Prime Cuts: You Shine, Refiner's Fire, Thank You for the Cross
To borrow an image from Jesus, Brian Doerksen is like the wind. We may not see him but his presence is ubiquitous. Regardless of whether or not we have heard of the name Doerksen, his songs have blasted through the amps of our churches week after week for the last couple of decades. Anyone who has had been to a contemporary worship service would have had sung to this Canadian worship leader's tunes; songs such as "Light the Fire Again," "Refiner's Fire," "Hallelujah (Your Love is Amazing)," "Faithful One" and "Come Now is the Time to Worship." Starting off as a worship leader at Vineyard Church before going solo as an artist for Integrity Music, Doerksen has set the bar high by insisting that worship music should be just as sublime and more in its production and construction as their secular counterparts. In an effort to celebrate their 25 years as a recording label, Integrity Music has released a few retrospective compilations of some of their biggest artists including Tim Hughes, Stuart Townend and now Brian Doerksen. With 6 songs culled from live recordings of his Vineyard songs, two or three tracks each from each of his four solo Integrity Music records and none coming from his latest 2010's "Level Ground," "Ultimate Collection" may not be perfect but at least it gets an overarching purview of this worship leader's career.
Yet to the ardent fan, this 15-song collection is an exploitative exercise of frustration as aficionadas are enticed to purchase another record without any offer of new songs. But for those who have admired Doerksen from afar, now is the time to grasp all of this multiple Juno Award winner's biggest songs on one single disc. Reasons become apparent with repeated listens why Doerksen is such an endearing force in worship music all these years: for starters, Doerksen has a peculiar gift of cross pollinate genres seamlessly. Take "Now is the Time to Worship" as an example-starting off in an AC balladry tenor, Doerksen creatively transitions into a rock groove with the confluence of emerging electric guitars and a slow built up of drums by the advent of the chorus. Further, unlike many worship leaders who are notorious in coveting the microphone for themselves and hence creating a vocal monotony across the album, Doerksen is wizened enough to share the lead vocals. As a result of sharing the leads with protégé Kathryn Scott, Doerksen has a way of turning "Faithful One" - a relatively short song consisting of just a chorus without any verses-into a seven minute worship experience without any hint of tedium.
Moreover, Doerksen has always gone for the adage that less is more. Over the years, how many altar calls in churches have been made with "Refiner's Fire" as the soundtrack? The reason why "Refiner's Fire" is such an affecting Gospel response is because though the words are few yet they are genuine expressions of a repentant heart: "Refiner's fire my heart's one desire is to be holy/Set apart for you Lord/I choose to be holy." More expressive moments come with the jaunty country-folk "Light the Fire Again" where Doerksen vicariously offered for us our perennial heart's cry to God to not let our love towards Him grow cold. Another reason why Doerksen's words are so memorable is because they are carefully nuanced from Scripture. "You Shine," for instance, is an anthemic claim of faith on God's sovereignty over our impenetrable darkness based on the everlasting promises of Isaiah 51:12-13. While the lyrics of pulchritudinous modern rock ballad "I Lift My Eyes Up" are lifted from the heart wrenching words of Psalm 121.
Though opinions may vary, but the apex of Doerksen's prodigious portfolio of songs has to be "Thank You for the Cross." Co-written with Kathryn Scott and first appeared in Doerksen's 2008 "It's Time" album, "Thank You for the Cross" contains one of the best expositions of the theology of the Cross set to music. With an acapella veneer that starts off the song before building up to a cinematic exaltation by Doerksen and Scott, the holy gravitas of this song is just beautifully whelming. Worship leaders who sing with such great passion for Jesus win ways that are simple yet profound are few nowadays-so thank God for Brian Doerksen. And may the familiarity and freshness of "Ultimate Collection" draw us to the God Doerksen has been singing about all these years.