MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 64: JASON GRAY

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve realised that at most times in my life, that it is the weaker, lesser things that I often try to hide that God often uses to bring people towards Himself, and to shine a light on the fact that being vulnerable and admitting to your own faults, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but something that will be used by our Father in heaven, to either bring about healing and wholeness in the hearts of people, or just bringing about a better sense of honesty, transparency and authenticity in how I live, and in turn, how other people live when they see me being real with the life I live and lead. For I know that there are things that I often label in my own life as things I know I need to work on- being able to let go of control and to not stress and worry when things don’t go my way, is a very big thing that I’ve struggled with all my life; but when I’ve learnt to understand that it is indeed what I go through (that can be seen by myself as a fault or an impediment that I need to overcome) that allows God to work in others and myself, that I can truly be free from this notion that what I have needs ‘fixing’- that in spite of all the things that I need to improve upon, that God will still use me in my weakness to bring about His strength in all situations I find myself in. God uses the weak and lowly, as well as the well-to-do. It is at times in our suffering that we know we can find God sufficient, and that in what we may often consider to be dark times in our overarching story, that God says to us that it is these moments we try to lock away, that He can turn around and impact and affect a lot of people, reminding ourselves that we don’t have to be ashamed because of what we’ve gone through, been through, what we think about ourselves, or what we deem this thing to be the most despicable (and disposable) about ourselves. Because in and amongst all of that, God is here, God is working, and God is using everything, for the renewal and the revitalisation of ourselves and of humanity as a whole. Nothing is wasted, and I truly mean nothing. And it is in this listening of this artist that I’m about to unpack this week, that I’ve come to realise this very fact, this very sobering moment. That no matter what you look on the outside, no matter what the world can perceive you as, that God can still use even the unlikeliest of people for His purposes here on earth. And that is certainly true of this next artist I’m to delve into today, Jason Gray.

‘…“Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” [John 12:24] The human spirit is something like a muscle in that it must be pushed to its limits and torn down in order to grow. 3 words to describe this process of transformation are order, disorder, and reorder. Order is when everything is going according to our plan. We’re using all that we’ve learned so far to put our lives together with stability and security. Disorder is when our plan falls apart. We find we weren’t as in control as we thought we were and there is more we need to learn. Reminded of our vulnerability, we are broken down and opened up enough to meet with God in a profound way. Reorder is when we emerge from disorder transformed by what we learned and by having met with God in a way that changed us. We are wiser, kinder, more humble, and stronger than before. Today’s reorder becomes tomorrow’s order, and the cycle begins again. Recognizing this helps me panic less and trust more. I wrote some songs to explore these themes and decided to release them in three volumes: “Order,” “Disorder,” and “Reorder,” giving time and space for reflecting on one part of the journey before digging into the next…’ Jason Gray, quite possibly one of Christian music’s most honest and heartfelt singer/songwriters within the modern music era, has had quite a journey, personal and musical, to get to the point he is in today. From being a stutterer when he was younger (and still currently) to changing his last name from ‘Gay’ to his stage name ‘Gray’ in order to kick-start his music career; it has been his lyrical poignancy in quite possibly all of his songs to date that makes Jason possess an ability like no other, to write songs that are able to unveil his own vulnerabilities without any attack or stigma, while all the while weaving into the songs a grace that reminds us all that amidst the guilt, shame, pain and hurt, God is still there. I would say that I’d place his song-writing skills and ability to speak to a person’s heart, up there with artists like Andrew Peterson, Tenth Avenue North, and the ever-reliable Steven Curtis Chapman. And so, when I was pondering about which artist to undertake next after Jewel; I had this thought. Why not Jason Gray? And there were actually a few reasons why not, too. For Jason isn’t necessarily the most popular artist within CCM- leave that to artists like Lauren Daigle, TobyMac, needtobreathe, Skillet, Switchfoot…you get the picture.

And so for an artist to not be as prevalent and popular within the confines of CCM, to now be considered by myself as being part of this ever-changing inaugural list of the top 100 Influential Artists in modern music history…well, it’s a bit of a stretch, right? And yes, on a surface level, me writing about Jason Gray and his music doesn’t make any sense. Why would he be placed in a list consisting of artists like Avril Lavigne, Delta Goodrem, Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, Keith Urban, Goo Goo Dolls, Hanson, John Mayer, OneRepublic and Rascal Flatts, to name a few? But as I’ve said before, and will continually say again, popular and influential need not be the same, nor should it be. By all standards of account, Jason Gray is not popular. And maybe that’s ok. But his influential ability in the way that he writes songs that pierce our very hearts, can seem evident to anyone who hears his music, myself included. It’s funny how at the start of my very own musical expansion journey in February 2019 (when I first conceived this blog post), much of the artists I’ve been talking about over this year and a half, have been ‘late additions’, and maybe that’s a good thing.

Re-evaluating my influential list every so often, this week is just another one of my re-evaluations, to realise and understand that an artist like Jason Gray, as much of an unassuming artist as he is, is as equally impactful in my opinion as anyone else present that I’ve written about over this year and a half. Listening to Jason’s music over this last week or so has been therapeutic for me, as I’m reminded that an artist like Jason with a stutter, can still have an impact amongst listeners as someone else who’s perfectly fine in their speech. And it can seem to me, that Jason’s speech impediment is what I reckon the Lord works through the most when we hear his music. We hear the vulnerability, the heart behind what it means to be totally reliant on God for everything, and I mean everything. For being an artist with a speech impediment in an industry so flippant on turning over artists and pushing them to the ground as a means to an end, is hard. It’s gruelling to be an artist, but to be an artist with a stutter? That’s grace right there. And when we hear interviews with Jason (of which I’ll post a few below in this blog), we can see Jason’s humble nature being brought to the fore. Jason has been one to present himself in a way that we can’t help but check ourselves in light of what we see in Jason. His vulnerability to wear his heart on his sleeve allows us all to go deep within ourselves. It’s much about the music of Jason as it is about his character and his ability to live life, knowing his limitations, but still knowing that God will use them all the same!

There are two sides to every person like the two sides of a dime
Heads or tails it depends upon who’s watching at the time
Though I hate to say it, mine is no exception
One part is the prodigal, the other part: deception
Like the prince and the pauper, like Jacob and his brother
Each hide a different heart, each a shadow of the other
Me and my doppelganger both share the same blood
One I have hated, the other have I loved
One of them’s the Golden Boy, the man I’d like to be
I show him off in the parades for all the world to see
The other is much weaker, he stumbles all the time
The source of my embarrassment, he’s the one I try to hide
The Golden boy is made of straw, his finest suit will surely burn
His vice is the virtue that he never had to earn
The prodigal’s been broken and emptied at the wishing well
But he’s stronger for the breaking with a story to tell
I’m not easy with confessions, it’s hard to tell the truth
But I have favoured the golden boy, while the other I’ve abused
And he takes it like a man, though he’s longing like a child
To be loved and forgiven and share the burden for awhile
So take a good look in the mirror, tell me who you see
The one who Jesus died for or the one you’d rather be
Can you find it in your heart to show mercy to the one
The Father loved so much that he gave his only son…

The Golden Boy & the Prodigal [Lyrics]

This song above was a track from Jason’s 2009 album Everything Sad is Coming Untrue, and a song that was heavily on repeat on Spotify when I listened to Jason’s music in preparation for this blog. I hadn’t heard the song prior to a week or so ago, but ever since then, I’ve been able to reread the lyrics of the track, and boy, such a impactful song, this is. For to write an eloquent and emotive song as this, takes guts and courage. To admit that you have two sides to yourself- the one that you try to portray as being ‘all-together’ and the one that you know is the more ‘truer’ side to yourself, it takes a man with a realisation that you want to show off your good bits, but deny the very bits that maybe God wants to use to bring people closer to Himself (and you closer to God in the process too). For I find that in light of hearing this song, people are often more ‘fake’ than they themselves realise. We try to hide the things that we believe won’t be perceived as being ‘good’ from the world, we ourselves try to be the filter, between what people see, and what we think the world wants to see. We are indeed both the golden boy and the prodigal, and at times I often see parts of me as both these characters in the song. ‘The Golden Boy & The Prodigal’ has been a song that has come out of left-field, in a good way, for me, as I’ve continued to hear songs and melodies from this underrated artist that has deepened my own relationship with Christ over this last year or so. For such a song as this really brings it home, and really asks the question- are we really willing to admit the fact that we as humans have two parts inside of us, the vulnerable person we try to hide, and the all-together person we think other people want to see? And in light of the answer we give to this question, we ask another- how do we try to integrate both these parts of ourselves and understand that the world doesn’t need more ‘fake’ people, just people who are willing to admit that they have at times been ‘fake’? Just a thought, and if Jason and his music has been able to allow myself to think about things and ponder life’s questions that I myself may not have thought about if it hadn’t been for Jason and his music, then I’d say Jason’s influence is very much valid, especially during a time where vulnerability and honesty in music isn’t as championed and advocated as much as it should.

Since releasing his albums All the Lovely Losers in 2007, Everything Sad is Coming Untrue in 2009, A Way to See in the Dark in 2011 and Love Will Have the Final Word in 2014; Jason has been one of these artists in the industry respected by critics and fans alike, with his song-writing ability unparalleled, and his songs delving deep into the human condition, and what it means to feel what we feel, yet also love and be loved by a God that uses whatever is in our lives for His glory and our good. It is in the same way that God transforms Jason’s stuttering voice into that of an eloquent singer, that I believe his songs impact and influence the many listeners of his music around the world, including myself. For I’ve been a casual listener of Jason throughout the 2000s and the 2010s, but for me, it was his 2016 album Where the Light Gets In, where I truly listened to Jason’s music from start to finish (that album in particular, and then going back and listening to key and pivotal songs throughout his career up until that point), and have become in awe of his ability to take even the things that are the most uncomfortable and turn them into a track capable of healing and restoration. Where the Light Gets In digs a little deeper than his 2014 album Love Will Have the Final Word, and becomes an album that by far shows us a more vulnerable Jason, yet a Jason much more sure of his own identity in Christ amidst all the chaos (primarily his public revealing of his marriage breakdown around that time as well) in his life till this point. The theme of how God can shine His light the brightest in the broken places of our lives, Where the Light Get’s In, the ultimate message of not only the 2016 album, but for all of Jason’s work in all of his music career is this: that God still loves us in spite of our wounds, that our meaning still comes from the joy and hope we have in Christ instead of what we may feel on a daily basis. Jason’s 2016 album is such, where I truly became a Jason Gray fan, and understood the reasons why such an artist like this can flourish and impact people in just as much of a broken state as he is in. Vulnerability begets vulnerability, and that is a very, very good thing.

I have experienced a situation I call lying with the truth. It’s kind of like when you open up about a difficulty and someone offers a trite Sunday school answer, or simply says “God is in control.” It’s true–God is in control! But sometimes people say that kind of thing not because it’s true, but because it’s an escape hatch so that they don’t have to face your pain, or even their own pain. Escapism is anti-Christian. God is always calling us into deeper engagement. I’m always in danger of this, and I know there have been times when I’ve “lied with the truth.” We all do it, of course, if we’re honest with ourselves. But it’s the people who make a career of it, or who build a mega ministry out of it that leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But God is in control, and He loves us all too much to allow that to go on for too long. Sooner or later our pain catches up with us. If we let it, it can make us more gracious and transparent. I have learned to be careful with my honesty from the stage. I used to operate at full disclosure, but if you’re not careful you can end up bleeding on your audience and burdening them with knowledge about your brokenness that they really don’t need to have. Some of those things are meant to be worked out with your closest friends or your pastor. Of course we don’t hide our brokenness to protect ourselves; we do so to protect others. It’s helpful for me to think of all that I do as being in service to those God has placed before us. When I think of serving my audience, it gives me clarity on what’s good to share, and what may be abusive to share. 

It is this above paragraph from Jason that makes sense and has me realising that unfortunately, intentionally or not, we as a society don’t really know how to share our lives with people. We either overshare or undershare, and especially when you’re in the spotlight, you tend to wear your vulnerability on your sleeve more often than you should. Regardless of whether you reckon that artists on a pedestal are too vulnerable (or not vulnerable enough) remains to be seen, but what I will say is this- that vulnerability needs to be done in a way where the passage of personal information from one person to the next doesn’t come with a sense of heavy burdens or even a look of pity that often comes when someone reveals a vulnerability that makes people look at them differently. And as for Jason, his stutter has been the thing that I’m sure gets different reactions from people who hear his music and see his vulnerable lifestyle. Some people could be weirded out; and wonder why he’s ventured into music in the first place, where his stutter can be on display for people to see. Others may think that he’s oversharing his struggles, and quite frankly, I reckon that Jason is by far one of the most eloquent singer-songwriters out there, that you’d probably wouldn’t even guess that he had a stutter, just from listening to his singing alone. Regardless, Jason’s songs have been the source of comfort and impact over the years. While I must say that I hadn’t been as well-versed with his debut label album All the Lovely Losers prior to this blog post, the songs nevertheless on there still paint a picture of an artist collating everything that he has known up until this point and putting it in a song to hear. ‘Blessed Be’ turns things on it head, and reminds us all that it is the weak, broken, the people who admit that they don’t have it all together, that God will in fact use the most, ahead of those who are proud and often believe that they are in no need of being saved; while ‘Grace’, the longest song on the album, showcases a relationship between Jason and ‘Grace’, a girl, that by all accounts, is a metaphor for humanity’s relationship with God Himself. For All the Lovely Losers is by far not Jason’s most accomplished and refined work- there’s a lot of rawness on the album that doesn’t necessarily fit the ‘radio’ mould, and maybe that’s ok. And while these songs are good in and of their own rights, for me I’ve always felt more of a kinship to Jason’s songs, from the commercially successful Everything Sad is Coming Untrue onward. Nothing against Jason’s 2007 album, but for me, it is his 2009 album, and onward from that, that has made his presence in not only the CCM industry, but in music in general, a lot more heartfelt and poignant. Jason’s songs by definition are bittersweet pills to swallow. They are both of comfort of confrontation at the same time- songs like ‘Blessed Be’, which challenges the whole notion of who indeed is really blessed when we look at the people in the world, and ‘The Golden Boy & The Prodigal’, which highlights our very dual nature as people who love to only show one side of ourselves; are evidence of this very fact!

If we could be perfect by trying harder, then Jesus wouldn’t have needed to die for us. It’s ironic that Christians spend so much time trying to look like they don’t need Christ. My mentor has told me that I need to become “more acquainted with failure”. A person acquainted with failure is a person well acquainted with grace, and grace filled person makes Christ beautiful. It is exactly those of us who can’t get our act together that Jesus is most eager to embrace. They are closer to the truth than the one who believes they can, by their efforts, overcome their fundamental brokenness. It’s for the sick that the doctor has come! And it’s only those who know the depth of their own sickness who are most ready to receive the medicine that will begin to mend their brokenness. 

‘For the First Time Again’ is the first radio single from Jason Gray ever- from his 2009 album Everything Sad is Coming Untrue. It is a reminder of the wonder and awe that someone has, most assumedly a child, when they come to know the reality of who God is and the gravity of His sacrifice for themselves in their own being. Children are in fact less jaded with the world than we adults are, and so such a song as this, that reminds us to be more child-like in our faith and approach to life, is very refreshing to see. The song takes us on a journey of sorts, as we’re reminded of how we can often lose the initial joy and enthralment of accepting Christ, through just the heaviness of life and the burdens and regulations that come from just trying to live a Christian life that looks ‘good’. We the people everyday accept Christ and the spark that they have in their eyes, the newness but also the importance that comes from a transformation. This song encourages us to go back to that feeling, whatever that looks like in our lives. ‘More Like Falling in Love’ speaks about the stark difference between a religious commitment we as Christians so want to hold up as being very important, compared to a loving relationship between God and the created, something that God calls us into each and every day. It’s more than just rules and regulations, it’s more than just ‘belief’, because even the demons believe in God- and tremble and shudder (James 2:19). So such a song as this, complete with a striking drum beat, and hand claps, encourages us to pursue the one-on-one intimacy that God is calling us into- it can’t just be all intellectual words on a page; it’s got to be a personal experience as well. ‘Holding the Key’, ‘Fade with Our Voices’ and the ever-heartfelt ‘I Am New’ are the other standouts (at least for me) on Everything Sad is Coming Untrue– ‘Holding the Key’ is a dialogue and confession to God about all the feelings and suppositions we have, all the while acknowledging and realising that God holds the key to our lives, and that with His help and guidance, we can realise all the broken pieces we hide away so much, and see and watch God use what we think are less-than, to bring about the most positive change, in ourselves, but in people around us too. ‘Fade With Our Voices’ challenges us to ask the very question of ourselves- does our audible singing worship translate to our very act of service, our living-worship on a day to day basis, or is our declarations just simply that, declarations that only end there; while ‘I Am New’, by far the song above any other from the All The Lovely LosersEverything Sad is Coming Untrue era, is one of my favourites out of all Jason Gray songs, ever. ‘I Am New’ is a declaration to what we know is true, about who God says we were. It is the companion song with ‘The Golden Boy and the Prodigal’, that if ‘The Golden Boy & the Prodigal’ was a song that made us realise the parts of us that were inside of us, and the tension we have with only showing the side of ourselves that we deem as ‘good’, then ‘I Am New’ shatters all our assumptions and preconceptions, and takes us back to who God says we are. And it is in this quote below, expounding on ‘I Am New’ and Jason’s thoughts about the song, that I have continued to admire Jason’s ability to create songs that are vulnerable, but not too vulnerable where it becomes a burden even to hear the songs. Jason imparts his wisdom below, and reminds us all just why his music is as much needed in CCM as it is in mainstream music in general:

‘…I increasingly understand the idea that we are who we think we are. That sounds like a new age idea, but it’s actually Scriptural. As far as our identity in Christ, I was talking to a friend about this idea. I only know how to come to the Lord as a servant. I’ll even use the term “son in Christ” as high church language. I’ve had difficulty realizing myself as a son of God. Many of our identity problems come from our inability to understand ourselves as sons instead of servants. Thinking of the Prodigal Son, he leaves, spends all the money, and then when he is hungry and wants the food the pigs eat, he thinks like a servant. He decides to go home as a hired hand, preparing the speech of a servant that all has to do with performance and failure to please his master. He’s preparing his speech and his dad sees his son, not a servant. His dad runs to him and accepts him as his son, not a servant. Most of us are living in a servant mindset. We live with shame and guilt when we blow it and aren’t pleasing the Lord. Part of that is natural and correct to want to please the Lord. It goes wrong when we lose the context of thinking like God’s sons and daughters. We need to remember that our righteousness doesn’t come from fulfilling duties like tithing, serving, praying or reading the Bible. We need to grow beyond being a hired hand and remember that we are children of God. This song proclaims that we are children of God and He came to set us free from our shame. Part of the newness of being part of God’s family is believing that we share in the righteousness of God because of the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf…’

It was in 2011 that Jason unveiled A Way to See in the Dark, a transformative album of sorts in the lives of many people around the world of people who have heard Jason’s music for a time, myself included. Songs like ‘Nothing Is Wasted’, ‘Remind Me Who I Am’, ‘Good To Be Alive’, ‘Without Running Away’, ‘The End of Me’ and ‘The Sound of Our Breathing’ are just moments in the album where I’ve found God Himself speak to me the loudest- and it has been these songs that remind me on a personal sense, to be ok with being broken, and that it’s ok to be reminded, maybe even on a daily basis, of our identity in Christ. ‘The End of Me’ speaks about how we as people need to maybe be at the end of our rope, so that we can realise that at the end of ourselves, we gain clarity, perspective and a realisation of who God is and what He gives to us when we have nothing to give ourselves; while ‘The Sound of Our Breathing’ unveils this understanding that every breath that we breath, and how the inflexions of the sounds of our breath that comes, instinctively and involuntary from ourselves, is in and of itself a longing for our Father in heaven, that the syllables of YAH-WEH, if you can stretch it, sounds similar (but that is a very big stretch) to how we breathe our breaths each day. While the song itself means well, I find this melody a lot less literal and indeed much more metaphorical- that our actions and how we live our lives are an indication of our desperate need for a Saviour, than the actual pronunciation themselves. ‘Without Running Away’, a lesser known track on the 2011 album, has had quite an impact on me just as ‘The Golden Boy & The Prodigal’ has had before- the song from A Way to See in the Dark is not a single, nor is a song that is ‘memorable’ when placed with other hard-hitting songs from Jason’s career. Nevertheless, it was a song that came up at various times when I was listening to Jason’s music on shuffle on Spotify. And the song is a reminder of how at times in our lives, we need to press through the despondency and despair we hold so dear to our hearts, and understand that hope, in Christ, in our situations that they will get better, in others for surrounding us with encouraging words, hope is what remains that we hold onto when everything else crumbles. And hope is what we as people crave to believe in, to believe to be true, and this song ‘Without Running Away’ gives a sobering account into trying to believe into hope and God’s promises of old, when everything that is in our immediate way, speaks of the opposite.

‘Nothing is Wasted’, rerecorded as a single in 2013, featuring Lauren Daigle as backing vocals, reminds us of this poignant and necessary truth that nothing, and I mean nothing, is wasted in the sight and loving nature of God, that whatever comes our way, as hurtful, dangerous and downright sad it can be, will be used by the Lord to showcase His redeeming power to transform something initially bad, into something good, for ourselves as we see God work in ways that we can only imagine and dream of. ‘Good To Be Alive’, a joyous track full of life, vigour, happiness and declaration, is a reminder of how good this life can be if we just live it to the full with God at the centre, and understand that the things He has placed in our lives to enjoy are things that we can enjoy, knowing that God didn’t give us the Christian life so that we can live with the weight of the rules and the regulations we so desperately want to live up to, even now. We ought to live like we are not guaranteed a tomorrow- how then shall we live, if we understand and realise that what we do and say matters to someone else? ‘Remind Me Who I Am’ is also a heartfelt song about perspective- that it is ok to admit that at times in our lives, we forget who we are in the light of who we were, and even who we want to be. We are flawed individuals in need of God’s unending grace, we aren’t the perfect souls we so desperately want to attain towards, nor are we the filthy rags that we were in the past, without Christ. We are who we are in this moment, to give a reflection and an account to the God who continuously saves us every-day and the humbleness that comes from acknowledging our need for our Saviour- and that our vulnerability for a Saviour calls for others to do just the same.

ABOUT ‘REMIND ME WHO I AM’: I write the songs I most need to hear, and this is especially true of [Remind Me Who I Am]…In fact, in the video where I’m holding a sign that says “REJECTED”, that’s very true to the wound in me that bled this song. I have deep rejection issues that can’t be fixed by any human being. I can’t find enough acceptance to fix that broken place in me. I had a tough childhood, and this is one of the scars I carry. And so, the song reflects my coming to terms with that and realizing that only God can heal what’s broken in me. The song was also born out of my growing understanding of why we do things we don’t want to do, why we become the kind of people we never wanted to be. The bible calls it sin, and I’m inclined to think of it as less of a kind of rebellion and more like a kind of addiction. One of the things that most impresses me about scripture is it’s comprehensive, compassionate, and nuanced view of the human heart and how it works. When I read the account of the fall of man in Genesis 3, I see that humanity suffers under a dynamic that scripture calls “the curse”. The deep wound of humanity, the bible tells us, is a sense of futility, that no matter what we do it’s never enough. That no matter what we do we’re never enough–in our work, as a spouse, a parent, even in our walk with the Lord. The great temptation is to always imagine that we’re not enough. So we carry around this deep sense of unworthiness, and I believe that we “sin” in the ways we try to prove our worth to ourselves. In self-centered sex, greedy entitlement, rabid consumption, in both the big and subtle ways we try to control each other and strive for dominance. A workaholic works himself to the bone to prove his worth; a person uses pornography to imagine themselves accepted and desirable with no risk of rejection. Another talk’s poorly about someone in order to feel better about themselves. Most of the sad things in our lives are a result of our desperate grabs at self-worth. I will destroy my life in the ways I try to prove my worth to myself. But when I recognize that beneath the sad things I do is a longing to be assured of my worth, I better know what to do. I run to Jesus who tells me I’m enough because he says so, that I’m the child he chose to adopt into his family, that I’m his beloved, his bride that he loves with the passion of a groom. “See, I have carved your name in the palm of my hand” He says. Remind Me Who I Am is about realizing that sin is an identity crisis. When I’m secure in God’s love for me, it reorients my whole life.

ABOUT ‘GOOD TO BE ALIVE’: We were created to enjoy things. We enjoy the taste of food. We don’t have to, and we would need to eat anyway. The fact that we were created with the capacity to enjoy things and that make us alive means something. I grew up with a church background that taught me to be suspicious of things that I enjoy. I would say that I went through a time where I stopped having fun because I was being cautious. I imagined things I enjoyed, to be unspiritual. I don’t think that’s true. That’s part of what we’re going after in the lyrics in the song: “And the joy that we get brings joy to the heart of the Giver, Then right here, right now, This is the song I’m singing out.” The understanding is that I can enjoy what I enjoy and trust that brings joy to my Creator. You can certainly enjoy things too much like alcohol and abuse it. Being overly cautious and not having enjoyment is counterproductive. If our heartbeat first and foremost is about pleasing God, and our desire is for God to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” then we will enjoy the right things and we don’t need to be so nervous about abusing them. I think of Saint Augustine who said, “Love God, and do what you want.” The idea is that if you love God first and foremost, you won’t do things that displease Him. I went through a time where I loved the Lord a lot, but I was so careful and legalistic and controlling, and I wasn’t very fun to be around. It distorted who I am and God’s purpose in my life. Our fears of falling into sin and displeasing God seem righteous, but we need to remember that “perfect love casts out fear.” This song is about abandoning fear; and enjoying life. Out of that comes gratitude. Ultimately the song is about gratitude to God.

ABOUT ‘NOTHING IS WASTED’: Those words, “it’s from the deepest wounds, beauty finds a place to bloom,” reminds me of when one of the kindest, wisest people I know was asked how he became himself, how did he become who he is. He answered with one word: pain. There’s an uncomfortable truth out there that you have to suffer to be beautiful. Suffering makes people beautiful. As long as it doesn’t make you bitter. It can go either way. The most beautiful people I know have suffered a great deal. The people with the most beautiful testimonies and stories I know have been through the most hardships. The best marriages I know have gone to hell and back. The most gracious and kind people I know have had their biggest failures completely exposed. It’s eradicated judgment from their lives. That can be the fruit of the most difficult things we go through…The ways I’ve seen this [Romans 8:28] is that the worst that hell has thrown at your life, whether it’s abuse, betrayal, difficulties, depression, failures, all those things, if we take all of that brokenness to the Lord and bring it to Him, He can take it, and reshape it, and use it as something against hell to build His Kingdom. That way the worst things that happen to us become our ministry; and become our testimony. They cause us to be revealers of God’s grace. That’s so encouraging to me to the point now that when I’m going through difficulty, I’m like “okay bring it.” I know the Lord can take it and use it. As bad as the situation, it won’t be wasted by God’s grace to produce something beautiful and meaningful in my life. It won’t only be pain.

Jason once again graced us with an all-new studio album in 2014 and the album Love Will Have the Final Word. An album that was full of much more contemplation, reflection, hope, and looking at world with the possibility of joy and pressing forward through adversity and difficulty, Love Will Have the Final Word seemed to be much more bright and joyous than A Way to See in the Dark. Singles like ‘With Every Act of Love’ and ‘Laugh Out Loud’, as well as other standout songs like ‘Not Right Now’, ‘Begin Again’, ‘Love’s Not Done With You’, ‘Even This Will Be Made Beautiful’, ‘As I Am’ and ‘The Best Days’, anchor the album musically and lyrically, as Jason himself imparts to us wisdom that only a man who’s been through a difficulty like Jason’s, can give to us so that we can look in our own lives and undertake a similar unveiling and rearrangement as Jason has. For it’s no secret that around the time of Love Will Have the Final Word and, in the years, thereafter, that Jason’s marriage broke down– for whatever reason, it’s not explicitly known. Regardless of the reasons behind marital splits, it’s never great for a marriage that was intended to last ‘til death do us part’, to end prematurely (mind you, in a domestic violence case, I can understand such splits!). Still, Jason himself has been very candid about his experiences in his own life pertaining to his marriage and subsequent divorce. Many of the songs on Love Will Have the Final Word, and especially on Where the Light Gets In, tackles issues and feelings surrounding his marriage. With the exception of the songs ‘With Every Act of Love’ (an acoustically driven song that speaks about how as we love people, it is a reflection on how well we know we are loved by the Father, and is the reflection of Jesus to people we meet) and ‘Laugh Out Loud’ (a track full of hand-claps and whistles, as Jason divulges this theme and notion of laughter and gratitude being in essence the medicine for all curtails and strains of the heart), much of Jason’s 2014 album is reflective and sombre, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The overarching theme present on Jason’s 2014 ‘comeback’ album is this- that God keeps redeeming us daily if necessary, as we delve deeper into His Word and realise the poignant and emotive words of ‘Love’s Not Done With You’, that  ‘…it’s not what you’ve done, but what love is doing…’ Jason’s poetic song-writing continues to impress even me, and is himself a living testament of God’s faithfulness. While stuttering when he speaks, he is yet a man with a plethora of songs to sing and no stutter when he’s placed in front of a microphone and a guitar. And the songs across his albums, especially on the album Love Will Have the Final Word and subsequent releases, Jason has been able to peel back the curtain of his life, and allow listeners, fans and critics alike to see a man understanding grace in the midst of difficulty in suffering, something that has come through in his songs throughout his whole life, but much more so from his end-of-marriage onward. Which reminds us all that even the darkest of circumstances can still be used by the Lord to bring about good things- in Jason’s case, his marriage ending has led to some of the most emotive and poignant songs I’ve ever heard. ‘Not Right Now’ is a song full of the hurt and pain that Jason had experienced around that time (though it wasn’t fully disclosed as to the story behind the song, it has long been surmised through hindsight from myself, that this song was written in response to his marriage being on the rocks), as we see a man vulnerable in his lyrical moments, as we understand that ‘…I know someday, I know somehow, I’ll be okay but not right now…don’t tell me when I’m grieving that this happened for a reason, maybe one day we’ll talk about the dreams that had to die for new ones to come alive, but not right now…’ It is emotion in its rawest and purist, and that is one of the reasons why I admire Jason and his music. He doesn’t hold back, offering to us songs from his experience, as we ourselves use these melodies as soundtracks to our lives, at various points of it…‘Not Right Now’ is no exception. “Begin Again”, “Love’s Not Done With You” and “As I Am”, all songs from the 2014 album, are also lyrical standouts from me from a personal standpoint. Each of the themes across these 3 songs are similar, poignant and pertinent- from reminding us that Christ’s love isn’t finished with us even if we are in certain circumstances where it may feel that there isn’t anything His love can do that’ll bring us out of the pit of hurt and shame we’re in (“Love’s Not Done with You”), and Christ loving us as we are, but not content to leave us there (“As I Am”), to always having a chance to start again- even if it is daily as we seek to always become more like Christ on a daily basis (“Begin Again”).

2016 was a time of full disclosure and healing for Jason, and since his public announcement of divorce (through his blog site), we have seen a man wrestle with questions, ideas and emotions, all through the caveat and vessel of song. For me, I’ve always felt that Jason’s latest albums- his 2016 Where the Light Gets In, his 2018 The Kipper Gray Sessions and even his forthcoming 2020 album Order Disorder Reorder, to be his most impactful and heartfelt, at least to me. If Love Will Have the Final Word was an album about loss and pain and hurt and sorrow, then Where the Light Gets In is one full of rebirth, perspective, moving on from difficulties, and embracing the fact that out of brokenness comes ever more a chance for us to readily and freely accept the grace given by Christ. There seems to be an overarching theme to Jason’s 2016 album, that we are forever and continuously learning in this life in how we walk and walk the line of being a Christian and being a human that is honest and vulnerable in how we express love to our fellow man; and songs like ‘Glow in the Dark’, ‘Learning’, ‘Sparrows’, and one of my very own personal favourites, ‘I Will Rise Again’, are evidence of this. “Glow in the Dark”, released initially on Jason’s 2015 demo B-side/remix album Post Script, has been one of my favourite songs of his from his recent 5 years, as we are reminded that we as Christians ought to shine where we are in our lives and amongst the people we are with, as we live like Jesus lived- hopeful, loving, and caring for the people around us. In the sea of people dying for someone or something to tell them they are loved and accepted, Jason encourages us all to be that voice or person willing to be there for people. “Sparrows” delivers what I reckon, are some of the most hard-hitting lyrics Jason has ever penned in his career: from the first lyric line of how ‘…you can’t add a single day by worrying, worry your life away, don’t worry your life away…’ to the chorus and how ‘…even the sparrow knows He holds tomorrow…’, we have a great understanding of the theme of the song- that we as Christians who know where our faith and trust is in, ought not to worry about our own circumstances, but trust that God has is all working into His bigger plan of perfection. Despite the song itself being one of the most poppiest songs Jason has ever recorded (and thus may alienate fans of his that admire some of his more reflective work that isn’t as ‘radio friendly’); Jason has nevertheless continued to pour out his heart, and “Sparrows” is still nothing less of that.

“Learning” is another ‘poppy’ track that has ‘radio marketability’ screamed all over it and at face value, one can look at it with the lens of ‘ohh, Jason is selling out because he’s giving us a song that an artist like Chris Tomlin could sing, and sing well’. Yet when we look closely at the track, we get a glimpse into the thought process of Jason, and how yes, this is a song that is suited for radio, but yes, this is also a song full of rich moments of lyrical depth and emotion tagged onto a song littered with hand claps. As Jason himself imparts to us all his thought processes behind the song itself, we see that when he was younger, ‘…I was instructed in how to avoid failure, but not how to value and be transformed by it. When we fail, we can have anxiety. That’s an opportunity for the accuser to shame us, and we become paralysed. What I believe the Gospel means is at that very point, transformation becomes available to us. When our lives fall apart and we fail, that’s when we learn the most and become wiser and more compassionate and all the things we say we want to be. I wanted to write a song that acknowledged all of that and in a way reduce a person’s anxiety when they fail. When you allow yourself to know your own heart, you know you are going to fail. I wanted to convey that in a song, and I wanted it to be packaged in a way where these ideas are an empowerment anthem about failure and the grace of God that transforms us in those moments. It makes it possible for us to realize what we are learning in that moment and take with us into the future in my own life and also into the lives of others to bring help and healing…’ It is in this quote that I’ve come to realise that pop songs with deep lyrics can happen- Jason’s career is full of that, and ‘Learning’ is just another song that needs to be listened to more than once for such transformative lyrics to take root within us. “I Will Rise Again”, a song that has been and will always be my favourite on Where the Light Gets In, brings to the fore a theme that hasn’t really been spoken in many songs in quite possibly the history of Christian music- rising after a death like a marriage. In effect, that is exactly what happened to Jason- the death of his marriage, rather than the event of a divorce. “I Will Rise Again” is borne through that, making this song ever so more poignant. The music in effect doesn’t really matter, the endless clichés in this song is overlooked, in favour of the hard hitting lyrics, and what it has probably meant for Jason in his own life, and what it means to the people hearing it. The chorus of how ‘…I will rise again, I believe, I believe that I had to break, so love could make me whole…’ challenges everything that we are to believe of God- can He cause things like a death of a marriage? What I will say is this- God uses things broken for us to draw closer to Him, including a fallen marriage. ‘Thank You For Everything’, a song that wasn’t necessarily a highlight for me on Jason’s 2016 album (but became one when it was placed on his 2017 acoustic EP aptly titled The Acoustic Sessions) takes things a little further, literally thanking the Lord for everything in this life, even the good and bad. While we know that God never causes bad things to happen, that often it is just because of the sin in this world that things just happen, rather, He always uses what happens in our lives, be it the bad, to shape and mould us to become much more resilient than before, to be more reliant on the Lord in every aspect of our lives. This is a song not to be sung lightly, but boldly before the Lord, declaring that everything in our lives us an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and Himself in the process.

Since the unravelling of his marriage, Jason has undergone a healing and understanding that it is ok to not be ok, that Christ is with us indeed in the valleys as well as the mountaintops. Much of Where the Light Gets In features songs that are, or lack of a better term, intensely vulnerable and at times heartbreaking, as songs like ‘Death Without a Funeral’, ‘I Will Rise Again’, ‘The Wound is Where the Light Gets In’, ‘Where We Go From Here’, alongside album ender ‘Thank You For Everything’; all allude in some way or another, towards Jason’s marriage and the ending of it. Nevertheless, Jason’s experiences have still woven the thread of how God is still good, throughout much of Where the Light Gets In– and it is out of such a season of pain that has borne some of his most emotive and prolific work in years- 2018’s The Kipper Gray Sessions and 2020’s Order Disorder Reorder.

2018 saw another development in the music of Jason Gray– a collaboration his son Kipper- with Jason singing on the project, and Kipper undertaking all the musical arrangements. What has resulted from this unveiling, is one of 2018’s most lyrically rich and musically enveloping projects of that particular year, and with songs like ‘Mountain’ and even the bold and impactful ‘Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful’; a myriad of themes are presented to the listener, reminding us all of the wide array of understandings and perspectives that we can gather along this narrow road called the Christian walk of life. Radio-friendly melody ‘Mountain’ brings us into the fray of being reminded, that it is indeed important to be in community with each other, that coming together and working side by side can produce greater results than working individually.  Littered with a plethora of imagery and motifs, Jason invites us along the journey through poignant lyrics that  ‘…together we’re a mountain, a force to be reckoned with, a city we’re building higher, higher, st-steady like a kick drum, foundation we can lean on, from the roots to the rooftops, we can’t build it alone cause on our own we’re stones but together we’re a mountain…’ Comforting to know that when we as Christians unify and come together, we can accomplish way more than we can ever do separately; ‘Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful’ directly follows on the EP, as Jason champions uniqueness and individuality over blending in and fitting with the crowd- a reminder that as Christians, we are also called to be set apart rather than to be conformists in a society where everything is seemingly permissible.

The Kipper Gray Sessions, in all its heartfelt moments of clarity, direction, emotion and comfort, embodied to us themes of community, individuality, alongside embracing the journey instead of longing for the end point at a quicker time frame, to name a few. Jason himself brought to us through that EP, musical arrangements that further asserts his presence as an underrated artist in today’s Christian music society…which brings me to the years of 2019 and 2020. Jason has unveiled to us all a unique set of musical offerings- three EPs at various points throughout the year (2019 and 2020), and then culminating in the very moment of Order Disorder Reorder on October 23rd. Order EP, Disorder EP and Reorder EP are what Jason has been up to these last few years, and while I’ve been a little critical on the EP as opposed to the album at times (for any artist), what is released here in 3 parts, is something of a genius decision. This unique way of conveying to us all, an album, is what continues to make Jason and his music interesting. I can see this smart process of releasing the songs- the journey of being in the cycle of order, disorder and reorder is often a process that can take years for us, and thus, having the full-length album split into three and each ‘volume’ focusing on one theme and letting that sink in, in a reflective way, for us, is the most logical. Jason himself is a powerful and fantastic lyricist, and thus, having time between volumes of his project I reckon will be a good thing, as we tap into his lyrics and reflect upon the themes presented in each of the songs, understanding that the Christian is often full of twists and turns, and that in the end, we’ll look back and see the purpose of the windiness. Until then, Jason has given us these songs to hopefully sing in our own stories of order-disorder-reorder. Order EP dropped August 2019, while Disorder EP released March 2020 (and Reorder out October 2nd). And as we see these songs presented in the way it was released, we see a natural progression, a flow of sorts that allow us into the thought process of Jason as we have a glimpse into his own order-disorder-reorder process.

I have reviewed this album just recently, and you can all read my own very thoughts on Order Disorder Reorder here, and so I won’t bore you all with the rehashed details. But through the listening experience of the 18-track album, there have been some standout melodies that have captured my own very attention of the years or so. ‘Order, Disorder Reorder’, the title track on the album, is perhaps one of the album’s most emotive and poignant, the song inviting us all into the general overall arching theme of transformation, that transformation is rather a process than a destination. It can take as long or as short as God wants, and that is ok. Sometimes, pain and the unmaking of us as we reconstruct what we believe and don’t believe, is often necessary on our journey in rediscovering the unconditional love Christ has for us, and His own steadfast love regardless of what we do or say (or don’t do or say!). ‘Maker of Mornings’, a song from Order EP, explores the theme of gratitude, as we acknowledge the gifts given freely by the good giver, while ‘Remind Me You’re Here’, the first radio single from Jason’s second EP in the series, Disorder EP, solidifies the theme that sometimes in our lives, hopes are dashed, and things don’t always come to fruition as they should. The song is a reminder, that often the reasons and answers as to why certain things happen in our lives won’t ever give us the full healing we desire- the reason doesn’t wipe away the pain, the hurt, the tears, whether we know fully what the Lord is doing behind the scenes or not, is beside the point. We still hurt, regardless. What we will need is the Lord’s presence near, and the comfort and the help of our family and friends in this time in need. It is in hindsight that we can see and understand what has been happening in our lives up until this point, but when we’re in the thick of it, we don’t need any rational way of justifying why God let a certain thing happen or didn’t. We don’t need justification. But we do need to be held, by our Father, to know that everything will work out in the end, even if we can’t see it now.

‘Through’, also on Disorder EP, remind us all that often, the only way out of a situation or circumstance, or whatever mountain we’re facing; is through it- the learning and the building-up-of-character happens when we face the difficulty head-on; while ‘Honesty’ (again from the Disorder part of the album…gee, maybe there is more merit to this disorder part of the journey than we all think!) imparts a theme that we as humans often brush under the rug- being honest with God, about everything, even our hurts, unmet expectations, our doubt, anger and bitterness. God can handle it, and our honesty when we share our feelings to Him about things or even feelings towards Him, will bring to us freedom as we understand that it is in the way of being truly honest, to God and with ourselves, that the weight of shame and the burden of perfection can be truly lifted from our lives. ‘Glory Days’, from Reorder EP, touches on this notion to not dwell in the days of the past in the hopes that it can be relived over and over again, but rather, to present in where we are now, reminded that God is doing a thing in our lives now, that what we’re experiencing will always have a grander purpose we can’t necessarily see right now because of our own preconceived ideas of how ‘glory days’ in our lives should look. The Reorder EP (and the whole album) then ends on the celebratory note ‘Every Moment Belongs’, a realisation through all experiences, that everything that we experience, belongs to the bigger story of God, that everything can be (and does) used by God to bring about transformation in our own lives, and in the lives of others. This life is messy and broken, and such a song that ends an album full of introspection and compelling moments of epiphany and poignancy, is something that has come full circle. ‘Every Moment Belongs’ challenges the notion that it is only acceptable to bring to the Lord, our good bits in our lives. But in a rather life-alterating way of looking at things, the song states that every moment belongs- to the greater story that is unfolding before us, to God who is not afraid of our messy bits. That is such a relief and a freeing concept. It is ok if our chapters in our lives are the way they are- nothing is wasted by the Lord, and this song celebrates this fact!

Jason Gray has come a long way throughout his year of musical service to people. His ability to write songs that speak to our very soul, are some of the very reasons behind my own inclusion of his music within the Top 100 Influential Artists list- a list that is by no means absolute and definite- it’s one man’s opinion (mine) and amongst a slew of other lists and publications about influence and artists, it is in these choices that are indeed on the cusp of being warranted and dubious, that discussion can take place. Jason is an artist that is by no means popular and that’s ok. But he is in fact impactful amongst those who have been listening to his music over the years, his songs a form of therapy and realisation as we understand that to invite into our stories the section of disorder and calamity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For a lot of refining and maturing happens when we’re under pressure from life and all the toiling that circumstances can bring, and Jason’s life and music is no different. His way of presenting songs as a medium of allowing the Lord to work through every circumstance (and I do mean every!), is something very beautiful, heartfelt and honest, a trait that often people within the CCM culture find hard to do. To be honest means to admit that sometimes we fall, and for an artist already on a pedestal to admit sin, fault and uncertainty can seem like career suicide. But Jason’s career has shown us that to be vulnerable with people doesn’t necessarily mean the end of the road commercially. Sure, Jason’s popularity within the confines of CCM may not necessarily be what it once was, but to be honest is often the best way forward, in any circumstance. Jason writes songs from a place of understanding that it is the broken parts that have the most value to God when He uses us for restoration and healing (ourselves and others that we meet). For it is the parts that we hide away that God looks at with purpose. Nothing is wasted in God’s sight, and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from Jason and his music is this- that weakness from a worldly perspective is in fact strength when we see it from God’s eyes. Even Jason himself alludes to this in a recent interview a few years back: I am curious. One of the things I value most in people is curiosity, and I feel grateful that I have a curious mind. I’m curious enough that I’m interested in seeing a common truth in an uncommon way, with just that slight change in perspective that gives more understanding than I had before. I like to write songs that accomplish that in people’s hearts. I think the deepest truth is essentially paradoxical: it’s through our weakness that His strength is perfected, it’s our failure that puts us most in touch with grace, it’s destruction that brings about renewal. It’s these opposites. I think Jesus’ teaching almost always defied expectations. You couldn’t predict what He was going to say. I’m always looking for a way to have those moments in my own songs. And it is in this excerpt of an interview that I find value in the listening of artists that fly under-the-radar, that are unassuming and aren’t always in the forefront of people’s minds when they think about a certain genre of music. I mean, you wouldn’t immediately think about Jason Gray and his music when you think of the words ‘CCM’…and yet, it has been the music of Jason (and other artists like Andrew Peterson, Lecrae, Tenth Avenue North, Skillet and Switchfoot) that have challenged my own faith and has made it much more foundationally solid than it was, maybe even a year ago. And even though Jason’s work outside of music isn’t really that much (aside from his very public announcement of his divorce and feelings and emotions thereafter), his music nevertheless speaks for itself. Heartfelt and emotive, it has been a joy to listen to Jason’s discography over this last week. Spiritually mature in a way that maybe only Andrew Peterson can rival, Jason’s way with words through song has led me to assert and affirm his importance and place, not only in and amongst CCM, but throughout all of modern music, period!

‘…“Transcend and include” is one of my favorite Rohr-isms. Integration. Using what’s in your life rather than trying to throw it off. This was very important to me, especially after my divorce which was dramatic and traumatic. I had this hellish experience that haunts me every day, even still. What am I to do with it? If I can find a way to let good use be made of it, I think that’s my only hope for surviving it and maybe even rising above it one day. We’ll see, I guess. But in regards to this project specifically, I love Rohr’s valuing of disorder as a necessary and good part of our development. When I was younger, I only understood trouble and pain as evils to be avoided at all costs, and if they came upon me, it was because A) I had done something wrong and God was punishing me or allowing these things to happen, B) he didn’t care about my life, or C) he didn’t exist. Another favorite option was the notion that I was “under spiritual attack.” At any rate, any kind of disorder was “bad” and it was only something to be delivered out of. This way of seeing things made me more miserable and anxious when the hard times hit, tempting me to see myself as a victim. Understanding disorder as a necessary and useful part of my journey of being made into the kind of person I most want to be took the anxiety and self-pity out of me and helped me learn to face it head on—engaging with it as an opportunity, bringing a teachable spirit. And that changes everything. It’s something like the difference between being the hunter or the prey. If trouble is headed our way and our posture is only to evade it, we are acting like prey. But if we turn and face the trouble head on, it does less damage and becomes the thing that can potentially make us stronger. Same trouble, but our posture makes all the difference…’

‘…Music will always be part of my life, but I find myself continually curious about if there’s something more for me to do. I’ve felt a pull to write a book for a long time and have done a good bit of writing for that, but that’s been a daunting task for me. Some of it is pride disguised as humility; some of it is fear of letting people into the inner parts of my mind and heart. What will they think? Will it be boring? Will I be brave enough to tell the truth? Will it, or will I, be good enough? Does anybody care about books anymore? Is that the best place to have the kind of conversation I’m most interested in having? Some of it, too, is…well, if I’d written a book three years ago, I’d probably disagree with half of it today, meaning that I feel like I’m in a very reformational season. So it’s hard to be transparent and vulnerable about what my mind is working on today when it’s possible I’ll feel totally different about some of these things a year from now. But I’m writing anyway and finding a path forward. It’s exciting and challenging and producing good things in me, so we’ll see. The way I see things today, Christian faith is the locus for transformation and healing. It looks to me like that’s what the whole thing is about. It’s the buried treasure in the field, so I’m trying to sell everything I have in order to buy the field…’

Does Jason Gray and his music make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Good to Be Alive’, ‘I Am New’, ‘Remind Me You’re Here’ and ‘I Will Rise Again’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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