Robin Mark

Days of Elijah

Born in 1969 to a working class family in Belfast, Robin Mark grew up amid the turbulence of Northern Ireland. He also grew up with a love for music. In 1995, while on staff as Director of Worship at Christian Fellowship Church, his second CD “Revival in Belfast” was recorded. Though lyrically the songs were more like hymns, the sales began to mount. “Days of Elijah,” a song written partly in response to the atrocities in Rwanda soon propelled him to an international platform. One day the news came: “They’re singing your song in Rwanda.” The success astounded and humbled Robin. It still does. Several times during the past few years Phil Callaway and Robin Mark have found themselves sharing a stage. At this year’s Breakforth Canada event in Edmonton, Canada, they sat down to talk about  “worship music,” the old hymns, and true success.

Phil Callaway: You told my teenagers a real lame joke over dinner. Care to repeat it?

Robin Mark: No.

I’ll help you. You said, “How many ears has Spock?”

And the answer is ‘Three. A left ear, a right ear, and a final frontier.’

I’m sure our readers will appreciate it if we move on. Tell us a little about you. Where you live, your home phone number, a little about your family and the kind of ministry you’re in.

I live on the East side of Belfast in Northern Ireland. I was born in an area of the city called Donegal Pass which was part of inner city Belfast to a good working class family and was sent out to church and Sunday School, basically like every one else of that generation. I grew up through the latest “troubles” in Northern Ireland which began in 1969 and ended, generally, about five years ago. I never felt any desire to leave my homeland, even during all the dark days. It’s where I met my wife, Jackie, and where our three children Catherine (18), David (14) and James (8) were born. I still lead worship regularly in Christian Fellowship Church in Belfast, that’s the church where Revival in Belfast was recorded. In fact I am on the staff there, (one day a week), as the Director of Worship.

You didn’t tell us your phone number.

It’s 333.

Your song “Days of Elijah” has been incredibly successful. Tell us the story of how the song was written.

I wrote the song in 1994. It’s a song of hope. Although raised a Methodist, I attended a lot of Brethren or Gospel Hall meetings as a small boy and somehow the theology of Old Testament stories and characters being, either as themselves or by their actions, “types” or “examples” or “shadows” of Christ and the Church got stuck in my head. That is, even though they were historical factual people, living in the old covenant days, their actions and characters can be used to teach and represent the character of God under the new covenant and they continually and repeatedly point to Christ. The song came from watching a television “Review of the Year” at the end of 1994. 1994 was the year of the Rwandan civil war tragedy which claimed 1 million peoples lives. On this T.V. review were a lot of daft stories, happy stories, serious stories, and then absolutely devastating stories like the Rwandan situation. As I watched the review unfold I found myself despairing about the state of the world and, in prayer, began asking God if He was really in control and what sort of days were we living in. I felt in my spirit that He replied to my prayer by saying that indeed He was very much in control and that the days we were living in were special times when He would require Christians to be filled with integrity and to stand up for Him just like Elijah did, particularly with the prophets of Baal. These are “Elijah” days.

We also needed to be a holy and just people and hence the reference to the “days of your servant Moses”, meaning that righteousness and right living was important in all our attitudes and works. Now we are under grace and not under law, but the righteousness that comes by faith can be no less than the moral law that Moses brought direct from God. It has not been superseded. “Days of great trial, of famine, darkness and sword” is a reflection of the apparent times in which we live when still thousands of people die every day from starvation, malnutrition and war. In the midst of it all we are called to make a declaration of what and who we believe in.

The second verse refers to the restoration of unity of the body.

That’s what Jesus prayed for. “That they may be one even as I and the Father are one…” by reference to Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of the valley of the dry bones becoming flesh and being knit together. The restoration of praise and worship to the Church is represented by “the days of your servant David”. Of course David didn’t get to rebuild the structural temple, that was left to Solomon his son, but David was used by God to introduce worship, praise and thanksgiving into the tabernacle or temple. If you search carefully through the Book of Amos you will find reference to this “Restoration of David’s Tabernacle”. It is generally accepted that this refers to Praise and Worship as the physical temple was “Solomon’s”. Finally the days of the Harvest point towards what is the purpose of the Christian to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.I chose to express these thoughts by reference to the characters that represented these virtues in the Old Testament. It is in essence a song of hope for the Church and the world in times of great trial.

The chorus talks about Christ’s return.

It is the ultimate declaration of hope, paraphrased from the books of Revelation and Daniel and the vision that was seen of the coming King and refers to the return of Christ and the year of Jubilee. Theologians and Bible commentators believe that Israel never properly celebrated this particular 50th year jubilee, and that it will only be properly celebrated when Christ returns. That might be true but I reckon that a Jubilee is an apt description of what happens when Christ comes into anyone’s life at any time; debts are cancelled and a captive is set free. Indeed Christ read from Isaiah 61 when he was in the temple and declared that this “Jubilee” passage was fulfilled in him. Another Old Testament theme made complete in Christ. 

Tell us about the actual writing of the song.

I came to Church early one Sunday in 1995 with these thoughts in my head. We have two services and the Pastor spoke during the first service on the “valley of dry bones” from Ezekiel. I took a prompt from this and, in the 30 minutes between the services, wrote down the words and chords in the kitchen of our church building, teaching it to my band as I went. We sang it, as a body, at the end of the second service.

How do you express the sense that these might be days, not of failure and submission, but of the sort of resilient, declaring, even arrogant trust and hope that Elijah had in his God? That these are not days of God stepping back and allowing the world and the church to roll uncontrolled towards eternity, but rather days when he is calling on his body to make a stand, to offer right praises and to declare that He is totally in control. Well, I reckon you may write the words “These are the days of Elijah” and “ These are the Days of David”. I’ve used word pictures and Biblical characters to make that expression, but this is no different from many of the great hymnwriters and even David himself. I presented the song to the church that day with a short word of explanation, and we sang it as our worship. The rest, I suppose, is history. There is no mechanism within the church for making people sing a particular song, or for increasing it’s use in the national or international church body. As far as I was concerned the song was for our congregation, on that day and at that time. God obviously had other ideas and it is now sung almost world-wide. Grammatically, there may even be the odd aberration, but thankfully the church has forgiven me that particular shortcoming. I must make it clear that I did not set out to write an overly complex or “secret” song, and I hope the testimony above bears that out.

How have Jewish Christians responded?

I was privileged to be in Israel at Yom Kippur for a celebration with hundreds of Messianic Jews. A very kind, gentle and humorous messianic brother had a bit of fun arguing with me that I, as an Irish Christian, could never have written a song which explores some of the themes that many Jewish believers believe are the themes and indications of Christ’s return. the Spirit and Power of Elijah in the Church, the restoration of Israel to righteousness in Christ, The restoration of praise and worship and the unity of the body particularly with a renewed and redeemed Israel under Christ. The Israeli believers sing the song with great gusto and this alternative Biblical interpretation. They see it as a prophetic song. For me, I only know what I wrote. I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit and put down those thoughts I believe He placed in me. Perhaps it was His desire to say something more than I personally intended and to do more with this song than I first considered.

I was sitting at the funeral of a teenager in December and the congregation sang this song.

God seems to have used the song in many ways for many people. I have written lots of simple, straightforward hymns and songs covering lots of themes. This song seems to have been used particularly by God in the ministry of Praise and Worship and the themes and pictures it uses seem to have been grasped by Gods people all over the world. The real test of any hymn or praise and worship song, I feel, is that when it is sung by people they are able to identify with the song even if the meaning is a bit unusual and (by the Holy Spirit dwelling within them) are charged by what the words say.

The album has gone gold. Congratulations! How do you account for the rising popularity of worship music?

I believe it’s a work of God. For our part in the UK and Ireland many of us had become a “song singing” or “hymn singing” church and had lost the sense of really worshipping in spirit and truth. We either all sang songs that made us feel “happy”, or challenged our intellect, or reminded us of great days past when the Watts, Wesleys and Newtons of another generation were stirred into creativity. But few of us really owned and used our hymn and praise times to really “worship”. The first songs that broke that mould were the early, simple Vineyard songs which had simple phrases and thoughts expressed in beautiful singable music and these focussed our minds again, I feel, on the person of Jesus, His Father and the work of the Holy Spirit. I believe these songs unlocked our understanding and sense of worship again for this generation. So as people then grew in their understanding and other folks wrote their own songs, I feel the church tapped back into the well of worship that characterised the church renewals associated with the great hymnwriters of the past. I don’t think that has stopped now, I think it continues to grow as many more folks realise that one of the greatest things that we can do with words and music is to express our worship to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. and this is probably why worship is still so popular, more people are catching that wave.

Did you go to church as a child?

Yes. My conversion, however, took place in my first job. At 16 I left school to become an engineering draughtsman, and some of the guys in work were on fire for the Lord. Every lunchtime they used to hold conversations and discussions on the church and the bible. During one of these I gave my life to Christ. I suppose it was a combination of all the many years of exposure to the gospel, plus the way in which they presented the message in the work place. But I made a commitment there at my drawing board and I’ve never looked back.

What would you say to those who are mourning the loss of the great hymns of the faith in our worship services?
I’d say I’m one of them. We try to incorporate the best of the old with the new in our services. Some of the fine old Irish hymns such as Be Thou My Vision and My Song is Love Unknown are staples of our church. They are great songs of truth and worship and should be recounted as often as possible in the new churches. We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater when we introduce new forms and styles of songs!. However, we really should try not to hold onto tradition for traditions sake. These are new days and God is doing new things, every morning. Revelation 5 says that one of the reactions in heaven to the revelation of the Lamb who was Slain is that the company of heaven sang “a New Song”. Also remember that John Newton, for instance, wrote around 500 hymns. Onle a few have stood the test of time, Amazing Grace being the most popular. All the rest have gone. So every new move of God is characterised by an explosion of new hymns and spiritual songs. Some are only for a short while, some will stand the test of time.

Are we missing out on some fabulous theology by neglecting them?

I think it’s fair to say that some modern worship is more “touchy feely” than grounded in biblical theology. But, remember that God is after our hearts as well as our minds. We need a balance between right and proper theology and the intimacy of relationship between us children and our heavenly father. I tend to think that no matter how “sound” a hymn might be, God is not impressed by our brain power and intellect, but rather by our attitude of heart.

Is there a particular theme that seems to be striking a chord with believers as they worship?
The cross is becoming a major focus for us again. We are in danger, I believe, of focusing on some of the “bless me please” type worship and forgetting that Jesus paid a horrendous price to give us the grace and love and blessing we receive day and daily. We forget to meditate on the magnitude of what happened at Calvary. How all of eternity is sitting in perfect balance on the top of a rough, wooden cross on a dusty hill outside the city of Jerusalem. We do well, I believe to cry and sing out the power and reality of the cross. Lots of life in the West is about being blessed financially, healthwise, familywise and relationally. Our mainstream self help type books and magazines pursue those things with no regard to Christianity. What we have is the Cross of Christ! Something worth living (and dying) for. One who changed the history of the world forever. Even to the extent that the end and fulfilment of all things rests and turns upon that event. Now that’s worth singing about!

What kind of response have your received from those who sing your songs?

I know that most worship writers have had many similar experiences where God has used their offering of song to touch and change lives. I have received letters of lives saved from suicide, marriages saved from ruin and hearts turned from mourning to dancing because of some song that I penned. These are all deeply humbling and precious stories, which I can’t really take any “self satisfaction” from. When I hear the story in a letter or an email, I just say “thank you” and realise that everything we do, whether we are song writers or anything else, impacts so many lives around us, it’s important to do it as well as you can and as honestly as you can. 

What keeps you moving forward?
I’m not particularly driven, which probably annoys the Holy Spirit a bit! I often find myself saying, “Well, when I do this event or that event I’ll pack it all in and just become anonymous again.” I did actually joke that if I ever got a gold disc, it would be time to retire! But as long as God opens the doors and calls me to worship, whether that’s anonymously or as a “hymn-writer” known by many or few, I’ll keep going.

What would you like to be remembered for?
My staggering good looks and finely crafted athleticism. Or failing that, probably I’d like to be remembered by my children as a good father. That may sound cheesy, but it’s more important to me than anything else!

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