Joshua Swanson: Welcome to The Walk; a devotionals podcast led by worship leaders. In this episode, Aaron Williams calls us to revival by way of intimacy with Jesus. Here we go.
Aaron Williams: Hey, this is Aaron. Glad to be with you today. Just wanted to share a little bit of my story over the last couple of years and some practical insight that the Lord’s given me just on my life as a leader, and follower of Jesus. And, uh, I’ll begin by going back, uh, a couple of years ago. Uh, I was leading worship in the church, um, for a long time was at one particular church called Fellowship Bible Church.
It’s in Arkansas and had a wonderful church family, had been on staff for over a decade experience, you know, some of the fruitfulness of longevity in one place. And I began to experience, um, what I would now just refer to as like a holy restlessness. You know, it’s when the Lord starts to stir something new, but I had never experienced it before, so it took me a little while to discern what it was. I began just by having conversations with my wife, some close friends, and just asking them what they thought he was doing in my life and the basic consensus was just to keep my sales up, just to be paying attention.
And, um, so I did that over the, coming months and the more I did that, I began to see a convergence of different things in my life, through conversations with trusted friends, through prayers in my own like personal life with Jesus. And I began to discern that I thought the Lord was leading me away from this place that I loved this place that I had been for a long time.
And so maybe like anyone else would do, I made the pros and cons list. Began to list out all of the the good things about, uh, where I felt like the Lord was leading me to, which is a new kind of entrepreneurial endeavor, um, and the cons list for the same thing. And, um, as I did that, it became really clear that, um, I needed to move forward and the only real reasons that I wouldn’t were kind of irrational fears that I had about where the Lord was leading me.
With a lot of prayer over about a year total, um, the Elder Team at our church prayed over us and commissioned us to launch a new nonprofit and as we did that, the global pandemic started. The next week, actually, and so my, uh, tiny step of faith quickly became what felt like a really large leap of faith. And, um, the voice that I thought I was hearing from the Lord, you know, in my own moments of weakness, I would certainly question whether I was just making that up or whether he was truly leading us. But somewhere in my heart of hearts, I knew it was the Lord’s plan. I knew that he would, you know, see us through the pandemic. And so, um, about eight months into that pandemic, uh, kind of out of nowhere, I got an opportunity to move to Dallas, to be a part of, uh, a collective of songwriters called the Worship Initiative and to, you know, be an artist and do some things that I’ve always dreamt about doing and it was so beautiful like exactly aligned with the, uh, the thing I had been doing during the pandemic. And so, um, yet again, I found myself, you know, in twice in one year, taking steps of faith and, uh, landed in Dallas, Texas moved my family, uh, my wife and my two kids. And we landed in Dallas and one of my irrational fears that I mentioned that I wrote down on my cons list of, you know, making this step of faith was what, if someone in my family who lived in Arkansas, where I’d grown up and lived my whole life until this point, what if someone in my family went through something, you know, really difficult or like, uh, you know, got sick or something of that nature.
And, uh, about three months into living in Dallas I got a call and my Dad’s voice was on the other line and I could immediately tell that he was panicked, he was fearful, um, and he was sad. And so I stepped outside, I was eating lunch in a loud restaurant. I stepped outside where I could hear him. And he said, Aaron, we, uh, found your mom unresponsive this morning. She’s still alive. Uh, the paramedics have made it here. Um, but I need you to pray for her, and I need you to figure out how to get back to Arkansas as quickly as you can.
And you know, in that moment, um, you feel incredibly sad. You feel, you know, there’s a part of you that just feels like you don’t know what to do. So, I talked to my wife, I packed my bags and made the five-hour trek back to Arkansas, where for the next three days, I would sit day and night, uh, with my dad and my sister, we just prayed that God would save my mom. And in those moments, you’re really called to step into believing what you’ve always said you believed in your mind like mentally and to live out. You know, is, is God really good? Um, is heaven, real things? Things like that, and, um, I’m happy to tell you that my mom did survive. Uh, she’s doing so much better now. Um, so thankful that God answered those prayers,
But through that journey, you know, when I’m thinking back to like the last year and a half of that journey, um, the Lord began to reveal to me how irreplaceable intimacy with Jesus is in my personal life. And I’m really speaking beyond, uh, what I would’ve called, like a quiet time where I’m reading the Bible, maybe studying the scriptures.
I’m talking about something deeper than that. It’s, it’s relational, not just informational and it’s this, um, prayerful life of, of learning how to be open and honest and walk with Jesus in the real day-to-day, uh, struggles of like learning how to discern his will to make a big decision. Stepping out and following him in that decision and then the plan changes immediately and learning how to not panic in that moment, but to be prayerful. Um, I don’t, I don’t think I would’ve been able to do that without him drawing me in and speaking that to me in the intimate places and then here in those moments with my mom, which are just, you know, those are the rock bottom moments in life where you’re met face to face with human suffering. And you wonder if the hope of the Gospel is, is really truthfully hope. Um, and in the intimate places, where he’s drawing us all to, we find that Jesus and his, the truth of who he is and what he teaches, it really is real.
And it’s like, it’s the most real thing. Um, and it, it really does go beyond just a mental or like cognitive agreement. It works its way into who you actually are as a person where, you know, it’s like the, the great hymn. It Is Well, where it’s like, it’s not just, it is well, in my mind, that’s not what the hymn says. That’s not what we sing. We sing “It is well with my soul.” And the, the wellness of soul is it comes from like this integrated holistic way of living out our faith. And that’s what Jesus is inviting all of us to. It’s what he’s so beautifully exhibited in, in his own life. Um, I truly believe it’s, it’s why in the agrden of Gethsemane he can pray, um, “father take this cup from me, but not what I will, but what you will.” You know, that’s a, that is an, ‘it is well with my soul’ kind of prayer from Jesus himself.
And so I’ve just been realizing that like he’s, he’s inviting me to that. It’s possible for me to live in such intimacy with him that, um, I can, I can be honest and, and I can find, um, my steps of faith or my struggles in life, or my, my face to face moments with suffering. Um, I can find the true, the true bedrock of truth of who he is and what he said is true.
And, uh, his promises and his faithfulness are real and they are hope for today and also for tomorrow.
And how I see this playing out in the life of worship in particular is we’re living in a moment that in my estimation, maybe overvalues, uh, intensity in worship and undervalues intimacy, if we’re not careful. What I mean by that is, if you think about the songs that we sing, if you, if you were to go pull up the playlist of the top 100 worship songs right now, you know, they’re sonically big. They’re loud. They all have a big arrival point and I wanna be clear, like, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I actually think there’s something really good about that and a lot of it is just skillful songwriting. It’s great songwriting. It’s great musicianship. But when I think about that in the life of, of a church or a follower of Jesus, that’s the flame and if you’ve ever sat around a bonfire, Uh, bonfires aren’t just a flame. They have logs, you know, wood, uh, fuel. And to me, the fuel for the flame is this intimacy aspect of our faith.
And it’s like the more, uh, intimacy there is, the more fuel there is, the greater the flame. And if we’re not careful, what we end up doing on, on Sundays, uh, in worship is we want the flame to go bigger and brighter. Uh, you know, we want it to be the, the brightest and biggest flame that’s ever been in our church, but we’re not trying to get there through intimacy. We’re trying to get there through hype, um, a lot of times, or just, you know, stirring, stirring things up.
And I think Jesus is, is saying, I mean, in fact, there’s like actual scripture passages that are commands to be zealous, um, to be fervent, to be passionate. Um, and so I think he’s, he’s not saying don’t do that, he’s just saying, uh, but let the fuel of that be devotion. Let the, the fuel for our praise be our prayer lives. You know, let the secret place give away to the breakthrough moments and, and the big moments. Um, and I, I think what’s possible is this beautiful picture of like, um, some moments of our life are just like kindling and, you know, we’re, we’re like building the, uh, the pit that the fire’s gonna go into and that’s all they are, you know. They’re, not, uh, arrival points. We’re preparing our hearts. We’re getting our souls ready and, um, when the moment is right and when God is, is really moving in the way that he wants, um, the flame appears and he says that he’ll do that, you know. He’s faithful to do that.
Um, but at that point it’s not built upon something that’s false. It’s built upon real lives lived with Jesus in intimate places and then I think our singing’s louder because I think we believe it deeper down. I think, um, our fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ is more sincere, because of what God’s building into us and we’re able to carry one another’s burdens in different ways when we’re living with him in, in those kind of, you know, intimate places.
And hopefully like that’s the, that’s the fire that like revivals are born out of, you know, um. It’s like the wildfire that just spills over from one flame to another, and then it spreads and, you know, catches on all the embers and trees in between. Like that’s the picture, um, that I feel like is possible for all of us and for our churches in these days, but we just have to be willing to not neglect the invitation to the intimate.
Joshua Swanson: The death of a parent, or any loved one for that matter, reveals in us where we put our trust. Can we weather that experience and draw closer to Jesus through it? Or does it cause us to deal with that pain by running away from him? In a previous episode, Sherry Keaggy tells a story about the loss of her father and I would encourage anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one to find that episode. It was a real encouragement to me and to so many others.
We have a really cool announcement for you about something we’re launching here at Worship Leader and we’ve brought in Barrie Buckner from our team to share the news.
Barrie Buckner: Thanks, Joshua. Well, hello, all. My name is Barrie Buckner and I head up strategic partnerships for Worship Leaders and our parent company, Authentic Media.
So, I am so, so, so excited to be here with you guys and so excited to share with you one of the several projects we’ll be launching, coming soon. So, many of you know us for things like Worship Leader Magazine or the National Worship Leader Conference. These organizations have been a huge blessing to the international worship-leading community for the past 15 years. This year, we decided to focus on a project that was very near and dear to the heart of our founder, Chuck Fromm. That project is the Worship Leader Institute, also known as WLI. Essentially, we’ve taken your feedback about what you love about the conference and digitized it. We’ve created a formal educational path in order for worship leaders, worship teams, volunteers, and anyone who considers themselves a worshiper, to rediscover worship by going beyond performance and getting back to the heart.
We do this by providing affordable training with teachers you can trust. So, come to learn about worship culture and theology, of course, musicianship, songwriting arranging instruments, et cetera, Leadership, and pastoral growth. So, like serving in the church as a leader. And finally media and production. So, visual arts technology, sound lights.
This program fee starts at $15 per month. At launch you’ll have access to over 20 workshops in our WLI library; some from previous conferences and some brand new content and we’ll be adding new workshops monthly from top worship leaders, songwriters, pastors, theologians, professors, and authors.
So, if you’re looking to invest in your future, learn more at worshipleaderinstitute.com. That’s www.worshipleaderinstitute. Okay, that’s it for now. I look forward to joining you again to share with you some of the amazing additions to the program such as our formal certification program and our coaching program, but until then I hand the mic back over to Joshua. Thank you.
Joshua Swanson: Okay. Back to Aaron Williams.
Aaron Williams: So, in closing, I wanna invite you to look at one passage of scripture with me from Acts 4. In this story, Peter and John are on trial before the Sanhedrin and they’re on trial because they’ve been proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, and they’ve been doing it in such a powerful way, uh, that it’s noted that thousands of people are beginning to follow after Jesus.
And so, with the high priest and other people around, they ask, ’em this simple question “by what power or what name are you doing this?” They’re essentially interested in, like with what authority are you coming and preaching the, this message with? And I wanna read to you, um, from verse 13, specifically speaking about Peter here or, or about Peter and John here, they say; “When they saw the courage of Peter and John, realized they were unschooled ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that quote, ‘these men had been with Jesus.’” If you pay attention here in this moment, the answer to their question of like, by what name and by what power, like? The power of, of, uh, Peter and John in this moment is, is that they had been in intimacy with Jesus.
They had literally walked with him, been taught by him, followed him around. And that’s the thing that they notice. They, they don’t comment on their eloquence. They don’t comment on their skill. They comment on, it seems like they’ve been with Jesus. I think that’s the invitation for us. Certainly, we’re gonna practice our skills. We’re gonna hone our craft. But how amazing would it be for people to say to us, like for them to comment, they must have been with Jesus. Like, just look at the authority with which they’re living their life. Look at, look at the effectiveness of ministry they’re doing, and it’s not chalked up to how good we are at our instrument or our craft, but it’s, it’s evident that we’ve been with Jesus.
I think this is possible for us. And so in closing, I wanna just invite you to think about your life with Jesus. And I would love to just pray just to pastoral prayer for us, that Jesus would, um, keep inviting us and maybe more often than not you and I would accept his invitation into these places.
So let me close in prayer. Father, thank you that you care for us, that you invite us to be with you, to abide, to remain in relationship. And as much as we want, uh, revival to break out all around us and our churches and our schools, our cities, um, I think you want revival to break out in our own hearts, just as much; one person at a time. And so I pray that you would help us see the little moments where you’re just inviting us away. Um, maybe it’s early in the morning, late at night, probably moments all throughout our day that we could just be mindful. We could steal away for a minute or five minutes. And that over time, those little one minute and five minute increments would build a deeper bedrock, uh, in our souls of relationship with you. And I pray that this might give way to, um, bonfires in our churches, on our worship teams, in our families, in our homes, in our cities and communities. But may it start with the intimate moments and then we asked that you would fan the flame and that it would all accomplish, uh, so much more than we could on our own for your glory. We pray this in your name. Amen.
Joshua Swanson: What does intimacy with Jesus look like for you? I agree that revival will come one person at a time as we build that real relationship with a living God. Thank you, Aaron, for sharing your story and your journey with intimacy in your faith walk and in your songwriting. We’ll actually play out this episode with a beautiful song that Aaron wrote and performed called Abide, which is a call out to Jesus to draw us in and teach us to abide.
As always, special thanks to Matt McCarty for producing and editing today’s episode. Jacob Fairclough produced our theme song. The Walk is brought to you by Worship Leader Magazine, which is an Authentic Media brand. I’m Joshua Swanson. Here’s Abide.