Matthew West is on a mission to share stories that matter, and as a Grammy Award-nominated artist, he uses his voice, songwriting ability and platform to do just that.
Over the last several years, the 45-year-old Dove Award-winner has released songs based on stories of people who inspire him, from Jordan, a struggling alcoholic who miraculously recovered thanks to a Christian program, to Renee, who forgave a man who killed her daughter in a drunk-driving accident.
“The heartbeat of what fuels my little three minute songs is the power of story, and I do that in the hopes that when people hear these songs inspired by people's stories, they will maybe tap into the power of their own story and realize that they are not the source of that power, but when we allow God to shine through our stories, He's the true author of all stories, and He can redeem even the messiest parts of our lives,” West told The Christian Post.
This month, West released his latest song, “Wonderful Life,” based on the story of Ron Janca, a Houston, Texas-based fan who died after a three-year battle with Lou Gehrig's disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
“Hospice had been called in to care for him in his final days, and he reached out of all people to me to tell me his story and to thank me for one of my songs called ‘Strong Enough’ that he asked his nurses to play every morning,” West recounted. “And I was so moved by that story that I wanted to meet him.”
West had expected to comfort Janca during their virtual meeting, but it soon became clear that the ailing man had different plans.
“His plan was not necessarily for there to be any time for me to encourage him, but the other way around,” the singer shared. “In fact, he wanted to encourage me, and it just really meant a lot to me. ... He was spurring me on, like cheering me on in my race. I just I didn't expect that and it really impacted me in a big way.”
“Ron didn't know that at that particular time, to be honest with you, I was pretty depressed. I was pretty discouraged. Our tour buses were parked and I just felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, like so many people did … during the height of the pandemic. Ron had no way of knowing that and yet, he saw past his own battle with ALS and lifted me up in the middle of mine. That impacted me in a big way.”
A few weeks after that zoom call, Janca passed away. Moved by his testimony, West penned “Wonderful Life.” The lyrics read, in part: “Ron went home to Jesus/ Got the call the other day/ I sat and cried and thought about/ The words I heard him say/ I know there is a Heaven/ Waitin' for us after this/ This life ain't always wonderful/ But this life ain't all there is.”
“All of our stories have broken chapters in them,” West said. “But the message of hope that we have in Christ is that they don't have to stay broken.”
The “More” singer recently announced his sixth book, The God Who Stays, set for release on Sept. 6. The artist shared that the book will include more stories like Ron Janca’s, adding: “A lot of times I get to the end of a songwriting experience, and I think, 'Man, there's so much more of a devotional takeaway here from this story,’ and so I've asked the Lord just to show me how to unpack that on a deeper level.”
The book, he said, is filled with one powerful story after another, each one a reminder that God is unchangeable and faithful, even when circumstances are difficult. West described the book as a way to return to the basics of the faith in an age of separation and distance.
“He really is the God who keeps His promises, when He promises never to leave us, never to forsake us; when He promises that He's close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit, when He promises in Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God — these are not just empty words. These are promises and promises that He fulfills, day in and day out in our lives,” West said.
West is one of the most decorated artists in the Christian music industry, with a slew of awards and chart-topping albums under his belt. He’s also worked as a songwriter for other Christian singers including Mandisa, Natalie Grant, and Casting Crowns, as well as mainstream country acts like Rascal Flatts like Vince Gill.
Last year, he released two duets for his hit song "Truth Be Told," one with country star Carly Pearce and another version with artist Lathan Warlick.
With decades of experience in the world of CCM, West said he’s excited about the future of the genre and the talent he’s seen emerge in the industry. Later this month, he’s hosting ninth annual K-LOVE Fan Awards with fellow Christian artist Tauren Wells.
“There are so many awesome, talented people who have chosen to be in Christian music,” he said. "They want to tell the world about Jesus with a crystal clear message, not a watered down one, and I really feel like that's what gets me excited about the future of Christian music. Just seeing this young world class talent come in and say, ‘You know what, we could go to pop music, but we want to sing about Jesus.’”
Based on his own experience, the artist challenged others searching for God’s plan for their lives to continually seek out the voice of Jesus, stressing that “the biggest way that we can find out our calling on our lives is to be close to the teacher, and the closer we are to the teacher, the better we can hear His voice and the more certain we can know that we are in the center of His will for our lives.”
“When God calls you to something, it doesn't matter how inconvenient it is, doesn't matter how off the beaten path from how you thought your life should go it looks to be, doesn't matter how scary it is that when your answer to God's calling your life is ‘yes,’ it might take you to some crazy places that you never expected, but it will always be the most fulfilling that your life will ever be,” West said. “That’s really the heartbeat of discovering God's will for your life."
West cited Jeremiah 29:11-13, which reads in part: “ You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
“You will find it when you seek me with all your heart,’ not when you seek money, not when you seek the career, not when you seek the degree, not when you see seek the platform with the stage and the lights, but when you seek Him with all your heart,” he said.
The artist added, “I'm preaching to myself right now because that's a daily struggle where I have to die to myself and my own desire to say, 'God, what do you want from me today? Where do you want me to go today? Because wherever you want me to go, that's where I want to go. Because where that is, is where the most fulfilling life is.’”
Watch the music video for "Wonderful Life" below.
Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com