For more than ten years, Israel Houghton and New Breed have been creating ground-breaking worship music that is heard from Texas to South Africa. Their genre transcends categories, falling somewhere between Christian Contemporary and Gospel, but the sound is unmistakable. At its core it is a multicultural ministry experience that borrows from the spirit of Africa, the vibrant energy of South America, and the soul of America. It’s music that touches the innermost being and reflects the group’s attempt to bring hearts closer to God.
Before recording their new album, Israel and New Breed prayed and fasted for 40 days to get to a deeper level in God and to encourage their fans do the same. The band went on a diet excluding sugar, fried foods, and soda; they also limited themselves to six hours of television a week—a real feat for Houghton—and made a concerted effort to spend more time in communion with God. Out of this deep spiritual journey came the chart-topping album “A Deeper Level” and a companion book with the same title. Houghton spoke to Beliefnet about the "Deeper Level" experience, his mild addiction to the television show "24," and his relationship with Lakewood Church pastor Joel Osteen.
You fasted from junk food and the media, and took a deeper look at what you spent your time doing. Which of these presented the most challenges to you?
I swore off watching the show "24," which was heavy for me, you know? But after a while, I lost interest in that and found new passion and interest in other things, the things of God. I realized, "Man, I'm spending tons of time here, 19 hours in one sitting watching this show. It's ridiculous. I'm going to pace myself from here on out.”
Forty days—biblically speaking—is no arbitrary number. Why do you believe the fast was 40 days?
For me and for us this time around, we said, "Okay, we are going to push ourselves. We're going to do something and make sure we feel it this time." We've done seven-day fasts before. We've done 10-day fasts before. But there is no way to not feel the effects of a 40-day fast.
Was there a scripture that guided you through this period?
"Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4) It was a new take on that in the sense of, not He'll grant you the desires of your heart because that's what you want, but the more you delight yourself in the Lord intentionally and really follow after Him, His desire becomes yours.
For us, it was paramount, because of what we were attempting to say. And I think the major obstacles to going to a deeper level—which sounds a lot more complicated than it is—are the distractions of life. So we really set out, intentionally, to address those distractions by focusing on a different reality, and really investing into a consecrated time.
Why do you believe that God is calling people to go to a deeper level?
Well, I think we live in some strange times right now, and I think we have the opportunity before us, for the church to experience her finest hour. What it's going to take is focusing on things beyond ourselves. It's actually simplifying our life, prioritizing the things that matter most, which is our daily walk with God, and establishing a lifestyle, a life of worship.
And not just focusing on the Sunday, the one day a week where we all come together, but that, when we do come together that one day a week, that it's out of the overflow of what we've been doing that whole week.
You mention the "obstacle of busyness" which hinders people from having a genuine relationship with God. How do you advise people to break down this obstacle?
When we think about who God is and what He's done for us, our natural response should not be to struggle at all, but to say, "It's my joy to give the first part of my day, to give the prime cut of my day over to God." And yet, it is a struggle. But wherever your treasure is, that's where your heart is.
For me, it's giving first place to God. When I get out of bed, the first thing that hits the floor is my knees. And that's not some kind of super-spiritual thing. It's me knowing that, if my feet hit the ground first, I'm going to be off and running, because I know who I am.
My first focus is giving thanks to God, pausing enough to hear His voice, getting direction for the day, and then spending the currency of the day with real meaning as opposed to just a haphazard musician way of life, which I've done most of my life.