Phil Wickham is an amazing worship leader and songwriter. I try to see him in concert at every opportunity I get. His worship songs have been sung in churches around the world, from his hit song "Living Hope" to "This Is Amazing Grace." His songs have been so encouraging in my life, and they've encouraged so many other people, as well. Recently, I caught up with Phil about quarantine life, new music, songwriting, and more.
First off, how are you and your family doing with all that's going on?
All in all, my family and I are doing well. But, I think the first two or three weeks were a bit of a shell shock. My wife and I are already homeschooling our kids. Some might think that's not a big deal, but my kids were out of the house so much: going to parks, the beach, friends' houses, not to mention that they're super involved with dance class. Being hunkered down all together, 24/7, had its own learning curve.
We had to figure out some new ways of doing things, because so much of what I've done for our whole marriage is leave the house, get on a plane, and go to another city to work. So, we had to figure out how I could work from home. It took about two and a half weeks to get into a good rhythm. But, now it feels like we're in a good rhythm.
It's been a little while since we've heard new music from you. Is there any new music that's in the works?
Yes, there is. I've started recording my new record (I have about three songs done). I planned to do a whole record, but now it seems like everybody's pivoting. It's exciting because it seems like it's putting into perspective the real heart behind me as a worship leader, songwriter, Christian, and Jesus follower.
You can get so used to coming up with a business plan and a vision, trying to come up with a plan that gets your songs to reach as many people as possible. Then you realize, that's not the first focus. The focus is to spread the music to the Kingdom of God: for people to be encouraged, regardless if it benefits you or not.
I'm very thankful for a lot of reasons. It's really sad that people are getting sick and losing jobs. So, obviously, there's a big downside to what's going on. But, for my own heart, this has been very softening for me towards the Lord. And, an amazing realigning of priorities and perspectives that I didn't even know needed to be shifted.
You recently co-wrote a song with Bethel Music's Brian Johnson called "God of Revival." What's the story behind that song?
My wife and I were feeling this sense that there's a new move of God taking place in our communities. We were hearing little bits and pieces of people's prayers. We were thinking that 2020 is going to be a defining year for our country and for the world. This was long before the COVID-19 pandemic took place. But, that's just what we were feeling in our hearts.
I recorded a live acoustic record called Singalong; it's the fourth one that I've recorded. The record featured a few quests, one of which was Brian. We were going to lead my hit single, "Living Hope," together. As we were sound checking for that night, he said, "I've got this little melody." He started humming the chorus to what became "God of Revival."
I said, "What if it was like, 'You can light it up, You can light it up'." I started singing those lyrics over it and then he started singing "Oh, God of revival." We looked at each other and thought, "This is what we've been talking about. I think we're supposed to write a 'God bring revival' kind of prayer." The idea started in a soundcheck at a live recording. Then we pursued that idea until it became the song that it is.
Recently, you led worship at Pastor Greg Laurie's church, and President Donald Trump tweeted that he would be watching. What were you feeling when he tweeted that message? Was it nerve-racking knowing that the president would be watching you lead worship?
It actually wasn't nerve-racking at all. I just thought, "How cool!"
I think anybody could find pros and cons about the things the president has said and done. But, I do consider it an honor, if it was any president watching. What I got excited about, more than anything was the fact that it brought to light the very solid church Harvest Christian Fellowship, as well as its amazing pastor, Greg Laurie.
Above all priorities, he has a heart for people to hear the gospel. Through Greg's ministry over a million people have signed their name saying, "I received Jesus tonight," at his events, through his church, and through his online messages. I was excited thinking of all the random people that would tune in, just because the president tweeted a message.
Stories have flooded in of people who never really gave God a chance saying, "I just gave my life to Jesus." One person said, "I'm an atheist, and I just saw the president's tweet. It made me curious. I saw the show. And, I gave my life to Jesus. I want to follow him." There's just story, after story, after story.
As Greg was giving the gospel message, he said, "If this is the first time you've decided to follow Jesus, we want to reach out to you and send you a bible. We want to connect you with a local church that you can grow in. But, we need you to click the button on the screen." About 1.3 million people watched the service that Sunday (which is crazy), and almost 12,000 people clicked that button. Weeks prior, about 500 people clicked that very same button. So, I think the president's tweet pointed a lot of people to Jesus, which is an amazing thing.
You're an incredible songwriter. What does your songwriting process look like?
Over the years, I've tried to develop a different way of seeing the world: through the eyes, through the heart, and through the person's worldview. This way, I develop another skill as an artist. Like a sculptor who sees something and says, "Wow, that could be a beautiful sculpture."
As a songwriter, and specifically as a worship songwriter, there are moments in life, whether it's sweet, but kind of small, or giant moments in life where God reveals Himself. That goes for all of us as followers of Jesus. You can go back--especially if you've been following Jesus for years--to moments when you were in the mountains, looking at the stars, and feeling God's nearness. You remember that moment when you held our sister's baby for the first time, thinking, "Wow, God holds us." There are moments where God feels so near. He's showing us a bigger, different, unique part of Himself.
For me, I've tried to develop that art, that songwriter eye inside to see those moments. Not just as beautiful moments where I grow closer to God, but to also say, "Where's the song in this where other people can get on board with this moment with me?" So, I wait for those moments of inspiration, and when they come, I take advantage of them. Then I figure out what the song is supposed to be about if this is the anchor for it.
There's always this moment of inspiration as I'm writing a song. When I'm hitting roadblocks and walls, when something's not feeling inspiring, and it's not good enough to show anybody yet, I can always go back to a moment where I felt a profound newness and revelation of God. Then I'm like, "Okay, I know the song is there, and I know this is a place I want to bring people too as well, but I just haven't figured out the roadmap for it yet." That's a part of songwriting. Sometimes you have to use dynamite to create the road. Sometimes it takes so much effort, but sometimes it's like, "Oh this is all downhill and a nice paved road. I just wrote a song!" So you never know how you're going to get to that point, where it's like "Wow, I've gotten from point A to point B. From the raw material to something I could sing in five minutes and share what I learned in this year of my life, or share what I learned at this moment in my life."
All that being said, songwriting processes capitalize on the moments of inspiration. Don't get tired of chasing down those moments of inspiration if you feel like it was a strong enough moment that you want other people to experience it.
Are there any songs that have been speaking to you during this time?
I started doing covers of songs that I love to sing that aren't mine. And, I've been sharing them on social media. They've been getting such a cool response from people. So, I think I'm going to make a YouTube playlist. And, maybe put the songs on Spotify or Apple Music.
It's these seasons of life where people realize that they're desperate for God. Whether they've been following Jesus their whole lives, or just know about God, people realize the only thing certain in this world is God's love for His children. I think this makes people turn to faith.
In these moments, people try to find something solid to stand on. I'm so thankful that there are so many hundreds of incredible songwriters who write music for the church to have new prayers to pray. Whether it's the crew at Hillsong or Bethel, Vertical Church or Mosaic, or Elevation, or even solo guys like Cody Carnes and Matt Redman, they're writing these incredible God-given songs. And, I'm so thankful for them.
I found myself taking time in my office, not to work, not to try and write new music, but just to pick up my guitar and sing a Matt Redman song, Hillsong song, or a Cody Carnes song to God. I used to do that in my room when I was 14 in youth group. It reminds me of the early days where it was just me and the Lord. I'm so thankful for that, and for what this season has brought to my life.
I'm using my phone to record songs. Now, they're up on social media. And, they've been listened to over a million times just in one week. So, I'm gonna keep doing those until people seem to be annoyed at me putting out a song a day.
Finally, how can we be praying for you?
I would love to be gifted with some new songs and prayers. Songs and prayers that God would want the church to be singing and praying about right now. Sometimes it's different than what we think. Sometimes we get afraid or scared, and we just want to pray certain prayers. But, then God says, "Don't be afraid or scared. Charge this moment. Be a light. Be courageous. This is not the time to beat around the bush with your neighbors about how much you love them. This isn't the time to hold the candle under a lampstand. This is the time to shine."
I've been praying, and trying not to jump the gun, asking God, "What are some new songs that you'd like my church community to be singing during this time, to be remembering about you, and to be asking you to do?" So, I'd ask for prayer for that. Just to clear a pathway for God to speak into my heart for what he'd like me to be writing.
Grace Chaves is a fan of all things Christian music, and is one of NRT's youngest writers. She's homeschooled, and loves concerts, Jesus, and songwriting.
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