Matthew West loves stories. And those stories sometimes turn into songs. Matthew recently spoke with Family Christian about how the stories he's been collecting ended up on his new album – and touching his life.
The songs on Into the Light are inspired by true stories from people's lives. How have those stories impacted you personally?
Matthew - Since first giving people the opportunity to share their story with me a couple of years ago, I've received over 20,000 stories from all over the world. I've made it my mission to read each story in the hopes of giving those stories a voice through song.
What I didn't expect is how much opening myself up to the stories of other peoples' lives would affect me. One by one, they have opened my eyes to see how God is uniquely at work in each and every one of our lives. I;ve been so inspired by all of these people who are willing to allow God to use their stories, even the parts that may be less than perfect. These storytellers are heroes to me and have taught me what real, authentic Christianity looks like. Just imperfect people allowing a perfect God to shine through them!
The story behind the first single, "Forgiveness," is really powerful. How have you seen God using that song and its message in people's lives?
Matthew - I think at one point in time every one of us has been wronged by somebody, maybe hurt by a family member or betrayed by a friend. And for me personally, I've been known to be able to hold a grudge with the best of them.
Renee's story of how God helped her to forgive the drunk driver who took the life of her precious daughter is a powerful reminder that there is freedom in forgiveness. It’s not that we have to forget, but we are not meant to carry the weight of bitterness. It's too heavy and it will hold us back from finding that freedom that comes when we set it free.
I'm hearing so many stories from people about how Renee's story and this song are challenging them to deal with some situations in their lives where they know God wants to break the stronghold of bitterness. I think the neatest thing I'm hearing is how, really, this story can bring us all back to the reminder of just how much we are all in need of forgiveness. God offers us that gift over and over again, and He calls us to do the same.
What do you hope listeners take away from the songs on Into the Light?
Matthew - I hope that stepping Into the Light will become contagious. I believe these people who have stepped forward to tell their story to me and inspired these songs will cause a chain reaction encouraging others to do the same.
Something special takes place when a person stands up, brings their story into the light and says, "This is who I am. Look what God has done!" The rest of the world takes notice, and it's like “Hey, I'm not alone. Maybe God can use my story too.” That's what I hope people take away from these stories and songs. We discover our life's purpose when we step out of the shadows and trust God with our whole lives, holding nothing back.
You recently traveled to Haiti. Tell us a little about that trip.
Matthew - My band and I traveled to Haiti with Compassion International to see firsthand what life is like in this poverty stricken country. Honestly, it was quite difficult to even begin to process the darkness and despair that we witnessed. My heart breaks as my mind replays the images of that trip.
But, in the middle of what at times looked like a hopeless situation, I saw God at work restoring lives and communities through the work of Compassion. This trip really lit a fire in me to make sure that I am not simply talking about being God's hands and feet, but actually doing something about it.
Christmas will be here before we know it, so we wanted to know: what's on your "must listen" Christmas playlist?
Matthew - Well, my CD, The Heart of Christmas, of course! No, seriously, I love the classics. Put on some Bing Crosby, Eddie Arnold or Nat King Cole and I'm happy. Also love Amy Grant's classic Christmas CD.
And what are some of the traditions your family celebrates every Christmas?
Matthew - A Christmas Eve candle light service is a family tradition we've observed ever since I was growing up in my dad's church in Chicago. There's something about standing with my family, singing "Silent Night" and lighting a candle that always seems to rescue my heart from the chaos of the season and help me return to what it's really all about: Jesus.
Matthew's Christmas album, Heart of Christmas, can be found by clicking here.