We’ve been really encouraged by the response to O Come, All You Unfaithful, the opening track on our new Christmas album, Heaven Has Come. A number of people have said the song has made them freshly aware of how good the gospel really is. Amen.
I had the joy of writing the song with Lisa Clow, although I really only helped her refine and finish a song she wrote a few Christmases ago. She brought what she had written to the Sovereign Grace songwriters retreat this past January. I’ll let Lisa tell you in her own words how it came about:
I was struggling. It had been a long year and a half. Finances were stressful, I miscarried twins, and on top of it I was battling a deep relational bitterness. My church was having their annual service where they kick off the Christmas season with carols and special songs and I, for once, was not singing. I told them that I wouldn’t be able to sing, but what they didn’t know is that I was too overcome with shame to stand on stage before my church.
That Sunday morning, I stood at my seat as they began to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful” and the first line of the song just clobbered me. It hit me like a giant wave of guilt.
O come all you faithful, joyful and triumphant!
I remember hearing those words and thinking, “I have been so unfaithful. My joy has dwindled, and I am a triumphant…failure.” And I didn’t sing the rest of the service.
I drove home, my mind still churning, “Is that really who is invited to come to Jesus? The faithful? The joyful? The triumphant? If so, then I am hopeless.”
Thankfully, later that afternoon the Holy Spirit reminded me of Jesus’s invitation in Matthew 11:28,
“Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
Rest found in his life, his death, and his resurrection, not my own.
That evening, I had a strong conviction to write a song for myself and for the weary, the broken, and the ashamed.(You can watch Lisa share this story live here.)
Here’s what she wrote that night:
O come all ye unfaithful, weary and heavy laden
Fly to the King of Angels, forgiveness is your haven
Christ was born, Christ was born, Christ was born for you
O come all ye destitute, broken and ruined by sin
Behold God in fierce pursuit, chasing and hemming you in
Christ was torn, Christ was torn, Christ was torn for you
We adore you, bow before you
Come and undo our hearts today
O come all ye triumphant, raise up your flags white with blood
Mercy flows in abundance, bought by the King of Love
Christ is Lord, Christ is Lord, Christ is Lord, it’s true
When I saw the title of her song and read the lyrics, I asked Lisa if I could work with her on it. Ever since my daughter, Brittany, wrote Glory in the Darkest Place a few years ago, I’ve been looking for Christmas songs that speak to those who find it difficult to enter in to the joy of the season due to feelings of unworthiness, need, shame, or suffering. And while I love “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” I thought the twist on that title would catch people’s attention and perhaps expose our futile attempts to come to God on the basis of what we have done rather than trusting in what Jesus has done for us.
I was moved by the thoughtfulness and beauty of Lisa’s lyrics. But I wondered if they could be more accessible. She had also written the song in 4/4, like the original carol, and it seemed to me 6/8 would fit the lyrics better and make it clear we weren’t simply trying to revise the traditional song.
So we worked on it, trying to capture in simple phrases the kind of person who might not realize that Christ was born for them. Unfaithful. Broken. Weary. Ashamed. We went back and forth on using the word, “vile,” but thought it might be distracting to people. So we ended up using “guilty.” Although before a perfectly holy God, every one of us fits into that vile category (Is. 64:6; Rom. 3:9-19). One phrase seemed to sum up the song, and I’m affected every time we sing it: “Come, though you have nothing, come, He is the offering.”
We thought the song needed a bridge and almost included a previously written chorus from one of the other writers at the retreat. But it was too wordy, so we didn’t use it. We ended up with a simple statement of the gospel, which is the reason Jesus being born is such good news.
He’s the Lamb who was given, slain for our pardon
His promise is peace for those who believe
As we played the song for more people we sensed God might use it to impact a wider audience. So we enlisted the help of Lance Cashwell, who now works with Farmore, to direct a music video for us. Providentially, I had met Lance when he attended a Worship Matters Intensive in 2019.
At first we thought we’d just record Lisa singing the song. But then Jon Althoff, one of our songwriters and a pastor of Redeeming Grace Church in Franklin, TN, had an idea. What if we invited people into the studio to listen to the song and captured their responses on video as they listened?
So that’s what we did. The video we recorded is made up almost exclusively of people from my church who are processing the song, most of them for the first time, as it relates to their own experiences. A stillborn child. A strained marriage. Feelings of shame. Legalism. Loss. Loneliness. Or simply having a heart that weeps with those who weep.
We think seeing their responses as Lisa sings communicates even more clearly that Jesus wasn’t born for people who have it all together. He was born for those who have nothing.
So wherever you find yourself at the end of this unusually trying and tumultuous year, remember that a Savior has been born, who is Christ the Lord (Lk. 2:11). And he was born to save us from our sins. All of them.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)
“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21, ESV)
NOTE: We’re received a number of questions about the song which I answered in this post.