Carolyn Wing Greenlee

Songs for the Soldier

Dear Ones,
Since this event happened on Easter Sunday more than forty years ago, I thought it fitting to share with you the life-changing miracle that came about as a result of my encounter with a wonderful elderly woman I never expected to meet.

I had just finished doing special music at a Full Gospel Businessmen’s meeting and sat down to hear the speaker, Pauline Michael Mills, the grande dame of Christian music. She sang her world famous chorus, Thou Art Worthy, the first Scripture to have been put into a chorus. It had started a revolution in new music for the Body of Christ.

Pauline was like a small, energetic bird, her bright eyes dancing as her hands raced over the piano keys, her age-thinned soprano quavering with passion as she worshiped the Lord in His own words. It was mesmerizing. She was magnificent. You can see why I was rather shocked when she invited me to spend the next day with her.

It was Easter, 1980. As we sat in her small motel room, Pauline didn’t waste any time. She fixed her bright eyes on me and said, “There’s a very reputable prophet named John Mills who has said worship will become more popular than contemporary Christian music.” That was a startling thing to hear. Keith Green, Randy Stonehill, and others had just begun rocking the foundations of acceptable church music with songs written and performed in the style of their generation. Contemporary Christian music was wildly popular. I couldn’t imagine any music being more popular, especially not worship. “But,” Pauline continued, “John said Christians will need songs in Scriptures that are not worship—songs for the soldiers to help them keep marching when things are tough.” She let that sink in a moment, before adding with a meaningful and piercing look, “And I charge you to do it.” I told her I’d never written a song in my life, but I’d do my best. I had already been collecting Scriptures for the couple of years I’d been a Christian. I was memorizing them, each with a significance that made me want to hide it in my heart. My favorite was Psalm 91.

For a year I tried. Every day I’d lay out my papers and sit looking at them, guitar in hand. I’d strum a little and try to make up a melody that would fit the words. It was awful. I’d been around music enough to know what was a song and what wasn’t. These weren’t.

My husband loved to dive, so we’d go to Anchor Bay every year, park our camper, and I’d paint or read or sing or walk on the beach while he looked for abalone. On this particular day, I remember looking out the window of our little camper. My husband was out diving, and I had tried yet again to write music for those Scriptures to no avail. The papers and my guitar were on the bed where I’d left them in despair. I stared out at the weathered driftwood log that marked the parking place next to ours and said, “Lord. I’ve tried. I’ve tried at least an hour every day for a year and I can’t do it. I’m sorry. I just can’t do it.” There was a moment of silence and then I heard singing in my head, “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night…” I grabbed the guitar and sang what I was hearing. He gave me an entire song.

I’m happy to say I was able to visit Pauline at her home and let her know the songs for the soldier were being written. She was then in her early 90s and frail, but as bright-eyed as ever, her enthusiasm for Jesus not the least bit diminished. I told Pauline God had given me the melody for Psalm 91. Then another, and another. She was delighted. I think that was a special gift God gave both of us. She had sown the seeds and there was going to be a bountiful harvest.

I never thought I’d be writing songs for Jesus. I’m kind of a mediocre musician. To me, this is purely divine enablement. I still don’t feel like I write songs. Even the ones for Even In Shadow, the musical Dan and I wrote inspired by my mother’s illness, those songs came out in one piece like birthing babies only faster and less painful. Creative work always has a sense of the miraculous in the process because it’s that part of being made in God’s image that feels the most like living in that divine atmosphere, but I also know when I have made something come about by the talent He gave me and my own understanding of the craft and something I cannot birth at all no matter how hard I try. To me, the Scripture songs that are not worship, but songs for the soldier, came about because I was willing and He did the rest.

By the way, worship music did indeed become more popular than contemporary Christian music. When Time-Life put out collections of the top worship songs and advertised them on network TV, you know it’s reached a significant level of popularity. Which also tells me that John Mills was right, and the songs I’ve been writing for the past forty years will do what He commissioned them to do for His people struggling in these troubled times. …

When the pandemic began, I was suddenly shut off from my prayer partners and church. I felt bad because I had taught the congregation many of my Scripture songs and now I would not be leading them in worship or be able to encourage them with words specifically chosen to help them keep a faith-filled perspective. So I put my iPhone on the corner of my kitchen table and recorded a bunch of them, just me and my guitar. On one you can hear Hedy shaking her tags (if you listen very carefully) and on another the Lord provided the sound effects—real rain in just the right tone and quantity. There are more than forty Scriptures in the more than thirty songs, and each is chosen for its ability to uplift and encourage, strengthen and build faith in the listener.

The Message Is True is available to stream for free on my website to help my brethren. That includes you. Please don’t be shy. I want you to have these songs so you can more easily hide the Word in your heart. They’re simple enough for your children, and there is room for parts. Feel free to harmonize, improvise, and soak in them. They were inspired by God Himself as He strengthened and encouraged His children in the difficulties of their lives long, long ago.

Parts of this post are excerpts from Carolyn’s book Walking In His Way.

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