That sound you hear—the music that’s changing our generation—where did it come from? If you were asked to find its roots, reproduce its sound, what would you do? Where would you go?
You might reach for an upright piano or a Stratocaster.
You might tell me about a man in black rocking the house at Folsom Prison.
You might want to pull out some vinyl from those great old labels like Blue Note, or Motown, or Sun Records.
You might want to take me back to the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Or to the little white churches of New England. Or to the slave ships and cotton fields…
If I could, I’d take you all the way back to the music of King Jehoshaphat. It was 800 B.C. or so, huge enemy armies had lined up against King Jehoshaphat, and he knew he was in big trouble.
Maybe you know the story. King Jehoshaphat couldn’t think of a thing to do except pray. But when he did, God gave him a plan. The plan was music—but not just any music. A particular kind of music. “Sure,” God told King Jehoshaphat, “send your soldiers out to battle, but send your musicians first. And tell them to lead the army into battle with worship songs.”
Interesting plan of attack, don’t you think? Unlike your average Hollywood movie, the music in this story wasn’t meant to be the soundtrack for the big fight. It was the fight. Worship was their entire battle plan.
“Just sing out,” Jehoshaphat told his men. So they did.
“Praise the LORD,” they sang, walking off to battle, “for His mercy endures forever” (2 Chronicles 20:21, NKJV).
Killer music, I guess you could say, because the whole enemy army was wiped out without Israel ever lifting a sword.
If you asked me what music is changing our times, I’d say it’s worship like that.
I’d point to another Bible story—this time, to a jail cell in Philippi, where two beat-up evangelists sang hymns through the night. You might know this story too. Not long into Paul and Silas’s little worship service, the earth started shaking. Then the chains broke, and the doors to their freedom swung open.
What a breakout that was! Even the jailer in charge of the prison got saved, along with his whole family.
Call it music to shake your world. Music to set your generation free. Music—and a whole life to go with it— that you and I were uniquely created for. That’s what I want to explore with you in this book.
Have you heard the sound I’m talking about—filling a church or arena, rolling in waves out across a field at a festival, or whispered around a campfire? Have you experienced the revolution I’m talking about firsthand? God is still using worship to turn people around, to stop the enemy in his tracks.
Or a city. Take New York, for example.
New York City is quite a place. You can hear almost every language in the world on the sidewalks there. And along with Boston, New York is at the heart of college life in America—I’m told there are 900,000+ college students within a seventy-five-mile radius of Times Square. We had wanted to take a Passion Movement worship event into the heart of the city for a long time. Of course, it’s one thing to take worship events to college towns in the South and Midwest. These days you know you’ll probably get a crowd. But New York is different. It’s a world away from the Bible Belt, for one thing, and it’s a ton more expensive.
We prayed, planned, and waited. But the doors to New York remained shut.
Until one afternoon last April. My band and I walked out of the Newark airport and took a cab to uptown Manhattan. We were headed for the legendary Beacon Theatre, on Broadway and 74th, where the next day we were going to be part of putting on our first-ever worship event for New York City college kids.
Here’s what had happened. College students across the country had stepped up to help open the door. You see, over the past months of the Passion Tour, we had been taking an offering at every concert to pay for a free event in Boston. Churches and students from Sacramento to Madison caught the vision and chipped in. Then, at the concert in Boston, we challenged the students there—who aren’t known for being fond of New Yorkers—to help present a gift of a free worship concert to students in the Big Apple. They responded generously, and here we were, driving up Broadway, anxious to see what God would do next.
Or course, we had no idea what that might be. The Beacon, on New York’s Upper West Side, has been a premier music venue for decades. The week before our date, Sting had been the ticket. The previous night, it had been Ruben Studdard of American Idol. The night following, it would be the Irish phenom Damien Rice. Our concert had been advertised on campuses around the city. But we didn’t know how well-known the music of Passion was in New York. And when you don’t have advance ticket sales, you don’t know who—if anyone—is going to show up.
But show up they did.
At 8:00 the next morning, when we went back to the Beacon to set up, kids were already lining up. Curious drivers going by on Broadway were slowing down for a look, backing up traffic. By afternoon, the line wound around several blocks. And the doors didn’t open until seven! You have to wonder what other New Yorkers were thinking. An MTV special? A release party for some hot new L.A. band? No, just students who couldn’t wait to proclaim to their city the splendor of the Lord.
That night the place was packed. Thousands of students—so happy to be there, so hungry for God, so ready. And as soon as Charlie Hall opened, it was clear the crowd knew the songs, and they wanted to sing.
After Charlie was finished, Louie welcomed everyone, then we broke into small groups for a prayer time.
Everybody praying at the same time, out loud, for their campuses, for their city. I tell you, that’s a beautiful sound. Then our band came on for a forty-five-minute set. What can I say? Wish you coulda been there! It was so powerful. I felt as if the crowd was saying, “Hey Chris, just start the songs. We’ll take it from there!” It was a worship leader’s dream. I think those students sang better— and with more heart—than any place I’ve ever been. In fact, Joey, our video guy, told me later, “That was the first time I couldn’t hear you play, Chris. People were so loud!”
Louie’s message that night was about shining a light in the world. But it is a light that isn’t our own. “Be the moon,” he challenged. “You don’t have any light on your own. We only reflect the light of Another. But when you and I get in the right place, Christ shines in us.”
When the David Crowder Band came on to play the closing set, a theater manager who had been standing backstage came up and wanted to talk. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “I had to step outside and call my dad.” Turns out his dad runs the theatre, and the guy had worked there for years. “I just had to tell my dad that in all our years we’ve never had this kind of show. All the drug-filled concerts that come through here—they can’t begin to light up the place like this!”
He leaned closer. There was something else he wanted to tell me. “Man, I just went out in the crowd and sang!” he said, grinning self-consciously. “’Course, I don’t know any of the songs. But I just felt something in my heart.”
Two days later, John Leland of the New York Times wrote a feature on the event. He called it “Christian Music’s New Wave Caters to Audience of One.” “The worship gathering for college students reflects a groundswell both within churches and in the Christian music marketplace,” he wrote. “The musicians—who call themselves ‘worship leaders’ rather than performers—sing not about God, but to God. The audience sings as much as they do.”
New Wave? Old Wave?
Ask Jehoshaphat, or Paul and Silas, or the angels gathered at God’s throne from the beginning of time. I think it’s the real music of our past and of our eternal future, and it’s happening now.
This book is about the sound of a generation waking up to the big idea of worship as a way of life. One place you find this lifestyle expressed in the Bible is in a prayer of the prophet Habakkuk:
LORD, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD.
Renew them in our day. (3:2)
When we see God for who He really is, we stand in awe—and we know that nothing less will ever do. Here’s another Bible passage that shows how we should respond to God’s fame:
Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your laws,
we wait for you;
your name and renown
are the desire of our hearts. (Isaiah 26:8)
The Bible clearly shows us that you and I have been uniquely created for a purposeful life, but—here’s the un-American part—it’s not meant to be about us or our career or our fame. It’s all about God and His glory. Think of yourself, then, as one of God’s fame builders.
That’s what Jehoshaphat did on the battlefield. And Paul and Silas in prison. You and I are formed from the dust of His creation and given breath for this reason: to spread His renown to everyone we meet by what we say and do. It’s the way I was made. It’s the way you were made too.
But something has gotten us off track.
Maybe we’ve traded in the Person who made us and the reason He made us for the things He made. It’s a powerful human tendency. Paul described it this way:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.… They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:21, 25)
These verses have always hit me hard. I see this powerful human tendency in me too. The pull of my wants, my needs, my possessions, my money, my time, my friends, my “career”—almost everything is about me, the created being, and not my God, the Creator.
Worship isn’t really a churchy word. Everyone worships something. And what you worship is whatever you place the highest value on. It’s what you order your choices by. What you surrender your will to. So, while most of us say, “Hey, you won’t find any stone idols at my house!” we don’t really own up to what we do worship. Is it really God, our Creator, the One who asks for all of us?
Sin does such a number on us. It deceives us. It puts hooks into our pride, our insecurities, our fears, our selfishness. We set off through life trying to make it on our own. And forty years later we look back and think, What did all that add up to? Not much!
Let’s face it, even at church we can trade in the real thing for the imitation:
Our meeting together in the name of Jesus can turn into a program.
Our songs to Him can turn into a performance for each other.
Our fellowship can turn into hanging out with “the right people.”
Even our Gospel can become an insurance policy, a handy plan to get God on your side so you can have the life you really want.
The message of this book—and of every song I hope to write—is that it’s time for this generation to let go of the imitations. Let go of the second-rate stuff. Let go of stuff, period. And reach for the real life we’ve been created for.
God didn’t make a mistake when He made you. He didn’t set out to make another Einstein or Mother Teresa or Michael Jordan or Michael W. only to get interrupted, say, or have a bad day and—Oops! Lookey here. It’s Billy.
It’s not like that at all. He’s not wishing—not for a moment—that you could just get it together enough to be someone else. And He’s not plugging His ears to your prayers just because you have some major screwups on your record.
He made you just the way you are for an extraordinary purpose, an unusual life—one that only you can live for Him.
For me, a lot of it has to do with words and music. Singing and writing songs and leading others in worship are at the core of my calling as a child of God. There’s nothing about these gifts and interests that make me better or worse than the next guy. But I’d be having a sorry excuse for a life if I didn’t take them seriously.
What about you? I invite you to think prayerfully about the way you have been made as you read this book. Let me tell you how the song “The Way I Was Made” from my most recent album, Arriving, came to be.
I’d just met my new producer, Ed Cash. He’s a regular kind of guy with an amazing range of gifts. By regular, I mean he usually looks like he just came back from duck hunting. By amazing, I mean he has a hot reputation in Nashville for his producing genius. He thinks in melody. He plays every instrument he picks up and plays it like a master. He sings like he should be on tour. And he’s honest. I think the second sentence out of his mouth when I met him was, “I always think of worship songs as, oh, subpar.”
Okay. So we got that cleared up.
But I plunged ahead anyway. Before long, there I am in his studio, pouring out my heart on my guitar, showing him the best I have to offer.
After seventeen or eighteen songs that I thought might work on the new album, Ed reluctantly asked if he could play something for me. I said sure.
From the first guitar chord, I was swept away. Here’s the little chorus Ed sang:
I want to live like there’s no tomorrow
I want to dance like no one’s around
I want to sing like nobody’s listening
Before I lay my body down
I want to give like I have plenty
I want to 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.
When he was done, he handed me a scrap of paper with the chords and lyrics written on it. “See what you can do with this,” he said. He’d written the piece quite a while ago, he said, but he couldn’t seem to take it any further. “You take it and write the rest of it.”
That got me thinking. I want to be the man I was meant to be / I want to be the way I was made… I really loved the emotion in those words. They just settled down into my spirit like a pebble sinking in a pond.
That afternoon I took the chorus home with me and went to work with Jesse on the rest of the song. It didn’t take us long before we had captured something special.
Here are the verses that soon rang from Apt 9B:
Caught in the half light / I’m caught alone
Waking up to the sunrise / and the radio
Feels like I’m tied up / what’s holding me
Praying today will be the day I go free
Made in Your likeness, made with Your hands
Made to discover, who You are and who I am
All I’ve forgotten, help me to find
All that You’ve promised let it be in my life
I wonder if you recognize that feeling of knowing—knowing with all your heart and soul—that you desperately need to wake up to who God is and who He means for you to be.
That strong desire is at the heart of this book. Sure, life is hard. No one gets through without facing huge risks, without failing at times, without getting hurt. But even so, God made us to live a full life. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
In the pages ahead I want to help you discover more about what God has uniquely made you to do and enjoy. Like a lot of young people, you might be looking ahead, down the road of your life, and wondering, Does God really have something good in mind for my future—and if He does, do I want it? Or, Is a life lived for God’s glory really as good as it gets?
In the process of looking at those questions with you, I’ll share a lot of personal stories. I’m not a preacher. And anyway, I’ve noticed that I often learn the most from other people’s stories. But every word here is intended to encourage the young men and women of my generation to reach for the full and passionate life that God is calling us to.
It’s a big road ahead.
But we have a big God.