choose to say,
“Lord, blessed be Your name.”
“Blessed Be Your Name” was one of the hymns recently vetted by Discipleship Ministries’ CCLI Top 100 Vetting Team for Wesleyan theology, language, and singability. Though this was not a hymn commended explicitly for having “Strong Wesleyan Theology,” its understanding of time was positively noted as dynamic: God is present in all seasons of life. The hymn also draws on strong covenantal language for God, namely all the references to “Lord.” Interestingly, this hymn is addressed to the first person of the Trinity with no mention of the Son or the Holy Spirit. This is peculiar among PEC songwriters, who nearly universally address Jesus Christ at some point in the hymn. God is primarily addressed in the second person as “you,” so there is nothing problematic in terms of masculine-gendered language.
In choosing “Blessed Be Your Name” for a worship service, it functions best as an entrance hymn, but could also work as a communion or thanksgiving hymn. On a pastoral note, given its approach to lament, this hymn may not be a good choice for a funeral or memorial service.
The melody line is catchy: simple, repetitive, and does not involve too much vocal range. It can be done completely congregationally or utilize a worship leader. Concerning instrumentation, because it follows the same four-chord progression throughout the hymn, it helps to have percussion for variation and to keep the tempo up.
The simplicity of lyrics and instrumentation is what makes “Blessed Be Your Name” such a memorable hymn of the twenty-first century. It is no mistake that it has remained on the CCLI Top 100 for over a decade. It was and still is theologically groundbreaking among PEC songwriters because of its address of suffering. Importantly, while this hymn is not a lament, it does provide language to deal with the complexity of the human story and how God’s blessedness intersects in all arenas.
As the Psalmist declares in Psalm 135, this blessed name of God “endures forever,” and God’s renown endures through all generations. May it be so.
Blessed be the name of the Lord,
Blessed be Your glorious name.
1 Matt and Beth Redman, “Blessed Be Your Name: You Give and Take Away, My Heart Will Choose to Say,” (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 2008), 34.
About this month’s guest writer:
Nelson Cowan is a PhD student in Liturgical Studies at Boston University School of Theology with a focus in Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Evangelical expressions of worship and mission. He is in the process of becoming a provisional elder in the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.