Gilland: An agonizing night produced a hit song

Man with guitar, pen, pad

It was around 1997, and I was privileged to be invited by my friend, a well-known American worship leader, to accompany him and a group of other worship leaders for a conference in Southport, England. It was to be my second trip to the UK, and the trip surpassed even my lofty expectations.

While attending, and purely because of my friend’s relationships with the leaders of this Worship Together conference, I got to tag along for some very meaningful meetings and conversations with UK worship leaders like Matt Redman, Dave Fellingham and Paul Oakley.

It was in a sit-down talk with Paul Oakley that I heard his telling of composing the global hit song “Jesus Lover of My Soul.” In the United States, it is commonly called “It’s All About You.”

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Paul’s humble recollections as to how the song came about were nothing like I would have expected. The amazing lyrics of this song are powerfully impacting, brimming with both truth and theological depth. One would expect that it was written in a place of corresponding confidence and assurance. But that wasn’t the case.

Paul shared with us a simple story of how he was called upon to lead at a church service the next day, and normally that would have been something that he would have easily managed. But for whatever reason, preparing for the songlist proved to be not only difficult, but downright impossible.

Paul prayed, then he played his guitar, but nothing seemed right. The hours passed into the wee hours of the morning, and this case of “writer’s block” was formidable. He ultimately put his guitar down, picked up a pad, and out of desperation he prayerfully jotted down what was happening in the depth of his soul.

Turns out, God was revealing to Paul a truth that was so powerful, yet so simple. In those pre-dawn moments, Paul saw clearly that all worship, all activity, even life itself…is all about Jesus. As these thoughts came, he arranged them in an order that became a song.

And what a song it was. I recall him telling us that it was really the only thing he had to offer that group just a few hours later that morning. But obediently, he began singing those lyrics to the gathered congregation. Turns out that it was the only song they needed, for the presence of God was so tangible they couldn’t move on past the impact brought on by their encounter with God.

The refrain of this song says this:

“It’s all about you, Jesus. And all this is for you, for your glory and your praise. It’s not about me…as if you should do things my way. You alone are God, and I surrender to your ways.” 

Paul’s painful night produced one of the most beloved songs around the world. It is my experience that we often learn our best lessons from God during what feels like the dark night of the soul, when nothing is seemingly going as it should.

Paul Oakley’s night of desperation was not in vain. To hear this song, search “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” 

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