Songs to 

DIE for

It was the fourth week of my preaching course and it was the fourth week on how the pastor should prepare to preach. We had covered all of the regular topics such as study, research and interpretation. The professor was getting to his last point and since I had enjoyed every moment of his teaching, I had a pen in hand and was taking copious notes. As the words landed on my ears, I had to put the pen down. I listened again more intently. I was completely taken aback by the profoundness and simplicity of his final point. “The preacher must die.”


I was convicted. How many times had I felt larger on the platform, not smaller? I heard John the Baptist’s words hauntingly jump from memory to awareness, “He must become greater and greater, I must become less and less” (John 3:30 NLT). You may be familiar with the more succinct King James Version of the same, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”


Even as these thoughts flooded into my mind, I thought of the words of Albert Orsborn:



My life must be Christ’s broken bread, 

My love His outpoured wine, 

A cup o’erfilled, a table spread 

Beneath His name and sign, 

That other souls, refreshed and fed, 

May share His life through mine. 


My all is in the Master’s hands 

For Him to bless and break; 

Beyond the brook His winepress stands 

And thence my way I take, 

Resolved the whole of love’s demands 

To give, for His dear sake. 


Lord, let me share that grace of Thine 

Wherewith Thou didst sustain 

The burden of the fruitful vine, 

The gift of buried grain. 

Who dies with Thee, O Word divine, 

Shall rise and live again.



These words have been sung over and over again, across decades. Their depth formed a richness in my thinking and theology that was hard to describe until that moment when I felt convicted about my preaching.


 “The gift of buried grain” is perhaps not the most well-known line in General Orsborn’s Salvation Army song. Yet, it stands out in this consideration. When we stand before our people, have we even considered our place in the audience of God?  We lead so that others will enter into worship, but how do we remove ourselves in such a way that “we die”? Ego, I can witness, does not go easily.


Yet, if you thumb through the theologically rich songs, over and over again, you will find there is a theme of dying to self to elevate God.

General John Gowans gave us these words to reflect upon:


Knowing my failings, knowing my fears, 

Seeing my sorrow, drying my tears. 

Jesus recall me, me reordain; 

You know I love You, use me again. 

You know I love You, use me again. 


I have no secrets unknown to You, 

No special graces, talents are few; 

Yet Your intention I would fulfill; 

You know I love You, ask what You will. 

You know I love You, ask what You will. 


For the far future I cannot see, 

Promise Your presence, travel with me; 

Sunshine or shadows? I cannot tell; 

You know I love You, all will be well. 

You know I love You, all will be well.


John Gowans  (1934-2012)



Our theology, sung Sunday after Sunday, reminds us that we have a great need to experience full Salvation. That experience can only come to us if we have come to a place of recognizing our need of a Saviour, not just to save us from our sins, but to fill us with the redeeming, renewing, refreshing and restoring Spirit of God. 


The simple chorus, In Thee O Lord Do I Put My Trust, is used widely by many prayer meeting leaders. It reminds us that it is not about self-confidence, talent, ability, ambition or resources, but that we must be prepared if our desire is truly to be filled and willing to die to self.


The Easter season often doesn’t pass without singing Isaac Watts wonderful hymn:


When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

The concluding line, “demands my soul, my life, my all,” can only be read one way. I am called through the cross of Christ, and inspired by the words and music to make that self-sacrifice. Right there, right then! There can be no waiting, no considering for a time, no walking away without the haunting voice of Jesus ringing in my ear. 

In all of this, the music calls us to worship. When the worship leader has already been to the altar and experienced the death to self, only then are they in the right place to really help others to get to the same place.  

I was in a corps a few months ago where the worship leader, a young woman, led invisibly. It was her voice we heard, her song choice, her talent on display, but yet she was invisible. Do you understand what I’m describing? Have you experienced it?  Seen it? Heard it? Have you been in that place when only the voice of God seemed to surface?


Afterwards, I approached her to tell her how much I appreciated what she had accomplished. What I think I really meant was this: I was grateful that she allowed the Spirit of God to accomplish what was needed on that day for my spirit and for my own personal worship.


Think of all of the needs, desires, depth of sin, sadness and sanctification that sits in any Army hall. The diversity of need means that the leader who dies to self will allow the Spirit, who alone knows these needs, the room required to minister to people.



Article by Lt-Colonel Fred Waters

Territorial Secretary for Business Administration

Canada & Bermuda Territory