He Looks out of a Different Window

Song: "People Need the Lord"


"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17).

Both Greg Nelson and Phill McHugh grew up in the Midwest: Greg is from Bismarck, North Dakota, and Phill from Aberdeen, South Dakota. As a team they have written scores of songs, some of which have already become standards and will be sung by Christians around the world until the Lord returns. Greg said of Phill, his co-writer, the master poet, "He is a songwriter who has that certain something that you can't put your hand on-a gift from God. Wishing and hoping for his ability is fruitless. You can hone it, but you can't own it completely, apart from God's endowment. He looks out of a different window."

Greg was born in 1948 into the home of musical parents, Corliss and Irene Nelson. Greg learned piano and theory from his mother. By age twenty-one Greg was conductor of the Bismarck Civic Orchestra, a position he maintained for several years.

Phill, born in 1951, to Frank and Beatrice McHugh, had very little formal music training outside of a few piano lessons. As a college-age young man, hebecame involved with the culture of the late 1960s, traveling and performing in clubs of various kinds. Phill said, "All of this affectedme a great deal and drove me to look for answers. I began to read the Bible on my own, which started a process that led to my conversion."

In an interview in 1989, Greg told me that he and Phill, at that point, had written more than fifty songs together. Greg and Phill gave me the story behind what is unquestionably their most popular song to date.

"We were trying to write a song one day and spent most of the morning talking about ideas. We decided, about lunchtime, to go to a restaurant near my office in Nashville. After we were seated, a waitress came to our table, and as she approached us she smiled. Yet it seemed that her eyes were so empty. She was trying to conveya cheery attitude, but her face seemed to say something else. She took our order and walked away.

"We looked at each other, and one of us said, She needs the Lord.' We then began looking around the restaurant at all of the people. They, too, seemed to have emptiness in their faces. We sensed a real heaviness in our hearts as we watched them.

"Suddenly we realized that all of those people needed the Lord. Just as quickly, we both thought, we need to write that-people need the Lord.' We finished our meal and went back to my office and sat down to write what was in our hearts. The pictures from the restaurant that remained in our minds, coupled with the realization that millions of people around the world are also groping for some ray of light, gave rise to People Need the Lord.'

"God has His own timing, and He orchestrates all things under His control. Consequently, it was three years before the song was recorded. We had tried to interest several people in the song, but they just didn't get it'. Finally, the song was presented to Steve Green-he got it'."

Phill agrees that it is the most often used of all of their songs. I remember that I heard it sung by two teenagers on New Providence Island, about 150 miles off the Florida coast, in a small church made up mostly of Haitians. As Amy and Tina stood to sing the song that often seems to missionaries to be the most meaningful song ever written, I remember that I had never "really" heard that song until that occasion-as I looked into the faces of those poor, needy people.

The element that makes the song meaningful to almost every Christian who hears it is the infectious melody that carries its lyrics, driving the heart cry of lost humanity right into our very souls.

I hope you "get it"! You and I don't have to go to a foreign land, to Africa, Asia, South America, or China, to find people who are without Christ. We need only to go across the aisle at work, at school, at the office, or across the driveway to the house next door.

© 2008 by Lindsay Terry. Used by permission.

Lindsay Terry has been a song historian for more than 40 years, and has written widely on the background of great hymns and worship songs including the books I Could Sing of Your Love Forever (2008), from which this piece is excerpted, and The Sacrifice of Praise (2002).

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