I've been devoted to God's Word and Christian music for the past 20 years, starting with the debut album by Jars of Clay
, Jesus Freak
and Take Me To Your Leader
. I credit the biblical messages behind my favorite songs in Christian music for leading me to seek Jesus, and I accepted Him as my personal Savior in 1999.
Those landmark albums of the mid-1990s were major influences, both personally and on the broader scale of the music industry. These albums helped lead people to seek Christ (myself included), and they didn't hold back in proclaiming the truth of the Gospel.
In that same vein, the new studio album from TobyMac, This is Not a Test
released everywhere August 7. The album features the hit singles "Beyond Me" and "Feel It" along with the long-awaited reunion with his dc Talk bandmates Kevin Max and Michael Tait on "Love Feels Like."
One of Christian music's best-selling artists, TobyMac continues to successfully blend elements of rock, pop and hip hop. His music reflects his faith, real life struggles and passionately pursuing God. I had the chance to speak with Toby about the personal story behind "Beyond Me."
Please tell me the personal story behind this song.
I like talking about this song as it's kind of become my theme song for life, especially as it relates to my artistry, but really it relates to everything in my life. I always feel like I am in waters over my head. I always feel like I'm more aware of my need than I've ever been in my life. I grew up in athletics, and I feel like I was taught my whole life to say "give me the ball, I'm going to score the game winner. I've got this." The wiser you get and the more life you live, you realize, for lack of better grammar, "I don't got this." I have a desperate need for God. It's beyond me.
The song came from a prayer that I've been consistently praying as I walk around the studio and then collaborate to write songs. Most of my writing sessions I stay consistent to this prayer, saying "God, hollow me of anything that would get in Your way of writing a song. Hollow me of any pride, insecurity and doubt. Make me hollow enough that You can breathe something through me that would turn people's eyes to You. Make me a hollow enough vessel that You can breathe something that is more poetic than I could ever write, more melodic than I could ever sing, more lyrical than I could every rap. Breathe something that is literally beyond me."
Out of that prayer one day before writing this song with my friend David Garcia, we said "maybe that's the song," that very prayer I had been praying.
Which Bible verses connect to the message of the song?
The song is based on my life verse, Isaiah 43:19 (NLT)
: For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
Genesis 41:16 (NLT)
: "It is beyond my power to do this," Joseph replied. "But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease."
Jeremiah 33:3 (VOICE)
: Call to Me, and I will answer you. I will tell you of great things, things beyond what you can imagine, things you could never have known.
Psalm 40:17 (VOICE)
: Meanwhile, I am empty and need so much, but I know the Lord is thinking of me. You are my help; only You can save me, my True God. Please hurry.
Psalm 86:13 (VOICE)
: For Your loyal love for me is so great it is beyond comparison. You have rescued my soul from the depths of the grave.
Psalm 150:6 (NKJV)
: Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!
Philippians 4:13 (NKJV)
: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
What is the takeaway message?
My life verse, Isaiah 43:19, says "Behold I am doing a new thing in the land, it's springing forth, do you perceive it?" That came all the way back to the dc Talk song "Nu Thang." That's where that song came from. I love that Bible verse, because the promise of it is that God is not in the past. He didn't miss anything, and He is doing something new all the time.
I remember studying the "Experiencing God" Bible study, and I was convicted by the thought "don't ask God to be part of something you are doing or ask God to join you in an effort, but go see what God is doing and join in, because He's always doing something."
I think sometimes a lot of us, including myself, stay in the realm of what we can control. Over the last 20 years, I've been coming to grips with being a recovering control freak. I find that I can do things and keep things in my control and I can accomplish things, but I need to get in that position where I am weak and God is strong, knowing that it is beyond my strength to handle.
That's different for everybody. For me, it is about challenging myself to write songs that go deeper. It might mean writing melodies out of my wheelhouse. It might be getting one on one with my daughter and taking her out on a date when I'm used to a big crowd a lot of the time. It's easy for me to run around with my boys and play basketball and football, but it takes more effort for my daddy-daughter time. I want to stretch myself and be who God has called me to be. Give Him the room and know that weakness is a beautiful posture to do something beyond ourselves. I'm a needy man. I need God, and I can't do it on my own.
Call it a reason to retreat
I got some dreams that are bigger than me
I might be outmatched, outsized, the underdog in the fight of my life
Is it so crazy to believe
That You gave me the stars put them out of my reach
Called me to waters a little too deep
Oh, I've never been so aware of my need
You keep on making me see
It's way beyond me
It's way beyond me
Yeah, it's out of my league
It's way beyond me
It's way beyond me
It's way beyond ...
Anything that I got the strength to do
In over my head keeps me countin' on You
I'm leaving the sweet spot, sure shot
Tradin' it all for the plans You got
Is it so crazy to believe
You take me to the place where I know I need You
Straight to the depths that I can't handle on my own
And Lord I know, I know I need You
So take me to Your great ...
Take me to Your great unknown
Toby has consistently played a part in my testimony as a believer, shaping my thoughts by breathing his voice into some of Christian music's top selling and most beloved songs, including "Jesus Freak," "Made to Love," "City on Our Knees," "Me Without You" and "Steal My Show."
For the past eight years as a Christian music reviewer, I've fallen deeper in love with my Savior by studying His Word in conjunction with my favorite songs in Christian music, including writing these weekly Behind the Song devotionals. This song really connects with me as a believer, a fellow husband and fellow father, in sharing Toby's sentiments behind the song.
As believers, it would be powerful if we could start to show our witness of God not only in our times of hardship, but also by leaning into Him and showing our joy in terms of celebrating God. That in some ways is just as inspirational. Joy isn't just a happy emotion. It is also a deep peace and understanding, knowing that we are loved without a shadow of a doubt. We should not be ashamed to sing of our dependence on God and to show Him reverence. What are those things in your life that are beyond you that you can turn over to God? Allow Him and His supernatural ability to take you to places that you can't handle on your own.
You can hear Toby's vertical expressions of relying completely on God for His breath and Holy Spirit to sustain him in this song. I absolutely love Toby's intentionality and complete focus on God's provision in his life. Toby writes and sings his heartbeat, given to him by God: "Oh, I've never been so aware of my need, You keep on making me see, It's way beyond me."
When I look at the world and think about my place and God's plans for my life, I can't help but realize that it's "way beyond me
." I love Toby's prayer that led to writing this song, and whatever we are facing, we can all benefit from praying to God "You take me to the place where I know I need You, straight to the depths that I can't handle on my own. And Lord I know, I know I need You, so take me to Your great unknown
." Amen to that!
(Watch the lyric video here.