‘…the thing I’m most proud of is the songs that find their way in the church. I don’t know if any of them will last down the way, but what I do strive for is playing a song people can sing. I love that songs find their way on the radio, as well. I think it can be both. I was pushing for that years ago and I just kept being turned down when I’d sing songs to radio. They were like, “We don’t play worship songs.” I sent “Forever” and I sent “Enough,” and “Famous One,” and they just didn’t get any traction. There wasn’t this cohesion between what was happening in the church and what was happening on the radio. But now it’s completely shifted. So I’m not trying to write a pop song that lasts for three months. I really want to write things that find their way into church…’ I guess everyone has their role within the music industry- both mainstream and Christian alike. U2 have always been the go-to band to listen to if you want to hear something brutally honest, something blunt, or as a matter-of-fact. Switchfoot would be a band to check out if you love music that teeters on the edge of faith-based songs, and songs that challenge the status quo and aren’t afraid to speak about issues that may be a bit touchy in the society in which we live. Rascal Flatts and Lady Antebellum both bring that country-music flair and flavour to the table, while an artist like Skililet serves the cravings of hard rock by anyone who wants to hear songs that are just head-banging and rocking. Backstreet Boys and One Direction have this boy-band thing happening that has its appeal in the market they have inserted themselves into, while you can never forget an artist like Josh Groban, incorporating pop and opera into a fusion-of-genres, something that seems to a little bit underappreciated in a world where straight-up pop seems to be the way to go. Now here we are, in April 2020. Easter is approaching- the biggest day in the calendar for people who profess to be of the Christian faith (of which I am), and upon looking at my blog list, and glancing over the last 44 artists I have delved into thus far, one thing is common- I have yet to tackle an artist whose music is heavily focused upon the genre of music titled ‘worship music’- if ever worship is a genre to begin with.
Sure I did tackle the British band Delirious? a few weeks back, and have since considered them to be one of the founding fathers of modern CCM where it stands right now. Starting off in the 1990s, Delirious? was able to alter the landscape of worship music back then, reminding us that the fusion of rock’n’roll and worship music isn’t too far-fetched, that the coming together of what it seemed at the time- two vastly different musical genres- made worship music cool again. Delirious? is one such band that I know we all have to thanks for how the worship music has progressed to the era of today. But today I’m not here to discuss Delirious?- in fact, I’ve written a whole blog on Delirious? and their influence to music and society, here. What I will say is this- that this British quintet band paved the way for Chris Tomlin to show his face in the late 1990s, as he ventured into the realms of worship with the release of his debut album The Noise We Make way back in 2001. Now here we are almost 20 years later, and Chris’s music has indeed been pivotal and impactful amongst people worshipping in churches right from the get-go. It has been through the groundwork of Delirious? and the fervent ploughing through of Chris creating music not only for the church, but for people at homes and on the radio in everyday settings; that has made this artist one of the most popular CCM artists this generation has ever seen. Shall I crown Chris the most important CCM artist of today? Currently active, I’d say yes (yes, I know, even more impactful and poignant than you, Hillsong, and no, no one can top Delirious? in terms of influencing the most on CCM/worship music). Chris’s ability to create songs that challenge our very own nature in a way that sermons and other material cannot; is nothing short of impressive. Whether you believe that Chris is one of today’s most gifted singer-songwriters, or if you think the opposite and assert that his music is one of today’s most uninspired, one cannot deny the power that Chris’s music has, to be played in millions of churches and homes around the world, and to impact the lives of people as it did throughout his own music career. Chris’s songs are such were hope and adoration are discussed and sung about, but also alongside other more emotive and poignant themes, like sacrifice, doubt, uncertainty and joy. Spanning a career from 2001 to now (2020), and releasing 10 albums in the process; we as Christians have been blessed to hear Chris’s music throughout this time, and during this time of pandemic, waiting and uncertainty, it is known full well how much we need Chris’s music and the declaratory statements of faith and certainty, now more than ever!
Chris’s music has always been a hit amongst churches far and wide, in countries like the U S of A, or in other developing nations like Asia and Africa; has impacted people in homes and on the radio; and has shown us that worship music as a ‘genre’, is growing as the years go by. More and more, there’s been artists around the world that have gravitated to making worship music for people to sing in churches around the world- from Crowder, All Sons and Daughters, Paul Baloche, Tim Hughes, Meredith Andrews and Matt Maher, to Phil Wickham, Kristian Stanfill, One Sonic Society, Mack Brock, Chris Quilala, Kim Walker-Smith and Cory Asbury; we have seen the worship movement just explode exponentially over the last few years. But way back in the 2000s, when it was artists like Planetshakers, Hillsong, Sonicflood, Delirious?, David Crowder*Band, Newsong, Desperation Band and FFH to name a few; Chris Tomlin was right in there, making music that ultimately impacted and affected music, culture and society in a far bigger way than I’m sure everyone even intended. Now in 2020, as we look back on Chris’s career thus far, we can see the amount of accolades he has received, and how important his songs have been throughout the ages- having been awarded 23 Dove Awards, a Grammy Award nomination in 2012 for the Best CCM album in And If Our God is For Us, 2 RIAA Certified Platinum albums (See the Morning, Arriving), as well as the prestigious honour of being one of the most sung artists anywhere per week (according to the publication TIME- with the stat being assumedly true through the amount of his songs are sung by churches each week around the world); Chris has certainly delivered, if accolades, critical acclaim and praise and awards are concerned. But I’m sure everyone knows- that worship music is so much more than just awards. No, scrap that statement.
Music itself, in all its facets and genres, should be so much more than the amounts of awards it makes in any given year, for any given album by any given artist. Music has the ability to connect and inspire, to impact and affect, to pulse so deep into the soul that it reaches places that we may not have uncovered for whatever reason. Music has the power to do that, to change lives when a sermon cannot. It, alongside food, is the universal language of people, and a mode of communication that reaches across nationalities and languages, to pierce even the most stubborn of hearts and reveal parts of the person that may not have been touched upon in years. Chris’s music, primarily within the confines of the ‘worship’ genre, has made a great impact on a lot of people; myself included. From earlier songs like ‘Forever’, ‘Wonderful Maker’, ‘Enough’, ‘Famous One’, ‘Holy Is the Lord’ and ‘The Way I Was Made’; to later hits like ‘God’s Great Dance Floor’, ‘Lay Me Down’, ‘Good, Good Father’, ‘Home’ and ‘Waterfall’, to name a few (quite literally- there’s heaps more chart-topping songs than that!); Chris’s music has given us comfort during the most stressful of times, and also the language to declare the truths to our Heavenly Father, God Almighty; when our own words often fail for whatever reason there is- be it our own inadequate comprehension of what we know our God to be and who we are in response to such a revelation; or even that we are just too awestruck to even string a sentence together to express our thanks and gratitude for what He has done for us, now and forevermore.
‘…what I try to say from the stage every night is that I don’t have it together, and you don’t have it together, but God holds us together. And I think people can look at us onstage like this and say “Wow, he must have this direct phone to God that is different than me, that’s so connected.” But that’s not true, it’s the same thing for me, it’s about being still. I think in our world it is so hard to be still. And it’s getting harder and harder, but it’s really about finding a place to be still and meditate on the Word. Psalm 119 says to meditate on the Word. And you’re like, “Well, I’m doing that but I feel dry…” well, welcome to a walk with God! Welcome to anybody that you’ve read in scripture, that you really admire, they have the same story. Anybody that you know, if you talk to your Mom, Dad, anybody that you really respect, they’re gonna have the same story. So know that you’re not stuck in this place where you’re like, “Wow, I guess I don’t hear from God.” We hear from God in different ways. My wife hears from God in different ways than I do. She’s like, “Man, I just sense this from the Lord.” And I’m like, “I’m standing right next to you and I didn’t really sense that.” But she does. So I think it’s being still and being quiet before God, and knowing that you’re just normal, and if you’re in a dry spell it’s not like you’re disconnected or you don’t have a relationship with God…’
It is in this quote above where I realise that Chris is just like you and me. Yes he writes songs, and yes, his songs are some of the most sung CCM/worship songs each week through Sunday morning church services, but at the end of the day, Chris’s daily walk with Christ is like any other walk- full of ups and downs that we all as individual and humans experience. And even Chris at times can often not hear as much as he would like from the Lord, whereas his wife can…no seriously; what this quote reminds me of is to not place people on pedestals as we often do. We think ‘gee, this musician has things under control, because they’ve won these awards, or they know how to sing about this very deep topic’…little do we know that these singers and songwriters and musicians that we place upon an elevated plane, are just as susceptible to difficulties and hardships like the rest of us. Chris reminds us through this quote above that it is ok to not be ok, and to understand and feel safe in knowing that our favourite musicians (and to an extent, actors and other media personalities) don’t have it all together as well. Chris is just a guy who has written songs about the Lord, and for the Lord. And at many times in his career, the Lord has been using him to deliver truths, however unpopular and uncomfortable as they may be, about ourselves and about God, in relation to certain particular issues that the world is facing at certain moments in time. Chris’s songs have helped during difficult times that we may be facing as countries and as the whole world, and they’ve also become the anthem and soundtrack of people’s lives in different season, a reminder that songs indeed have the power to go where sermons (and even encouraging words from people) don’t. Songs are great, and Chris’s songs especially have awakened things within us that have made us more realising of God’s deserved praise and adoration, and our own love for God as we reflect upon his sacrifice, has been expounded upon and really delved into, by a lot of Chris’s music over the years.
There’s a lot that is up for discussion about Chris and his music- from music in 2001 up until his most recent album being released in 2018 (that’s 10 full-length studio albums, in addition to some studio Christmas albums alongside EP’s as well); Chris has been active in this industry, in every sense of the word. ‘Forever’, from Chris’s debut album The Noise We Make, is his debut radio single ever, and is a song that has anchored the church during the 2000s when it came to go-to songs of worship throughout that time. ‘Forever’ is a reminder that God’s love indeed lasts for that long- forever, and that we can always rely on Him in any circumstance, as much as we may feel like we can’t because of situations in our own life, or because people speak to us about what they think the Lord is like…and we believe them, of course. ‘Forever’ is just a cool song to declare if we need to remember the things that are true that we may have forgotten along the way- and Chris’s song facilitates a communion with the Lord as we embark on a journey of what we realise is a great gravity to the word ‘forever’ in relation to how we describe the length of love that God gives to us. ‘We Fall Down’, originally a live recording on The Noise We Make and re-recorded in 2004 in a studio recording, to be a duet between Chris and Steven Curtis Chapman, is a song of reverence and utter worship at its finest, as we see both Chris and Steven declaring from the outset that ‘…we fall down, we lay our crowns and the feet of Jesus, the greatness of mercy and love at the feet of Jesus…’, as we’re shown that often in such situations where we’re awestruck at the realisation that God loves us so much, we understand the fullness of the reality, that God Himself wants us not to live a life separated from Him in death and hell, that He gave His Son Jesus freely as a ransom payment instead of our lives, so we can spend eternity with Him. That, in and of itself, is enough reason for us to fall down in thanksgiving as we declare His holiness and our lack thereof- all the while knowing that in Him and through Him, He has made us holy and blameless before Himself. ‘The Wonderful Cross’, a duet with British singer-songwriter and worship artist Matt Redman, is a great rendition of the classic hymn ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’, and is a reminder of how re-imaginings of poignant melodies of the past can grip a new generation like never before, and reawaken the knowledge and love we have for hymns in the first place; while songs like ‘Famous One’, ‘Enough’, ‘Holy Is the Lord’ and ‘Wonderful Maker’ (a co-write with Matt Redman) have all been standouts throughout the early parts of Chris’s career, and have all been songs that have been in circulation in churches throughout the better part of the early 2000s, in my local church at least.
‘Famous One’ is a declaratory song of praise as we exalt God’s fame above anything else, while ‘Enough’ reminds us all that God is everything that we need, that He supplies the very things in this life that we often take for granted- the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the possessions we have. ‘Holy Is the Lord’, from his most famous album Arriving in 2004, is your typical Sunday morning church service worship anthem about God’s holiness and our response to such a realisation, while ‘Wonderful Maker’, a lesser known song from Not To Us, speaks of God’s handiwork in creation as we marvel at the fact that ‘…You spread out the skies over empty space, said, “Let there be light” into a dark and formless world Your light was born…You made the world and saw that it was good, You sent Your only Son for You are good, what a wonderful Maker…’ A slow ballad driven by acoustic guitars, this reflective and contemplative song that allows us to be more in an introspective state, shows us that often the lesser known songs on an album can still be impactful and hard-hitting. The singles by any artist in their discography are emotive, poignant and powerful, while also being highly publicised; yet I have found that in my own musical journey over this last year and a bit (and across many different artists, inclusive of Chris, as shown through ‘Wonderful Maker’), that often the songs that go under-the-radar can be equally as challenging, confronting and comforting, all at the same time.
There have been many songs that have resonated not only with myself but with a lot of people around the world throughout all these years of music from Chris, as we see songs of faith and encouragement enter the church and revitalise it time and time again. ‘Our God’, quite possibly one of Chris’s most popular and anthemic songs to date, speaks of the declarations that we proclaim about God, asserting that He and He alone is greater than anyone or any circumstance that is in front of our path that can seem insurmountable, and is the first song off his 2010 album And If Our God is For Us, a line taken from ‘Our God’ in the remembrance and the reaffirming, that if our God is for us, then nothing can stand against, even if it may seem like the difficulty in our way is larger than we believe God can handle.
‘I Will Follow’, also from And If Our God is For Us, is a testament to the obedience that we have when it comes to following Christ and His ways, understanding that ‘…where You go, I’ll go, where you say, I’ll stay, when You move, I’ll move, I will follow…’, knowing full well that what we declare- following Jesus no matter the cost, is a very big claim that we make, one that we would have to ultimately fulfil when it all comes down to it, when push comes to shove. A devotional from NewReleaseToday.com about the song and its meaning sheds a whole different light on being a believer in Christ, as we see Chris himself share his own thoughts not only on the song ‘I Will Follow’, but also about his own musings about being a follower of Christ as well. And let me be frank- this quote below is a long one, yet one that I myself have found to be very engaging as Chris expounds on what it may have been for the disciples to declare the very words to Jesus ‘I will follow’, and what it may look like for ourselves to declare these very same words, in 2020 modern day:
The chorus of this song makes some pretty bold claims: Who you love, I’ll love. How you serve, I’ll serve. Where you go I’ll go. Even if I lose my life I’ll follow you. While those words might be a true expression of the heart, when we hear them coming out of our own mouths it should still be a little sobering. Are we really considering the implications of what we’re saying? Or are we just speaking with bravado the way the Apostle Peter did in his early days of following Jesus? After all, he was the brash one, the impulsive one who was always making those sorts of big, bold statements. He told Jesus things like “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” But when Jesus was arrested, those claims fell apart. Peter ran and hid and even renounced Jesus. Thankfully, that failure wasn’t the end of Peter’s story. In time, God’s grace and power would transform him into a man whose boldness was based on God’s strength rather than his own. But it cost him something to get to that point of understanding what following Jesus was really all about. Mark chapter 8 contains what must have been one of the most difficult and pivotal points in Peter’s journey as a disciple, and it illuminates something about our own hearts as well. In this passage Jesus is explaining plainly to the twelve how he was soon going to have to suffer and die. Peter takes him aside and rebukes him for saying such things. Jesus responds with his shocking “Get behind me, Satan,” and then explains: “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Then Jesus gathers the crowd around him and elaborates: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”
Jesus knew beforehand the road of suffering he would walk in faithful obedience. He was explaining God’s plan of redemption to his followers. But Peter—and probably the other disciples too—already had set in their own minds a different version of how God’s salvation for Israel was going to unfold. Most likely they were still dreaming of the day when Jesus—with the twelve of them on his right and his left commanding the thousands that would rally to their cause—would take up the sword to drive the Romans out of Jerusalem and restore all things to their rightful place. At the very least, the idea of a suffering and dying messiah wasn’t part of Peter’s plans. When he had signed up to follow the Christ, it certainly wasn’t for that. That’s probably why Peter pulled his master aside and rebuked him for his talk of being humiliated and put to death. You have to wonder if Peter’s rebuke of Jesus was born out of fear. Because what Jesus was revealing was threatening the dream that Peter had invested his hope in. And yet, what Peter had in mind was not what God had in mind. How often do we find ourselves in similar positions—feeling disappointed, or angry or scared because God’s plans turned out to be something very different from our own expectations?
In time Peter did respond in the only way a disciple can, by laying down his own ambitions and embracing what it meant to truly follow. At the end he even willingly gave his life for Christ. But I think the hard work of divestment from the things and hopes and dreams of this world was already complete by the time Peter allowed himself to be nailed to a physical cross. I think the hardest step for Peter must have come the moment right after this conversation in Mark 8, because that was the moment he realized this business of being a disciple, of following Jesus, was not about seeing his own agenda accomplished and his own dreams fulfilled. It was about seeing them crucified and surrendering them to God’s greater purposes instead. Isn’t that still what it means for anyone to follow Jesus? It means that we lay down our own agendas and hopes and dreams, and faithfully obey day by day. It’s a daily dying to self—the crucifying of our own petty and self-centred desires so that we might more clearly reflect Christ to the people around us. In the end, it’s not about bravado and bold statements. It’s about simple, ongoing obedience to the words of our Lord. To say ‘I will follow’ is really not so different from saying ‘Help me every hour to die to my own desires, Jesus, so that you can live more fully through me’.
‘I Will Follow’ really just captures the essence of what it means to follow Christ in a real, transparent, heartfelt way, as we understand the gravity of leaving everything we often hold dear behind to run after this treasure we have found which his Jesus, Himself. I’d imagine that a transition from a life of self to a life of serving others, and serving God as well, can be a bit of a humbling experience, as we shift from a me-centred life to one of service, kindness and reverence as we place our hope, love and adoration onto the One who deserves it, by Him giving us breath in the first place. And then just a lot of songs come out of this understanding that people would attain from listening to ‘I Will Follow’- and upon reading this passage above, other songs can be seen in a different light because of such bold statements made by Chris in the above paragraph about the song. ‘I Lift My Hands’, through the lens of ‘I Will Follow’, is a great transparent way to respond after the acknowledging of Christ as being the one we do want to follow, as we lift our hands in reverence and surrender- surrendering of our plans and petty desires, surrendering of the future and what we want it to look like versus what we know God has in store, surrendering our preconceived ideas of people and our judgements, just surrendering of your entire self, for the sake of God renewing us from the inside out as He works in us what cannot have been done had it not been for Him in the first place- what a beautiful awe-inspiring song about purpose and intentionality when it comes to giving yourself away. ‘I Lift My Hands’ is also in response to feeling anxious and worry about the future- something that plagued pastor and renowned speaker Louie Giglio back in the day when the song was written, which led him to co-write the song with Chris in the first place. As Chris divulges in a NewReleaseToday.com behind-the-scenes story of the song, we see that ‘…this song isn’t what people think it’s about. It’s not “Unchanging” or “Holy Is The Lord.” It’s one thing to lift our hands in worship and celebration, but this song is about lifting up our hands in surrender to God. The song is about reaching out to God for help. That’s why the song includes the lyrics “let faith arise.” The lyrics “let faith arise in me” are okay to admit. It was okay for David to admit it. Louie was struggling with anxiety and I think it’s beautiful. People can relate to that message. You may see someone on stage and think I wish I could walk with God like that. Nobody has a red phone to God. We’re all in the same place. We all struggle while we walk on this earth. It’s just this picture of someone reaching out to God and saying, Lord, I’m just remembering Your faithfulness and I just need You now in my life. I’ve seen Your faithfulness through the years of my life and I’m calling out again, I lift my hands to believe again…’
Many of Chris’s songs have real-world applications in every day life- yes, there are songs that are out-and-out tracks especially for Sunday-morning church services, but then there are others that really speak to the heart of the human condition and what we may often be feeling on a daily basis as we struggle in circumstances and just in life. ‘The Way I Was Made’, from Chris’s chart-topping album Arriving, speaks of this tension we may have in life where we want to life to the fullest that we can, but then are plagued down by worries and stress. We want to live in the way like we know God has intended for us- without fear, shame, guilt, worry and anxiety, yet we feel like the circumstances of life just remind us again and again that these things in our mind of what we want our lives to look like will never come to fruition. The song itself is a call for us to declare that we do want to ‘…live like there’s no tomorrow…dance like no one’s around…sing like nobody’s listening before I lay my body down…give like I have plenty…love like I’m not afraid, I want to be the man I was meant to be, I want to be the way I was made…’; and that as we know more fully about Christ and what we know He can bring to us to allow us to live life fully without things holding us back, we can rest assured that in Him and through Him, we can attain such a goal. ‘Made To Worship’, from his 2006 album See the Morning, outlines a simple yet profound way to look at how we live our lives- that we were called and made to give worship and glorification to something or someone. We were made to worship, in ways we could never even think of undertaking, as we realise that whatever we spend the most time on, whatever we prioritise in our lives, is frankly and bluntly what we worship- even though we as Christians may profess that we worship the Lord, our time and actions can show to someone, a viewpoint totally different than the one we profess. ‘I Will Rise’, from Hello Love, and quite possibly, one of the most underrated albums out of the whole Chris Tomlin music career, speaks of us rising out of a spiritual grave when we come to terms with and grasp the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice for us, that once we understand that Jesus has overcome everything in our lives that would separate us from the Father, so that we don’t have to, we can ‘rise’ metaphorically, from despair and desolation into grace and enthusiasm, as we work on the issues of shame, difficulty, heartbreak and heartache with the Lord, that at a point in the future we can assuredly declare that our sorrow and shame have been used by the Lord to create something good and distinct and intentional that the Lord has been shaping in our hearts all along.
And then there are other songs that I can go into for a great length, where I know that the Lord is speaking to people, but I won’t. Because delving into songs in and of itself would take far too long. But what I will say is this- a lot of songs on Chris’s albums have intentional purposes- it may not look like it is so, as we reflect on the fact that ‘oh, he’s made another worship album…again’; but looking deeper, each song I’m sure has a purpose. ‘Jesus Messiah’, from Hello Love, speaks of the central theme of the gospel story- that He became sin, who knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God, and how that very act alone, humbling Himself to the way of the cross, is considered by all to be the best self-sacrificial unconditional love anyone can ever give; while ‘Everlasting God’, not written by Chris but by another worship leader, South African Brenton Brown, reminds us all of the qualities that the Lord has, that He’s the comforter of the weak, the defender for those in need; and the importance of resting in the Lord to renew and regain the strength needed to go about our days in God’s presence. ‘At the Cross (Love Ran Red)’, the centrepoint of the entire 2014 Love Ran Red album, shows us a vivid picture of the cross and Christ’s sacrifice, where ‘…Your love ran red and my sin washed white…’, a reminder of the lengths that Jesus went to for our slates to be washed clean and pure; while songs like ‘God of This City’ and ‘Indescribable’, songs also not written by Chris but by Irish band Bluetree and American singer-songwriter/worship artist Laura Story, both remind us that a song and its power isn’t entirely linked to that of the artist- if a song is good, it can and should transcend the artist singing it, and Chris’s versions of both these two songs are a reminder that a song can still be great with someone else singing it rather than the one who do so in the first place. ‘God of this City’ is a declaration for this city, that as we know that God Himself is the god of every city in the world, we know there’s things that’re going to happen that is totally in the Lord’s plan, because He loves the city like we do and wants the best for it as well; while ‘Indescribable’ gives us comfort in knowing that the God who has made all the big things in this world- the galaxies, sun, moon, stars, the heavens above, He knows us and wants the intimate connection with ourselves in a way that His love permeates every part of our being as we feel completely known and loved by the Father.
Chris’s music of late, for me, hasn’t really connected on a level as a lot of his earlier stuff has, and maybe that’s ok. There will be certain music even with a particular artist’s catalogue that you gravitate towards, and others where you listen to a few songs on that particular album, and the rest you gloss over, and that’s totally fine as well. For Chris; it was the albums of 2013’s Burning Lights and before, that really spoke to me and influenced my own spiritual walk of life as I grew up and understood worship music from hearing a lot of Chris Tomlin songs during my teenage years. ‘Your Grace is Enough’, from Arriving (a song not written by Chris but by fellow worship leader and artist, and committed Catholic, Matt Maher), really spoke to myself about this concept and issue of grace, in ways that I knew I could understand- that the grace given from God freely to us is enough for us to come to Him with all our wretchedness. A revelation that when I was listening in my early teens, really impacted how I saw this notion and concept of grace being such where I don’t have to do anything for God to love and accept who I am, but just to believe that He died and rose again to give new life and conquer sin and death. ‘Awakening’, a collaboration with Passion (an annual event that happens at the beginning of each year, and gears their ministry to 18-25 y/o’s to fuel their passion for Christ in their own cities and university campuses they are on), was a song on And If Our God is For Us that Chris himself wrote with some writers in the Hillsong team (a movement of which I’m going to discuss further along in my blog post journey), which speaks of being awakened to the full knowledge of God in all His presence and power: something that has become real to me during my own teenage years onward. It was during that time where I understood this concept of living life knowing Christ, but still living as though we are spiritually ‘asleep’- doing the same things as we usually do each day, filling our lives up with things that won’t matter in the long run, all because we may not want to face the things God wants us to in our own lives, for whatever reason. ‘Awakening’, a song that can hopefully encourage others to have more of an active relationship with the Lord rather than a passive one, reminded me of things in my own life I knew I needed to change, like relying too much on social media and the internet to fill my time, for example.
‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ also played a role in my own relationship with Christ as well- in 2008 when this song released as a part of Hello Love, we were introduced to this notion of singing out loud in response to our love for Christ and our thankfulness of what He has done for us to be reconciled back to Him. Throughout my teenage years I was in the zone of silent worship- worshipping, but only on the inside when I was in Sunday morning church service. Mainly because I was self-conscious and worried about what people would think of my voice, or how I worshipped, and things like that. ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ was a reminder for me not to worry about others opinions of my own worshipping, frankly because when people are worshipping the Lord, they’re not worried about other people’s worship style- but focused on their worship experience with the Lord and that’s it. People weren’t looking at me, judging me when I were to sing on a Sunday- they were singing to the Lord themselves- and thus began a worship experience for me from that point onward that was much more freeing and enjoyable. I worshipped the Lord in a more expressive way, and I ode a lot of it, not only to the Lord, but to ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ in particular. ‘Unfailing Love’, a lesser known song from Arriving (and a duet with CCM legend Steven Curtis Chapman), also impacted my life during my teenage years, with the theme and message of God knowing everything about everyone and being personable with them on a one-to-one basis, while still being the God who made the heavens, who holds everything in His hands, who takes care of the birds, the bees, and every other animal, but still has time to know our names and be our friend, Father and Saviour, all at once. That is some extravagant and unconditional love seen by Christ to us, and this song was one that conveyed it in a real way to myself. ‘Not To Us’, from the 2002 album of the same name, reminded me back in the day of this understanding and message that whatever we do and whatever we say is a reflection of what we believe about ourselves, and what we believe about God- that what we have is a gift from the Lord anyway, and that in light of His sacrifice and our love towards Him because of said sacrifice, how we live from a point onward has to not be about us (as I’m sure it has been for people prior to their realisation of Jesus and His sacrificial love), but about Him and His glory and fame across the world- that is something I understood during my teenage years, and hold onto today.
Then there were songs that impacted my life from Chris that were part of Passion projects- namely songs like ‘White Flag’ and ‘Lay Me Down’, both on Passion: White Flag (2012) and ‘Lord, I Need You’ on Passion: Here For You (2011)- ‘White Flag’ was the lead single to Passion’s 2012 album, and really helped me along my own university journey and reminded me to surrender things fully to the Lord and to never hold anything back for fear that God can’t handle the messiness I knew my life entailed at that moment; while ‘Lay Me Down’, a duet with Matt Redman, echoed a similar sentiment and gave me permission to lay things down at Jesus’ feet that I would otherwise feel burdened to carry on my own. It was a reminder that God knew what He was doing when He sacrificed Jesus as ransom for my own life, that my burdens and things I knew I was ashamed about, couldn’t even compare to the love and grace extended to me through the self-sacrifice of Christ on the cross- it took a bit of time for me to fully embrace this song for what it was- laying down of the self and abandoning all intentional plans, all for the joy of knowing Christ on a daily basis, and even now I can have difficulty in laying a lot of things down at Jesus’ feet, but I’m recognising and learning that this is a journey I’m gonna go through for my entire life, and that’s ok. ‘Lord I Need You’, a song that debuted on the underrated Passion album Here For You, was originally thought of by myself as a Chris Tomlin song, was actually not- it was a Matt Maher track that was recorded on his own 2013 album And All the People Said Amen. Nevertheless, the song made its way on an album in 2011, and I was enjoying said song for quite some time during that time period. The message of it is this- that we need the Lord in our lives at all time periods- during times when we’re struggling, and also during times when we’re not and things are going great as well. There will be difficulty during our lives and more often than not, we go to God during these times, as we pray and ask the Lord for guidance and direction. But frankly when things are going well, we tend to forget that the Lord was the One who made it all go good for us in the first place, and we don’t often go to the Lord in joyous celebration as much as we should- this song is a reminder to come to the Lord at all times and thank the Lord at all times. Needing the Lord is not just when we’re troubled or down, it’s all the time, and such a song gave me the understanding of this concept, as a realised that prior to 2011, I wasn’t as consistent in going to the Lord in all circumstances as I know I could’ve. Nevertheless, such a song impacted me, and has become one of my favourite Matt Maher songs ever- yet, Chris Tomlin’s version of it is still close to my heart, because it is the live Passion: Here For You rendition that I heard first.
From 2014 onward, I didn’t listen to much of Chris Tomlin as I wanted to- mainly because I started full-time work with my family running a café in the inner-west of Sydney, and frankly, I felt that in hearing Chris Tomlin’s follow-up to Burning Lights in Love Ran Red, I was a little bit underwhelmed. Burning Lights released in early 2013, with songs like the studio recordings of ‘White Flag’ and ‘Lay Me Down’, together with the Martin Smith collaboration ‘Shepherd Boy’, the dance-worship track ‘God’s Great Dance Floor’, lead single ‘Whom Shall I Fear’, and the worship-hip/hop infused track ‘Awake My Soul’, to name a few. All in all, the songs on Burning Lights were lively, well-rounded and just a joy to listen to: ‘Awake My Soul’ is a reminder that God alone awakes even the deadest of souls, that even the people on the brink of their hearts hardening for whatever reason, God can redeem back to the Father- rapper Lecrae even has a part in the bridge of the song, recounting the part in Ezekiel where Ezekiel witnesses God breathing dry bones to life, and reminds us all that it is only when Christ is within us that our deadness spiritually comes to life by the power of Christ in us; while ‘God’s Great Dance Floor’ is a moment of joyous celebration and abandon as we allow ourselves to dance freely before the Lord as an expression of worship to Him. ‘Shepherd Boy’, recorded also by ex-Delirious? frontman Martin Smith on his solo album God’s Great Dance Floor Step 01 later on in 2013 (and the pseudo-title track of the album Burning Lights), finds Chris himself reminding us all that just because he’s a worship leader and a prominent figure within the worship music industry, that doesn’t mean that he has things all together- Chris himself reminds us that ‘…worship leaders can really sing that from their heart and know what it is to say ‘I’m no hero of the faith, I’m not as strong as I once thought I was.’ I want to find myself just like David. long before he was made king, long before there was a platform, long before people knew his name. He was singing the songs, he was writing songs of worship, just watching over his little flock. He was just a humble kid, and I want to be the same way. If no one ever bought a record again or if I didn’t tour again, I’d still want to have the same heart…’ The song itself is a reminder to not think more of ourselves than we should, and to be humble in all aspects of life that we intentionally can.
‘Whom Shall I Fear’, the first radio single from the album, is the other standout from Burning Lights, and a great timely track that reinforces the idea that the God who is the king of the universe, who made everything there is, is still personable with us, that He still is the God who goes before us, behind us and stands beside us in battle. Or as Chris himself unveils to us, through an interview with the website praisecharts; ‘…this is a song that is needed in our churches because we are not a people of fear, we are a people of faith and we live in a world of fear. Everything you see on the news is about fear of the future; fear of financial collapse, fear of relationships going down the tube, fear of anxiety, fear of depression, fear of cancer, fear of everything that’s coming at you, and life comes at you hard. But that’s not our story, our story is not to live in fear but our story is to live in faith and to open our eyes. 2 Kings 6 is really the heart of that song with that story of Elijah and his servant: this army coming down on their village. The servant goes to check it out in the morning to see what’s going on and he sees the army and all their horses camped around. He then runs to Elijah, scared to death, and says, “What are we going to do?” And Elijah says, “Do not fear because those who are with us are far more than they who are with them.” He says, “Lord, open up the eyes of my servant so he can see what you truly see,” and immediately the servant’s eyes were opened and he saw this hill filled with horses and chariots of fire and these angel armies camped around. I think that’s what I’m praying for in this song, that the Church would see… that their eyes are opened to see. What Elijah tells us that to truly see is not just seeing what’s in front of your faces, but to see what’s really going on when you feel like things are coming against you. So, I love what that song says…’
And so as I mentioned in the paragraph before, from 2014 onward, I wasn’t as heavily invested in Chris Tomlin albums as I was previously- and maybe that’s ok. The albums were still being received well by the public, and they were being reviewed on this site- see reviews for Love Ran Red, Never Lose Sight and Holy Roar here, here and here respectively. And maybe after this blog post I will go back and listen heavily to the three latest albums by Chris. But what I will say is this- that even though I am not as engaged in Chris’s music now as compared to others before- primarily because of work; I do note and respect the fact that Chris’s creative style and music hasn’t changed over time. He is the bread and butter of worship music, quite literally. There seems to be a formula when it comes to how to make a Chris Tomlin song, and while at times people can seem to assume his music as of now is either lacking in any kind of ingenuity or creativity, what Chris has made throughout the years works. Yes, I must admit, that with the advent of newer worshipful artists that have captured my eye, ear and time (from artists like Rend Collective, Phil Wickham, All Sons and Daughters, Lincoln Brewster, to Cory Asbury, I AM THEY, ONE SONIC SOCIETY, The City Harmonic, Leeland, Kari Jobe and Lauren Daigle, to name a few); I’ve been less and less proactive in listening to music from Chris Tomlin. And even so, that’s ok, because though I may not be as familiar with his later songs as other more die-hard fans of Chris’s, I have still been impacted by songs here are there from his later albums over the past few years.
‘Good, Good Father’, actually a cover of a worship song by worship collective Housefires (sung and led my worship leader Pat Barrett- also the worship artist who penned the songs ‘Build My Life’ and more recently ‘Canvas and Clay’), has become an anthem for the church over the last few years, and has reminded myself of the goodness of God, regardless of what has been happening around me in my own personal world, and what’s been happening in the world, too. ‘Jesus Loves Me’, a 3:28 reflective melody filled with a keyboard prominence, was co-written with Reuben Morgan of Hillsong Worship, and expounds on the notion of Jesus’s love, and that He loves us just because. Sometimes we need these reminders here and there that Jesus loves us, that He’s for us and that nothing we can do or say, can ever take this unconditional love away- ‘Jesus Loves Me’ reassures us of this fact that we can so often forget on a daily basis. ‘Jesus’, from Never Lose Sight, is a simply-titled song, but upon hearing it, the message is anything but- meshing together the themes and messages of songs like ‘Jesus Loves Me’ and ‘Jesus Messiah’; Chris creates a song that is an anthem for anyone who longs to know who Jesus is, and wants a song to start with, that speaks all of the truth of who He really is, all within one song. While yes, the song itself has been done before in terms of message, I’ve found ‘Jesus’ to be very much engaging and poignant, and is certainly fitting for the time of today, as the song itself solidifies what it means to follow Christ in a world where being a Christian is considered disrespectful and inconsiderate of people who are of different beliefs than you.
Nevertheless, Chris’s songs, as ‘vanilla’ and ‘too worship-friendly’ as they come (as said by various critics of Chris’s over the years), they still deliver poignancy and heartfelt encouragement- ‘Yes and Amen’, also on Never Lose Sight (and originally by Chris McClarney of Jesus Culture- and made famous through the recording of the song by Housefires), speaks of our reliance on God’s promises as we look through the Bible and see everything good that He’s done, and believe the fact that if what we know of Jesus to be true, then what He’s done in the past can be recreated again both now and into the future. What God has promised to us would come to pass, He will complete- we just need to trust into the fact that His timing may be totally different to ours when it comes to what He wants the promises to come into effect, and that ought to be ok with us. ‘Yes And Amen’ is such a song where we sing and declare and hope on these promises, knowing full well that God delivers, regardless of what the world may say or believe. ‘Home’, also from Never Lose Sight, and one of my favourite songs on the album (granted, I’ve only listened to about half the album from start to finish), is a great reminder to always look forward to be in anticipation of us being called home to heaven, whenever that may occur. Home by definition is where we feel the most safe with the people we love- it may be in your physical house, or with family and friends, or the home I’m sure that’s depicted in the song, is the home of heaven we as Christians are anticipating and looking forward to, knowing that between now and then, we are being renewed and sanctified each day to be more and more Christ-like, all the while being comforted that when we’re home, everything that is wrong will be made right through Christ’s power and strength. As Chris himself has imparted to us through an interview with Sydney-based radio station Hope 103.2, we are given hope in the fact that ‘…there are people who have gone before us who are already home; who we’re going to see again one day, but it is also a song of longing and hope for people, that this is where we are headed… This world – the world we’re living in – has so much brokenness, hurt and pain, and what I’m saying is that there is hope. I don’t know if we sing about it enough but I wanted to say it as ‘home’ [rather than] heaven because that is our home, because we know that this place, this earth, is not all that there is. Home is something really powerful; everyone has a feeling about what that is. I’m singing about the eternal home, one where we’re going to, it’s not just this pie in the sky, or what we see in paintings or we’ve heard in church…’
Chris unveiled to us his latest album in 2018- Holy Roar– you can see the review of the album here, and so I won’t bore you with the details. And while even though songs like ‘Nobody Loves Me Like You’ and ‘Resurrection Power’ are great songs by Chris, and speak of the assurance and fact that there is no one else that can love us like Jesus does (‘Nobody Loves Me Like You’), and the understanding that by the power of Christ in us and moving through us, we have resurrection power within us and can do and accomplish the same things and even greater than what Jesus did (‘Resurrection Power’), there is one song on the album that stands tall and stands out (in a good way) above the rest- and it isn’t a song by Chris Tomlin at all. Yes, I’m sure you all know which song I’m alluding to- ‘Is He Worthy?’, by folk/singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson. A song that was recorded in 2018 on Andrew’s album Resurrection Letters: Vol. 1, the song is indeed a vertical-praise one. A melody that has captured my own spirit and has re-ignited my own joy for worship music than ever before, Chris’s incorporation of ‘Is He Worthy’ into the album of Holy Roar is a moment where people can witness and see the lyrical prowess of Andrew, and understand that in Chris covering the song, he’s honouring Andrew and reminding us of how underrated an artist Andrew really is. There’s actually a little tiff online, which is funny- about who’s version of the song is better- Chris’s or Andrew’s? Frankly, I’ll let you decide, by putting both versions of the song in video format down below, but what I will say is this- there need not be a competition- when someone is covering another person’s body of music; they’re saying ‘this song has touched me so much that I want to incorporate it into my own album because it fits quite well with the album’s theme and atmosphere’. But to be frank, had ‘Is He Worthy’ not been on Holy Roar– I’m not sure if I would’ve check out the songs on the album that I did, so I guess the covering of ‘Is He Worthy’ can be good for Chris and Andrew alike- lovers of Chris Tomlin’s music can be intrigued by this song and check out Andrew Peterson’s awe-inspiring songs, and people who enjoy the liturgy-style writings of Andrew’s music can leap over and see what the fuss for Chris’s music is about. Regardless, such a recording by Chris is one that deserves at least one listen to the song (and then whatever song you want to from Holy Roar that you feel led). And so below is an excerpt, not by Chris Tomlin, but by Andrew Peterson himself, about the story behind ‘Is He Worthy’ and what he wants people to get, from hearing the song (regardless the version):
The resurrection of Jesus, you see, is central to the Gospel. In every sermon in Acts, Peter and Paul talk about the resurrection of Jesus. Here in America we’re pretty good at Good Friday. We’re willing to dive deep during Holy Week and confront the holy terror of the crucifixion. We’re even willing to get up early on Easter Sunday for the sunrise service. But then, after an egg hunt, we’re ready to move on to Mother’s Day. But N. T. Wright challenges us in Surprised by Hope to emulate Peter and Paul, to make such a fuss over Jesus’s resurrection that the world can’t help but notice. What, the world may ask, is the big deal? And the church can reply, joyfully, that this is what the crucifixion was always leading to: the end of death; the new creation; these wonderful but broken bodies of ours, resurrected and glorified and made immortal, the way they were always meant to be. Is He Worthy? is my attempt at making a fuss over Jesus’s victory over death. And in Revelation 5 we get one of the most staggering images of who this Jesus really is and what He’s done for us and for all of His creation. The prophet, John, is weeping loudly because no one can be found who is worthy to break the seal and open the scroll. And then, quietly it seems, Jesus appears. A Lion and a Lamb, ascending the throne, revealing his glory to the angels and archangels and elders and, most astonishing of all, to you and me.
And that’s the solution to the real riddle, the one that troubled me for most of my life. You see, I had been taught that Jesus loved me so much that He died to save me from my sin. But I didn’t know why. What was His end game? What was the purpose? Why go to all that trouble? Just so I could go float around with Porky Pig on a cloud? It made me feel guilty, but it didn’t wake up any longing to be with Him. But all the breadcrumbs of the Old Testament, the birth, life, and death of Jesus, even His resurrection, are leading to something so good and glorious and yet so astonishingly simple: a new earth. A new creation. He is remaking what the Fall destroyed. He’s ransoming a people for Himself from every tribe, nation, and tongue, making a kingdom — and we shall reign on the earth. That, my friends, is a staggering promise. It’s good, good news. Yes, the Incarnation and Crucifixion are important—but we mustn’t stop short of the climax of the story. You and I won’t be floating on cartoon clouds. We’ll be tending a new garden as ransomed, redeemed, resurrected, fully human beings, living to glorify Jesus himself, who alone deserves all blessing and honour and glory.
Well, I guess that is that…Chris’s music discography in a nutshell. Well, almost. Chris has also been collaborating years upon years, with other artists for songs on their albums- ‘Expressions of Your Love’, co-sung with Aussie CCM artist Rebecca St. James, appeared on her 2003 album Wait For Me: The Best of RSJ, and spoke of the awe and wonder of creation and how that in and of itself is an expression of love by the Father to all of us, while ‘You’re the One’ was an exclusive song on the album The Chronicles of Narnia: Music Inspired By the Motion Picture– songs curated together by CCM artists and inspired by the 2005 movie adaption of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Chris Tomlin was also part of a global worship initiative called Compassionart, headed by ex-Delirious? lead singer Martin Smith. The album itself comprised of 13 tracks, each song either a duet or sung with 3 artists, all of them having a similar theme of justice, worship and caring for the poor and needy- Chris unveiled a song called ‘You Have Shown Us’ with both Steven Curtis Chapman and worship artist Paul Baloche as co-singers. In 2004, a tribute album to the ever-reliable quartet of U2 was unveiled, with 12 songs covered by the popular CCM artists of the day- Chris gave his contribution with a stirring rendition of ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, while he has also sung with Steven Curtis Chapman (‘One True God’), Capital Kings (‘Fireblazin’) and most recently, up-and-coming country singer Thomas Rhett (‘Be A Light’), all these songs inviting us to peel back at what we assume worship music to be, versus what God actually intends for worship music to look like. Nevertheless, Chris’s contribution to music outside of his own body of work is nothing short of remarkable- Chris has also presented to us 2 Christmas albums and 1 Christmas EP (of which one album and 1 EP are reviewed on the site, here and here), alongside a song called ‘Your Heart’- a track that was unveiled in 2011 as part of a ground-breaking and pioneering CD and DVD series titled The Story, where many songs, sung through the eyes of key biblical characters from the Old and New Testament, was given life through the lyrics of Nichole Nordeman and the music of award-winning producer Bernie Herms. Chris’s contribution of ‘Your Heart’ was through the eyes of King David.
But if you were to ask me which songs have been the most influential from Chris over his tenure in the music industry, I’d have to point to two songs- ‘Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)’, and the ever-so-reliable and equally profound ‘How Great Is Our God’. ‘Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)’ is basically a revised version of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’- a song written by former slave-trader turned missionary John Newton all those years ago; and has been a familiar hymn ever since. Chris’s reimagining of the song (with the addition of the ‘my chains are gone’ chorus, alongside the re-addition of the original last verse ‘the earth shall soon dissolve like snow’ instead of the fan-favourite ‘last’ verse ‘when we’ve been there ten-thousand years’ that was actually written after the time and life of John Newton!) has remade ‘Amazing Grace’ into what it is today, and has revitalised the enjoyment of hymns in the age of today, as opposed to hymns being a thing of the past, as I’m sure people thought, prior to hearing Chris’s rendition. For me, ‘Amazing Grace’, no matter the version, is a favourite song of mine anyway, and so for ‘Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)’ to be written by Chris, specifically for the 2006 movie Amazing Grace, and for the song to take off for Chris as it had, I’m happy to be impacted by the song then, and still be impacted by it now, 13 years later. Then there’s the song ‘How Great Is Our God’, a song for the modern generation. And if you look at it from an objective standpoint, I’m sure you would agree- that ‘Amazing Grace’ is the hymn that was written way back when, and now in this generation spanning 10-20 years, the worship song, or if you will, the modern hymn of this generation is in fact ‘How Great is Our God’. The song itself is simple- praising God and repeating the phrase ‘How Great is Our God’ a number of times, as we’re reminded on a constant basis that God is greater than we can ever know or even want to know- He is beyond physical comprehension, and what He does and what He undertakes in our lives, is far better and much more cohesive and structured, making more sense than we can ever believe to be possible. And the song itself has grown up with me throughout my teenage years, I heard it in 2004 when it first came out on the album Arriving, and then in 2011 once again when the song was re-recorded to incorporate different languages in the song and retitled as ‘How Great is Our God (The World Sings)’. Now here I am in 2020, and the song still is one of my favourite worship songs ever- and a song that I’m sure has stood the test of time, when everything is said and done!
With all of his critics, and people who have said that Chris Tomlin and his music is as irrelevant as Christian music itself, Chris Tomlin nevertheless has forged on, creating songs for the church, and songs that pierce the soul and speak to the human condition, when all sermons and other preaching material may fail to do so. Song is a very important avenue of a message to be delivered, and Chris’s message, if there’s only one, is simple- that the God of the heavens and earth is to be praised for who He is, and who we are is loved unconditionally in spite of all that we have done, and that in order to bring us back together with the Father and eradicate sin and death from our lives, God made the impossible possible- He conquered it through the self-sacrifice of Himself in the form of God incarnate- Jesus Christ. He died and rose again 3 days later, and that is the message of hope that Chris Tomlin creates with his songs, again and again and again. And for this message alone, his songs are popular. And relevant. And relatable and long-lasting. Chris Tomlin is perhaps the most-sung artist each week, most times on Sundays- and people wouldn’t even know it. As for myself, I’ve been listening to Chris and his music for years, and this blog post has quickly affirmed my enjoyment for his music, and the fact that though some songs are years upon years old, songs of yesteryear can still be impactful today, which is certainly true of Chris and his music.
Who knows, maybe someone may get this far in terms of reading this blog, and may not even check out one single Chris Tomlin song by the end of it. That’s ok. Maybe someone is just like me and has listened to every single heartfelt melody that Chris has ever put out into the digital space which is Spotify and iTunes (now rebranded as Apple Music). And that’s ok too. Or someone can be inbetween and that’s perfectly fine. What I will say is this- that for me personally, Chris, alongside Switchfoot, Skillet, Delirious?, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns and to a lesser extent for KING AND COUNTRY, Carman and Tenth Avenue North; have shaped the Christian music industry to where it is today. Christian music has basically always been behind-the-eight-ball when it comes to poignant songs and melodies that transcend ethics and belief systems. Nevertheless, Christian music is certainly here to stay, and with artists like Chris Tomlin, and the aforementioned music artists above (in this paragraph), the CCM industry looks bright. Chris may not have the same amount of popularity now as before, and that’s ok. If his music is still glorifying God, and is being used by Him to speak to people and bring them closer to Himself in the process, all the while showing parts of themselves, they have to alter and change in the process; then Chris’s job is well done.
Does Chris Tomlin make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (aside from ‘Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)’ and ‘How Great is Our God’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!