This Thanksgiving, I want to share a special post on a special song that I think suits the Thanksgiving spirit, “Tender Heart” (aka “Thank You For Loving Me”). This post will be the first of my “Song Diary” Series, in which I will share the stories behind songs I have written.
I love how songs are capable of speaking to each person’s heart in such a personal way, regardless of how unique each person’s story is. Often, it is the mystery in the lyrics that lend to this effect. Each person is able to make their own interpretations of the lyrics to fit their own personal story. It becomes theirs, in that sense.
At the same time, I also appreciate learning about a song’s background story, e.g. who or what inspired the song, why did the composer write it this way, what does that line mean, etc. It is like taking off your sunglasses for the first time and seeing the world as it really is. You notice details and colors that you weren’t able to see before. The background story gives you a glimpse into the heart of the composer and reveals a whole new dimension of the song that you may not have appreciated previously.
That is what this post will be about, as I share the inspiration for my song “Tender Heart.” But, firstly, here is the song itself:
In 2010 my home church, Forerunner Christian Church, decided to host a celebration for our senior pastor, Grace Chiang 江秀琴, for her 30th anniversary in full-time ministry. The coordinating committee asked me to write a song for the occasion, and I very gladly agreed to.
It was my absolute honor to write a song for Pastor Grace. Not only is she the senior reverend of FRCC (one of the largest Chinese churches in the Bay Area), Pastor Grace is also an apostle to Asia, and her messages have impacted Chinese churches all over the world. Ever since she faithfully began her ministry in America, her sermons have gone to the far corners of the earth, reaching hundreds of thousands of believers and leading them into deeper intimacy with Christ.
Countless believers have been nourished and discipled by her sermons over the years. Many of China’s fathers of faith credit their spiritual growth and vitality to Pastor Grace’s Inner-life messages, and numerous parishioners consider Pastor Grace as their spiritual mother and FRCC as their spiritual home, even though they have never met her in person or set foot in California before.
Needless to say, she is a mighty general in the Kingdom of God. In person, she is one of the simplest and sweetest ladies you will ever meet. She loves to boast in the Lord, saying how He uses the weak to shame the strong, because, as a young girl, she never considered herself a good public speaker—much less, a leader. But God chose her, and she has lifted up to him an “Eternal Yes” since Day 1.
It is her humility and simplicity that have drawn so many to her messages, and it is her anointing and intimacy with God that have captivated so many to her person. She is a bold lover of Christ. Referring to their first meeting, Mike Bickle had said of Pastor Grace, “I knew we had caught the same disease (lovesickness for Jesus).”
Personally, I know that my family has been greatly impacted by Pastor Grace’s life. When we first moved to California from Texas in 2002, we were looking for a new church to call home. One day, my dad went, in the middle of the week, to visit Pastor Grace’s church, which at the time was called Zion Church of Praise. He arrived at a “Waiting on God” meeting and sat down in the back. There was no speaker and no message. A lady was playing the piano, and dozens of people sat around in the pews, silent, with their eyes closed. He could feel the thick, tangible presence of the Lord, and suddenly tears began rolling down his face.
That day my dad encountered God’s love in a way he had never experienced before. He recalls looking up to see Pastor Grace sitting in the first row. The expression on her face was one of absolute peace and pleasure, like the contented expression of a woman in love. He said to himself, “I want what she has,” and from then on, our family began to attend Zion Church of Praise (now called Forerunner Christian Church). In 2008, both of my parents quit their jobs and entered into full-time ministry, and today they are pastors.
There are so many more things that can be said of Pastor Grace. This is just a brief look at this amazing woman of faith.
Ever since performing the song “Tender Heart” at Pastor Grace’s 30th anniversary celebration in 2010, I have also performed the song numerous times at various weddings.
In this portion of the post, I will dig deeper into the meaning behind the lyrics and what inspired me to write them. In a way, we will be “reading between the lines,” but without the guesswork.
The title “Tender Heart” came to me when I started brainstorming about keywords that I thought really described Pastor Grace. She is known for her Inner-Life series, which is all about intimacy with Jesus and pouring out our lives upon Him as a fragrant offering. Immediately I thought of Mary of Bethany and how she gave up everything she had (culminated in an alabaster jar) to serve her beloved Teacher, and the fragrance of her sacrifice filled the entire house—she was marked by her tenderness towards Jesus. I thought, “That’s exactly who Pastor Grace is.”
Thank you for your tender heart and your humility
Indeed, Pastor Grace’s life has changed many lives, including my own:
Your selfless love brings warmth to every heart and family
Thank you for your passion, it never seems to dry
The way you hunger for the Lord has really changed my life
Then the verse flows into the chorus, which is meant to be an anthem of thanksgiving and gratitude. Pastors don’t get enough appreciation for what they do. Taking care of a church—not to mention, stewarding a growing international ministry—is hard work! Not only is she an excellent leader and a powerful speaker, Pastor Grace’s life is a testimony in and of itself. The 100% trust and obedience she lives out before the Lord speak volumes about her extravagant faith in Him.
And I say, Thank you for loving me, thank you for giving to me
Thank you for the fragrance of your offering
Your love is like a song, your faith in God is strong
And beautiful your tender heart is to me
Your tender heart – it moves me
Verse 2 illustrates the child-likeness that Pastor Grace carries. As I mentioned earlier, she never considered herself a good public speaker, but she spoke publicly anyways, in obedience to God. She embraced her weakness and fully trusted God to give her all the words and wisdom she needed. “[Jesus] said, ‘For sure, I tell you, unless you have a change of heart and become like a little child, you will not get into the holy nation of heaven. Whoever is without pride as this little child is the greatest in the holy nation of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:2-4, NLT)
Thank you for your child-like heart and simple faith in God
Like Paul who gave up all of his worldly wisdom and religious doctorates to pursue the surpassing knowledge of Christ, she chose to forsake family and country to obey God’s calling on her life when she moved to America with nothing more than a suitcase. “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)
You live in full obedience without counting the cost
And, of course, the woman with the alabaster jar. I think that Pastor Grace would very likely say that this woman is one of her favorite characters in the Bible, and very appropriately, considering the mirroring testimony of her own life. “A woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. ‘Why this waste?’ they asked. ‘This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.’ Aware of this, Jesus said to them, ‘Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me.’” (Matthew 26:7-10)
Your life is like a fragrance, an alabaster jar
And finally, the last line of Verse 2 is a reference to Isaiah 66:2, which I think describes her well, “…but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word…”
You’ve broken and you’ve poured it out, a poor and contrite heart
At the end of Verse 2, I change it up so that it’s God singing the chorus:
And I hear God singing…
I think it is so powerful when we think of honor and gratitude in terms of how God gives it. God doesn’t just require us to give thanks because He says so. He wants us to be a grateful and honoring community because He is all of those things, and He wants us to be like Him.
I genuinely believe that God appreciates those who serve Him. Jesus said in John 12:26, “Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” God sees and rewards what is done is secret, and He judges the intentions of our hearts. “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” (Luke 12:2), and that includes all the good and righteous things we do for the sake of Love.
Thank you for loving Me, thank you for giving to Me
Thank you for the fragrance of your offering
Your love is like a song, your faith in Me is strong
And beautiful your tender heart is to Me
Your tender heart – it moves Me
I am reminded of Misty Edwards’s song, “Do you know the way you move me?” I feel like it is a great reminder for us all. When we feel discouraged or disheartened in our pursuit of the Lord, remember, He sees all and He remembers all. Even our weakest attempts to love Him, to lay down our will and to trust Him, are like precious jewels on a necklace (Song of Songs 4:9). When we choose to give up our time, resources and energy for the sake of the Kingdom, we are doing it all for Him, and He writes it down in His book.
My vision for this song goes beyond appreciating Pastor Grace. I hope that this song inspires everyone who hears it, especially pastors and leaders in the Body of Christ, that God really is moved by our love for Him, whether that looks like pastoring a church or picking up trash on the street. He sees and remembers, and He will reward. In the meantime, I pray that more and more leaders feel truly appreciated and honored. I know it is not an easy job—especially the people of God can be a rowdy bunch (consider the Israelites in Exodus).
The Bible tells us to honor our leaders, because they are the ones who must give an account to God. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17). There is no perfect leader except Christ, but it is in learning to submit and honor to our imperfect leaders where we learn to embody perfect love. Jesus loves my leaders, and I choose to too.