Going To a Deeper Level
Christian recording star Israel Houghton talks about how prayer and fasting laid the groundwork for his latest album.
BY: Interview by Nicole S. Symmonds
Is there a song on the album that you could barely get through because it was so powerful?
"If Not for Your Grace" is that song on this record. Every time we did it—we did three nights in a row—it just had this incredible response. It evoked so much emotion from the team. Many times we just had to roll with it, and it'd be 20-30 minutes later before we'd be able to do the next song.
"If Not for Your Grace" just speaks, because you look back at great moments, at rough moments, and you just see the hand of grace and the hand of God in it the whole time. That song just basically says, "Where would I be if not for Your grace?"
In the song "Deeper" you ask people to go deeper and ask God for a heart for Africa, Indonesia, and other countries. What does it mean to have a heart for those places?
Well, we're a worship group, so what does that have to do with social justice in the world? I started reading different passages of scriptures that were just undeniable in regards to the connection between worship and justice. And so out of that "Wow, you know, this is connected," feeling came my natural response, which was "I need to write something." With "Deeper," I had this song idea, but I didn't know what the chorus would say. All I really had was the first verse, "Lord, I reach for You. Lead me to Your heart."
So, I started thinking, "Okay, well, the closer I get to His heart, what am I going to hear?" And out of that came that second verse, "Close enough to hear the cadence of our heart beating for the broken."
You know, it's beating [for] justice, it's beating for Africa. It's beating for the need to give a voice to those who don't have a voice. To declare something over ourselves, to pray a very dangerous prayer, like "Give us your heart.”
Do you believe your music has the power to actually heal people?
Well, the hope is that somebody else would answer that positively. In an attempt to remain hopeful and humble, we have seen real evidence of the music bringing healing in people's lives. And our willingness to just back up from the mic and allow God to take over in the form of music has shown itself to be very effective.
So my cautious answer is yes, and my hopeful answer is that we continue to see more of the power of music in worship transforming lives.
You’ve mentioned that you wanted more of a cross-cultural, cross-generational, cross-denominational experience. How important do you believe integrated worship is, considering that Sunday is known as the most segregated day on the calendar?
Everybody kind of has that one thing that drives them. To me, [it’s] to be a part of intentionally breaking down walls that divide us, especially on Sunday. When we get to heaven, we're not going to be sectioned off. It's all of us together. It's one great sound to the Lord. So, if we're praying, "Let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven," then I believe His kingdom has a sound. I believe His glory has a sound, and I believe it is much broader and much more expressive than what we've grown accustomed to in our local churches.
As a worship leader at Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, what has your relationship with Osteen meant to you?
Being a part of Lakewood, being involved with Joel, has been one of those things where it is undeniable that, every time we come together, we are really doing something significant and shaping something.
The bulk of the people who have come to Lakewood in the past seven, eight years are not transplants from other churches, but they're people who have been unchurched or have been away from God for a long time, that heard something in his message of compassion and of love, and came back to Christ. And have the lifestyle now, and have the upgrade, so to speak, to prove that God is so good.
And seeing that happen, seeing that in action, which really flies in the face of a lot of theology I was raised in and understood God to be this kind of taskmaster type of God, has really been debunked by the overwhelming sense of God's grace and His love toward his people.
Christians listening to secular music is always a big debate. How do you feel about secular music--is there such thing as good secular music?
I listen to all kinds of music. I derive really good, positive messages and musical thoughts from all kinds of music that's not just for the church. Some of it's not even in the church.
I know there are people with very strong opinions about what we should and should not listen to. My thing is this, I'm in the world but not of it, and so I use a lot of caution and conviction in what I allow myself to be influenced by.
Are there secular artists that you would like to work with?
Sure. Jonny Lang is one of those who I got to work with on this record, who for years has been a well-known blues artist. He recently did an inspirational record, but it won a Grammy in the Christian category. When you meet him, you realize he has such a humility about him, such a love for God, but he's not necessarily a Christian artist. But he's got more to say than a lot of my fellow Christians. I have mad respect for him.
I love music from Coldplay. I watch what they do, I hear what they have to say. Some of them are just good love songs, nothing atrocious, nothing is disgusting about what they do. They also have a very heavy social agenda, social awareness, free trade, you know, all of these social issues. And I'm just looking at it going, "Somebody in the church has got to stand up and join this sound." Not emulate what somebody else is doing, but lead the way. That's what the church is called to do.