I had a cool interview this past weekend for my radio show, Songwriter's Corner... I interviewed a group called The Reminders ( www.thereminders.com ), which includes a songwriter named John Thompson, the guy who wrote "El Shaddai." What an honor! That was probably the first song I ever learned to play and sing in church when I was younger. (When I told him that, on the air, and said, "You've probably heard that a million times, right?", he said "Yes, actually I have." But he smiled while he said it, in a very kind and unassuming way.) The on-air interview was spent talking about their current work as a group, but afterwards I asked him how he came up with "El Shaddai," so he told me the story.
He said he was living in Nashville at the time, in a 4 story tiny, narrow brownstone, with a piano on the first floor, and his bedroom way up at the top. One night, he couldn't sleep, and he made it sound like he was in a season of really crying out to God, "Where are you, God?" So he went down to the piano on the first floor, in boxers and t-shirt, sat down at the piano and played a couple of chords: the Dm and the G/C. And then the rest of it just flowed out. He said he just played the whole thing through the first time out; he literally wrote it in four minutes. But he didn't have any lyrics for it (he said he knows when he has lyrics, but felt that he didn't for this one.) Well, the next week he had a writing session with Bill Gaither, so Bill came over and said, "You got anything?" and John played him the music he'd written. Bill said, "Nah, that's too Hebrew sounding, not commercial. What else ya got?" So they put it away and wrote another song (which never went anywhere, by the way). Not too long after, John was getting together with Michael Card for a writing session, and he told Michael, "I have this one song, it's kinda Hebrew-sounding, and it's a little weird because the verse and chorus are basically the same, but I feel like it has a special anointing on it." So he played it for Michael. Michael liked it and asked, "What do you think the song is about?" John said, "I feel like it's about God Almighty." "Well, in Hebrew, that would be 'El Shaddai,'" Michael replied. So he took the song home and the next week sent John the full lyrics to "El Shaddai."
Even then, they weren't sure the song was commercial. A while later, Amy Grant's manager contacted John to see if he had any songs to pitch, and he told him, "I've got this one song, but I'm not sure it's very commercial." But the song struck a chord, so she recorded it and the rest is history, as they say. It became the first single off the record, and was an instant hit. The song won a Grammy, was named one of the "Songs of the Century" by the RIAA, and the Gospel Song of the Decade (80's) by Billboard Magazine. It also won the Dove award for Song of the Year in 1982. And all for a song that nobody ever thought would see the light of day because it "wasn't commercial."
For me today, the moral of the story is, when you feel like something has a special anointing on it from God -- whether it be a song, or a ministry, or something else -- follow that anointing! It doesn't really matter if anybody else thinks it's gonna work. If God has a plan for it, follow that plan -- and maybe be prepared for the ride of a lifetime.
PS -- The full interview with The Reminders will air at 2:00 pm Eastern on May 2 & May 16 on www.TheVoyceRadio.com on The Sound of Unity stream.