What A Friend We Have In Jesus

In 2013 Pete James wrote a new arrangement of “What a Friend We Have In Jesus” that became an immediate hit with church congregations. At Spring Harvest that year Peter Martin caught up with Pete to learn more about the inspiration behind the song. Here the interview has been shortened but you can watch a performance of the song and listen to the full interview below. 

Tell us a bit about this arrangement, you've done something a bit different with it? 

The song came about after my wife was away on a work trip and I was looking after our daughter. She woke in the night needed feeding and I was knelt by her cot and suddenly, I was overwhelmed by thoughts about the changes that my wife and I were going through at the time. I’d just finished a role as worship director which I’d done for eight years and was about to go full time as a songwriter and worship leader. All these thoughts of panic and confusion about where is this going to lead hit me and as I knelt by my daughters cot I just suddenly said out loud that “I'll have to take it to the Lord in prayer”. It really surprised me I didn't know why I said it out loud and I didn't know where it came from and so I found on the internet that it came from this old hymn what a friend we have in Jesus. 

So why not write a new song? Why do an arrangement of the traditional hymn?

It wasn't my intention to redo the song and I originally set out to write a new song and just use that little hook line “take it to the Lord in prayer”. I wrote melody and I wrote some new lyrics and then I realized that the melody I’d come up with fit over the original lyrics perfectly. I just gone to the song to see if there are any themes to pull on and I was so surprised at how well it fitted that I thought there's no point trying to write a new song that says similar things, I must use the old song.

But the chorus is something new from you?

Yeah the chorus I'd written to go with this new song but I just felt it gave it a lift so I decided to fuse it with the with the original lyrics. It just gives it a slightly more contemporary edge and a nice lift in the song that expands on the themes of the song.

What’s your hope for this song? It’s obviously meant something personally to you, what's your hope for this for the church?

That it would awaken prayer in people and the simplicity of prayer. Prayer is talking to God and we can sometimes complicate that, but actually this song so beautifully says just take everything to him. I’ve been amazed to see how people have got hold of it and I think it’s because it brings them back to something they're familiar with in an old song, but it has something fresh in it. 

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