BETWEEN THE LINER NOTES
Matt Maher: God's Grace is Enough
By Chris Carpenter
CBN.com Program Director
NASHVILLE -- Matt Maher is perhaps the most well known artist in contemporary Christian music these days who you really don’t know much about. But consider this – he has written hit songs for artists like Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman, opened for former American Idol Kelly Clarkson, and has performed before the Pope on more than one occasion.
Canadian-born Maher has recently released his second album, “Alive Again”, a collection of songs centering on what it means to be alive. Says Matt, “The whole notion that God became a human being should change the way we look at what it means to be human, and ultimately the way it leads us back to the Cross.”
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Matt to discuss the new album, what it means to be a musical missionary, and why it is so hard for Christians to empty themselves to God’s calling for their lives.
Your new album is called “Alive Again”. Tell me about it.
I am really excited about it. I am working with brand new producers. It’s basically a pretty epic sounding record. It sort of starts with very broad, large, sweeping songs about the greatness of God. There is a song on the record called “Love Comes Down” which is about God becoming a human being and the incarnation. So, that changes the way we look at the human experience. I’m excited about it. It’s the kind of record that my intention is for people to listen to it from start to finish and that it would take them on a journey of faith.
Most people know you for the worship and praise music you have written that has found its way into worship services across the land. Most notable would be your song “Your Grace is Enough”, a song that has become a staple in many churches. What was your inspiration for writing that song?
Everybody in life is constantly faced with decisions – to choose the Gospel ahead of every other aspect of our life. Sometimes those choices are deeply personal ones. Sometimes it’s a career change. Sometimes it is a family move. Sometimes it is what college you are going to go to. It’s am I going to be a missionary for a year? Am I going to go get a business degree right away? Sometimes we are called to make decisions that are right decisions but they are hard decisions. We don’t necessarily have the feelings that kind of back it up. That for me is where that song came from. I was in a relationship and kind of knew that it wasn’t supposed to keep going. It didn’t mean I didn’t want it to. But in this moment I found myself in prayer. I then found myself turning to Scripture and identifying with Paul. Here is a guy who God was using to evangelize the normal world but he had things he struggled with. He had decisions. He had a thorn in his side and begged Jesus Christ to take it away. Jesus said, ‘No, because my grace is sufficient in your weakness.’ A light went on inside me when I read that. I thought, wow God, You would take my weaknesses, the very things I struggle with, and You would even use them for Your glory, to illustrate and remind me that I am nothing without You. And I need you. So, that is kind of where that song came from. It was like if I write this and I pray this, because its truth that’s not dependant on me, I know my heart will eventually ignite. That’s the great thing about God’s Word. It’s true.
As I mentioned earlier, people seem to know you for your songwriting. Do you see yourself more as a songwriter or as a performer? They obviously go together but many people like to insist they are one or the other.
It’s funny but more and more I see myself as an apologist and as an evangelist. Songs are my tool. On an artistic level I would say I see myself as a songwriter first, a songwriter/artist. The performance side of things is kind of secondary. George Martin, who is the fabled producer of The Beatles, once said, ‘It starts and ends with the song.’ You can have the best talent in the world but if you don’t have something to say, you are a loud gong and clanging cymbal. For me, it always starts and ends with songs because there will always be somebody who comes along who is way more talented than I am – better looking, younger, faster, etc … It’s like the 3.0 version is right around the corner and that is fine. So, I think you play to your strengths and for me I have realized that my biggest gift is just the heart that God gave me to see the world the way I do, to yearn for the things of Him the way I do, and how it all seems to come together with notes and melodies to create songs. To write a song with other artists and see it be successful, like “I Will Rise” on Chris Tomlin’s record, I don’t care if I ever get recognized for it because God is using it to reach hearts for Him. That is the greatest gift.
You have been called a musical missionary in several publications. Is that a title you are comfortable with?
It’s funny how that term has evolved. Someone recently called me a ‘musicianary’. I thought that was even better. To answer your question, I am very comfortable with it. I think we are entering into a time and place in the Church where everybody is a missionary because the mission field isn’t just Africa. It isn’t just Asia. It’s here. It’s the suburbs. Its urban areas. Its places where the Gospel needs to be proclaimed. There are some people who God is going to call to the poorest of the poor places around the world. But there are also places in America where God is going to call people who seem to have everything they want but they don’t have any room for God. God is going to burden hearts of people to go and proclaim the Gospel. I really feel like my calling is to be an encourager of the Church and to call people to a place where they can, through music, hear from God. And God can appoint in them the divine calling He has for each and every one of us. You know, everybody is called to the work of the body of Christ. It doesn’t matter what your shape, size, age, or color.
That is an interesting point you make about people realizing the call God has on their lives. But often people just ignore the call and walk away. Sometimes it takes a ‘bottoming out’ for them to realize God’s purpose for their lives. Why do you think it’s so hard for people to empty themselves, especially Christians, even though the end result is always quite beautiful?
I think we find ourselves in very interesting times. Martyrdom used to be something that was very straightforward and cut and dried because you would die physically for your faith. But there is a whole deeper level that happens in the process of dying for your faith where it’s inner humiliation. Look at the word ‘humiliation’. It basically comes from the word humble. It’s the process of being humbled. I think the reason why people struggle with emptying themselves is because there is this nature within us to hold on to ourselves and our lives and the things we love and value so tightly. It’s because we are afraid of losing it. It is probably just our fallen nature. Yet it’s in the submission to the will of Christ that amazing things happen. I think people struggle with it now because I don’t think there are any real examples in our society anymore. Marriage used to be an example of – healthy marriages are an example of what it means to empty yourself because you are yoked with this person. We have made a commitment to God, a covenant with God. My life is no longer about me. It is about this person. They made the same promise. If all our marriages in the Church were doing that our kids would see that modeled and they would realize that is what it means to empty yourself. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for another. You see a man lay down his life for a woman and vice versa. And then someone tells you the story of the Cross. It now makes sense because you have seen it in a very tangible way. Then it becomes a little bit easier to understand. I think the foundation of society is the family. The best thing the Church could do would be to empower and equip whole families to be a family and to mirror the love that Christ has for the Church. That would be the biggest witness that we could ever give.
After people hear or sing your music what is your greatest hope for them?
I would love for them to not be thinking about me but to be thinking about God. My hope is that they would have an encounter with God. I hope it isn’t about the person writing and singing the song. My hope is that the music would just whisk them away to a holy place. That is my heart more than anything.
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