A little more on my chat with Pastor John W Stevenson whom I had the privilege to chat with here. He speaks carefully, with discretion borne from much hindsight, prudence, and sensitivity.
It’s a combination integral to being a musician, a songwriter, a pastor, a prophet, and most of all, a worshipper of the Most High.
Pastor John W Stevenson is a prolific songwriter, with more than three albums–Hear My Heart, Nation of Praise, The Tipping Point–and several titles to his name, his most recent book being Worshiper by Design: A Unique Look at Why We Were Created (Xulon Press, 2009).
He tells me he grew up listening to Earth, Wind and Fire (EWF), possibly the greatest R&B, disco-funk band of the 20th century, how much he admired everything about them, from the sound, the production, the arrangmements. There was, and still is, an electricity, an insanely cool vibe that emanates from the sound that is EWF.
There’s a story the pastor tells about how a mutual friend introduced him to EWF frontman Philip Bailey years ago in Los Angeles. At first, the possibilities of connecting with a musician of that stature seemed like a godsend. “Then, what I realized,” he said, “in that interaction with Philip Bailey, was that I was compromising the call on my life for the sake of association, with someone with that kind of celebrated status.”
“I was so excited to be involved with him that I was willing to back up from some of my convictions that I needed to be focussing on.”
“It was the Holy Spirit that convicted me,” Pastor Stevenson explains. “I was on my way to work and He said, ‘You’re going the wrong way.’
“I said, ‘What do You mean?’ And He said, ‘You can go the way that you’re going and you’ll have success. And you’ll have fame. But you won’t have My presence. Or you can turn around and go the road that I’ve chosen for you. And I will be with you all the days of your life.’ ”
And so he chose. He chose the path of the Unfamiliar, with its steep inclines, blind corners and unforgiving rocks to get to where he is now.
But the music landscape has evolved to embrace virtual reality more than anyone has foreseen. Can the Youtube generation attain heights of stardom without having to pay their dues?
“Where I think young aspiring musicians miss it,— is not waiting on the Lord to do a work in them.We have more shows now that promote instant stardom, like American Idol, and right now, everybody can go and just put up a video on Youtube and that’s some individual’s 15 minutes of fame.”
Christians need to resist the lure of the instant.
“I’m of the persuasion that you cannot do it successfully without guarding your heart,” he says, “against what the Scriptures say—The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, the boastful pride of life. Those are realities that even Jesus dealt with before He began His earthly ministry.
“And those are very subtle things,” he cautions. “One of the things that’s a challenge is, just because we have similar giftings doesn’t mean you’re supposed to do what I do. With every gifting comes a certain level of grace to operate in the level and the arena that God places you in.
“And so there’re some who are gifted musically but the grace on their lives is for the local church. Now if that group that’s graced to work in the local church looks at a band like Hillsong and they have a similar gift and may be able to do their songs well in their church, they might think, ‘I’m just as gifted, I can do what they do.’
“But if they don’t understand the grace factor, there’s a good chance they’ll aspire to something that they’ll never achieve ,or, they’ll go after it and get shipwrecked somewhere down the road.”
“Because,” he continues, “there’s a process.
“My time in Los Angeles was about God showing me my heart. See, we don’t know our hearts. Our thoughts, desires, passions, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors,—I think all that encompasses the heart real well. And any of those areas not yielded to the Lord will be the area the enemy can potentially use against you.
“So I say to aspiring musicians, the best thing you can do is just continually lay it down and yield it before the Lord.
“Practically, be intentional in gathering people around you that are not enamoured by your gifts. I feel like I have a very balanced life in that I have a wife who did not marry me because of my gifts.
“Have people in your life who will tell you the truth. And live in a way that after you come off the platform of singing, you can go somewhere where you can be real with God about your failings, your shortcomings, and—-recognise that in the midst of God using us in the incredble way that He does, we still have to deal with our humanity.”
The pastor is talking about honesty. In the end, that’s what God wants, beyond technique and even beyond excellence.
And more than most, John W Stevenson’s songs embody that. Honesty about the broken spirit, the contrite heart, about a tiredness that confounds us even in the best of times.
It is a thread that runs through many of his songs, and none more painfully so than in the beautiful heart-rending composition You Will See Me Through This Too.
Your thoughts? Do leave a comment!