“10,000 Reasons – Songs that Inspire Us” – Psalm 103
The Story behind the song
What does it look like to ‘bless someone, with all that is within you?’ It’s a rhetorical question that is prompted by the opening verse of Psalm 103. ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!’ God alone is worthy of such soul-encompassing praise. That is what the Psalmist, David, means when he said ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’. He is telling himself, his soul to bless (praise) the Lord, with all that is within Him! It is this beautiful Psalm that inspired the song ‘Ten Thousand Reasons’ by Matt Redman.
In 2011, Redman spent a few days in his local chapel working on new material with Swedish co-writer Jonas Myrin. They had been working for 15 hours and it was now about 1:30 am. Several times during the session, Myrin had wanted to play Redman some chords, but was rebutted. Redman preferred to finish what they had, rather than start something new. But, as Myrin was not normally a pushy person and had tried several times, his friend thought he ought to at least give the music a quick listen. Myrin played him what was to become the chorus of ‘Ten Thousand Reasons’ and it released an automatic response in Redman, matching a few words that he already had written down. He took as his inspiration the opening verse to Psalm 103: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless his holy name!” The song was written in about one hour.
Psalm 103 gives amazing reasons to praise God, including; He forgives our sins, heals our diseases, redeems our lives from the pit, crowns us with love and compassion, satisfies our desires and gives righteousness and justice. This song reflects the words of this Psalm, along with other reasons to praise God.
However, the point behind the song is a whole other story. Redman and Myrin made a list of their own, noting they were barely scratching the surface of God’s worth. Redman explained, “The point behind the song is this… If you wake up one morning and you cannot think of a reason to bring God some kind of offering of thanks or praise, then you can be sure there’s something wrong at your end of the pipeline, and not his. We live beneath an unceasing flow of goodness, kindness, greatness, and holiness, and every day we’re given reason after reason why Jesus is so completely and utterly worthy of our highest and best devotion.”
The 10,000 reasons of the title echoes the “When we’ve been there 10,000 years” of “Amazing Grace.” “We already had the ‘10,000 reasons’ lyric in verse two,” explained Redman. “So when it got to writing verse three, and we were on the theme of eternity, the idea came to mirror that ‘10,000’ number and at the same time give a nod to the old hymn.”
The Refrain: Bless the Lord
Bless the Lord O my soul, O my soul, Worship His holy name
Sing like never before, O my soul, I’ll worship Your holy name.
Redman’s song starts and ends with the refrain. It is quite simply a call to bless or praise God, with all one’s being, as if you had never sung or worshiped the Lord before.
Just a couple of notes about some words. First, you don’t notice it in the song, but throughout the psalm the word LORD is spelled all in capital letters. That is the Bible’s way of indicating that this actually represents the name of the one true God, the name that He revealed to Moses at the burning bush: “Yahweh, I am who I am.” This is the one our souls are blessing.
Second, the word ‘bless’ has a primary meaning of bending the knee, but can have two different senses depending on whether it’s spoken from the greater person to the lesser or from the lesser to the greater. In the psalm, it’s spoken from the lesser – David – to the greater – the LORD! When we sing the song, it is likewise spoken from the lesser – us – to the greater – the LORD! “Bless” indicates worship, adoration, praise from David, and Redman, and us toward God for His freely-given goodness and benefits. David personally unpacks the goodness and the mercy and the benefits he has received from God…
“who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
So, yes, bless the LORD, worship God, lift up His holy name, declare who He is, acknowledge His attributes, give thanks for His gracious work.
Third, in the psalm, David calls on his soul to praise the LORD. We may think of that as one’s spiritual essence or center, but the second half of that first verse expands its meaning to include “all that is within me” – one’s body, mind, emotions, will, personality. Our praise of God dare not be limited to our lips and tongue and voicebox. Our hearts are rightfully the source of our spiritual joy. Our hands can be lifted in true worship. Our minds can be engaged as we consider the words we say or sing. We are called here to sing joyfully, exuberantly, with everything we are!
v.1 – Praise from sun-up to sun-down
The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning It’s time to sing Your song again.
Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me Let me be singing when the evening comes.
The first verse captures a beautiful thought from ten psalms later – Psalm 113. There we read “From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised!” That’s what Redman says – it’s time to sing the LORD’s song when the sun comes up, when a new day dawns. And may I be found singing when the evening comes, and when the sun goes down. One of our hymnal evening hymns captures that thought in a different way. It says that when the sun sets and bids us rest and our praise slides silently into sleep, the saints in western skies are waking and starting their day with praise. That means that the voice of prayer and praise is never silent… it is just raised by different groups of people around the globe as the earth spins.
The other two phrases in the first verse refer to the circumstances of life – much like Horatio Spafford’s “whatever my lot.” Redman writes “whatever may pass” – that is, whatever events have transpired in the day or the week, whether they are good, great, outstanding, neutral, ho-hum, or if you have had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day… whatever has happened, may I pause at the end of the day to acknowledge God’s presence, His grace, His peace. Redman adds “whatever lies before me” – that is, whatever events might be on the horizon in the next day or two, whether they are known and planned, or completely unexpected and surprising… whatever might come, may I pause at the end of the day to contemplate God’s goodness that leads me into tomorrow. Whatever it is, may my heart, my voice, my soul sing God’s praise.
v.2 – Rich in love/slow to anger
You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger Your name is great and Your heart is kind.
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.
The second verse describes the character and the attributes of God. He is rich in love. Some people don’t look at God that way. They see God as a vindictive and punishing judge. They think God is a police officer, always looking over their shoulder to see if they have done everything He has asked them to do, and to see if they have done it right, and if not to issue them a fine to penalize them for their wrong doing. Or they think of God as a hockey referee who is paying attention to the things you do wrong, and then putting you in the “sin bin” for two minutes, or two days, or two months, or two years. Others think of God as a jolly Santa Claus that always gives us the things we want, the things that we determine would make us happy. We sit on God’s prayer lap and tell Him what we want for Christmas, or for any day, and we expect him to say “your will be done!”
But Redman declares the truth – God is rich in love. Psalm 103:8 says “abounding in love,” and it goes on to use a simile to describe it: “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward us.” Ephesians 2 says “rich in mercy because of His great love.” Love doesn’t always punish, nor does love always give us what we want. Love gives us what we need, what God knows that we need.
God is slow to anger. This is also from Psalm 103:8, but it had been previously recorded word-for-word in other psalms, and all the way back to the time of Moses in Numbers 14. Slow to anger… that is an attribute of God that we really need. God has every right to be angry with us, with me. I know that I sin every day. I disappoint God. I fail to show love to others. At times I am impatient. My words can be either sharp or less than genuine. My motives can be described as self-serving. I’m sure you have your own ways to sin, and yes, God has every right to be angry with you and me, to be quick to anger, and to always get even, and to be sure to give us what we deserve for our sins. But the Bible’s truth tells us that God is slow to anger, and that’s a good thing, that’s a relief. Again the psalm uses a simile: “as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” Stand on the beach at Tofino, and look west out over the ocean. Can you see yours sins? No, not a chance! God has removed them from our sight, and from His sight.
The next words describe God’s character – His name is great, His heart is kind, goodness is His middle name. In fact, in both English and German (and maybe some other languages) the words ‘good’ and ‘God’ are either spelled or sound similar – good / God, gut / Gott. The first part of Psalm 103:8 says the LORD is compassionate and gracious… good. When Martin Luther explained the 4th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer (about daily bread), he wrote that God gives us everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout spouse, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbours, and the like. When Luther explains the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed, he uses verbs to describe the goodness of God: He made me; He gives me my body and all my members; he daily provides for me; He defends, guards and protects me; He redeems me; He calls me to faith, sanctifying and keeping me there by His grace. God is good – all the time!! Luther doesn’t quite get up to 10,000 reasons to bless the LORD, but Matt Redman implies that Luther hasn’t found and catalogued ALL the reasons for our souls to bless the LORD. There are more! And every day, we can look for them and count our blessings!
v.3 – My time has come… praise unending!
And on that day when my strength is failing The end draws near and my time has come,
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending Ten thousand years and then forevermore.
Like several other songs / hymns we have explored, Matt Redman’s last verse takes us to thoughts of the end, our end. Redman acknowledged that, even though he was young and virile at the time he wrote this song, one day, like all of us, his strength would fail. The heart would grow weak, the breathing would be labored, the hearing would fail, the legs would crumple under the body’s weight, the internal organs would shut down. That day, that time will come for all of us. BUT there is still (and always) reason for our soul, for everything in us to sing. Just like God delivers us from our last day of life in the womb to our first day of life outside the womb and in this world, so God will one day take us through that last day of life in this world to the first day of life in His world, His heaven, and that is a life without end – 10,000 years and then forevermore… like Amazing Grace – “When we’ve been there ten thousand years bright shining as the sun, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun.”
Beautiful “10,000 Reasons” stories
In a 2016 Church Times interview, Matt Redman noted that everyone experiences pain, heartache and stress, including Christians. Noting the number of laments in the Psalms, he added, somewhat counter-intuitively, “When you start to sing about troubles, you very quickly start to journey into the compassionate, kind, generous, caring heart of God,” observing that it was the songs he has written on these themes that have generated “the most beautiful stories.” In fact, Redman compiled examples of some of them into a book of the same name: 10,000 Reasons: Stories of faith, hope, and thankfulness inspired.
One story was that of Reuben Hill, a student at London’s Imperial College who was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Surgeons operated on him using groundbreaking technology, and he had to be awake during part of the procedure, so that they could check that his speech was not being harmed. As the last pieces of his tumour were removed, he sang lines from Redman’s song: “The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning, it’s time to sing your song again. Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.”
Another story was of two prisoners, Andrew and Myu, who had spent ten years in a Bali jail for drug smuggling. While there, they had become Christians and experienced a radical change of life, inspiring others to the same transformation. However, as their crime carried the death penalty, they were still due to face a firing squad. As they stood against a wall, blindfolded and facing the guns, they began to sing: “And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come. Still my soul will sing your praise unending, ten thousand years and then forevermore.”
Without further adieu, and because the LORD is so completely and utterly worthy of our highest and best devotion, let’s stand and lift up our hands and sing, “Ten Thousand Reasons.”