Four-time Grammy-nominated Christian singer Matthew West says living for Jesus is countercultural and Christians must not straddle the fence.
West released his new album, All In, on Sept. 22 and the musical project is being pegged "the most personal project he's done in years." The theme of the album is centered around what it looks like to devote one's life completely to the areas of faith, marriage, family and the world.
Since its release, All In has landed on multiple Billboard charts. It came in at No. 2 on the Billboard Top Christian Albums chart and No. 20 on the Billboard Top Albums chart. The success of the album comes shortly after West received his second award for ASCAP Christian Music Songwriter of the Year.
Below is an edited transcript of The Christian Post's interview with West in which he discusses nominal Christianity, the Vegas shooting and what it means to really be a Christian in this day and age.
Christian Post: During these times in the world, why is it important for Christians to go "all in" for Jesus?
West: Well, we are certainly living in uncertain times. In a world where peace seems to be in short supply, I feel like the world is desperate to see an example of "peace that passes understanding." When someone goes "all in" for God, committing their whole life to Him, peace is one of the gifts we are promised. Someone who is all in for God can take to heart that even though we will have trouble in this world, our lives are in the hands of the one who has overcome this world. When we've been filled with God's peace, only then can we turn around and become instruments of His peace to a hurting world.
CP: Can a believer make it in these times, unless they go "all in" for God?
West: I feel like today's culture seeks at every turn to place more and more power in the hands of the individual. Bookstores are lined with shelves filled with self-help books. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every other social media outlets turn our focus inwards, allowing us to fall more and more in love with ourselves, our thoughts, our opinions, our voices.
Christianity has always been against the flow of culture and continues to call us in the opposite direction of the way the world is heading. Instead of falling in love with ourselves, Christ followers are called to deny themselves. Instead of trusting in the power they possess, they are called to surrender to God's higher power. Instead of looking within for the answers in life, they are called to acknowledge that His ways are higher.
The decision to follow Christ has really always been an "all or nothing" decision. There's no way to stand up to the world while you're trying to straddle the fence.
CP: "Nominal Christianity" is a phrase that we hear a lot in America. Why do you think it's such an epidemic?
West: I have a friend who lives in Los Angeles. In past conversations, we've discussed the differences between being a Christian in Nashville (the Bible belt,) and being a Christian in L.A. In Nashville the question is not, "are you a believer?" The question is "where do you go to church?" My friend always used to tell me that if you decide to be a Christian in L.A., you have to be really serious about the decision you are making because you will be the minority. And Christianity is so exclusive. It's not popular to believe that there's only one way to Heaven.
Regardless of one's geographic location, anyone attempting to live a Christian lifestyle will always be pressed towards settling for "nominal Christianity." For the believer who lives in the Bible Belt, it can become less about whether one is living his or her life in complete and total sold-out devotion to God, and more about where I'm going to lunch after church — little by little, being dulled into a lukewarm way of life, not a passionate relationship with Christ. If I live in an area where Christians are in the minority, there is the pressure to take a more a la carte approach to one's belief system. "Is Jesus the only way? Is all scripture really God breathed?" It's safer to take some of God's teachings and apply the parts we like but push aside that which seems too extreme or exclusive.
CP: As your song "All In" says, fear prevents people from living a sold-out life for God. What can a Christians do to fight that fear?
West: I think the biggest fear is the fear of what a life devoted to God will cost. We love our stuff, don't we? It's the fear of the thought that maybe, just maybe, a life going all in for God might mean we would have to let go of some of our stuff, our way of life, our comforts. That scares people. I know it scares me sometimes.
When I was growing up as a preacher's kid, we used to have missionaries from all over the world come and speak at our church. I remember being filled with both fascination and fear as I listened to their stories of sold-out devotion to God, being willing to leave a life of comfort behind and risk everything to live in some poverty-stricken part of the world where no one else would go. I was fascinated with that type of faith and obedience in God. But I was also afraid that God might call me to do the same!
These days, I've come to realize that God's plan is not to punish us or lead us to a life of misery. He has come to give us life to the fullest. The best way to fight the fear of going all in is by constantly reminding ourselves that God has our best interests at heart. Being in the center of God's will for our lives is the single most fulfilling destination we will ever find ourselves.
CP: Speaking of fear, the fact that people can go to a concert and be in danger of a mass shooting is heartbreaking. What's your heart concerning these times we are in?
West: I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I've even had some moments on stage since the Vegas shooting where I couldn't see the crowd and the spotlight was shining on me and I found myself feeling anxious just by the thought that I couldn't see who was out there. We've definitely had to be more vigilant in the area of security and safety while we are on the road, both for my band and crew, as well as for the safety of the audiences.
I'm still trying to process how this affects concerts going forward and don't really have some polished answer to this question. Of course, I could quote Scripture about how God hasn't given us a spirit of fear, but I just honestly understand why someone might be afraid that the same thing that happened in Vegas can happen again. I understand that.
Now, what do we do with that fear is the question. Do we start locking our doors and staying inside? Do we stop living? Do we let the fear win and allow it to prevent us from living full lives? What we've experienced in our concerts since the shooting is crowds full of people who seem hungrier than ever to gather together, worship, laugh, cheer, and celebrate the God who gets us through times like these. As long as the crowds seem undeterred, I will continue to get on stage by faith believing that God will honor the time we spend in His presence.
CP: What do you do to keep yourself completely committed to God?
West: I've learned this much about myself by now, as the quality and discipline of my quiet time with the Lord goes, so goes the rest of my life. Whether or not I'm staying in the Word daily decides how I respond to conflict, what kind of dad and father I am, and every other aspect of my life. That's probably why Satan seems to daily distract me from that most essential thing on my to do list: spend time with God.
CP: You take people's stories and share them through your music. What is the common thread you find in all the stories?
West: I noticed two main common threads in the thousands of stories I've collected over the years. One, people just want to know that their story matters, that their story isn't beyond hope, that their story could be used to help someone else. And two, no matter how broken a story I might read, no matter how dark or how hopeless someone's circumstances might look, I have always found at least a glimpse of God's hand still at work in each and every story. I have been powerfully reminded that God is in the junkyard business. He willingly walks into the messiest parts of our lives, gets his hands dirty, and begins building something beautiful out of that very thing which the world might overlook as worthless.
CP: Was it difficult sharing your own story on this record?
West: No, it was exciting, freeing even. I've spent the past several years writing songs primarily inspired by the true stories of other people's' lives, which has been an incredible experience. Even though the source of inspiration for those songs was someone else's story, I can't write a song that doesn't in some way connect and resonate with my own story. But this record was just different. I think it had something to do with the fact that prior to writing these songs for this record, I had just finished writing a book that told a lot of my story. I think it was all just front and center in my heart and in my mind when I began writing these songs, and the inspiration was just flowing. I hope people will enjoy seeing inside my story in this new way.
CP: As a parent in this age of distraction with technology and all these changing laws, what advice can you offer to help others encourage the next generation?
West: My wife and I are just praying daily for our kids. We definitely feel like we are swimming upstream these days, trying to raise our kids to go all in for God. But I am keenly aware of this fact: If I hope to see my kids live an "all in" life for God, they must first see me doing it. My wife and I know that leading by example is going to be the loudest voice of influence in their lives. I've stopped trying to be a perfect parent, and instead I'm realizing that my kids aren't expecting me to be perfect, but they do need me to be present, focused on them, always making sure how much they know how much I love them and how much Jesus loves them.
West is now on the 30+ city "All In" tour, which also features Jordan Feliz and special guest Leanna Crawford. To get a copy of the new album or for more information, visit his website.