Though Matt Maher was raised to believe in God while growing up in Newfoundland, Canada, he notes that music became his religion during his high school years. Matt eventually found his way back to Church and now combines his love for God with a career as a singer/songwriter and worship leader. I recently spoke with Matt on “Christopher Closeup” (full podcast here) about his journey of faith and his Essential Records debut album “Empty and Beautiful.” Here are some excerpts:
TR: The song “Your Grace is Enough” – I know it was inspired by a challenging time in your life where you had to deal with loneliness…How did God help you deal with that?
Matt Maher: I think you deal with it by letting God into it. I think a lot of people in this day and age feel disconnected from each other. They feel lonely at the end of the day. And the only way to (overcome) that is to get re-connected, primarily through God. Only God can meet all your expectations. We all have a desire to be loved deeply and be treasured. Sometimes we end up throwing that on people, and they can’t match our expectations. So sometimes we end up trying to love people out of our need rather than just loving people as a gift which is really how we’re designed. We’re designed to be first loved by God, and then to turn around and give that love away. When we do that, we’re operating in the way that He made us. And when we don’t, that’s when we start to turn to other things. It’s really common for a lot of people in loneliness to get distracted and stay disconnected and never really get those areas of their heart filled.
TR: Can you get to grace being enough on your own or do you think you need some divine intervention to make that happen?
Matt Maher: I think the decision you make is quite simply to surrender. That’s all you can do. It’s in that humble ‘Yes’ to God, it’s in that humble ‘I need you.’ And He is immediately there. In fact so often, He (says), ‘I was already here; I was just waiting for you to say something.’
TR: I like that you use the word surrender because sometimes I read about people who describe those who accept the Christian life…(as) accepting a life that’s kind of boring – don’t do this, don’t do that. For you, the surrender seems to have led to a life of adventure. Is that how you see surrendering?
Matt Maher: Oh absolutely. People who say surrender is boring, I’m like ‘Then you’re obviously not surrendering.’ Surrendering is sometimes a violent process of wrestling and letting go and finding moments of respite. Christianity to me is not about following a set of rules. It is about a proposition so amazing and so outlandish that the world finds it completely unbelievable because it doesn’t make sense. It’s not a fair exchange, it’s not ‘you get what you pay for.’ It’s ‘Here’s the greatest gift you could possibly ever be given and it’s free. And you don’t need to earn it. And it’s freely given.’ That notion is so preposterous to people primarily because the church – we struggle so much with showing that, with living that. A lot of people end up growing up and you have memories of people in your life who are Christians and they seem miserable all the time. And (you think) ‘Why do I want to follow that?’ So for me, I feel a challenge and a call to be radical. But radical in humility and radical in meekness and radical in siding with the marginalized and the downtrodden in the world, people who feel isolated and feel alone – and trying to love them the way that God loves me.
TR: The title track of your album is “Empty and Beautiful” – those are two words you don’t usually see go together…Why do you see a connection between those two?
Matt Maher: The most beautiful act of love in the known universe is Christ giving himself on the cross. And here’s this incredibly violent moment in human history…Yet that act of Christ surrendering Himself on the cross is the greatest act of love displayed in the world. So somehow, this act of being emptied and surrendering everything, somehow God is able to turn it around and make something beautiful out of it. That’s why when you’re Christian, you look at a cross and you see life. It’s so interesting because we lose the shock of the cross in our society…In the early church people started displaying the cross and (the reaction was), ‘That’s a symbol of death and destruction, of emptiness and nothingness.’ But God’s actually taken it and made it a sign for hope…You can’t be filled with the presence of God if you’re full. That’s why if you have everything you need in your life, how could you possibly need God? So when you’re empty and you realize the futility of your emptiness, that becomes the greatest opportunity for joy in your life because you’re ready to be filled.
(To download the full Matt Maher interview on “Christopher Closeup,” visit www.christophers.org/closeuppodcast.)