The Story Behind The Song “I Stand In Awe”

Over the years, people have asked me how I wrote the song “I Stand in Awe.” I wish I had some jaw-dropping tale of how I was caught up to the third heaven and handed a scroll with the lyrics written in gold ink. Or at least that I was driving in my car and the song came into my mind in a flash of divine inspiration. No, my songwriting process is usually pretty pedestrian and mundane (slow and unimpressive).

Around that time I had been reading The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul, The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer, and The Attributes of God by Stephen Charnock. I was particularly blown away to learn that God is an infinite being, and infinite in each of his attributes. He is infinitely holy. Infinitely powerful. Infinitely loving. Infinitely wise. In fact, because he is infinite, there will always be things about himself that only He knows. Throughout eternity, those he redeemed will never come to an end of seeing new vistas of his glory, majesty and beauty.

So I thought I’d attempt to write a song about the wonder and glory of God’s infinite attributes. Hey, how hard can it be to write a song about a being who is infinite, right? So, I took pen in hand and began to scribble down what eventually became verse 1:

You are beautiful beyond description
Too marvelous for words
Too wonderful for comprehension
Like nothing ever seen or heard
Who can grasp your infinite mercy?
Who can fathom the depth of your love?
You are beautiful beyond description
Majesty, enthroned above

Now, I didn’t just sit down and knock out these lyrics on the first attempt. Songwriting is never that easy for me. I usually write a number of drafts, cross out lots of words, scribble phrases off to the side, then start a new page and scribble some more. I think I had the first line pretty early but just kept writing, rewriting, then repeating the process. I’d play my guitar and sing the lines over and over, looking for the best melody. I think I may have gotten the melody for first couple lines fairly easily, but probably had to work for quite a while to get the rest.

Very often when writing a song, I think of the verse as a meditation about God and the chorus as a response. Given the truths I tried to capture in verse 1, I asked myself what would be an appropriate response. The concepts that came to my mind were simply standing in awe, standing in amazement, giving God all praise. I eventually started working with the phrase “I stand in awe of you,” which sounded like a good title. When I’d read about songwriting, I found that songwriters often make the title of the song the first or last line of the chorus, and sometimes both. So after hours of trying many variations I came up with the chorus:

And I stand, I stand in awe of you
I stand, I stand in awe of you
Holy God, to whom all praise is due
I stand in awe of you.

A few years after I wrote the song, a man named David Clydesdale contacted me and said he was writing a choral arrangement of it for an Easter production and asked if I could try to write a second verse. So here is what I came up with:

You are beautiful beyond description
Yet God crushed You for my sin
In agony and deep affliction
Cut off that I might enter in
Who can grasp such tender compassion?
Who can fathom this mercy so free?
You are beautiful beyond description
Lamb of God who died for me

I tried to make verse 2 echo verse 1 by beginning with same first line, “You are beautiful beyond description.” But then I sought to contrast the infinite beauty of Jesus with the horror of the cross as God the Father “crushed” his Son for my sin. The One who is infinitely compassionate and lavishly merciful would die for me. How could I not stand in awe of this glorious Savior every day of my life?

I’d recommend to everyone, especially every songwriter, to study God’s attributes. As you meditate on his infinite holiness and majesty, be amazed that this infinite God would empty himself to come and give himself to save us specks of dust who shook our fists in his face and wanted nothing to do with him. Lord Jesus, we stand in awe of you.

Mark Altrogge

I’m a pastor at Saving Grace Church in Indiana, PA. I’m married to Kristi, have 5 kids, and a growing number of grandkids. I enjoy songwriting, oil painting and coffee, not necessarily in that order.