Friday, February 23

The First Place: how I wrote it

Greetings to any new people to our little blog. You may have found this website after attending the latest Desiring God conference, or after reading the Spring issue of Reformed Worship Magazine.

In 1999, I wrote a song entitled "The First Place". Our senior pastor was preaching on Colossians 1, and asked me to write a theme song. I spent some time working on it -- studying it in about 10 translations -- and came up with nothing. On Thursday night before the weekend, I spent an entire evening with the passage and had even less.

The last thing I did that night was diagram the sentences of verses 16-19 as a way of getting the text into my brain. I saw the point of the passage being that Christ must have the First Place (NAS95). "Well," I thought, "at least I have the title."

I went to sleep that night and was woken up (about 10:30) by my father-in-law, who was coming out to visit us that weekend. After talking to him about the details, I put my head on my pillow and said to myself "Tomorrow is a huge day. You've got to fall asleep soon. Every inch of this universe belongs to you, O Christ, for through You and for You it was made."

I jumped out of bed and began scribbling words and notes and rhythms on a piece of paper by my beg. I had the entire chorus and first verse right away, and most of the pieces for the second verse. I read the Abraham Kuyper quote years before in a John Piper book (Let the Nations Be Glad maybe?) and cobbled it together with some things from the passage. I don't think God gave me the song, like direct feed or God-breathed, but I feel like it's a theme that He wants sung. I'm so blessed and amazed that the Lord has used it.

The next morning, I brought the song to my worship leader and senior pastor (two different guys -- don't worry), who offered some important help. James helped me by starting each line of the second verse with a title of Christ. They also cleaned up this line "Firstborn -- you lead the resurrection parade" into "Firstborn -- you've shown us life beyond the grave." 1000% improved. They wanted to change "inch", but I stuck to my guns there.

The song spread to Cedarville University, when Pastor James spoke there. Two of Trinity friends spread the song to Eastern Hills Church in Colorado and Bethlehem Baptist in Minnesota.

Feel free to drop me a line if the Lord has used the song in your church or life. Feel free to use the song as part of a CCLI license. Hey, nobody gets rich writing church music, but it's always fun to take my wife out for dinner with a check that the Lord sends.

You can find the sheet music from my friends at Harvestsongs here. Sorry, no piano version currently exists.

The First Place

Jesus, the perfect picture of the unseen God
Maker of things we cannot comprehend.
Wisdom, the earth displays Your strength and beauty.
Sovereign, yes, every throne knows You are God.

Every inch of this universe belongs to You, O Christ.
For through You and for You it was made.
Your creation endures by the order of Your hand.
So You must have in all things the first place.

Victor, over sin and death You triumphed.
Firstborn, Youve shown us life beyond the grave.
Bridegroom, we long for You in expectation.
Jesus, Your church rejoices to proclaim.

© 1999 Matthew Westerholm

8 comments:

La La Landon said...

i was just singing this song in the shower yesterday.

it is definitely my favorite song that has been written at Harvest, glad to know the story behind it.

Carolyn Thaxton said...

I have been trying to find a recording of the song, "The First Place" and have not been successful. Has anyone recorded it? Could you please tell me where I could find the song on a CD?

Anonymous said...

Where can I find a recording of "The First Place"??

Matthew Westerholm said...

just write me at mwesterholm at gmail (dot) com

pdpace said...

My team mate here in Genova, Italy recently introduced me to your song.We are church planters. We sing it quite frequently at our small group times. Thank you for honoring the Lord!

Jason Webb said...

It is funny. I was at Cedarville when Pastor McDonald preached and introduced us to the hymn. Their was a tornado and the lights went out and he preached via a flashlight. I've used it many times in my own personal worship and I'm hoping to introduce it to my College Group. Thanks!

Becca said...

At supper tonight, I asked my little girls what her favorite song was. She responded with, "Right now it is "First Place"." I was not familiar with this song, so started searching and here I am. After listening to the lyrics of the song I needed to contact the writer. I want to thank you for writing a song with such rich meaning. I feel that is not always the case with some of the new praise and worship music written today. Thank you for this song that has now become a new family favorite.

Erin Medley said...

I have been looking for the lyrics for this song for years! I was in that service at Cedarville when the song was introduced there. I could remember most of it, but couldn't fill in the blanks. What a blessing!