By Timothy Holmes

3 Hidden Gems from the InterVarsity Spotify Worship Playlist

I was 12 years old, standing in a public park, watching a Christian hip-hop group, Truce, perform. Three songs, a testimony, and a call to faith. That’s the format in which I first heard the gospel. Since that day, music has been deeply a part of my discipleship. I would identify myself as a musichead.

When I was younger, music was a therapeutic release, to escape reality. When I became a Christian, music became one of the ways I connected to God most deeply. It’s in the middle of the worship set that my heart would get gripped by the beauty of Jesus. It’s at the beginning of the altar-call song where the culmination of the preacher’s sermon would actualize in my heart. It’s my worship playlist in the morning that helps orient my heart to what God has for me that day. There’s something about music that helps put words to emotions I am feeling but don’t have the courage or language to communicate. There’s something about music that helps me get out of my own head and into the mind and heart of God.

One of my favorite things to do when listening to music is to pick apart the song like I do with Scripture. To pull the instruments from the lyrics and hear the beauty in the two distinct parts. To hear three versions of the same song to hear the difference in rhythm, groove, and emotion. To put one song on repeat to catch the nuances in the lyrics and delivery. For me, it’s in the pulling apart of music that I find gems. Those gems add depth to the musical experience for me. As I sat and enjoyed the InterVarsity Spotify Worship Playlist, I noticed so many gems for us to appreciate, but here’s three I think we can’t miss.

“You Are Good” by Israel Houghton

There’s so much to love about this song. But the one gem I want to highlight is the way this song’s composition, I humbly believe, bridges a gap for racial reconciliation. Now, since 2008, “You Are Good” has flooded worship sets everywhere. And what’s not to love about this song? The five major chords in the song do a great job in emoting joy through the truth of Psalm 100:5. The simplicity of the lyrics also make it really ideal for corporate worship, since it’s easy to follow. But none of that is the gem that I think is worth paying attention to.

One of the things that makes this song so unique is its ability to bridge together different cultures and cultivate a multiethnic worship experience. The song isn’t quite CCM (Christian Contemporary Music), and it isn’t quite Gospel. It’s almost a merge of both. The simplicity of the lyrics has also made it accessible to translate into other languages (I’ve seen/heard it also in Spanish, Tagalog, French, Korean, Italian, Chinese). Worshiping in a song that has this type of flexibility, where both the musical composition and the lyrics can blend into so many different cultural contexts, makes it a gem worth holding on to. Imagine being in a multiethnic church and getting to sing this one song in seven different languages without it feeling like appropriation or a weak cultural representation. This could look and feel like the picture of heaven from Revelation 7:9.

“Great Are You Lord” by All Sons & Daughters

Again, so many reasons to like this song, but I think what makes this song a gem is that the lyrics invite us to worship through lyrical honesty and truth. Sometimes, worship songs call us to make declarative statements (e.g., I give myself away) as a way to invite us into right relationship with God. Songs like this are important. But the gem in “Great Are You Lord” is that it invites us into the already present reality of God’s truth. With lyrics like “You give life, you are love, you bring light to the darkness” and “It’s your breath in our lungs,” this song invites us to worship by saying what is already true about God. These lyrics aren’t about us, our desires, or our brokenness. And though I think those things are important in our worship, being able to rehearse what is true about God (“All the earth will shout your praise,” “Great are you Lord,” etc.) forces us to change our view of ourselves, our desires, and our brokenness to mirror what we know to be true about God. This makes “Great Are You Lord” important to our worship repertoire.

“Forever” by Kari Jobe

I love this song because of its focus on the resurrection. If your church is anything like the ones I’ve attended, then worship setlists begin to follow a sort of thematic trend. Songs about Jesus’ birth are sung on Christmas. Songs about the Father’s love on Father’s Day. Songs about the cross and the blood of Jesus on Good Friday. Songs about the resurrection on Easter. For clarity, there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it’s great that the calendar year can remind us of biblical truths like these that are anchors to our faith and understanding of God. And, if you’re like me, you anticipate some of these services’ worship times because it is one of the rare moments when you get to sing some of these songs. Every Easter, I look forward to singing songs like “He’s Alive” and “Celebrate Jesus Celebrate.”

However, having songs about the resurrection in our normal worship rotation is important to keep a right view of Jesus. This is why I think “Forever” is such a gem. I humbly believe that the songs we sing in worship have deep impacts on our understanding. People remember worship songs faster and more often than they remember a sermon point. Because “Forever” is a song that points to the resurrection, it has the ability to center our “lived” worship (not just our musical worship) around Jesus as the Risen Savior.

Can you imagine a worship setlist like this:

  1. “You Are Good”
  2. “Great Are You Lord”
  3. “Forever”

The first song invites us into a multiethnic worship experience, where we can appreciate the richness of the diversity around us, while reciting Scripture over and over again. The second song invites us to rehearse the truth about who God is, forcing us to interpret the contexts of our life to the unchangeable truth of God’s eminence. And the third song invites us to the catalytic reality that our worship is to a Risen Savior, reminding us that our worries can be casted to the One who cares and our witness is to the One who is alive today (amen!). And so the gems of these three songs give us language around Jesus’ great commandment, posturing us to better love God with our mind, heart, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.


Check out InterVarsity USA's "The Worship Playlist" on Spotify for these songs and more. 

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Timothy Holmes is an InterVarsity campus staff minister at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is a rapper and poet as well as an alumnus of The City College of New York, where he double-majored in media communications and English.

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