A Conversation with Matt Redman
Danielle DuRant spoke with worship leader and songwriter Matt Redman in the summer of 2004 in Atlanta about his new book Facedown (Regal Books, 2004) and the companion CD. Matt has written a number of songs sung by churches worldwide, including “Better Is One Day,” “The Heart of Worship,” and “Blessed Be Your Name.” For more about Matt Redman, including his articles and music, see http://www.mattredman.com and www.heartofworship.com.
Danielle DuRant: First of all, I really appreciated your new book, Facedown, and the companion CD recorded at a worship leaders’ conference here in Atlanta.
Matt Redman: Thanks, that’s real encouraging to hear.
Danielle: Would you comment on the title and how your thinking on the theme of reverence and wonder contributed to this project?
Matt: The whole Facedown concept, it really came from reading through Scripture and noticing how many worshipers were facedown in their devotions. Abraham was a facedown worshiper, Moses, David, Aaron, Ezekiel, Daniel—and that’s just to name a few. You look at the Transfiguration of Jesus, even his disciples were facedown. You get to the book of Revelation and there’s so much facedown worship. It really struck me. Then you get to these heavenly throne room scenes—and what we do conversely. So much of what’s going on there (in worship), we’re reflecting that here on the earth. We’re singing just like the angels are singing. We’re speaking out praise just like the living creatures do.
But the elders are falling facedown. In fact, some of the angels do, too. I thought it was real interesting how so many of these responses we’re mirroring here on earth, but this one we’re not mirroring. We’re not seeing this physical response. It got me thinking, in reading the Bible, that it’s the ultimate physical posture of reverence. It’s the ultimate way you could say with your body, “I know that You are God. I recognize that You are the highest high. In response to that, I am going to get as low as I can get to worship You.”
I was noticing that sort of discrepancy and it got me thinking. My conclusion is we need to see more, and recognize more, and focus more on the glory of God. Facedown worship is in the Bible; they (Abraham, Moses, etc.) were all bowing to the glory of God. Thus, when we face up to the glory of God, we ourselves fall down and worship. And all these people—it wasn’t just a religious thing to do in devotions like a duty; it wasn’t that at all. They were people who recognized the otherness of God; people who saw a glimpse, enough of a glimpse to be overwhelmed to the core, and they want to decrease to the ground in submission and devotion.
I want more songs which paint a big picture of God. There’s no one like Him. So many books of the Bible reveal his sovereignty, majesty, his awesomeness, his being all powerful and self-sufficient. Then you’ve got your songs and you’re thinking, Something is not matching up. The God in these songs seems to be so worldly compared to the God in the Scripture. I’m not judging other songs, but just talking about my own songs. They are portraying God, but it seems we often shrink Him down too much. So it got me wanting to paint a big picture in this book, and that’s how the whole concept of Facedown got started.
Danielle: Thanks. You mentioned the “otherness of God” and you write in Facedown, “The more we delve into the otherness of God, the more we grasp the truth that worship is quite simply all about Him.” Would you talk about this a little more?
Matt: I love that word, the otherness of God. I love the fact that He’s altogether otherly; He’s self-sufficient. In other words, He’s transcendent. He’s matchless and He is unique. You look through the Bible and see that God breathes, but you only see God breathing out in the Bible. He breathes mercy; He breathes anger. He breathes on this thing and gives it life. He breathes into this thing and that thing; He’s always breathing out. So God breathes, but you never really find Him breathing in. The reason is that He’s self–sufficient. He’s not like us. We need to breathe in air, but not God. There is nothing God needs. That gives you a great picture of how high above us He is. He’s the only self-sufficient one there is. Everything—in physics, in astronomy, biology—everything needs something else to exist. We ourselves, we can only live because we are breathing in the breath that God’s given us to breathe. I just think that’s a wonderful picture: He’s the God who breathes out but never breathes in.
Danielle: I haven’t thought about that before. That makes sense of your lyrics, “We are breathing the breath that You [God] gave us to breathe to worship You” (“Breathing the Breath” from the CD Facedown).
Matt: Yes, that song is a lot about that idea. God says in Psalm 50, “You thought I was altogether like you” (v.21). And in the same psalm He talks about the fact that He doesn’t need anything from us. Basically what He’s saying is “I don’t need your offering.” Because God doesn’t need anything. The Book of Acts, chapter 17 says, “He is not served by human hands as if he needed anything” (v.25). Then in Romans: “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?… For from him and through him and to him are all things” (11:35, 36).
He doesn’t need our worship one tiny bit; there’s nothing we can give to Him that isn’t already his in the first place. In the songs we sing, even the breath we breathe is the breath He gave us in the first place. There’s no offering you can give to God—you can’t add to God.
But the beautiful thing I realized is that God loves our worship. So we’re trying to paint mystery in worship: the self-sufficient God who delights in the tiniest, almost worthless offering in the world’s eyes. This God who’s infinite, and yet altogether intimate. The fact that God’s altogether otherly, and also a God who draws near to us and gets involved with our lives.
In the book I quote two theologians, (Roger) Olson and (Stanley) Grenz, and they say, “God is immanent within human experience as the transcendent mystery that cannot be comprehended in spite of his absolute nearness.” If you’re drawing near to God in worship and all you find is a tame, domesticated, and shrunk-down God, you’re not as close as you like to think you are. Because in Scripture, when believers draw near to God in holy worship, they are flat on their faces and are overwhelmed to the core. And I’ve met so many theologians, pastors, and worship leaders in different streams of the church on this common pursuit of trying to paint a bigger picture of God in worship. Trying to recapture the wonder in worship. It must be the Holy Spirit, just urging us to reclaim some of this majesty.
Danielle: One thing I was really struck by in Facedown is that you say that one way we convey God’s otherness “is to offer to God that which we do not spend on any other…. To treasure up words, thoughts, and deeds we will only ever use in response to the Lord.” I’m wondering how we might we begin to consider that in our daily practice?
Matt: It stems from a few things in Scripture. One is, in the Old Testament God gave the people a whole recipe for sacred anointing oil. It was to be used in worship, and God says, “Only use this in worship to me; don’t use this for anything else; just reserve for me.” I love the fact that when Jesus sends for the little colt that he rides through Jerusalem (his triumphal entry), it’s one that’s never been ridden by anyone else. And again, I love that fact that they are ushering in Jesus on something that’s reserved for him and him alone. Really, that’s my quest, and facedown worship is a big part of it. Bowing is something unique in culture and that’s a great start.
Then there are words. I say in the book we ought not to be in awe of anything or anyone else, or say anything is “awesome” in the strictest sense of the word. We’ve sort of lost that word—awesome—and I’d love to reclaim it in the church. Because the fact is in Job it says, “Dominion and awe belong to God” (25:2). You might admire, you might appreciate or really be amazed by something, but never stand in awe of it or say it’s awesome. That is a thing reserved for God. In language I think we can reclaim some things. I love the word holy because the very word itself means “set apart”; it is otherly. I love the fact that we don’t really use that for anyone else.
Things like that we can do. To sing, “This is for You and You alone.” To worship Him in a way that somehow tries to—though we never will—measure up to his worth.
Danielle: You write in your song “Seeing You”—I love these lines—“Worship starts with seeing you. Our hearts respond to your revelation. No one can sing of the things they have not seen.” I think particularly of Job. Would you tell us a little more about the lyrics, and also your understanding of revelation’s role in worship?
Matt: I think all true meaningful and pure worship is a response to a revelation. One way I like to define worship is “the all-consuming response to the all-deserving worth and revelation of God.” When we see Him, it commands a response to his holiness. Worship starts with us seeing Him. As a lead worshiper I think maybe I’ve spent too long in the past asking for a response. The best worship leaders lead strongly enough so that people follow, but not strong enough to make themselves the focus. Ultimately let the Holy Spirit be the worship leader.
Now obviously the preacher plays a huge role in delivering the Word of God in some shape or form. But we do play a part. Some people learn their theology through songs. They go away singing and somehow that paints their view of God. This is a huge responsibility….
Pastor, preacher or leader, we need to think through what parts of the nature or character of God are we presenting. Are we always focusing on the friendship, or are we also including the fear of God? Are we focusing on the infinite? Are we going to the incarnation of Jesus, are we acknowledging the centrality of the Cross, and are we going beyond that to the resurrection? We sing about the Cross but sometimes we don’t carry through to the resurrection. And that’s just fundamental. Are we singing about the ascension of Jesus? Are we also singing what Jesus is doing now—the fact that we worship Jesus, and go through him, with him, and in him to the Father?
Look through these old hymnbooks and just look at the contents.. I look at someone like Charles Wesley, and he makes me want to give up. Where is he today? Here is this guy who’s written six thousand hymns on so many aspects of the nature and character of God, so many songs for different seasons of the soul, for different occasions of the year or different circumstances in the life of a believer or even songs for those who don’t know him. So there’s such a responsibility. You know, the Bible talks about not presuming to be teachers. I say don’t presume to be a song writer. I really struggle with that at times. I’m painting a picture of God that people are seeing. Actually, I have some pastors and theologians to help me out, making sure there is nothing out of line and also to help me structure what I can add to paint a fuller picture of God.
Danielle: I really appreciate your comments. Some would say that in the church today we are impoverished either by overlooking the hymns or by dismissing them as no longer engaging.
Matt: One, we mustn’t get in our culture’s mindset that we’ve moved on, for there is nothing new under the sun. Don’t think you have just invented something; it’s probably just a reinvention. Second, when you become a Christian, you can’t live life apart from this history, apart from this grand journey of the people of God, and so you’re just adding your voice to that. Obviously the Bible is the main place of revelation. I’ve also found a lot of inspiration in these old hymnbooks. Again, back to Wesley—he just wrote so many different things. It sharpens me both as a songwriter and also as a follower of Christ to delve into some of his lyrics.
Danielle: So how do you address that tension when you’re leading worship? It seems more and more in churches these days that hymns have pretty much fallen by the wayside.
Matt: It’s how you present them a lot of times. Some of them were designed to be played on an organ, so it may not work the same way with the drum and a guitar; even the meter may not work. But the real things is the lyrics. If you base lyrics on the Word of God, they’ll have the ability to endure. And the hymns we have now and are still singing, you’ll notice are Scripture -based. So let’s find some treasure: let’s sing some new tunes; let’s recover some old ones. This tune still works now; you might need to put a few chords around it, but really what you’re trying to do is preserve the treasure—and that’s the lyric. Some of them you might even have to modernize a tiny bit lyrically just to make sure there aren’t words too obscure for today’s culture. Don’t go overboard with it. I love going for a new song and a new sound, but I also know at the same time its wise to delve back and bring in some of the old stuff.
Our heart’s not bigger—we’re the church. We’re the people of God, and we’re on this journey that’s been going on for centuries. What we do now—yes, new sounds, new styles. But it’s the same heart: songs of the goodness and greatness of God, which people have been singing about for ages….
Another thing is to be aware of what word pictures convey. For example, I heard a statement from Mark Greene recently from the London Contemporary Institute of Christianity. He was saying the word “tower” in the Bible is used to depict strength. But at the moment, that’s actually a picture of vulnerability because of September 11th. So perhaps that’s maybe not the best word picture at the moment for strength. So you have to be aware of all that. The other thing that Mark Greene talks about is that we need more lament songs, and I’ve heard so many people talk about this. If you look into the Psalms, around seventy percent of the content is lament. The psalmists are crying out to God: we’re broken, we’re in chains, help us, God. What Mark Greene says is if you want songs to be evangelistic, there’s a right way they can do that, and that is to identify with the pain of the world. Be real in the church, you see.
And people say, “No, this is the church. We need to sing songs of victory. Well yes, we are victorious in Christ, but we’re also strangers in a foreign land. God’s good and He’s holy, and everything’s for Him and about Him. But also let’s add the dimension that looking at this world, this isn’t how it’s meant to be. Look around this world. This is not how it’s meant to be. Let us not deny that in worship.
“Blessed Be Your Name” talks about the worth of God and also the pain of life: “On the road marked with suffering/ Though there's pain in the offering/ Blessed be Your name.” Look at Job where he says, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:21). I think sometimes if you could get that essence in song it would really be evangelistic. It meets people where they are at. There are an incredible amount of lonely, addicted, or abused people in this world. If we can be real in our worship—speak the truth about God but also speak truth about life and where we’re at—then it does give solidarity in pain in the world, and it can be a doorway in for those who don’t know him.
Danielle: I really appreciate what you’ve said about brokenness and the music of Rita Springer has also really ministered to me over the past three years. In fact, I first heard your song “Lord, Let Your Glory Fall” on her album, and I have played it over and over. She’s been asked on occasion how someone learns to write and worship as she does, and she responds that her music flows out of her own brokenness. Do you identity a particular place in yourself where your worship of God is often given birth, and is it perhaps a different place than when you first began writing lyrics? Would you call it brokenness, or would you call it something else?
Matt: In one sense we’ll always be walking a thin line until we walk into heaven. When I think of brokenness, I think of different things in life. It strikes me these days the older I get—I just turned thirty—the more I learn that somebody’s got cancer, somebody’s died in a car crash. And people who are not far removed from me: a friend of a friend, somebody in church. You watch the news on TV, and you think, we can’t be shiny, happy Christians. We’ve got to weep with those who weep, and so much of worship comes from that. Worship is a community thing.
The whole idea of worship as a sacrifice is such a biblical thing, and one of the key expressions these days I believe is trust. Saying, “God, even though I can’t see what you’re doing in this situation, I’m trusting the Father’s heart.” Trust is something deep. In other words, I trust the fact, God, that You’re big enough and great enough and high enough to know what’s happening and to be in control. And I also trust the fact that You’ve got a fatherly heart for me and you want the best for me. Then you sort of throw yourself into the praises of God, proclaiming the worth of God, somehow even in the midst of this dark cloud, trying to focus on the brightness of Him. And I think that God honors that. He must love that.
We just rewrote a version of the hymn “Father Let Me Dedicate.” And this is a great line; the first time I ever read it—it was in an old hymnbook—it struck me so powerfully. “Can a child presume to choose where or how to live, But can a Father’s love refuse all the best to give?” In other words, we can’t presume. We give God everything, but also we trust his Father’s heart.
I recently heard Darlene Zschech (Hillsong of Australia worship leader) talking about Abraham in Genesis 22. She talked about the fact that God said to Abraham, “Go and sacrifice your son and offer him to me,” and the text says “Early the next morning Abraham got up” to do that thing. And Darlene said, “That’s what we need to do. That’s worship with a price; that’s a living sacrifice.” Early the next morning he went to do that: obedience. It cost him; he was broken in that offering. And, of course, God would never allow him to do that. But there is something about that phrase “early the next morning.” There’s a readiness to work, to worship God in the happy time, in the joyful time, just as fervently and wholeheartedly in the painful times.
And again its back to the verse “blessed be your name”: “In the land that is plentiful…Blessed be your name.” And also, “On the road marked with suffering/ Though there's pain in the offering/ Blessed be Your name.” What I found about writing that song—one of the only songs I have written that expresses this—it’s a tough song to sing. You can’t sing it if you don’t believe in the sovereignty of God, and if you don’t believe in his Father’s heart. I really think it’s too costly a song to sing: “You give and take away; blessed by your name.” When you’re looking back in the past of your life, or when you’re looking forward to the future, you can’t sing that unless you really believe in the sovereignty of God and his Father’s heart; it’s too scary. I want to write some more songs that are tough to sing.
Danielle: You observed that one expression of worship is trust, and I appreciate that you said that trust doesn’t’ just foster worship, but it is itself worship. When you can’t do anything else but cling to God. It seems you’re saying it is really a matter of the will: I will trust Him. You said in our worship time this morning, “You can choose the road of bitterness, or you can choose the road of trust.” Obviously it’s the work of God in our lives that changes us, but I wonder, how does that change come about? Like in Joseph’s story, to be able to say, “I believe there’s a heavenly Father that loves me and is sovereign even in the darkness.”
Matt: I think its gradual. The people I meet who’ve been in tough situations, so intense, so heavy, the only thing you can say is, “Well done for choosing to trust God at this time. It’s a beautiful act of worship. It blesses my heart to hear you’re trusting Him, but how much more, it must bless the heart of God.” Or, “I don’t know why this is happening to you. I don’t understand the situation; you may never know this side of heaven. You may never grasp what really happened, but what I can say to you is this: You’ve made a great choice to worship.”
And I may have no wisdom and no understanding. I can’t even fully empathize because what has happened is too full on. All I can say is I know from Scripture and I know from experience—and I know this from knowing God—that you are making a wise choice to worship Him at this time. You will find it’s a great investment in life. Maybe you won’t even find that in this life, but I promise you that your present suffering will be nothing in comparison to the glory that is going to be revealed in you in the age to come. Scripture’s real clear about that. Sometimes that’s how worshipers in the Bible got through during the tough times. These New Testament Christians who endured persecution and suffering because they’d seen enough of the glory of God and tasted enough of the foretaste to come of joy. And there’s that verse that Joseph says: “The Lord made me fruitful in the land of suffering” (Gen. 41:52). Again, look through Scripture; you just see that lesson time and time again.
I’ve experienced that in my own life. Not having a father at the age of seven; all the things that life throws at you. So many things, even the good (like the way I met my wife), the whole way my life has been shaped. I can never know why certain things happen; I can see God used them for His good. Joseph says to his brothers, “What you meant for harm, God meant for good” (Gen. 50:20). And that’s so often the case: the enemy’s meant it for harm but God for good. I think this is a key thing for the church to learn.
There’s great book I’m reading from a friend of mine, Mike Pilavachi, called Soul Survivor, and it’s a book about the character of God (when we’re) in the desert. So often we are so quick to blame the desert and try to escape. But sometimes you have to embrace it, and God is actually doing a sovereign and deep work in the desert. That happened in the life of his own Son. He was in the desert; he had some intense wilderness time. Often that’s how it happens.
Danielle: Yes. Lastly, I’m struck by the idea of “friendship and the fear” before God, or as you note in your book Facedown, “celebration and awe.” Like the Israelites in the temple after God’s glory filled it (2 Chronicles 5-7). The ark comes in and they see God’s glory and the consuming fire, and they sing of God’s goodness and love enduring. There’s this awe and celebration; this friendship and this fear that you also sing about.
Matt: Yes, a beautiful picture. Just before that (in 1 Chronicles 13), when they are bring the ark of the Lord back to Jerusalem, Uzzah touches it and gets struck down. It’s a reminder that God’s holy. He’s prescribed how these things are to be carried, and you don’t just do it your own way. He is a sacred God. So they learned the lesson, and then they come in the temple and do it with reverence, bringing in the ark the God-prescribed way. It’s an honor. And then what happens? A crazy time of celebration and “undignified” worship. I love it. It’s the rejoicing and the trembling that you find in Psalm 2 (v. 11). This mixture of revering Him and celebrating Him. You find it all over Scripture. Psalm 95: “Come and sing joy to the Lord” (v.1), and in the same psalm, “Come, let us bow down and worship the Lord” (v.6). You find it in Romans: “Consider the kindness and sternness of God” (11:22). You find it in Psalm 25:14: “The friendship of the Lord is reserved for those who fear him.”
So you’ve got this mixture all throughout Scripture; you find it in Revelation chapter one. You see the risen, ascended King Jesus with glory on his face, shining so bright and radiant. And it says that he’s holding the seven stars in his hand in verse sixteen in chapter one—very explosive. He’s placing his right hand on John and comforts him saying, “Do not be afraid.” So the very same hand that is holding the seven stars is drawing near in comfort. This picture is all over the Bible. One of my favorites—back to the idea of being facedown—is in Leviticus 9:24. It says, “They shouted for joy and they fell facedown.”
In all these big gatherings today there are always shouts of joy going on, but how much face to the ground worship do we see? How many times are we really realizing what’s going on here? Because I see so much of what happens in these meetings duplicated in the world. You go to a pop concert; you see a whole lot of shouting for joy and dancing around. But there are some things that make us (as Christians) distinct. Not just in talking about the truth and the presence of God, but even with our responses. Kneeling down—I love to see that in churches. To me that’s like the mystery of the universe, these two elements: the immanence and transcendence of God. The shout for joy and the falling facedown; the right hand holding the seven stars and then Jesus places his hand on John.
This is the mystery; we need to plug into this mystery. We need to celebrate this God of the infinite and the intimate. The Lion and the Lamb; the God who is terrifying and who befriends. Who thunders and whispers. Some of the most powerful expressions of the mystery of who God is ultimately you find in the Cross. The One who hung in agony on beams of wood that He Himself called into being. Go to the hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” You find paradox and mystery all through out the hymn. The glory and the shame; the beauty and the pain—you find it all throughout the hymn. The wondrous Cross. We need to immerse ourselves in it, in this mystery.