Joel Gay has been writing songs for almost half his life, but he always runs back to the Lord humbly in worship to seek divine inspiration. He tells City News what led to the writing of the CityWorship praise song, “Running Back To You”.
Picture this: a scruffy teenage boy in his school uniform, furiously scribbling lyrics down in a small notebook everywhere he goes, eagerly waiting for the school bell to ring so that he can dash home to create music on GarageBand.
That young boy is Joel Gay, 30, CityWorship’s multi-talented song leader, bassist and songwriter who has been serving in City Harvest Church’s main English services for close to 11 years. His other ministry is HarvestKidz, which he has been serving for nine years.
At the age of 15, Joel discovered that music helped him to understand and process the truckload of emotions he was experiencing as a teenager. He also learned how to express them with his voice—both through singing and songwriting. Those days of small beginnings saw Joel composing songs for his school’s Recycling Day competition and writing songs for his loved ones. Having accepted Christ at the tender age of 11, he also started experimenting with writing worship songs.
“All these helped me slowly build my skills, not just as a songwriter but also as a musician on the whole,” explains Joel, who joined CHC as a student. “Remembering the joy I found in composing and singing all those years ago makes me feel extremely blessed and humbled to think of where God has brought me to today.”
Joel credits God as his closest Collaborator. He finds himself speaking to God most when he’s in “the zone” writing songs, often asking God to inspire him with His Word. “When I close my eyes, God will remind me of my personal past experiences, both good and bad, and this would bring my attention back to Jesus, who has been with me through thick and thin.”
A SCRIPTURE-INSPIRED SONG
In 2017, Joel crafted the praise anthem “Running Back To You”. It debuted a year later, in 2018, a few weeks before the Emerge conference for the youth of the church. CityWorship’s resident songwriter, Mark Kwan, helped to refine the lyrics and wrote the bridge, which became the song’s audio hook. Joel says, “I’m really appreciative that Mark took the time to simplify the writing process overall, and even explained his adjustments with notes.”
The message of the song is simple: God reminds His people of His unfailing love for them every day. This was particularly poignant for Joel, who at that time was a young adult facing a challenging year, having gone through several transitions at work and struggled tremendously, facing an uncertain future.
On top of that, he was getting ready to propose to his now-wife, Gwen at the time. He was plagued by thoughts like, “Will I be able to support my family once we get married?” or “Am I making career choices that are pleasing to God?”
Joel turned to the Word of God—his source of comfort—and was brought to Jeremiah 15:19-21. In those Scriptures, the Lord assured the prophet that He would always be by his side, redeeming and delivering him from the grasp of the wicked when he ran back to Him.
This passage resonated deeply with Joel, and he felt a new song bubbling up from deep within him. As he penned down the words of the chorus in tears and surrendered his circumstances into God’s hands, the Lord began to strengthen him.
“God is incredibly gracious and sovereign,” says Joel. “He comforts me by reassuring me in a way that makes His tenderness tangible, and I hear His still, small voice in my heart. He loves me, and I know that when I put Him first, all these things will be added to me. I had to figuratively run and flee those worries by trusting in His promises.” “Running Back To You” is a powerful reminder that Christians will never be abandoned or forsaken as they ride out the storms of life out with their Lord Jesus.
Joel has written other songs for church; one members may recognise is 跟随 or “Follow”, which he composed for the 20th anniversary album of the Chinese service.
He is thankful that he has served God full-time in the marketplace for the past three years, working as a multimedia executive for a non-profit Christian marketplace fellowship, handling its videos for social media and in-house productions. He and Gwen are also happily married and are anticipating two new additions to their lives this year: first, the keys to their new home, and next, a precious baby daughter who will surely bring much joy to the family.
“I can say that God most definitely provided the strength I needed to go through that trying period in that season,” he adds. “We put our faith in God because He first loved us. That’s why we can boldly run back to Him.”
You can now stream “Running Back To You” on City Harvest Church’s YouTube channel.