At age 19, Christian recording artist, Phil Wickham, was at a crossroads in his life. He had just released an independent worship record that was garnering attention, while at the same time, Wickham and some of his best friends were putting all their attention towards starting a new mainstream band. Wickham smiles as he recalls that time in his life: “We would talk about taking over the world like U2,” he says with a laugh. “But the more time I invested in the band, the less peace I had. I knew deep down that God had something different for my life, but I couldn’t see clearly yet what that was. I remember asking God to show me what His vision for my life was.”
A few months later Wickham’s prayer was answered. He and his band were about to go on stage at an outdoor music festival in the UK when a storm rolled in and they were forced to change their plans. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much rain. The entire event had to move under this giant tent [the venue] had there.”
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The several thousand attendees rushed under the refuge of the tent, and the stage crew ordered Wickham to get on stage with his guitar to fill some time while they got things set up. “I began to sing some songs, but in the chaos of the moment no one was even looking in my direction.”
Just as Wickham was about to walk off stage there was a loud booming sound and all the power went out. The whole place went quiet. In the darkness, with the rain pouring down outside, a song began to fill Wickham’s heart. He stepped to the edge of the stage and began to sing a song he had known from his childhood. “I love You Lord, and I lift my voice...”
As Wickham began to sing it seemed as though something shifted in the atmosphere. The entire crowd joined in with him. “The roar of the voices was so loud,” Wickham remembers. “I was immediately aware of the presence of God in a big way.”
Nearing the last line of the song, there was another booming sound. “I am not joking, but right as we sang the word ‘ear’ the power came back on, and the whole place cheered. It was like something out of a movie.”
For the hour that followed Wickham led a spontaneous time of worship. “As we all sang together I felt God speaking to me in a strong way. I felt His smile in that moment and heard Him saying that this is where He wanted me to be – leading people to worship Him.”
And this is exactly what Wickham has done ever since, writing chart-topping hits like “This Is Amazing Grace” and “At Your Name (Yahweh Yahweh).” However, his eighth studio album might be the greatest testament to this moment to date. Set to release August 3 with Fair Trade Services, Living Hope is full of songs for the church to sing, songs inspired by the church, and songs written with others within the church—a collection that truly reflects the body of Christ.
This is largely due to a new role Wickham has taken on since the release of his last critically acclaimed album, Children of God, in 2016. Wickham is now part-time staff at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., leading worship and writing songs for that community when he isn’t on the road. In this position, he was able to approach this album from a new angle, one of service to the church.
“So many songs on the record were born out of wanting to write the language and the prayers that go along with what God is doing in the community,” says Wickham. “They shifted from songs written as my own personal expression, to songs written to express the heart of my local church – to give new melodies and vocabulary that go along with what God is doing there.”
One of the first tracks on the album, “Great Things,” was written from this heart of service to his community. Wickham says he wanted to write a song that could be a call-to-worship during services at Harvest: “I wanted to write a song called ‘Great Things,’ telling of what [God] has done but also believing that as we gather together, He can do those things again.”
“Though God’s miracles look different today than they did when He parted the Red Sea in the Old Testament, God is still at work,” says Wickham. “He moved from bringing down the walls of cities to bringing down the walls of shame and sin that are wrapped around our souls. And He’s gone from silencing the mouths of lions for prophets like Daniel to silencing the voices of doubt and condemnation.”
If “Great Things” was written as a call-to-worship for his community, the first single and title track on the album, “Living Hope,” was written to ground his community in the story of the Gospel. Written with Bethel Music’s Brian Johnson, Wickham had a clear goal for this song: “I wanted to write a song that had the truth of the Gospel in it from start to finish.”
Wickham and Johnson wrote the song through text messages, sending lyrics and voice memos back and forth to each other, resulting in a true worship anthem. Released on Good Friday this year, “Living Hope” seems to have taken on a life of its own. With already a million hits on YouTube and churches and worship groups across the nation recording their own versions, “Living Hope” is well on its way to becoming a worship classic.
On the song’s rapid success, Wickham says he’s not sure why God chooses to breathe life into some songs like this one, “but I can say first-hand that there’s something that has changed in the room every time I’ve led it. Something about that song shifts the atmosphere in the room and maybe it’s because it is—as best we could do—the Gospel in a song.”
Wickham collaborated with 18 other songwriters on Living Hope, a first for the artist who historically hasn’t done much co-writing for his albums. But Living Hope called for something different. Wickham, who also worked with six producers on the album, says this collection feels more like a community project than simply his own work, which was a freeing experience.
“It’s less of holding things with a tight fist and more of an open hand,” he says. “That’s why there are so many writers. Because I really tried to be open to anything God had for this.”
Along with Brian Johnson, other co-writers and collaborators include Chris Tomlin, Mack Brock, Kristian Stanfill, and Jonas Myrin.
Wickham’s pastor, Greg Laurie, even played a role in collaborating, asking him to write what would become “Revive Us Again,” a song the worship team prays over their annual worship event, Harvest Crusade. Laurie even helped inspire “Till I Found You,” a soulful track that displays Wickham’s vocal range.
During a Wednesday night service, Laurie leaned over to Wickham and asked him to lead the congregation in a time of worship that would give people a chance to respond to the Gospel. Wickham got on stage to do what he’s done countless times before, but this time was different.
As 30 or 40 people came forward, Wickham says, “I looked down and instead of seeing a crowd of people, I saw individuals right in front of me with their hands lifted and their eyes closed and tears on their faces...and I felt Jesus saying to me, Look, these people are finding a love and a life —something real that is never going to fail them.”
As Wickham was writing songs to meet the needs of his church community, his community was doing the same for him. The track “Tethered” was actually a song producer Jonathan Smith had been working on with some other writers.
Wickham says, “I was telling [Smith] I was excited about this record, but there was a prayer that I’d been wanting to pray. There was a song that I wanted to sing that I didn’t have the words for.” As Wickham explained the song he was trying to write, Smith told him about “Tethered.”
“He sang the whole chorus and I started tearing up. I didn’t write that chorus, but that’s what my heart wanted to say.” Wickham then helped pen the verses that completed the idea of being tethered to God, unable to miss His presence:
I don’t want to miss the beauty of heaven all around me Your power and Your mercy The greatness of Your love I don’t want to lose the wonder of being in Your presence
This writing experience provided a unique full-circle moment for the worship artist. “Something I’ve heard a lot of over the years is, ‘Thank you so much for giving me words.’” Now Wickham has been on the receiving end: “All my friends that write worship songs, thanks so much for giving me a prayer and words to sing.”
The communal effort of this album along with Wickham’s openness while writing it have resulted in a collection that is grounded and confident, clearly communicating to listeners who Wickham is as an artist, who the God is that he worships and who the church is that he serves. Living Hope almost sounds like the album Wickham has been writing all along. Since that moment on stage years ago when the sound went out and his response was to worship and lead others in doing so.
If he wasn’t already there, Living Hope will cement Wickham in his place as an artist who not only writes songs for the church to sing but songs that the church will be singing for generations to come.