When one thinks of the Pentecostal, Evangelical, and Charismatic (PEC) worship music industry, an ecumenical focus is not something that typically comes to mind. As a self-identified “charismatic” himself, Matt Maher is a Roman Catholic contemporary worship artist and a true boundary-crosser for the sake of the global church. Born in 1974 and raised in Newfoundland, Canada, Maher relocated to Tempe, Arizona, during his college years and became involved with the “Life Teen” youth movement of the Catholic Church (a “Young Life” type of ministry). Upon his graduation from Arizona State University with a degree in music, Maher became ensconced in contemporary worship music, receiving guidance and mentorship from Catholics and Protestants alike—and notably, Rich Mullins, author of “Awesome God.” Inspired by the music of Delirious, Chris Tomlin, and Matt Redman, among others, Maher knew this style of music was his calling.1
In 2003, Maher wrote the hymn “Your Grace is Enough” during a time of spiritual hardship due to burnout from parish ministry. Due to Maher’s rising popularity among Catholic and PEC circles, later that year at the Youth Specialties’ “National Youth Worker’s Convention,” he was asked to play his new song. Worship leader Chris Tomlin and his band provided musical support while Maher led the people in worship. Tomlin found the song to be so powerful that he asked Maher if he could record it on his 2004 album “Arriving.” Though Tomlin only made minor changes, “Your Grace is Enough” became a prominent worship anthem and subsequently paved the way for Maher’s successful recording and worship leading career. He has produced eight albums since 2001 with both Spirit and Song—a Catholic worship resource publishing group—and Essential Records.
“Your Grace is Enough” touches on multiple themes: the faithfulness, love, justice, and grace of God. Structurally, the hymn is made up of two stanzas, one pre-chorus, one chorus, and one outro chorus with a few lyrical embellishments. The first stanza begins high-energy with a reference to the faithfulness of the covenantal God—the God who wrestled not only with Jacob, but with us “sinners” too; the God who led us by still waters; and the God who is never separated from us. The pre-chorus features an ascending and descending chord progression, intimating a sense of expectancy for the chorus. This jibes well with its lyrical intent, which is to create expectation by entreating God in the second person to “remember your people,” your children, and your promise.
The chorus exuberantly declares such a promise of God, namely that God’s grace is enough for me, echoing God’s promise to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Maher himself notes that Paul’s witness is the inspiration behind the chorus.2
The second stanza speaks more broadly of our covenantal God: a God of love and justice, a God of reversals—one who uses the weak to lead the strong, and a God who leads humanity in “the song of your salvation,” of which we all sing along. Maher envisages a God who is intimately connected with humanity. More importantly, we are invited into an intimate relationship with the same God of our salvation history: a God who was faithful to the people of Israel, to the apostle Paul, and to humanity today.
Instrumentally, this hymn sounds best when accompanied by a full band, but can be pared down to an acoustic guitar.3 The phrasing is heavily syncopated in the stanzas, but the melody has a simple range and is repetitive enough for ease of congregational singing. It is helpful to employ a worship leader, though not necessary.
The Discipleship Ministries’ CCLI Top 100 Vetting team commended this hymn, with many on the team listing it as “strongly Wesleyan” in a theological sense. The steadfastness of God’s grace and faithfulness ties in well to a Wesleyan understanding of grace and its implications for the process of sanctification.
On a closing note, perhaps the most inspiring thing about Matt Maher is his ecumenical commitment. Though remaining firmly in the Catholic tradition—even leading worship for the 2013 Catholic World Youth Day and the upcoming 2016 one—Maher co-authors hymns with songwriters from many traditions.4 Herein, Maher is not referencing this week’s hymn, but the insight is invaluable nonetheless:
“Matt Redman and I wrote a song about communion together. He comes from an Anglican or Evangelical background and I came from a Catholic background. We have completely different doctrinal teachings about communion and about the Eucharist. Does that mean that we can’t write a song together about the importance of communion [?] Or that when Jesus says in the Bible, “Remember me … do this in remembrance of me… that we can’t [?] What we can say is let’s try to serve the Church with a song that somehow reflects truth and leaves a little bit of room for the mystery of faith. I think that’s what I’ve tried to do with my music.”
Indeed, the sufficiency of God’s grace is a witness to the mystery of our faith, and Maher’s hymns speak to that great task. “Your Grace is Enough” is a beautiful expression of truth-reflecting and “leaving room” for mystery, both lyrically and instrumentally. It is an excellent hymn that speaks to wide swaths of humanity that compose the Church universal and is a perfect inclusion for Sunday worship in your local church.
1 Biographical information sourced from an interview between Matt Maher and John van der Veen, who is a representative of the Family Christian stores. See http://www.familychristian.com/blog/matt-maher-on-being-christian/.
2 See Maher’s interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network: http://www1.cbn.com/700club/matt-maher-gods-grace-enough.
4 For a powerful video of Maher leading worship on the same platform as Pope Francis at the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZa6spYqHsA. The song is “Lord I Need You,” which is among the CCLI Top 100 list and “commended” by the UMC CCLI vetting team of Discipleship Ministries.
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.