NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–For someone who has written 41 No. 1 songs and won more Dove Awards than any other artist, creating something new and better than before could present quite a challenge — unless God is in charge of the project, Steven Curtis Chapman said.
About a year ago, Chapman began intentionally praying for God to make clear whether He had something to say through him that would lead to making another album. After adopting two daughters from China to add to his three children, Chapman said his life was hectic and full enough without the work of a 14th album.
“I just said, ‘God, unless You’re really in this, I’m not going to go off and just make a record because it’s time to make a record,” Chapman said at a news conference during Gospel Music Week in late April in Nashville, Tenn.
“So I began to really pray, and it seems like I invested a tremendous amount of energy in trying to just get a clean slate — forget everything that happened, forget trying to follow up or recreate or do this or that better than, or fix that or not do that again or whatever — and just get into a place where I really believed God was saying something He wanted me to communicate,” Chapman recounted.
Someone told Chapman about a book called “Don’t Waste Your Life” by John Piper, and he read it on a flight during that season of intense prayer. By the time the plane landed, he said, he had started writing about eight songs.
“I just kind of let myself go with where God was taking me and got very excited about this new understanding. I’ve always said and known I’m not the point, but God gave me through John Piper a way of kind of throwing a large, cold bucket of redemptive water in my face and saying, ‘Wake up. Here’s what it really is about,'” Chapman said. “God does love you and have a wonderful plan for you, but it’s because it makes His name great, because it glorifies Him and reveals His glory and His greatness.”
Along with Philip Yancey’s book “Rumors of Another World” and the preaching of Chapman’s pastor, Scotty Smith at Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tenn., Chapman found his heart stirred and found himself more compelled and more inspired than he had ever been in his life, he said.
“I was more sure that God had in fact called me again from the bench or out of the off-season and called me back to spring training and said, ‘Alright, we’ve got a big season ahead and I’m counting on you, and I’m counting on a lot of things from this,'” Chapman said. “I had a real sense of that, but while I found myself never more inspired and never more compelled, I felt never more exhausted.”
SOLIDIFYING THE MESSAGE
God kept sending a message to Chapman that He really is a God who makes all things new, from page one, sentence one of Scripture all the way to Revelation 21 when says from the throne, “I am making all things new.”
Chapman said the phrase from “Amazing Grace,” which declares, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’d first begun,” used to make him think, “Man, 10,000 years singing God’s praise, that better be some good music ’cause that’s a long time.
“I just didn’t get it, but then I began to think, ‘Okay, if God is so full of new revelation of Himself and so glorious that even after 10,000 years every time we sing God’s praise He reveals a little more of Himself and says, ‘Check this out’ or ‘Let Me show you this’ or ‘Let me reveal more of Myself,’ then all of a sudden it’s all new,'” Chapman said. “And if that is the reality of who God is, who makes all things new, then that’s something I can get really excited about.”
With that settled, Chapman said while he doesn’t know if his upcoming album, titled “All Things New,” is the best thing he has ever done, he knows he has never been more excited about something and never felt more compelled to sing.
“I sang a new song yesterday and felt like this really is something that God has put in my heart, and I can’t not sing,” he said. “And if you guys don’t want to hear it, I’ll go to China and sing it there. I’ve got to sing it somewhere. I’ve got to share this.”
MAKING THE ALBUM
With an intentional decision that if he was going to make an album called All Things New and write songs that felt new, Chapman knew he must make some changes — everything from untuning his guitar so chords would sound different to writing some songs with the piano because that was different for him.
He considered using a new producer and shared his heart with Brown Bannister, a Dove Award-winning producer who had worked on Chapman’s last few albums. Bannister told Chapman he wanted to support him, even if it meant helping him find a new producer. But that was not to be the case.
“He began to tell me what God was doing in his heart, and I saw this new light in his eyes, this new passion saying, ‘I don’t know if it’s to go to Africa, I just want to be where God’s doing what He’s doing and not telling my little story,'” Chapman said. “‘I want to be a part of His big story, what He’s doing.’ And I said, ‘Okay, you’re the guy that needs to help me make this record because that’s where God has you too.'”
The duo chose a new place to record, a studio in Los Angeles called Sunset Sound on the famous boulevard. Chapman said he had wanted to record at a secluded place in the mountains where he could look out the window and see an inspirational picture of nature and how God makes all things new, but he found himself in the concrete jungle of Hollywood in a studio “with rock ‘n’ roll history dripping from the walls.”
Chapman and Bannister also chose all new musicians to play on the album, those who had worked with such mainstream stars as Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morrisette, Beck and John Mayer but had never touched the music of Steven Curtis Chapman.
“It was such a gift for these guys I expected to come in going, ‘Yeah, I had a spare week to make a quick buck and play on this Christian record, whatever this is,’ to walk out being totally excited,” he said.
Chapman decided to go for it on the first day.
“I figured if anyone’s going to leave, I’ll go ahead and cull them out now, and I’m going to let them know what this record’s about,” he said. “If they’re not on board with that, it probably isn’t right for them to be here anyway.”
He gently shared with them the reason the album was being made and told how as a Christian who has had faith in God for almost 30 years it feels like in so many ways he is just getting started to really know who God is, and that’s why he can keep making Christian music and never run out of ideas.
Chapman also told them he would like to pray for God to bless the musicians and the recording of the album.
“So I prayed, and again I was not sure how it would be received, and this may hack some guys off and now they might not be as into it,” he said. “But I got through and the engineer was crying. She looked up and said, ‘Just the idea that there’s an artist in here whose ego isn’t so large there’s not room for any oxygen in the room — there’s actually room for God — I have never even experienced that before.’
“She thanked me and said though we hadn’t even recorded anything yet she could tell it was going to be really special,” Chapman said. “The last day of recording I got a chance to pray with her, and she told me, ‘I am so lost. I’ve been running from God since I was 10 years old.’ She began to tell me the story, and it was just amazing the opportunity to pray with her and give her a Bible. She continues to call me and ask how [the album is] going and what she can do to help.”
He said the musicians also were affirmative of his music and call him often with excitement to see how it’s going to turn out.
A PICTURE OF THE MESSAGE
Though Chapman didn’t get to record in the secluded studio he had imagined, God showed up in the concrete jungle. A few days after he arrived in Los Angeles, Chapman walked out of the studio into a small courtyard beside the building.
“There was a basketball goal and some trees kind of around to make it feel like there’s some oxygen in the air, and I was kind of shooting some hoops and thinking about the next song, and I looked up and the way the buildings are built they’re all close in so you really just see the sky, but there was one little low roof between two higher buildings that gave me a little framed-in view of a building right across the street, right on Sunset,” he said. “It’s a building I had driven past and walked past for a couple days and never noticed it was a church.”
What Chapman saw framed in perfectly when he walked out the door was a stone cross, he said. And under the cross was an inscription in Latin, which said, “To the greater glory of God.”
“I didn’t know it at the time. I had to look it up on the Internet,” Chapman joked. “I didn’t get it at first. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s cool. Thank You, God, for giving me that. That’s just what I needed today.’ But I realized more as the days went by. I walked out one day and found myself standing there undone because I heard God whisper to my heart, ‘You wanted a picture that told you how I make all things new. That’s it. It’s the cross, and you’ve got a view of it right here in the middle of life, in the middle of L.A. When you look at My cross, that’s where you find the reality that I make all things new.'”
Chapman’s album is set for release Sept. 21.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SEEKING GOD’S MESSAGE.