A Fresh Take on Ancient Truths (“Living Hope” Song Analysis)

With his breakout song “This Is Amazing Grace,” Phil Wickham emerged as not just a great worship music artist, but also a writer for congregational singing. “Living Hope,” released this March, is another song well-suited for church services. Written with the masses in mind, it employs a singable melody and features lyrics that fixate on the gospel of Jesus, our living hope.

Song theme

With the preponderance of worship songs being released these days, it’s rare that a new hymn catches fire and gets noticed by the Church at large.

One reason “Living Hope” has is its clear biblical theme. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, one of the marks of a great worship song is that it explores an ancient truth through a new lens while remaining faithful to the Scriptures.

“Living Hope” meditates upon 1 Peter 1:3–9:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

What weight there is in the two words ‘living hope’! Hope is what gets us up in the morning and keeps us going all day. Hope causes us to grieve differently (1 Thess 4:13), does not disappoint (Rom 5:5), and flows from God himself (Rom 15:13). Now add the adjective “living” to that hope and see how it gains a new wonder. The very hope we cling to is now alive—not a theory or a construct but a Person who will never die!

Satan sends a thousand temptations our way to allure us away from Jesus and to seek empty hope elsewhere and so succumb ultimately to death. But Christ is our living hope. This is a truth worth fastening our hearts around.

Lyrical analysis

Verse 1

Verse 1 offers a nice before-and-after picture of what happens when our helpless estate is met by Christ’s work. Notice the imagery—especially how lovingkindness occupies the place of light in the metaphor, and the powerful verb “tore”:

How great the chasm that lay between us
How high the mountain I could not climb
In desperation, I turned to heaven
And spoke Your name into the night
Then through the darkness, Your lovingkindness
Tore through the shadows of my soul
The work is finished, the end is written
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Imagery and verb choice are everything in writing, especially poetry, which is one reason this verse captures the imagination so easily.

Verse 2

Verse 2 celebrates God coming down from heaven to rescue us. Again, notice these wonderful images and verbs, and how they help us imagine Christ’s incredible work on the cross:

The God of ages stepped down from glory
To wear my sin and bear my shame
The cross has spoken, I am forgiven
The King of kings calls me His own

What Christ accomplished in his death and resurrection is infinitely relevant. It is why we can be united to God now and forever.

Chorus

The chorus pairs God’s salvation with our response to it: “Hallelujah” (praise). In the chorus, we declare that we have been rescued by God from sin and death:

Hallelujah, praise the One who set me free
Hallelujah, death has lost its grip on me
You have broken every chain
There’s salvation in Your name
Jesus Christ, my living hope

Verse 3

Verse 3 declares the wonders of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. The victory of Jesus over the grave confirms both his power and ours:

Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence, the roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me

The only strike against it may be the use of phrases we’ve heard many times before in worship songs—mainly in the chorus. But then again, sometimes singing the same lyrics about God with a new melody can be all the difference we need.

One beautiful lyric that really stands out is in verse 3: “Then came the morning that sealed the promise.” This is a beautifully poetic description of the implications of the resurrection.

Almost every stanza ends with the words “living hope” (the title of the song), which tunes the singer into the main theme of the song. This is fairly rare in many modern worship songs. Many songs present a smorgasbord of themes, whereas this song centers around one dominant theme.

Musical analysis

The verse melody is written with the congregation in mind, employing straight eighth notes for most of the time. Musically, the song feels like a mix between the Getty’s modern hymns and Hillsong’s recent song “Man of Sorrows,” both of which are extremely singable.

The chorus leaves the hymn structure of the verses and picks up a rhythmic pop feel, which gives the song a burst of energy. With the chorus being more poppy, worship bands have an opportunity to deliver big dynamics to the song.

A predecessor that you could compare “Living Hope” to is Shane and Shane’s version of “Before the Throne,” which features verses from the old hymn and a new refrain built around the word “hallelujah.”

Why lead “Living Hope”?

The message of this song is gospel-centered and has a clear focus on one theme: Jesus Christ our living hope. For this reason, it’s very much worth adding to your church’s repertoire. You can play it with just one instrument or a full band, making it flexible for a wide variety of settings.

This is a guest post by music professionals Cody Norris and Stephen Folden. Photo by Ju On on Unsplash

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Written by
Matthew Boffey

Matthew Boffey (MDiv, Trinity International University) is the pastor of worship at Christ Church Bellingham. He is also editor-in-chief of Ministry Team magazine, has edited several books, and has written for several blogs and publications, including Relevant online, the Logos blog, and the Faithlife blog.

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Written by Matthew Boffey