The Power Of The Cross: “I Am Free”
Jon Egan with Jeremy Armstrong
This article is from the e-book Worshiping Through Grief—a profoundly moving and richly rewarding read. Inspired by one of Worship Leader magazine’s best loved and most commented on issues. Find it here.
“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 NAS
Mechanics should be able to turn a wrench, chefs should be able to dice tomatoes, and professional marathon runners should be pretty well versed in the skills of walking, let alone the bigger issues that come from stepping it up to a run for 26 miles. These things are what most would call the “givens.” The obvious parts of the job, and if an aspiring mechanic just can’t seem to twist a wrench in a circle, they may want to explore some other options. But what happens if you’ve been doing a job for a number of years, then suddenly lose the basics? The foundation starts to crack. Jon Egan was one of the leaders of Desperation Band (at the time he led alongside Glenn Packiam and Jared Anderson)—the youth band at New Life Church in Colorado Springs known for it’s high-energy worship—when he had such an experience.
Sitting in a hotel café 20 floors above the downtown Nashville strip, running a little late for the ASCAP awards, where his song “I Am Free” was about to receive an award for being one of the most played songs in Christian music in 2006, Jon Egan shares about the genesis and private import of his song. And though many people have been drawn to it, “‘I Am Free” is extremely personal to him. “It represents the end to the pain,” he says. “I’ve always known I’ve been called to lead worship. It was always such a passion of mine, but one winter, I was headed up a mountain to lead worship for a junior high retreat, and I was completely consumed by fear.” When Egan was in High school, anxiety started taking a prominent role in his life, which would lead to depression. It would show up in his days without warning and make him feel caged to a life of fear. And it reared its head on the way to the to the junior high winter retreat. “It was this fear that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off,” says Egan. “I wouldn’t be able to sing, to lead effectively, that I would just be a joke. It was not good. I struggled through the whole retreat.”
In high school, the anxiety seemed to fade away on its own. But, every once in a while, even through college, it would show up and remind Egan that it could always show up and take control. Then in the months before Egan wrote “I Am Free” it came back, but with a tenacity that wouldn’t go away. “I got convinced that something was up. Something was wrong ’cause I couldn’t kick it,” says Egan. “And I was on staff at New Life to lead worship. That was my job. So pretty much, every day became a struggle. I’d wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to face the next time I’d have to go onto a stage and lead worship. I had this very convincing fear that when I would open my mouth to sing, nothing would come out—that I would be ineffective completely.
“And I tried praying through it. I’d say, ‘Lord, you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to deliver me. You’ve got to set me free.’ But I wasn’t gaining any ground. In fact, it just started to get worse.”
In the Thick of Things
Jon Egan started to feel the familiar signs of depression. Desperation Band had just signed with Integrity and were playing more, the church had a vibrant youth group that was being drawn into a deep faith through the worship, and yet Egan was ready to quit. “It was a nightmare. I was confused. I was frustrated. I hated it. So, finally it came to a head. I was leading the youth on a Wednesday night, and that morning, when I was sitting with our youth pastor, Brent Parsley, and he asked me: ‘Do you feel like you’re called to lead worship?’ When I told him ‘yes,’ he just said, ‘Then what’s the problem? Just do it.’
“When you hear truth like that, it just cuts you, you know? So I started processing it. And I picked up this little booklet by Joyce Meyer called Do It Afraid, which was the same thing that my friend was saying. If you’re called to do something, you do it. Even if you have fear about it, it doesn’t matter. If you feel sick about it; it doesn’t matter. You don’t let your fears dictate what you’re going to do. You let God dictate what you’re going to do. So that night, I led worship. And it felt a little better. It was still hard. But it felt a little better.”
That attitude started to give Egan a different outlook. Though the battle wasn’t over in one night, he felt headed in the right direction. And with a few days respite from being onstage, Egan took the opportunity to explore God’s call. “God started speaking loudly about freedom,” he says. “And basically I had been asking God to set me free, for him to heal me, to do all these things. And the Lord came back and asked, ‘What I did on the cross, was that not enough for you? You are free. Just open your eyes. Look at the cross. Look to truth. Look to who I say you are, and stop respecting your fears.’
I’d wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to face the next time I’d have to go onto a stage and lead worship.
“I just started to realize that fear exists solely in our obedience to it. If you stop believing in it, it doesn’t have a place to live. It doesn’t have a place to breathe. It was like the Lord asked me: ‘What are you going to bow to? Who are you going to respect? Who are you going to live for?’”
I Am Free
Egan realized that he had been asking for a blessing that God had already given him. He asked God for freedom from lies that paralyzed him. God had a vision of Jon Egan that Jon himself didn’t have; it was a vision of a pure and free life that was possible because of the Cross. And all Egan had to do, was live in that truth. Of course, that is not always an easy task. But Egan continues, “As I made that decision and continued to walk that path, it was amazing to watch this fear and anxiety start to decrease. And it didn’t take months. It took days of practicing that truth.
“I was in my office late one night and pretty much everybody was gone. I had my guitar and decided that I wasn’t going to sing about how I want to be free, I am free, you know? I am free to run, dance; I’m free to live for God in the way that He’s called me to live. I wanted a proclamation of that truth. So it was the Lord and me in an office. I wasn’t asking for freedom, I was opening my eyes to it. I am and I always have been free.”
That night the chorus was written as a prayer and proclamation to God. From there, Egan played the chorus with his youth group and found that people could track with it musically and emotionally. So he set out to write the verses and make it complete. Since then it has literally made its way around the world. It resonates with Christians because it is a proclamation of the power of the Cross, and it lays claim to God’s redeeming grace. As much as that has been true around the world, it seemed to be a grace that Egan’s home community has needed as much as anyone.
No More Chains
New Life Church was subject to a very public scandal. And while the world could look on from the outside and make their judgments, Egan and Desperation Band were in the thick of ministry—engaging with the pains, fears, and inestimable sense of loss and grief of their community, as well as their own. That is when the song, “I Am Free,” in a way, came home. “There were a few weeks in the church where we were just focusing on taking care of the body,” shares Egan. “Our worship services were a bit more subdued. We had a major loss. But in that grieving process, there came a point where it was the healthy time to make the turn and start to look to the future. And that’s when we sang ‘I Am Free’ and it was a significant moment for our church.”
Grabbing onto the truth of the freedom that has been given to us through the Cross is significant in every arena. We could spend a lifetime in fear, anxiety, grief, bitterness, despair, anger, resentment, a litany of possible constraints, keeping us from our calling and the promise of our relationship with Christ. “I Am Free” helps us proclaim that and gives us a push to begin living in that truth.
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