“Holy Spirit”—a Fresh Song for the Church (Song Analysis)

Released in 2011 by husband-and-wife duo Bryan and Katie Torwalt, “Holy Spirit” has been sitting near the top of CCLI charts for weeks, and many well-known artists have recorded it (including Francesca Battistelli, Jesus Culture, and Kari Jobe). It’s a memorable, powerful prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to be present in our worship.

The theme

Many of us, when we hear language of “inviting the Holy Spirit,” may wonder what that means. Isn’t God all present? If so, why are we inviting Him? Is it just a matter of courtesy, is it like the continual knocking that God calls us to in Matthew 7, or is it completely unnecessary?
We who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. We can, however, be filled with the Holy Spirit in increasing measure. For example, in Acts certain individuals are filled with the Spirit such that they do amazing things for God (e.g., Acts 4:8; 7:55).
This is the sort of thing behind “Holy Spirit.” As Bryan Torwalt explains:

There was a childhood song that was about the Holy Spirit that I remember singing in church as a kid. That song was in my head a lot. It started this journey where we began a conversation we’d love to write a song about the Holy Spirit. And that really was the beginning process. Our prayer, our desire in our local church was to see the Holy Spirit moving in people’s lives and to make room more than anything for our awareness of him to be there—to be aware of God’s presence in our lives, in our relationships and in our churches.

The song is an effort to open our hearts and eyes to the Spirit’s continual, powerful presence in our lives.

The lyrics

One merit of this song is its fresh lyrics. As the Torwalts said in an interview:

Seven years ago as young worship pastors in a small church in central California, we began writing worship songs for our local congregation. We wanted fresh language for ourselves in worship and we wanted anthems we could sing out together as a community…

They delivered. Three phrases especially stand out to us as unique lyrical content:

  1. You’re our living hope. While not a unique phrase to the English Bible (see 1 Pet. 1:3), it’s one we don’t see in songs very often these days. It’s nice to hear that biblical language come through loud and clear.
  2. My shame is undone. Simple and powerful. It’s a thrilling reality that the love of God doesn’t just cover our shame, it undoes it (Col. 2:14).
  3. The glory of your goodness. As songwriters, we can’t ignore this phrase. It’s not one we’ve heard before, and it has an amazing ring to it. And how true it is! Psalm 34:8 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (emphasis ours).

The music

The melodies are so simple but somehow so entrancing. The primary notes for the entire song are the first three notes of the major scale, making the song really easy to sing. It perfectly captures our ears while staying enough out of the way to deliver a powerful message to our hearts. “Holy Spirit” is well written to be accessible and emotional.
Praise God for His felt presence through the Holy Spirit. What more could we ever want than the very presence of God? Whether we’re aware of it or not, moment by moment, our hearts long for Him and will not be truly satisfied by anything less:

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
   apart from you I have no good thing.”
You make known to me the path of life;
   you will fill me with joy in your presence,
   with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
— Psalm 16: 2, 11

There’s nothing worth more
That could ever come close
Nothing can compare
You’re our living hope
Your presence, Lord
I’ve tasted and seen
Of the sweetest of loves
Where my heart becomes free
And my shame is undone
Your presence, Lord
Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord
Your presence, Lord
Let us become more aware of Your presence
Let us experience the glory of Your goodness
This is a guest post by music professionals Cody Norris and Stephen Folden. 

Written by
Matthew Boffey

Matthew Boffey (MDiv, Trinity International University) is the pastor of worship at Christ Church Bellingham. He is also editor-in-chief of Ministry Team magazine, has edited several books, and has written for several blogs and publications, including Relevant online, the Logos blog, and the Faithlife blog.

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Written by Matthew Boffey