Songwriting, Joy, And God

Man vs Row

WARNING: This post contains full frontal Christianity. It’s also about songwriting. So if you either don’t like Christianity or don’t like it mixed with your songwriting… go ahead and stop reading, and I’ll see you back here for Wordplay Thursday. Now, for the rest of you…

If you’ve read MvR posts such as “Songwriting Is My Isaac” and “Songwriting: My Highest Self” you know some of the struggles of my heart. I tend to make songwriting an idol.

I’ve always had a little bit of an old school (as in Old Testament) view of idols, I guess. Not the “golden calf” version, really, but the “anything you put ahead of God in your life” version. I took it mainly as: don’t let songwriting crowd out my Bible study or prayer time (guilty), don’t write songs for financial benefit or career advancement that go against my spiritual beliefs (guilty), etc.

But when I go deeper, it gets tricky. After all, I would spend hours on a song, but I don’t spend hours in prayer or Bible study. When I had a publishing deal and wrote full-time, I definitely spent more time on my “job” than I did focused on God (though, at times they were one in the same). But we have to make a living, right? So that’s not automatically making your work (whatever it is) an idol. It’s something deeper.

If you read last week’s post, “Songwriter, Which Voice Will You Listen To?” you know I’m going through a time of listening. I’ve been trying to get some sort of direction from God, some next step for my career/work/music. But, as He’s done with me in the past, He’s gonna work on my heart BEFORE He works on my career. Almost as if making me like Christ is more important than making me like Don Schlitz or Tom Douglas or something. Go figure.

Here’s what I’ve been hearing.

I’ve made an idol of self. And songwriting and success is a part of that idolatry. I’ve focused more on that than I have on Him. Not only that, but I’ve found more JOY in music and success than I have in Christ. And that’s idolatry, too. Maybe you’ve seen me post this image before:

0 Coming Up For Air

I’ve really felt that way. I often feel like I’m holding my breath during my day job. When I finally get to write is when I’ve felt most like myself. (Well, that and when I play with my kids. But thank the Lord I get to see them every day so there isn’t that kind of tension built up like it is in the stretches between cowrites.)

But why doesn’t going to church feel like coming up for air? Why doesn’t my (mostly daily) Bible study feel like coming up for air? I was MADE to be in relationship with God, to glorify Him. I was CREATED to find my ultimate joy in Him. Not in anything else.

There’s nothing wrong with songwriting. Nothing wrong with having a passion for it and enjoying it. But it should not bring me more joy that my relationship with Christ. Maybe it’s because writing a song is more tangible? My cowriter and I are sitting across the coffee table from each other. We hear the song come to life. We laugh. We tell stories. And we might even get a worktape at the end of it!

How do I do that with God? How do I have that kind of relationship or experience with Him? How does my private prayer time become the highlight of my days and weeks?

Honestly, I don’t know.

But I know it’s not only possible, it’s required. I’ll never really find joy, peace, or contentment until He is my highest joy and focus. I’m not saying that God will remove songwriting from my life. I sure hope it doesn’t come to that! But if it consistently pulls me away from Him, it NEEDS to be removed.

Actually, I DO know how to make God the greatest joy of my life. I have to trust the Holy Spirit to work in my heart and make that change in me. I certainly can’t do it myself. Even if I could, who gets the credit for that? I would. And that would be more “self” doing the work and getting glory. God has to produce this change in me, so He gets all the credit and glory. I just have to trust Him to make that change. To be open to and submit to His work in my heart. Even being able to submit to His work in my heart will take an act of His grace.

It’s ALL from Him, not from me.

So, there you go. I need to find my ultimate joy in the Lord. For now, that’s my “next step.” Thanks for hanging in there with me, guys. I hope, that in some way, sharing this part of my songwriting and spiritual journey will help you on yours.

God Bless,

Brent

Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.

32 thoughts on “Songwriting, Joy, And God”

  1. Westminster Catechism nailed this one. Our main purpose is, indeed, to glorify God,and to enjoy him forever.
    He is faithful and will complete what He has started in you- sometimes He may even use songwriting to accomplish that!
    Thank you for this post.

  2. Thank you for sharing, Brent.

    I see a potential missing element in your comments, “Maybe it’s because writing a song is more tangible? My cowriter and I are sitting across the coffee table from each other. We hear the song come to life. We laugh. We tell stories. And we might even get a worktape at the end of it!”….the idea of “fellowship” is there in your songwriting, is it in your spiritual walk? Having an accountability partner or group of guys to talk with (community/fellowship) might need more attention.

    Thanks again for sharing.

    James

    1. Great point, James. And you’re right. This season of life is very “small” – focused on family and day job (which does not provide fellowship). Cowriting is also a time where we’d talk about God, what’s going on in our lives, and just to share honestly with each other. That’s part of why I love it, and part of why I want to do more of it. It’s not just the songwriting process itself (which is awesome), but also the fellowship. Thanks for your input!

  3. Thank you, Brent! I have needed that for awhile! My songwriting has taken a back burner to my job lately, but I have been guilty of letting that job take my focus off of my relationship with God. We know that we need to put Christ first in our lives, but we need reminded every now and then…

  4. Brent,

    Just a couple of short thoughts (really!). I home office for my day job and often have CCM format radio playing when I’m in my office. Being cajun quite often means being Catholic Christian. There’s a CCM format radio run by Catholics out of Tampa that streams. The balance this has added to my work days is tremendous. For example every hour on the hour, (maybe every even hour?) they stop for scripture reflection and prayer time, but the Catholic twist is that in them starting the prayers “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”… There’s a needle across a record or tires screeching halt to whatever I’m doing, I stop and join in the prayer. This is about the equivalent of being within earshot of a bell tower! Also if I’m not on a conference call at 10, they have a Mass service every morning at 10. My work has never suffered from stopping for 30 minutes to pray the daily Mass while it is streamed.

    Those little coming up for a breath have really become my new norm for a year (August 11 will be 1 year with the new day job! GodIsGood!)

    I also play music (bass mostly) in my home church and sometimes that’s the only music I play during a week. Sometimes I also play (guitar, Bass, sing) to help other churches, on retreats, etc. It’s not entirely rare that I play Honky Tonks Friday and Saturday and the Hallowed halls on Sunday. It’s not only a huge breath of fresh air and reset each week but also a great feeling of guilt buster to be tithing the God given talent and using it to help others glorify Him.

    I said short thoughts, right…? (Cue Oscars music….)

    Have a great week! Thanks for sharing and God Bless!

  5. It’s inspiring to me to know that Christ provides your YOUR inspiration. I am more of a performer, less of a songwriter these days, but I many years ago wrote quite a bit. Life is about seasons, and it would be awesome should songwriting become a part of my life again–your posts, especially when you share your faith, encourage me

  6. A friend of mine once told me that God speaks to us through our bliss, through our passion. What if God is speaking to you through songwriting more than church? That’s ok if that’s the case. God is everywhere, especially in music. Maybe through a co-write session, you’ll meet a songwriter who ends up really needing your help on some other level, and so that’s where you were meant to be. It’s hard to know exactly how God works, but I believe God is at work everywhere, not only in churches or bible studies. Sometimes we just can’t see it at the time. Peace.

  7. Thank you for sharing this honest and thought-provoking post! It seems that for many months I have been “too busy” with things I feel that I need to get done. Little to no Bible Study and prayer time. Keep looking forward to getting everything done so I can have some quality quiet time to create, but this post says to me that I need to spend more quality time with the Lord before I pick up a paintbrush, sit down at the piano, or take pen in hand! Thanks again for sharing!

  8. Hi Brent, very honest and that is a quality. To be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading is where joy is found, not in striving. I think we have a misguided view of God which is why we fight Him so.” He has given us richly all things to enjoy.” Church is a sorry word today..
    I will leave you with these words from Miles Stanford’s book Principles of Spiritual Growth “To ‘hope to be better’ (hence acceptable) is to fail to see yourself in Christ only” and “To expect to be blessed, though realizing more and more lack of worth.”
    May you be blessed on your journey!
    truly
    Rachel

  9. Sometimes just spending time alone in nature reminds me of God’s love, and his presence and his creations and gifts he’s given for us to enjoy. I find him in the innocence of the interactions of his simplest creatures of nature and feel the joy that I don’t always get from reading about Him or being preached to about him. I feel him in his gifts to our world in their simplest form…listening to the birds sing, watching the squirrels play hide n seek with my dog etc… Just remember that one of God’s gifts is the talent for writing and the joy it brings to you. I think enjoying the gift he’s given you is the greatest praise you can give Him. (You’re a Dad…think about it in the perspective of your own children…)

  10. Songwriting IS A GIFT from GOD and also a JOB TO DO…..SO…..that is HOW I see it. GOD Sent me this gift for a reason and that’s to write HIS Songs a try and share them. I wrote a song about this called THE GIFT…..I write a certain percentage of my songs Praising God and his Works and that’s how I honor him and come close to him. God Bless….Barry

  11. Brent, I hear you! Please permit me to make two points: 1) You are open to hearing from the Lord. That’s fantastic and doesn’t happen that often when we become consumed by the world and the accolades of this world. So first, I would ask that you praise Him for reaching through all the ‘white noise’ & endless ‘sound’ of this world. Give Him the glory and spend time just thanking Him, humbly. I will be praying for you. 2) Be open to where He would have you tread next. I will say this: Christian music songwriters need a down-to- earth, Jesue-centric, real (not egocentric or narcissistic) champions who will get behind those who hear from the Holy Spirit about what the role of His music in these latter days, could be. IMO and after some dealings w/ some, I have turned off CCM more than once due to unsavory dealings within that realm. Keep your heart open, maybe the Lord can use you to do some work for Him.
    Who knows? Perhaps you will work for Him on a part-time or full-time basis. Maybe not. But in any event, when you hand him all of you–the good, the bad and the ugly– He will provide your soul with peace. To me, that is the joy that’s found in scripture, “The joy of the Lord is my strength”. God bless you! He’s not done with you,yet.

  12. Brent,

    A wise songwriter that I know taught me a prayer that I find very, very useful. “Lord, please do with me as You will and don’t let me get into the way.” It’s a very simple prayer, but by saying it you allow God to take over and help you do what you are really called to do in life. Since you are searching and listening, try saying it every day. Then go to your special quiet place. You will be surprised by what you hear.

    Your phrase, “Songwriting feels like coming up for air”, is really telling me that you are “drowning” in your day-to-day work and the stress you are experiencing. The moments you spend songwriting provides you some relief, but it is not what really brings you to the surface of the water where you can take that big gulp of life-continuing air. It appears from this post that you are realizing that . . .

    Keep praying and listening. Be patient. Remember that all happens in God’s time and not yours.

    Know that songwriting and helping others in their career is still in your future. God smiles when you do both. You just need to know how to balance things better in your life. If you concentrate on Him, He will help you achieve the desires in your heart.

    Sincerely,

    Donna

  13. Thanks Brent for sharing such deeply personal thoughts and feelings. I think the essence of what you are questioning within yourself is the same and greatest challenge to all who strive to please God. I believe from the Bible we learn that serving God as our one and only master is paramount and also a full time practice (not a “now or then” thing, not a “this or that” thing). The Bible teaches us to be ambitious but not in a worldly way. As a talented songwriter and teacher you were blessed with special gifts and so are called to use them and share them with others. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). So I say keep doing what you’re doing! You do it very well and from what I have witnessed by your words and deeds, your “ambition” as a songwriter and teacher IS being a good steward of “God’s varied grace.” Your questioning so from time to time is just stopping to read the map to be sure you’re staying on course. As long as it’s about pleasing God and not about pleasing man, it’s time well spent. (Now if “Pastor Buddy” can practice what he preaches!)

  14. Brent, thank you for being transparent, especially in your relationship with Christ and how it affects your life journey. Jesus never promised that the journey would be easy, but that it would definitely be worth it. As a Christian, I think two of the most important questions we can ask ourselves are: 1. Why do I do what I do? 2. Who am I hoping to glorify in what I do? Maybe the two are one in the same, just worded differently. I think God is much more concerned with how we answer these questions than the amount of “success” we have, especially through the eyes of the world. Life is such a balancing act, trying to keep the right balance between family, work, ministry, recreation, rest, creativity…the list goes on and on. The only way to keep that balance is by being Spirit-filled and controlled. You ask the hard questions, Brent, that keep you humble before God and pliable in His hands. Keep asking!!! You are such an inspiration to folks like me who struggle with that balance… to have success as a songwriter and remember for Who and for Who’s glory it’s supposed to be for.
    Best wishes wherever this journey takes you. God bless you with His peace and guidance, my friend! Phil. 2:13

  15. I agree with everything you said, Brent. I love writing about my thorny struggles; and glorifying GOD in my lyrics and poetry. I love that the HOLY SPIRIT dwells in me and HE is thee author controlling my font, my staves, my emotions. I adore the Creator who is my master editing my foolish flesh into the set free spiritual child I was created to behold His everlasting glory.

  16. Man, I’m running out of ways to tell you that you’re writing my daily existence in this series of posts!
    I’m so in this place that you have found yourself in lately, and I’m battling the VERY same issues that you are enduring.
    I wish I could tell you that I have the answers Brent , but I’m as clueless as you are brother. I think you summed it up in saying that “you need to find your joy in the Lord.”
    I know from experience that there is no joy outside of Him, just peaks of false contentment that wane so quickly…
    I wish I chased the true joy of His presence in my life, with 1/100th of the fervor that I seek the things that I already know will bring temporary happiness, at best.
    But I don’t, and that is shameful, and even knowing that, I still rush headlong into chasing the things of this world, and not the source of all that matters.

    I’m certainly not happy that you are going thru this man, but I am comforted by the fact that I’m not alone, and I have a BIC that is traveling this road with me, and I’m praying that between the two of us, we can help each other.

    Thank you Brent, for being willing to tell it like it is, warts and all.
    Praying for you my friend,

    Todd

  17. I look at songwriting is a gift from God. it’s something He puts in some of us to use for His glory one way or another. For several years I was writing only Christian songs but felt God was telling me to write more country, that’s where my gift was. As I’ve been writing country the last few years my writing has greatly improved, especially the Christian songs I write. Sometimes He leads us through things to get where He wants us!!

  18. Thanks Brent, for your honesty. I struggle with some of those same issues. This time I have to say Amen, but also Oh,me!

  19. Brent! Thank you for your transparency!! As a Christian Songwriter I need the reminder that God’s joy is my strength. You have helped me to regain focus and not be so hard pressed if Natalie Grant, Kirk Franklin, or Jill Scott is interested but is GOD intimately connected and in communion.
    This blog is WHY I FOLLOW YOU!
    God bless.

  20. Wow. Just wow. Thanks for all the great comments. I love how ya’ll are getting involved and honestly sharing your own journeys with the MvR community! (And thanks for the support, too!)

  21. Brent,
    Great article about songwriting and your relationship with God. I have felt the same feelings. I am passionate about songwriting and sometimes I beleive too passionate also.
    I have also put my wife ahead of God. Jason Boland has a lyric that got my attention. ” I think God is mad at me, cause he thinks I worship you. ”
    Thanks for sharing. It helps me to know ,it’s not just me . I’ll pray for you. Have a great day. Jim

  22. Brent:
    I have a grandson who makes himself miserable as he is constantly on the look out for mistakes. He disappoints himself as he wants to live… perfectly. If you live always bemoaning your life performance, you will give up time that could be used to be with God. Martin Luther had this problem as he would spend hours and hours daily in confession to where the other priests would avoid him. While you are in a listening moment, it might be a good time to simply get a physical and /or a counselor to make sure there isn’t some imbalance in hormones/vitamins/stress that has you amped up a bit. I don’t think God wants you putting time with Him on a spreadsheet. I think your listening is a terrific start.

    1. Hi, Blane. Thanks for the concern, and I’m sorry to hear about your grandson. That sounds like a rough place to be. I was, ironically, just reading “The Complete Green Letters” as part of a Bible study this morning, and it was talking about how Christians are free from the law and are now under grace. Let me quote a section, if I may:

      “Unless we clearly reckon on our having died to the principle of law, we are constantly under the pall of failing to meet spiritual obligations. On the other hand, when we rest in our risen Lord we are more aware of His sufficiency than we are of the claims of law on us, and we are able to walk in the ‘liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free’ (Gal. 5:1). ‘Come to me, all ye that labour and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest.’ (Matt. 11:28).

      Trying to live under the law in our own power will crush us. The law is MEANT to show us our sinfulness, driving us to Jesus and His grace. Once we are His, we are no longer under the law. And we should not rely upon our own power to “live perfectly.” We cannot produce spiritual fruit on our own. Only the Holy Spirit can produce that within us. Personally, the Spirit has a lot of work left to do in me. But of course It does- It’s making me like Christ- who is perfect. That’s a long trip indeed!

      God bless you and your grandson, Blane.

      1. Amen, Brent! We all fall short. The good news is we have a loving Savior who wants what is best for us here, in the now, but even more importantly, in eternity with Him. . I’ve read most of the responses in this thread and I see that there are many of us. There is a Jesus/ God bond among us that is strong. Thank you for opening this forum to the hunger for Christ. Our spirits seem to be awakening…. Maybe to a third Great Awakening? Thanks again,
        T.

  23. Thank you for sharing your heart and your walk with us Brent. God will bless your obedience and commitment to “Full Frontal Christianity!” I sometimes share the same conflicts with guitar, gear, songwriting & music in general. It’s easy to become obsessed and lose balance. But I do find that when I’m writing, singing and/or playing worship music, or songs that are about my faith, that there is a beautiful convergence and the conflicts find resolution. Whether I’m leading worship, writing or performing a song about my faith, or performing one of my original fingerstyle instrumentals, I feel God’s pleasure, His warm smile and embrace and acceptance of my offering of praise in that moment. But I don’t think that we should necessarily label the music that we create as sacred or secular – God gave you a beautiful gift and He expects you to use it – whether it’s creating “Christian” music or “secular” music. God is using you to touch people’s lives through the process, regardless of the end product. Of course the product should glorify Him and it has, does and will as proven by your great successes. God is blessing you Bro – I’m praying for you – for balance and direction.

    “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.

  24. Well said Brent. I have over the past 3 weeks contemplated many of these same things. I have learned that relationships only grow if you spend time with the other person you are in a relationship with. It also requires honest communication with that person. I have found this to be true in my relationship with God. Spending time with God for me is accomplished by consciously including him in my days, my nights, my decisions, my celebrations and struggles. Most importantly it involves prayer. Most importantly regarding prayer, that involves honest, specific, blunt expression to God those things I am thankful for and struggling with or whatever else. Be very specific. Make it real, not just a general commentary. That forces you to be honest with yourself and Him. It is kind of like writing a song–if it is just full of generalities it doesn’t get you anywhere interesting.

    Love your blog and writing advice.

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