Thanks to everyone who responded with questions to blog about. I’ve had a number of people comment on this one song, so I thought it might be time to share the story behind Martyr’s Song.
I have a friend who is a great writer, but he writes books and I write songs. His name is Ted Dekker. You can find more about him at any bookstore or at www.teddekker.com. Anyway, I first found Blink and read it in about 24 hours and went back and bought all the rest. He is probably best known for his Circle Trilogy: Black, Red, and White. Of course, the new book is Green, which makes it not a trilogy, but that’s a discussion for another time. Anyway, I was a big fan, and apparently he had heard my music as well. I was asked if I would be interested in writing a song to go along with a new project of his. So of course, I said yes, and he sent me the manuscript.
As I read, I realized something. My favorite book of his to that point had been one called, When Heaven Weeps. In this book, there is a story within the story, a backstory of one of the characters, which is a book inside the book. Anyway, I read the new manuscript and find that story within a story inside this story as well. Obviously, I was very excited. But as I read through the story, I became discouraged. I realized I could not be the one to write this song. The story is about a priest who is killed and the song is the song of Christ welcoming him home. I did not have the knowledge or the holiness to make a decent attempt. So I told Ted that I loved the story but I would not be able to write the song. He however was quite sure that I was supposed to. I told him I would try but I was pretty sure he would have to get someone else.
I knew that if these words were supposed to be coming from Jesus to one of His beloved children then I would have to start in the Bible. I needed God’s real words. I was looking through Zephaniah and found this in the 14th verse of the third chapter, “Sing aloud, O Daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.” An encouragement from Christ to rejoice, after life is over, after all the work has been done. It seemed perfect.
I was working on some verses and had written a chorus. I wanted the Zephaniah part to be the bridge. Then I sat down with Ted. We talked about a few things, well, a lot of things. But we talked a lot about heaven. I will never forget him talking about life being like a marathon. That each good thing, each time of worship, each move of God, is like a little Gatorade cooler on the side of the road. And many of us get stuck circling the cooler, loving what we’ve been given, when it was never intended to be more than a refresher while we did what God had called us to, which was to run the race. And I remember talking about how every single good thing we have here is just a taste of what is to come. A foretaste, if you will, of glory divine. That heaven has banquets full of the goodness that we have barely tasted here. But as I started playing Ted the pieces of the song I had come up with, he stopped me and said, “Sing O Son of Zion, that’s the chorus. That’s the pinnacle.” So my chorus turned into the 1st verse. There is a picture of heaven being full of colors we’ve never imagined, which I pulled from Ted’s book, Heaven’s Wager. And there’s a line about the beauty God sees in us, which would be from the book Martyr’s Song. Then I started working on a second verse from what we had talked about that day.
The song came together. We recorded it and it was on a CD that came inside the book Martyr’s Song. But by then everyone was talking about the Dekker/Frank Peretti collaboration, House. So most people missed our little project.
The funny thing is, well, there’s two funny things. One is that it may be one of the best songs I’ve ever written, and it’s escaped most people. The second thing is that the book came out in September, and then my grandmother passed away in October. I found myself wondering about the very things we had just written about. It was the first time someone close to me had died. Where was she now? What was she doing? Who cares if her streets are made of gold, I wanted to know who was taking care of her? I had always thought of heaven as a huge worship service. On stage would be David, and Isaiah, and Chris Tomlin, and Darlene Zschech. There would be video screens with the words to each song in every language ever spoken. But when my grandmother died, I didn’t like the picture of her being a blot in a faceless crowd of billions.
A few verses after the verse I used in Zephaniah, it says that God sings over us. I had this picture of God bringing my grandmother to heaven Himself, laying her down on a grassy hill, by a slow river, underneath the same tree I used to swing on in her back yard, in a field full of her favorite flowers. And He said to her, “It’s time to rest now.” And heaven wasn’t her singing worship songs to Him, but her finally understanding how much she is loved, as He sang over her.
Now I’m not saying that’s what heaven will be like. I have no idea. And by the time I do understand, I won’t care. But God showed me a beautiful picture of what it will be like when we finally reside in the fullness of His love and His glory. And He showed me some of it in my own song.