In 2001, after Stuart Townend and I wrote “In Christ Alone,” we set a goal of writing a collection of hymns based on each of the main statements of the Apostle’s Creed. This became a labor of love for more than five years, and one of the final hymns we wrote focused on the Holy Spirit, which became “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God.”
Musically, the melody initially came to me years ago after Kristyn and I first married and were living in Switzerland. I got up early one Sunday morning to prepare for church and went into my office. I was meditating on the lyrics of John Newton’s hymn, “O How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” when the tune for this hymn on the Holy Spirit came to me. I think the internal harmonies of this song also resulted from my love of Johann Sebastian Bach. In years past I’ve spent more hours than I wish to count harmonizing his chorales!
I don’t pick favorites among our songs, but this has to be one of my melodies I love the most. It gets on equally well in churches with choirs as well when we use it with our band. The idea of interspersing the beautiful melody of “Gabriel’s Oboe” (a favorite from the film The Mission) throughout the hymn came when we were preparing for a service at the Keswick convention in England in 2008. I just starting knitting it into the transition between verses, and it grew to be a statement itself as it prepares listeners for the hymn.
In the same tradition of the other hymns we’ve written on the Apostle’s Creed, the lyric of “Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God” is as much an explanation of what Scripture states the Holy Spirit does as it is a prayer for our utter dependence on the Holy Spirit in our lives. The first verse is a petition for inward renewal as we are confronted with the living and written Word of God. The second verse is a prayer that the outward fruit of our lives will reflect Christ in every action. The final verse is then a prayer for the church around us, that the Spirit will “show your power once again on earth; cause your church to hunger for your ways.”
As we worked to find an appropriate climax to the song, we were continually reminded through our studies that the Holy Spirit works to make us less and exalt Christ. So rather than making the third verse a huge finish, we turn in the sixth line and express, “lead me on the road to sacrifice.”
As I see it, the song has multiple uses. During our concerts, we use it as a response to the day at the end of the performance. In church services, we commonly use either this song or “Speak, O Lord” just prior to the sermon as a preparation for listening to the Word of God. If the church service itself is centered on the theme of the Holy Spirit, the song also can be used in a liturgical form or even as part of the message (there’s still not enough material in hymn form on the subject of the Holy Spirit.) Additionally, it also works well as a blessing or prayer offered for someone during a commissioning service, healing service or dedication. We look forward to hearing how you’re able to use it in your ministry!
Lyrics and more available at GettyMusic.com.
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