MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF THE NEXT 5-10 YEARS – WEEK 9: MATTHEW WEST

Do you think that it’s possible for an artist who has been around for a long time, who has had a ton of hits, and who has inspired and encouraged the hearts of many, to be only considered an influential artist- not now but 5-10 years into the future? Do you think that’s possible? Can an artist simply fly by relatively under the radar for quite a long while, unnoticed by the general public but then miraculously garner widespread and exponential acclaim and recognition, for whatever reason? Some may say no, and simply put, the artist I’m speaking about today has had plenty of hits and has been around since the turn of the century. Thus, you might tend to agree with most readers and listeners of music out there- that whom I am writing about should in fact be whom Jon is writing about instead. However I reckon this artist doesn’t fit in Jon’s category, and if you think about it, fits quite nicely in and amongst other artists like Tori Kelly, Lauren Daigle, Jess Glynne, Maren Morris, NF, Marc Martel, Colony House and Shawn Mendes to name a few. It might take convincing, maybe even convincing to the length of this entire blog, and maybe even longer than that; but Matthew West is sure to be an artist on everyone’s lips, if not by the time you finish reading this blog, then definitely by Valentine’s Day this year, when his brand new album Brand New releases. Are you sceptical? I mean, if Tenth Avenue North and For King and Country are present on Jon’s list, then surely Matthew’s discography deserves a place on “Most 100 Influential Artists of All Time” as opposed to ‘potentially being influential in the future’? Well to sway your scepticalness, read on- and to directly answer this question of why Matthew is in one list, while Tenth Avenue North and for KING & COUNTRY in another; let me first ask you all a question.

What does it mean to be influential? Yes, I’ve asked this question before, time and time again, but I will ask it again right here, right now. You see if we measure influence by number of singles, how high they rise in the charts, number of followers, fans, and the impact that these songs have had in the lives of many over the past however many years, then sure, Matthew is influential and probably deserves a spot in Jon’s list- yet since there is only 100 arbitrary names, then unfortunately artists have to miss out. Matthew being one of them. As he’s very, very, very influential in the Christian music industry. However, on a much more global scale he is still relatively unknown. Sure, his hit “The Day Before You” was recorded by country group Rascal Flatts way back in 2004, but since then, no other song has put his name to the forefront in mainstream media for everyone to talk about. In the Christian music industry Matthew has been heard almost everywhere. But in regards to the mainstream media, his influence is less so. I reckon all is about to change with this upcoming album, but I digress. The point is that alongside artists like Chris Tomlin, Delirious?, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Casting Crowns, Hillsong, Tenth Avenue North, Skillet, Switchfoot and for KING & COUNTRY (the ‘Christian’ representatives in the 100 on Jon’s list), Matthew sadly doesn’t fit. Though I am positive Jon wanted him to. Yet a look down my list makes me conclude that on the surface, Matthew hardly fits my list either. Yet there’s so much that Matthew has done in his career, so much he has influenced my life in, that I had to talk about him and his music, rules of his list be damned. But actually in all seriousness, a deeper look into Matthew’s life and his career shows us the ultimate reason why he wasn’t that influential worldwide all those years before, while at the same time why he could be influential now and in the future. Matthew as well wasn’t that influential in my own life until the release of 2017’s All In, so despite the long-ish discography, Matthew coming into his own right now at a ripe young age of 42 is an exciting thing- as his extensive discography will be heard far and wide in the coming weeks, months and years. No doubt his previous hits will become hits again, and no doubt the difficult topics he’s spoken about previously will come to light again.

Because you see, I can really understand why over the years, why nobody would want to listen to Matthew’s music. And that’s because it’s probably too honest, too vulnerable, and too open. Not that I personally think that there’s anything wrong with that- in fact I champion honesty, vulnerability and raw emotion, and I believe we could never get enough songs speaking about the difficult topics. But in a world where relationships and sex and drinking and drugs and having a good time are put to the fore in popular songs these days, an artist who comes along and breaks the mould in singing about the things in life that matter more, that matter the most, is refreshing to me, but I’m sure to the world comes off as being rather scary, confronting and challenging. And I have come to this startling conclusion. That people don’t want challenging and deep and meaningful, in regard to their music, I’ve found recently. Maybe in the mainstream industry right now there might be only about 6 or 7 artists who actually authentically write from the heart, but also sing about other prevalent topics outside of relationships (like Avril Lavigne, One Republic, Switchfoot, Skillet, Sara Bareilles, U2 and Rascal Flatts; but if you disagree with me, then feel free to say so in the comments!); so for Matthew to come along and sing all those things he’s been singing about from 2003 onwards- of course no one would want to listen to them- his songs force us to look inside ourselves and examine our own flaws and insecurities. But as humans, we like to live comfortably and in our own bubbles, and not rock the boat. Matthew West on the whole disturbs the status quo, and while I have recently found that to be a good thing (as I’ve recently discovered how much Matthew has written about controversial topics that the public have ignored for so, so long!), others may not have. And while for KING & COUNTRY and Tenth Avenue North basically sing about similar issues to Matthew, the reason why Matthew’s music I believe is coming to light now, is that compared to most in the CCM industry, Matthew’s not that much of a showman or an entertainer. He’s a good singer, he does his song writing, and that’s it. Unassuming and humble (not that the others aren’t, but Matthew is in a greater way, if that makes sense!), I guess it’s easy to be drawn to and enamoured by other punchier and edgier Christian artists and mainstream artists. Yet I firmly believe that Matthew’s time is now, and just as Brand New is set to be unveiled in just over a month; let me take you on a journey through Matthew’s songs and his heart. Because once we journey through this discography; I promise you that your view on the world will change and your heart for Jesus will only deepen. I know, I know, it’s such a bold assertion, but…it’s true.

Matthew West, born in Illinois in 1977, has released 7 albums (8th one in a month’s time), 34 singles (all with varying degrees of success) as well as 8 music videos, as well as countless of Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Award nominations and wins. But if we’re really wanting to pinpoint a time where Matthew’s focus changed from singing about the troubles and situations that he himself has been dealing with, to the more prevalent issues of society… well it had to be while he was writing and recording the 2010 album The Story Of Your Life– Matthew’s fourth in his career at the time- and every album since then, where Matthew decided to retreat into a cabin in the woods and write songs based on letters and stories from fans and listeners. Because of a life changing surgery that Matthew had in 2007 with his vocal chords (to remove a growth) and the subsequent vocal rest for 7 full weeks (which I’m going to delve into right later on in this blog!); his outlook changed very quickly as to how he was going to use his voice, his gift God had given him that he may have previously taken for granted. And due to the possibility of Matthew never being able to sing again, I reckon he decided that it was time to not sing about himself, but rather the stories from others that he was previously hearing, but not really hearing. Writing about other’s stories and their issues, baggage, hopes, dreams and hurt- is pretty scary. But out of those intense writing experiences, came some of the most harrowing yet impacting, encouraging and hopeful songs I personally have ever heard. The notion that real stories by real, ‘ordinary’ people are most important, has echoed so greatly with Matthew’s soul so much; and I guarantee that at least one listen to The Story Of Your Life from 2010, and even Into The Light from 2012 (which is also based off stories from fans and listeners!) will convince you that very same notion as well. That it’s listening to other’s stories, regardless of if you believe in them or not, that will change the world and unify it. Not arguments or persuasion.

Have I ever told you guys that I sometimes become envious of other review sites for being more ‘all-together’ than our site? Because the thoughts do come, particularly when I read other accomplished blogs and reviews from music sites that have been around practically forever. Sometimes I also watch inspiring videos about celebrities overcoming adversity, or other celebrities having a God moment and a brilliant testimony, and then I look inwards at my life, and wonder ‘Well their story is much more profound and much more real, authentic, dramatic, encouraging, than mine’. The thought’s only fleeting, but it’s only recently that I realised that the concept of me potentially just being an average person, and seemingly not having something to say that’s worthwhile…well it scared me. On a day or in a week where nothing happens that is out of the ordinary, where God doesn’t reveal some big thing to me, nor does a song come across my iTunes or Spotify playlist that’s super nostalgic that makes me think about a certain point in time that I want to share with you all…when you dwell upon the notion of not having anything unique nor exciting nor somewhat inspiring to reveal or tell to you guys or to blog about (because to be fair our site has become quite important in Jon’s and my lives since its inception…maybe too important!); sometimes you can wrestle with the idea of not knowing who you are in relation to that. And I have wrestled with that notion quite often- and that’s where Matthew West’s 4th album comes into play (yep, the entire album does have a special place in my heart!), recently encouraging me that my story, however insignificant, is valid and worthy of telling.

If our site was gone and the motivation and impetus for my blogs and reviews were gone also, then who was I? I mean, I know I’m a Christian and I’m a child of God, but what if that’s all I was? If I didn’t have a written tangible expression of my ongoing testimony that I shared each week on my blogs through reviewing and whatnot, if I didn’t have my story, then who was I? If I didn’t have specific examples of certain things in my life in order to encourage people I come across, and hopefully challenge them in their walk with Jesus; then who was I? I mean I’m not in a position of power and influence like politicians, actors, musicians, international speakers, well-renowned writers, so what do I know, right? My story, if it even is valid, isn’t worth telling, right? Well here’s where I would be wrong, and it’s something I only truly let sink this year (even though I did state this very same fact many, many blogs ago!) And the point herein is that everyone’s story, mine included, is needed by anyone and everyone. Even a somewhat ‘unimportant’ or ‘insignificant’ story can spark a change in someone else’s life. You may think your story isn’t worth sharing, but I guarantee it, sharing it will bless at least one person. How you have lived, where you have lived, your thoughts, your viewpoints, how you see the world based on the opinions of others that you have come across. At least one person will be encouraged by all of that, at least one other person will know that they’re not alone in the world, and it’s all because of you! Isn’t that comforting and exciting, right? I used to think that because I wasn’t famous, my testimony wouldn’t be as relevant, but The Story Of Your Life reminded me that stories are important. Even though big grandiose stories are comforting, Matthew West’s The Story Of Your Life has shown me that most of the time it’s the small stories that have the greatest impact.

Stories from celebrities are nice, but it’s probably a greater impact if that same story happened to someone you personally knew, or an average joe in the same situation as you. “My Own Little World” is a personal story of Matthew, as he challenges himself to see people beyond himself as people, and not live ‘…when it’s population me…’, and live ‘…like there’s a bigger picture…what if there’s a greater purpose I could be living right now outside my own little world?…’ while the vibrant and poppy title track is a direct challenge to us to live out our lives with purpose and activeness, as we may never know when we can use our story for inspiration in another’s lives, as ‘…this is the story of your life, you decide how the rest is gonna read, this is your chance between the lines to redefine what kind of legacy you leave…’. While official second single “Strong Enough” peels back the layers of the concept of admitting that we need God, especially admitting that we’re not strong enough to handle everything that life throws at us. But we know who is, and especially that He is, therefore “Strong Enough” is the perfect song to sing when we come to the end of our rope, when we finally realise we can’t do life without God in the driver’s seat. And other personal highlights that stood out to me in this career defining album include “Family Tree” (where Matthew sings about breaking the cycle of our dysfunctional family members, declaring that everything our family is and was before doesn’t have to be who we are!), “One Less” (Matthew singing about adoption, similar in theme to Steven Curtis Chapman’s “When Love Takes You In”), “Two Houses” (Matthew singing in the persona of someone who’s parents have divorced, who blames themselves) and “Survivors” (a cliché but powerful declaratory anthem that proclaims that we are survivors in any and every fact of life, predominately because of Jesus!).

Heartfelt, personal and honest ballads “The Healing Has Begun” and “The Reason For The World” end The Story Of Your Life on a sombre note, but an emotional one as well, as Matthew sings about the tough topic of wondering about the real reason for the world, as well as about laying all of our troubles at the foot of Jesus and letting the real healing begin. I don’t think there’s many artists who sing at this vulnerability and honesty- and really that’s a good thing for Matthew and his albums. In fact, I’d say that The Story Of Your Life is my favourite album from 2010, and the same I would say for a number of Matthew West albums. So let me just give you guys a challenge- and myself as well. Just like how Matthew started to do in this album (with songs like “Strong Enough”, “Two Houses”, “The Reason For The World”, “The Healing Has Begun”, “The Story Of Your Life” and “Survivors” to name a few) and spoke about real issues through the lens of other people’s vulnerable and honest stories; I reckon all of us should look deep into our souls, ask ourselves which part of us are we ashamed to talk about, for fear that our story would be rejected/deemed irrelevant? Why don’t we share our stories (specific and maybe also overarching) with our family first, and see the change is sparks inside of them? Why don’t we let God move through our stories, because He will? In fact, our insignificant stories are more often than not, part of a bigger picture, a bigger plan greater than ourselves, and just part of God’s Story anyway. So, instead of us trying to manufacture examples of something that we think can help someone, why don’t we just be authentic, and share our hearts? We may be surprised who we will be able to help if we place importance over our story, despite its unassuming and humble nature…

And if The Story Of Your Life isn’t enough for you to sink your teeth into, in terms of how inspiring, compelling and emotional Matthew’s songs based on other’s stories are; then the 2012 album Into The Light, which is the direct sequel, will definitely tug at your heart. It definitely has tugged at mine- in fact this album is my favourite of Matthew’s- ever! While you may all have your favourite Matthew West album, or song, in my opinion the most ‘complete’ album of his, containing some of the most relevant songs of his career is Into The Light. My brother reviewed Into The Light way back in 2012 for Indie Vision Music (and you can view that review here!) so I won’t delve into a lengthy review of this inspiring and relevant project, of which I share similar views to my brother. I will instead say that Matthew’s story-telling ability shines the most here, and this album is proof that he’s of the most prolific songwriters I’ve ever come across. How he can take many stories, that are not his own, and weave them into a tapestry that only God can make, is beyond me- this guy is a genius. Matthew sings about admitting our flaws and embracing our imperfections, yet also about living a life that shines for Jesus (“We are The Broken”); about God calling us out of a life of darkness and despair and into a life of light and joy and peace (“Into The Light”); about how any broken relationship can be made whole in time (“Restored”), about declaring that our name is a child of the one true King, that we’ve been saved and set free (“Hello My Name Is”), and about how God uses mercy to heal us and make us more like Him (“Moved By Mercy”). Matthew even delves into the notion of believing that you are in fact made uniquely and special to our Father (“Wonderfully Made”) as well a song sung by God directly to the prodigal song, giving him permission to come back home (“Love Stands Waiting”). But if there is one song from the album that has challenged me, and inspired me to live a life more of actively doing something instead of passive doing something (which in my opinion, is hardly doing anything at all!), is “Do Something”.

A couple of years ago, when I actually first noticed the power of the song “Do Something”; Billy Graham, whom the media called “America’s Pastor”, passed away at the age of 99. While it’s sad that he’s not here on this earth now, we can all rejoice because he is now home, with Jesus in heaven, and we will all see him again. But what we can do is look at the legacy Billy left behind, and marvel at his life, as we are in awe that Billy did something. He made a difference. He knew what God wanted him to do, and he didn’t let anything stand in his way. He was a very articulate speaker, he preached the Bible, he was full of confidence, he filled auditoriums and stadiums with some would say controversial and radical theology. But nonetheless, he always brought every message back to Jesus, and always made time to lead people to the Lord. It was his calling, and it’s of my opinion (which I could be wrong!), that he never questioned it. Or if he did, he nonetheless just did whatever God called him to do anyway. He never was like Gideon or Jonah, in fact he embraced what Jesus called him to do, and ran with it. Just like Matthew in how God called him to abandon (for a season- because the 2017 album All In contained quite a number of songs about the stuff he was dealing with) writing songs about himself, and instead start writing and singing songs about others; Billy always pointed the spotlight off of himself and onto Jesus. While everyone has a different opinion about Billy (and myself not that much, as, shocking to say, I’ve never heard or seen a single speech of his, ever!), it’s hard to deny the passion in his voice that obviously comes from Jesus.

And thus the point of “Do Something” is this- that while we may be itching to change the world beyond what we know, and so to countries like ones in Africa to make the world a better place over there, it is perhaps somewhat idealistic. While we may long to go over there so that it would seem like we’re making a difference; at times we may be going through the motions, and may be appearing like we want to ‘change’ the world, but in reality all we want to do is soothe our own conscience. We want to ‘do something’ so that we can say ‘look at me, I visited this country, and did something, and now I can check that off my list’. But God is saying that He did do something, and that is that He made us. He didn’t make us so that we can passively go to countries to take a back seat and have a holiday while others did our dirty work- he made it so that we each have different and unique talents, so that we each can contribute to the growing of the kingdom of God in many different ways. So, some of us don’t feel like it’s in our DNA to be a missionary. But some of us ‘want’ to go over there, because we’re scared of what else God calls us to, if it’s beyond our capabilities. Yet the proverb, or saying, or whatever it is, rings true- God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualified the called. And that is true.

Did Matthew question God, saying he wasn’t qualified to write an album full of other people’s stories, when God put it on his heart to undertake such an adventure? Did Billy question God’s direction when he felt it in his heart to preach to millions of people on a global scale? They probably probably did, but they still followed God anyway. They did something. Regardless if they were unsure of the outcome, regardless if they were scared, they did it anyway. And that’s the overall point this song, and subsequent albums post-Something To Say communicates- and it’s heavily evident in Into The Light. That when we are called to do something radical and unorthodox, we can question, but we should obey. Because every time, the outcome will be beautiful. God will orchestrate beauty from supposed ashes. Matthew’s albums, and Into The Light in particular is proof of that.

I’ve been receiving quite a few tweets on my twitter timeline about the End It Movement, officially one month away. As with every year for the past however long, millions of celebrities and other influential people will post pictures with their fists with red crosses drawn on them, as a way of saying that they don’t stand for child trafficking, making the whole world aware of their stance. Some would say that’s a passive way of doing something, and while that could be the case, it at least raises awareness each year so that we can all take the next step, and that’s love others around us with Jesus’ love, so that people in our spheres of influence can be changed inside out. That does not mean going to Africa and then taking a back seat. It’s in fact our hands being dirty and doing the hard work. That could mean loving an enemy or something you disagree with on almost every aspect. It could mean a lot of things- God may be calling each of us to what He has planned for us to do (which we ourselves may not fully know what that is until years and years down the track), but that shouldn’t mean we should sit and do nothing. God did say through the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 that it’s our responsibility as Christians to spread the gospel to every creature, so let us start small. The people living in our street, our friends, family. Not to point blank and outright ask them if they believe, but rather being Jesus to them, so that they have no choice but to ask about this love so great that is making us new. It’s hard to do this at first, but if we have God on our side, then can con confidently say that ‘…we are the salt of the earth, we are a city on a hill, we’re never gonna change the world by standing still, no we won’t stand still…’.

Who am I kidding, if Matthew’s outlook on stories and songs changed in 2007, let’s dive deep into that, shall we? Not wait until further and further in this already long blog… See, way back in 2007, when Matthew was writing for Something To Say, he experienced somewhat of a cist or polyp in his vocal chords that had to be removed via surgery, resulting in a successful operation…but Matthew had to not say a single word for seven weeks. That was part of the healing process, in that while Matthew was silent, he listened to other people’s stories and realised that there were plenty of people out there with no voice…and it was time for him to be that voice. What eventuated was definitely a new outlook for Matthew (evidenced by The Story Of Your Life [2010] and Into The Light [2012]- albums overtly based on other people’s stories; and Live Forever [2015] and All In [2017]- albums covertly based on listeners’ stories!), and a vulnerable heartfelt melody about the overall ordeal on Something To Say (2008), called “The Motions”, where Matthew eloquently describes how he no longer wants to coast through life, but instead do everything intentionally and with a whole heart, that ‘…I don’t want to go one more day, without Your all consuming passion inside of me…’. I would say it was then that he made the decision to write songs with more meaning and more of a purpose- and had Matthew not gone through that surgery, or not even had the polyp in the first place, we possibly may not have heard albums like the last four- in the sense that Matthew probably would’ve been writing more songs about himself and his family instead of receiving stories from people from the other side of the globe.

If there was one song I have written that really captures the story of my life, it would be that song, the lyrics that say, “I don’t want to go through the motions. I don’t want to go one more day without your all-consuming passion inside of me. I don’t want to spend my whole life asking, ‘what if I had given everything, instead of going through the motions’”. I’m a professional Christian. That’s what I’ve kind of called myself

I’m a preacher’s kid, and a professional Christian is someone who winds up having to sort of live out their entire faith in the public spotlight, and there’s a lot of challenges and obstacles and hurdles that come along with that, and the biggest one that I’ve experienced throughout the course of my life growing up as a preacher’s kid and then now being known as a Christian singer or speaker or author or whatever it is, I’m in the public spotlight now whether I like it or not at times.

The biggest challenge is I’ve noticed that it can get so easy to where your first love becomes so second nature and it stops really feeling like your first love, your faith in Christ, and so I’ve gotten good at looking and talking and acting the part, and did you know that that’s possible to look the part but to not really be living the part and you’re not continually growing and cultivated your personal relationship with God. You’re more concerned about your professional perception around others, so that everybody else around you thinks you’ve got it all together, but God knows the true condition of our hearts. And so that song really was the cry of my heart saying, “God, I don’t want to fall into that trap of being lukewarm anymore. I don’t want to look the part more than I’m living. I want to get You into my life and hear You say, “well done” and for me to have no regrets because, as my football coach in high school used to say, “I left it all on the field”…

Something To Say may not have been the most cohesive album or the most impacting album from Matthew- leave that to other albums Into The Light and The Story Of Your Life respectively. But the 2008 album was the turning point in Matthew’s career, and for that, many songs and the whole concept of having something to say (which funnily enough links into believing the story of your life is worth telling- the concept on the next album!) spoke to me in immense profound ways. The concept of me having something worthy to say to the world, or my friends, or my family, or even to myself; has really been tugging at my heart lately. Because once we do believe that there is hope and there is a Saviour and that there is peace beyond all understanding that surpasses wisdom and knowledge; there is a next step. It’s what we choose to believe every day from then out, and what we choose to do with our lives from then out, that is actually the hardest part of the Christian life. And staring at us head on, an adversity to us fully stepping into the hope that is Jesus Christ and trusting His ultimate plans for us- is the lie spoken to us, that we as people have nothing to say to the world.

Now I must admit, all of us have insecurities. We wouldn’t be human without them. Our looks and appearance; our longing to be loved, appreciated and noticed; approval from others; the list goes on and on. Yet I reckon above all the belief that we’ve all been holding onto way too long is the notion that we do not have anything to say to the world because of certain limitations placed on us. That we can’t fully step into the hope of Jesus and the security of Jesus- and we can’t share the gospel to others- because of this particular limitation that people say we have. You’re too fat, too skinny, too flamboyant, too reserved, not outgoing enough, too opinionated, too over-the-top…whatever that people try to point out that you have- there’s always one person to say that it is because of that thing that you’re not good enough, and what you say doesn’t matter. But what I’ve come to realise recently is that anything you possess, either tangible or intangible, that others try to put you down for; can actually be a strength, and is a part of you, which makes you unique, and ultimately may be an active part of saying the thing you want to say that brings people closer to Jesus! Understand what I mean?

I reckon the only thing we need as believers in order to step out to share the gospel, is a willing heart, an able body, and being alive and breathing. That’s it. We don’t have to have it all together, we don’t have to be an eloquent speaker, as certainly do not need any extra degrees in whatever doctorate or phd or anything else. Because God has placed gifts in your heart and your hands and your mind for a reason- so that sharing the gospel looks different from person to person depending on the skills people have and the work they love to do. But ultimately your ‘limitations’ shouldn’t actually limit you in the type of work you do for the kingdom. Sometimes you gotta know what your limitations are and then only stick to your strengths in terms of doing things effectively and efficiently for the Kingdom; however at other times God calls you to undertake tasks for the kingdom that you know will stretch your limitations, because that will in fact grow you as a person. And that’s ok. But like our heroes in the Bible (Abraham at 100 years old, prepared to kill his son; Moses the murderer and speech stutterer, leading the whole Hebrew tribe out of Egypt; shepherd boy David slaying Goliath; Josiah being king at 8 years old; Jonah told to witness to the Ninevites, his worst enemy!); I reckon the beauty of God calling us ordinary folk to do extraordinary things, is that He will provide us with the tools we need to climb our proverbial (or even literal) mountains in our lives, maybe not now, but certainly at the time of us needing the tools. I mean- the saying ‘God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called’ was probably rooted in Scripture somewhere (don’t quote me on that!), but that thought alone should give us comfort. That whenever we feel like a task is too big, we must remember that with God on our side, we shouldn’t feel afraid inadequate nor afraid.

Have you ever stopped to think about what you have accomplished the past year, considering that it’s the start of a new year? Something that is worthwhile for me to say ‘well that’s what I did this year, so that one thing cancelled out everything else and made the whole year worth it!’? To this date I am struggling to find an answer (other than to organise a for KING & COUNTRY concert with some friends, and to organise Jon’s and my 30th birthday party!)- but here’s the beauty of the new year… and the beauty is…it’s a new year. It’s 2020. So that means you can literally start over if you want to, and leave the past behind. The person you were in 2019 and in 2018, or the things you did or didn’t do, don’t matter. If you want, 2020 can be the start of something special and new and different and crazy and extraordinary. Because if you’re alive and breathing, then you have something to say. And as Matthew West has so brilliantly and eloquently said in his song “Something To Say”, we must remember that ‘…the answer to the question is, you were created your life is a gift…and no one can say it like you do, God is love and Love speaks through you, you got it, you got it, you got something to say…’. Having limitations in our lives aren’t limitations at all. They’re opportunities to do things differently, to be unique, and most importantly, to keep pressing on in the all-important role of bringing God’s kingdom down from heaven to earth. If you want to be the change that everyone wants to see, it starts with you. And with me of course. And if you don’t like who you’ve been, don’t be that person. You can ask God to help you, and all it takes if one simple step. After all who wants to go through the motions in 2020? Not me that’s for sure! Not when I’m still breathing and my heart is still beating! If we still have breath in our lungs, then that’s reason enough to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and still doing to work that God calls us all to do. And with plenty of songs on Something To Say  being Matthew just letting us know that we do have worth in our lives just by saying whatever is on our hearts (including songs like “You Are Everything”, a heartfelt worship song to God, “The Center”, proclaiming that God is at the centre of our lives, through a TobyMac-like rap in the verses, “All The Broken Pieces”, a prayer asking God to restore all of the broken pieces of our lives to wholeness; and “Life Inside You”, a pro-life song about thinking about the life that isn’t born yet before thinking about abortion); it’s evident that though Something To Say isn’t my favourite album from Matthew, I can still listen to these songs and nonetheless still be inspired and encouraged.

If you glance through Matthew’s discography as a whole, the theme of identity and starting over, and in particular God fashioning us a new identity and God inviting us to start over; becomes apparent and clear. And if you have a theme like that running through 7 albums, and maybe even 8 albums, then that’s a theme worth listening to and taking notice. “Day One”, from Live Forever, is confronting as it is compelling as it is catchy, and speaks about living each day as if it is the first day of the rest of our lives (because it is!), and is a directive to us to start living life like that notion is true. Like it doesn’t matter what we’ve done yesterday- all that matters is that we live each day as the best as we can for Christ. “Grace Wins”, also from Live Forever, is probably one of the most impacting and vulnerable depictions of grace recorded in recent memory, that needs to be heard and seen (the music video) to be fully understood and believed, while “Mended” is sung from God’s perspective and powerfully proclaims that ‘…when You see broken beyond repair, I see healing beyond belief, when you see too far gone, I see one step away from home, when you see nothing but damaged goods, I see something good in the making, you’re not finished yet, when you see wounded, I see mended…’.

And even if you want to go back further to hear what Matthew says about identity in Christ, then look no further than “More”. The first track and debut single from Matthew’s debut album Happy in 2003, Matthew sings from God’s perspective yet again, and sings out that Jesus loves us more than the sun, the stars and everything else in the universe. It’s a simple notion yet a song that could potentially be freeing to even the most hardened of hearts. It’s a song that could potentially change our whole perspective, and for that track alone, Matthew is influential. Add to that reflective ballads and revealing tunes like “Only Grace” (piano led track about the enormity of God’s grace and how it’s more than enough for us to be made right with God), “Save A Place For Me” (a non-Christian’s view of heaven and how they want their Christian friend who has passed to save a seat for them at God’s table in heaven), “History” (a poppy song thematically similar to “Day One”, but from the perspective of using hindsight and looking backward throughout history rather than looking forward) and “Nothing Else” (a fun tongue-in-cheek song about how nothing else can take the place of Jesus in our lives!); and then you get strong songs with a message that are fun to listen to.

Matthew also recently unveiled the theme song for the movie Unplanned called “Unplanned”, and that, my friends, is a song that brings tears to your eyes as we hear the reasons that I believe are paramount for the saving of a life that hasn’t been born yet. And even the most recent single “The God Who Stays”, which speaks about God being a God who sticks by us and doesn’t forsake us (sort of like the Father in the parable of the prodigal son, who welcomes his son even though the son has run away and has done things unspeakable!), though recent, is as strong as Matthew’s previous material, and is as emotional as ever as well. A concept that cannot be sung enough, the notion of Jesus always being with us can sound like a concept sung over and over again, but I reckon we all need to hear the truth that ‘…my shame can’t separate, my guilt can’t separate, my past can’t separate, I’m Yours forever, my sin can’t separate, my scars can’t separate, my failures can’t separate, I’m Yours forever, no enemy can separate, no power of hell can take away, Your love for me will never change, I’m Yours forever…’; don’t you reckon?

Lately I’ve been feeling inspired by Matthew’s album All In from 2017, and even though I’ve said before that 2012’s Into The Light is my absolute favourite album from Matthew; All In is quite up there. And maybe that’s because in my opinion, All In is the quasi-sequel to Something To Say from 2007- the theme of All In has been heard before; the notion of us being actively on fire for Jesus, and having Him permeate through our entire life. All In, or more specifically the title track, hones in on the notion that we should be all in for God; and is a declaration where we cry out to God and emphatically relay that we want to be more in than ever before. More in our family life, our work life, our spiritual life, in every aspect. It’s an admirable quest that we should all aspire to attain, but the notion of being all in, in this album, stems from the fact that Matthew spent many a time away from his family, while writing songs of other people. And while Matthew later found out that he was becoming busier touring and maybe subconsciously placing a greater importance on writing songs more so than spending time with his family, I’d say that his focus shifted a bit when his daughter asked him if someone else can spread the good news about Jesus instead of him, so that he could stay home and spend time with his family.

Those wise words from someone at such a young age floored Matthew, and this is probably why hardly anything here is based on other people’s stories and most are based on Matthew’s. “All In” feels like a direct sequel to “The Motions”, while “Broken Things” speaks about how God is continually using him, a broken person, to spread the gospel in the only way that he knows how- through the power of song. “The Sound Of A Life Changing” (how Matthew got into music), “Something Greater” (how he became a musician in Nashville, and how God made him for something greater!), “Jesus And You” (a love song for his wife) and “The Beautiful Things We Miss” (about spending time with family more so than working all the time!) are all about specific events or certain people in Matthew’s life that are important to him, and each inspire all of us to actively live like Jesus wants us to, all the while remembering who we are, where we’ve come from, where we’re going and what God is leading us to. One of the few songs on All In based on a story from a listener is “Dream Again”, and this song shows us why Matthew still has the crazy knack for taking someone else’s story and making it accessible to all of us, as in this song he tells us that it’s ok to dream, and that we can open our eyes and dream big, because ‘…your lungs are still breathing, your heart is still beating, the end’s where the future begins…’. While “Mercy Is A Song” is about the importance of mercy and how Jesus has saved us through his mercy; and “Becoming Me” is another highlight here, as Matthew sings about his mum (with the stirring music video debuting around Mother’s Day in 2018!) and how he is becoming who he is because of everything she did when he was younger. Kind of like a shout-out to all the mum’s around the world, no doubt this song will be special to maybe all mothers around the world, as we sing a song of gratitude and thanks to those who have raised us.

“…I know it’s way too easy for me to make everybody around me think that I’m just on fire, and that I’m digging in. And yet, Lord knows—He knows the true condition of my heart at all times. He knows everything. Nothing’s hidden. So when I’m super phony because I’m acting like, “Oh, I’m amazing. I’m a perfect Christian.” He knows, and that’s a dangerous place to be. That’s why the Bible talks about being lukewarm. … I wanna be all in like never before. I wanna be all in on this record. I wanna be all in with the songs that I write. I wanna be all in with my time with the Lord. I wanna be all in in my relationship with my wife. I wanna be all in in my relationship with my daughters. … I wanna be present. I wanna be in the moment, and I wanna reach the end of my life with no regrets…”

You know how certain events in our lives can lead us down one direction, but maybe we could still end up in that same direction even if other events transpired? That is probably not the case here, as I reckon that All In is as powerful as it is, simply because Matthew took the lyrical and thematical direct similarities with Something To Say and added 9 more years of wisdom and experience, as well as lessons he learned along the way from other listeners based on the stories his received for his last three albums. Combining everything together resulted in a near-flawless album, so the question begs to be asked- do I reckon that if Matthew recorded an album about his own life and his family straight after Something To Say and not in 2017, that All In would have eventuated? Perhaps, but maybe not. Nonetheless, All In is Matthew at his most vulnerable, and if you don’t believe me, listen to all of the tracks straight through. Then you’ll be blessed, and know that we all can and should live fully and with a whole heart because of what Jesus has done for us. Instead of trying to live more for ourselves, how about we look closer to home, and see how our relationships with those around us are like, and which ones need work. With All In being one of my favourite, and one of the most challenging albums I’ve heard all year last year; it’s great that Matthew has unveiled his album yet again, as we remember not to be a spectator in this life. As we remember that to live life with no regrets we need to be present. And as we remember that to live a life we and Jesus can be proud of, we should be able to declare with confidence that ‘…I’m going all in, headfirst into the deep end, I hear You calling, and this time the fear won’t win…’. There’s one thing to do now. Listen to All In.

Belief in the stories behind the song and the calling behind the song is paramount in terms of whether an artist is genuine, and whether an artist is as influential as the public makes them out to be. Matthew thankfully seems to be the same outside of the spotlight as he is away from the spotlight. Vocal surgery seems to have only spurned him onto keep on writing much more impacting, emotional and honest songs, while Matthew has also won songwriter of the year at the 2018 Dove Awards. He also has recorded 2 Christmas albums (The Heart Of Christmas in 2011 and Unto Us in 2016- seriously his original song “Come On Christmas” is so, so, so catchy!), while Matthew has also tried his hand at acting- in the movie The Heart Of Christmas in 2011, and has had a role in songwriting for plenty more artists inclusive of Mark Schultz, Mandisa, Jump5, Sara Groves, Joy Williams, Casting Crowns, Salvador, Natalie Grant, Danny Gokey, PureNRG, and Point of Grace. Matthew has also authored many books, including The Story of Your Life: Inspiring Stories of God at Work in People Just Like You, Forgiveness: Overcoming The Impossible, and Hello My Name Is. In these three books (which I do have at home somewhere, but haven’t read yet unfortunately!), Matthew unpacks life lessons he’s learnt through these songs and the concepts behind them, and I believe all three would be well worth a read. Matthew has also been featured as guest vocals in “Nobody” with Casting Crowns, as well as recording songs for various other projects (“Rest” for Jesus Calling, “The Wonderful Cross” and “Blessed Assurance” for WOW Worship and Firm Foundation respectively, and “So Loved” for the album My Hope about Billy Graham); while Matthew also has a website called PopWe- and let me let Matthew say in his own words what the ministry is about.

I’ve actually got a nonprofit ministry called Popwe, P-O-P-W-E, that my father, who is a pastor and myself started and that’s a powerful website. Popwe.org is where they can actually read story after story. Powerful story after story of how God is changing people’s lives. You can read the stories, you can watch videos. You can share them with someone who might be hurting this Christmas who needs to hear a story about forgiveness of addiction or depression and how God is stepping into the messes of our lives and saying, “Come on, let’s go. The best is yet to come.” I would encourage people to check out popwe.org and you can also sign up to receive a weekly online devotional from me and dad and that’s just kind of our way of, again, using that word ‘intentional’ that you used, being intentional this Christmas and throughout the year, and part of that comes from the time we spend with the Lord. Filling our eyes and our ears with a positive influence and so we built that website in the hopes to provide that for people.

And while I think I’ve said enough about Matthew’s discography and his songs already for you to make an informed decision as to whether you believe Matthew West to be at home on my list, or Jon’s list or on no list at all; I think I need to say one more thing about a glaring song and concept that we all need to fully grasp. It’s about forgiveness and the song is the most upside-down song Matthew has done in his whole career. It’s called “Forgiveness”. The question is can you forgive your enemies? The ones who have wronged you beyond anything you could ever imagine? And if you can, do you even want to? The George Pells and the Harvey Weinsteins and the Kevin Spaceys of this world have all done unspeakable things, but the real message of his song is that true forgiveness, to anyone, is possible. Pell, like many others who have fallen and stumbled at let us all down, should be forgiven. And that’s a statement I do not write without considering the implications of what I have written. Let me rephrase. The Pells and the Weinsteins and the Spaceys (or maybe not them, but people like them) can be forgiven, but not right away, because we’re grieving and confused and angry and feeling all kinds of emotions…but if the power of Jesus inside of us, we can eventually do this. We should do this. Forgive those who have wronged us, either directly or indirectly. Not because we expect forgiveness and/or acceptance in return but despite that. And certainly not through our own strength but through Jesus’ strength, and because while we were still sinners, Christ forgave us in the most purest way imaginable, by dying for us on a cross, and taking our punishment so that we can and will be saved when we believe into the cross and the resurrection.

Don’t get me wrong, forgiving someone doesn’t mean condoning their actions, nor does it mean accepting their viewpoints in the future if you don’t agree. True forgiveness I believe, is standing alongside someone, regardless of how it makes you feel, and say that I am choosing to look past your actions, and into the person that Jesus says you are, because Jesus forgave me when I was at my worst, when I didn’t deserve it, when I’ve possibly done the same or as worse than you. I was unlovable but Jesus loved me first. Jesus said that when we have thought about something, we might as well have done it already. And because I’ve been set free, I can love you and forgive you too, even if it is uncomfortable. I can show the love of Jesus to you. No one has the right to walk around with shame and guilt and condemnation reigning down on them all the time, no matter what they’ve done. The price has been paid already because Jesus has already died, so beyond the immediate consequences and ramifications of the choices you make, I believe that second chances and freedom can be offered to those who need it. Now you may not be at the stage to forgive George Pell, or Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey or others and that’s ok. You may not be ever. I know I wouldn’t have if he done something to me. But that doesn’t change the fact the he, along with all of us, is suffering in his own kind of way, beyond anything we could imagine. It doesn’t excuse him for what he did, but rather reminds us that we’re just as guilty too. Why should we point out the stick in someone else’s eye when there’s a plank of wood in our eye that is disturbing our vision that we need to tend to first? There are no hierarchy of sins according to God. It’s just sin. What Pell did is the same in the eyes of God as each of our own hang-ups and screw-ups, no matter how small they are. Admittedly we all deserve punishment because we’re far from the people God wants us to be. But because of grace, and because of Jesus living in us, we can in time extend that grace and forgiveness to others. With Into The Light being one of my favourite albums ever by any artist, I reckon the concept of forgiveness is needed to be fully understood, and the story of true forgiveness needed to be told in order for us to understand how Christ has forgiven us. See “Forgiveness” was inspired by a true story of a girl who died at the hands of a drunk driver, and the mother who forgave him. The story truly is the depiction of what forgiveness looks like on this earth- and who better than Matthew West himself to delve into what the song is all about!

The song “Forgiveness” chronicles a mother dealing with the death of her daughter at the hands of a drunk driver. It was one of the first stories I read and it stuck with me the whole time and I was waiting for the right time to deliver this message through a song. Now the song is seeing the light of day, and it is my honor to share it. The song is about Renee, who lost her daughter Megan in a car accident at the hands of a drunk driver, a 24-year-old named Eric who was by all accounts a great young man, but made a tragic mistake. Renee’s been on a journey of hatred, and bitterness, and she’s learned how to forgive the young man who took her beloved daughter’s life.

In a miraculous way, after Megan’s death in 2001, Renee began giving presentations, and in time, God put it on her heart to forgive this man and reach out to him in prison. She learned that until she was set free of the anger and bitterness she held towards Eric, she was going to be the prisoner even though he was the one behind bars. 

As a result, Eric found his own personal faith in Christ and they developed a unique friendship to the point where she feels like she gained a son, and she even went to the courts to cut Eric’s sentence in half. He made a terrible mistake taking the life of two young girls, and yet he’s been forgiven. Renee told him that she serves a God who commands her to forgive and she needed to be set free as much for herself as for him. After Eric leaves prison this November 2012,  he’ll be standing by Renee’s side at these presentations, which is a story the world needs to hear! He’ll be a free man, in more ways than one. Renee’s story is life-defining as we all need to think about how forgiveness can set us free.

What a powerful, powerful testimony and account of God working. This song alone should give us reason to check out Into The Light again and again, and also Matthew’s entire discography, and should also challenge us in respect to if we’re as forgiving as we say, and as forgiving as we should be. Yes, forgiving doesn’t erase the hurt and the pain, however I reckon forgiveness heals us all over time. Grudges and bitterness aren’t the best way to live, and I believe that if we are to live life to the full, and not to be a prisoner in our own ideas about judgement and/or vengeance; then we need to forgive. In order for us to stay sane, we need to. Not saying it needs to be done now. But look at the life of Renee and Eric now! How God stepped in and turned around a bad situation for His glory. He can do that for each one of us too. Just something to think about as we go about our week, and make sense of what has or hasn’t been done to us. With “Forgiveness” being in my opinion the pinnacle of Matthew’s songwriting, and reason alone to be excited at the upcoming release of Brand New, there is something for everyone with Matthew West’s music and let me tell you- Matthew West, if not influential now, will be in the coming months and years. That’s a fact! Don’t believe me? Well then let’s hear something Matthew has to say, as he goes all in, encouraging us all to move into the light of Jesus, and encouraging us to speak out the stories of our lives to our friends and family- as we realise that our history doesn’t have to define us, that we can live forever and be happy and brand new in Jesus!

Does Matthew West make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Or maybe in your list of ‘Most Influential Artists of all Time’? Is there any song (other than “The Motions”, “Forgiveness”, “Do Something”, “Hello My Name Is”, and “Something To Say”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

 

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