Leaning Song Story

Tyler Daniel and I met during December of 2015 to dream and plan for what God had in store for Redeemer worship in 2016. Tyler shared an idea he had of writing an album called Anchored based on Hebrews 6:19, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…”. As we continued to talk through this idea, we wondered what it might look like base Anchored off of Paul’s charge in Colossians 3 to “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God”. How cool would it be to give our church re-tuned hymns, songs written from the Psalms, and songs inspired by what the Spirit is doing in the midst of our church family!

As you listen to Anchored you will notice that “Be Still” was written from Psalm 46. There are also many “spiritual songs” including “Sons and Daughters”, “Christ Alone”, and “To Him Who Overcomes”. Additionally, there are several re-tuned hymns including, “Be Thou My Vision”, “The Love of God”, “How Great Thou Art”, and “Man of Sorrows”.

Pretty early in the planning process, I had an idea to re-write “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and hopefully include it on the album.  It is a weighty task to set about changing or adding to a hymn. Louie Giglio refers to hymns as “…the rich treasures that have guided men and women of faith through ages past”. They are a bedrock of our faith, a link to remember we are part of a much bigger story. The idea for me wasn’t to make the hymn “better”, but rather the hope of taking such a meaningful song and expressing it in a new way. 

“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” contains great personal meaning to me. It’s one of the first hymns I remember singing as a kid. I remember at a very young age my grandma playing it and singing it on her upright piano built in the 1890’s. As you listen, you can sense the longing for a better day that is coming. I can connect that desire to stories of generations past, and I can connect that desire to my own heart. That’s the beautiful thing about the hymns. Not only are they rich theologically, but they are a part of our story; a part of our heritage of faith.

So why was “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” originally written, and why was “Leaning” written for the Anchored project?

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms was published in the Glad Evangel for Revival, Camp and Evangelistic Meeting Hymnal in 1887. It was a collaboration between Elisha Hoffman and Anthony J. Showalter. Showalter was leading a singing school in Hartselle, Alabama. One night, upon arriving home, he found letters from two young men in the school, both of whom had recently lost their wives.

Showalter wrote back, hoping to encourage the men in their grief. He included Deuteronomy 33:27 in his reply, “The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms…”. This letter of encouragement became the inspiration for the chorus of Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. Showalter shared the chorus with Elisha, who penned the verses. Showalter’s nephew, Samuel Duncan, helped him write the music for the hymn.

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning,
Safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

When I came to Tyler with the idea of writing a song based on “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms”, we wanted to clearly pay homage to the old hymn both lyrically and within the melody of the song. We wrote down the themes of the hymn: the assurance of God’s love, peace, we have nothing to fear as children of God, God’s nearness, joy. But, what if we connected these themes to a chorus reminding us all of these things are ours because of what Christ did for us on the cross?  The chorus for “Leaning” was birthed from that.

We are leaning, on you Jesus

By Your blood, our hope secure

Never changing, risen Savior

Faithful King forevermore

The bridge is the most direct tie back to the hymn, and my favorite part of the song.

Safe and secure, from all alarms

We are leaning on the everlasting arms

What shall we fear? What joy is ours?

We’ve found a refuge in the everlasting arms 

Musically, the original idea was to give the song a very “folky” feel – steel guitar, violin, three-part harmonies. Throughout the process we subtracted violin, added electric guitar, and added a “modern” drum part. The melody line of the hymn is more subtle in “Leaning” than originally planned, the tempo a bit faster, but I think it all worked out really well! It has been incredible to watch how well Redeemer already sings “Leaning”, and I hope it continues to be a reminder of the assurance of God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice for us for years to come.

Leaning Lyrics

You are hope, an anchor for our soul

Your Word endures through every trial

You are peace, you calm the raging storm

And at your name, all fears are gone

 

We are leaning, on you Jesus

By Your blood, our hope secure

Never changing, risen Savior

Faithful King forevermore

 

Safe and secure, from all alarms

We are leaning on the everlasting arms

What shall we fear? What joy is ours?

We’ve found a refuge in the everlasting arms 

-Chris Mallonee