Singer Matthew West Shares The Story of Your Life
CBN.com - Contemporary Christian singer Matthew West’s acclaimed 2011 release, The Story of Your Life, was a unique achievement. He wrote the album during a two-month mountain cabin retreat as he read 10,000 letters from fans who wanted to share their stories. Those tales of struggle and salvation became the 11 songs recorded on the project, including “Strong Enough”, “My Own Little World” and “One Less”.
In an effort to share more of the personal stories that were submitted, the award-winning artist co-wrote a devotional with author Angela Thomas titled The Story of Your Life: Inspiring Stories of God at Work in People Just Like You. He spoke with CBN.com about the experience, why writing this book was important and why each of our stories should be told. Here are excerpts from that conversation:
Hannah Goodwyn: When did the idea to put these stories in a book come to you?
Matthew West: There were so many stories, and out of 10,000 stories, it dawned on me through the process, as I was reading these stories and writing songs for a record, that I could make a CD with 500 songs on it. There were so many amazing stories that were so inspirin. Then it was like this dose of reality when I realized I could only really put like 11 or 12 songs.
It really bummed me out to think that so many of these stories might not see the light of day. That’s when I really began to sort of seek out another outlet, to give a platform and voice to some of these other amazing stories that I think will impact other people’s lives. Harvest House Publishers really stepped in alongside and said, “Hey, we believe in that vision, too; and we want to give you a chance to do that.”
This devotional book was written by myself and my friend, Angela Thomas, who is an amazing speaker and author. She heard me speaking about this project I was working on at a conference, and she was speaking there as well. She came up to me and said, “I think you need to write a book; and I’d love to write it with you.” That’s really how the devotional book came about. It’s amazing that when God puts an idea on my heart. He doesn’t just put it on my heart, but then He also equips me with different people and individuals or companies like Harvest House who step in and say, “Yeah.” They affirm it; and then they help it become a reality.
HG: Your mom had the feeling a while back that you’d be writing a book; didn’t she?
MW: I love my mother; and I love that she’s a praying woman. By that I mean, I don’t know how many times I would happen to walk by her bedroom, and her door would be kind of cracked open, and I could hear her praying. I’d peek in and she’d be kneeling by her bedside, lifting up our family, praying for me, specifically praying for her sons.
One time she called and said, “I feel like you’re going to be writing books, so I’ve been praying for that, that God will give you the words.” We had a good laugh about it because my GPA in high school wasn’t very good. I was like, “There’s no way I’m going to be writing books.” But, you know, God uses unlikely but willing subjects. I’m one of those. Writing these books, when I think about it, I think about my mom and, once again, she was right on the money.
HG: How did you whittle down 10,000+ submissions to just the 52 you reflect on in the devotional, The Story of Your Life?
MW: Well, it was tough. It was just as tough to pick the stories for the book as it was to pick the stories for the album. There’s so many. I could do six volumes of this devotional book, and each one would be just as interesting as the last. I’m not saying interesting because of what I wrote, I’m just saying there’s power in a personal stories. There’s power in it.
That’s the way I’ve always communicated with audiences from day one of writing songs, which is telling my story. It’s because I’ve experienced God use my story in other people’s lives, that’s what fires me up to encourage and empower other people to recognize the power in their stories.
I found myself drawn to were stories that weren’t filled with “Christianese” neatly wrapped with a bow at the end, you know. Do you know what I’m talking about, like how we as Christians tend to talk like, “I’ve just lost my job, and I’m battling cancer and my husband left me, but God is good all the time.” Sometimes it’s like, yeah, He is. But sometimes you could still be hurting, you know what I mean? Job still wrestled with God, even though he was considered a faithful servant even during his suffering. So, I guess what resonated with me, was when I felt like somebody was being real.
As I was reading the stories, I just wanted that feeling that somebody was being real. That’s what I looked for, and at the same time I was reading stories and going, man, if there would be a story I’d read, I’d be like, “The world needs to hear this.” I just knew it.
HG: If you were submitting your story, what would you write?
MW: If I was being real, I would write about my struggle of being a burned-out preacher’s kid who had gotten so good in my life at looking and talking and acting like a good Christian, and yet the condition of my heart was critical. I’m not talking about as a 16-year-old kid. I’m talking about as a professional Christian artist who is talking about and singing about Jesus every day and every night of my life and realizing that my faith in Christ had become so second nature that it wasn’t real. It wasn’t my first love anymore.
I would write a story about my journey back to that, back to the hour I first believed. Back to a real passionate relationship with Christ, which I feel like I’m still on that journey. I feel like, for me, it’s a daily thing. A lot of times I feel like I have to start my prayers with, like, “Lord, give me a desire to read your Word today.” “Give me a fresh desire to spend time with you.” Sometimes the devil will beat me up, or make me want to beat myself up with going, “Man. Seriously? You don’t naturally have this fire inside of you that’s constantly driving you to your knees?” Sometimes that’s the plight of a preacher’s kid, where your faith, it’s not unlike my songwriting. Sometimes I write a song, and I don’t feel like writing a song, but I do it anyway. I’m constantly on that journey of going, “Lord, bring me back to that,” you know? I think I’d write about that.
HG: I understand your story well. Sometimes I think, “I’ve been a Christian for 20 years. I should be better at this than I am.”
MW: I was at a conference the other night in Iowa; and I was the final thing of the night. They had these speakers up; it was Promise Keepers, 5,000 men. I snuck out and just caught a little bit of the seminar before I went on, just to see what was going on. It happened to be while they were giving an invitation for people to come forward and accept Christ.
I saw these men walking forward, and the whole auditorium’s just cheering for them. These men are walking forward and raising their hand, and they’re accepting Christ for the first time. I just started crying because it just stirred something within me that reminded me of when that was me. It was a really special moment and a moment where I felt like the Lord stirred that in me.
You know, [God] going, “That’s still you. You still need Me just as much as you did, when you first gave your heart to Me, and I still love you just as much as I did, when I forgave you of your sins.” So, there are those moments where it’s hot, raw and fresh.
HG: It’s biblical, sharing our testimonies, sharing our stories. God’s honoring what you’re doing because of that. The book, and the albums, everything…
MW: It’s just fun to see it all come together, or starting to come together. We filmed curriculum that goes along with the theme of discovering your story. It’s like this awesome peace for youth groups, and small groups, and churches you go to. It’s five parts in five weeks, and it comes with this guided journal, with all of these questions to help you kind of go, “OK. What’s my story?”
Ginny’s in the curriculum. She’s on my record. She’s in the devotional book. Ginny wrote to me, and by writing to me, set free a thirty-five-year-old secret of her terminated pregnancy that she had when she was a teenager. Ever since that abortion, she hadn’t told anybody, not even her husband.
She wrote to me, and I asked her why. She said, “Well, I never thought you’d actually read it.” I said, “Well, of course I read it.” And she said, “But you know what? I’m so glad you did. I can’t believe there’s a song about it, and you know what? I’m glad, because I don’t have any secrets anymore. I feel free.”
When I called her to tell her, that’s what led her to tell her husband. Her husband said, “I always felt like you were keeping something from me.” It wasn’t easy for him to hear, but they started the healing process.
In a lot of ways, that’s why we created the book and the curriculum. Because a lot of times, a song can only go so deep, a song can only go so far, and it’s three minutes. Whenever someone comes and says, “That song changed my life.” I don’t correct people, but a book doesn’t change your life. A song doesn’t change your life; Jesus is going to change your life. When I hear stories like Ginny’s, I’m going, look at the healing she found from telling her story. More people can find that freedom by telling their story. Maybe they just don’t know how.
So, we’ve created these tools, this curriculum, this book, to help people do that. Some guided questions, just dig in. “Well here’s what the Bible says about your story, and here’s God’s plan for your story. Here’s how God can redeem bad parts of your story; so what are they?” Instead of never talking about them, get it down. It’s all part of your story, whether you like it or not. You can’t change it. That’s what people like Ginny have discovered, and I’m praying that other people will step into that and find the same feeling.
Hannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for CBN.com. For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.
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