In Matt Maher’s world, “Love will hold us together,” as his song often played on Christian radio says. But not just any love: the love and sacrifice of Jesus.
And focus on Jesus is what drives Maher’s world and finds him as a Catholic in an evangelical world of contemporary Christian music.
Friday night he will be performing with one of the biggest names in contemporary Christian music, Toby Mac, in the Hits Deep Tour at the Cajundome in Lafayette.
And many contemporary Christian music fans may find this a strange match. Toby Mac and earlier versions of this tour are known for high-energy performances. On the stage will be Mandisa, with strong, upbeat vocals; Mac Powell, known for Southern rock as the lead singer of Third Day; and the Capital Kings, an EDM band; as well as Toby Mac’s eclectic mix of upbeat rhythms.
Maher is a worship leader known for quieter songs, such as “Lord, I Need You” and “Because He Lives,” both of which are on the radio now.
“I think I’m going to surprise you,” Maher said about the night, though he says we won’t hear him with the Capital Kings.
“It’s kind of like I’ve had two careers. One is being a guy who writes a lot of worship music, and then somebody who has been striving for music that has kind of a rootsy, Americana, Springsteenish feel.”
Maher says he has some songs he and his band have worked on through the years that will make for “a diverse set within a very diverse night.”
"You get all these different sounds of music and put it together, it helps take people on a journey that is much more expansive than if you just saw one artist," he said. "“I think there’s going to be a great night of collaboration. Toby and (his band) Diverse City have some musical surprises in store. Hopefully not only is it a night that entertains people but it seeks to lead people to a place where they can hear from God.”
Maher spent almost half an hour talking about Scripture (including the Pharisees and the Zealots and the Romans); church history (including the Reformation, which marks 500 years in November; Luther; Calvin; St. Augustine and Pelagius) and current events and how people today can overcome the fears of today.
Among his points:
- Some Christians are coming to the show to escape problems. “Don’t let our music be an escape, let our music be a way to reroute you back to God. He’s the one we should be running to. Always.”
- “I think among certain Christians there is a sense that culture is trying to force them or coerce them into believing certain things. … At the same time, there’s also a tendency to let fear on every side dictate how we relate to people. I think as Christians our faith informs our conscience of a deeper sense of courage. And I think all the artists on the (Hits Deep) tour are wanting to call the church to a way of living that exalts Jesus and puts him high but also bends low and wishes to listen just as much as we speak.”
- “We (as Christian musicians) have an obligation to call people to prayer. Not a prayer that is a form of escapism, but really helps the church rediscover their role in some ways of interceding on behalf of culture. I think it’s really easy for us as Christians to say, ‘Oh, Lord. We pray for the rest of the country that’s falling apart’ and just kind of say ‘I hope Jesus comes back tomorrow.’ When we do that, we are surrendering, we’re giving up on the responsibility that God has given us to be stewards of the world that we live in here and now. The church is not Plan B.”
- “It’s all God’s handiwork, but the point of Jesus sending his Holy Spirit was to empower us, and I think we are called very much to be in the world and helping the world be reconciled. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ and I think the church is called to be the makers of the peace.”
- “We’re at a time of extremes. … I think it is the job of the church to be like Jesus” who had to deal with the Zealots, the Pharisees and the Romans. “Jesus found a way to transcend them all and was faithful to what God had called him to do. … It is important that Christians more than ever … learn how to listen.”
- Christians have been tricked, mostly by the political establishment, into choosing sides when it comes to issues and not letting the Gospel be the voice that helps us choose where our passions lie. Jesus comes first, the cross comes first.”
- “There are going to be younger artists God is going to raise up who are rooted in a sense of Christian identity, but at the same time they are going to have the wisdom and the way to speak about all these other issues that divide us so much. … It’s like Dr. Martin Luther King. People forget he was a pastor. So God chose for the civil rights movement to stem out of the church. I don’t think that was a coincidence.”
Through all of those musings, Maher said, “I write a lot of songs about the cross and about Jesus because that’s at the center of my faith even as a Catholic.”
He pointed out that as Christians "we can and do disagree on many things, but what we do hold in common is who Jesus is in terms of his revelation, who the Trinity is and what God has done for us at the cross in giving us salvation.”
He says of all the other stuff: “Those are arguments a family can have, but we first have to be family. … This is why I do what I do … because if I can write a song that everybody can sing together, what it does is create a center and a space of commonality and it creates a space of unity from which relationships can form. And out of relationships can come reconciliation. You can’t have reconciliation without relationship,” Maher said.
“I think the world of Christian music can bring comfort to people who are suffering — suffering from illness, divorce, addiction and brokenness, people are struggling with a sense of identity trying to belong to something bigger than themselves.
“On the other side, the church has to continue to have a voice that speaks for the poor, speaks for the marginalized, that speaks for the refugee, that speaks for the unborn, that speaks for mothers and women. It’s a hard place to have, because, right now, we live in a time where a lot of those groups are fragmented and you’ve got to pick one. I really do think that’s the devil. The devil wants us to prioritize who’s the weakest instead of saying ‘I’m going to stand for all the weak.’”
And for his song “Hold Us together”?
"I wrote that song because of the housing crisis in 2008. … Basically I watched the value of my home plummet 40 percent. … I was single … and I was on the road a lot. I was basically paying a mortgage for a really nice storage space.”
Maher said his faith gave him the ability to say it didn’t matter. He could lose the house and be OK. “This doesn’t define who I am.”
Around the country though was a lot of fear, and that fear was being used in politics, he said.
At the same time he was flying on an empty flight — “I thought, ‘Is this what flying is going to be like for the next six months ’cause nobody can afford a plane ticket?’”
He said he was thinking about what would happen to people who lost their retirement and had marginal faith and no community support. Where do those people turn for a sense of purpose and of hope?
“I scribbled on a Southwest napkin: 'Love will hold us together, make us a shelter to weather the storm, and I’ll be my brother’s keeper.'”
He was on his way to a songwriting session in Nashville with Steven Patrick Wilson, whom Maher told, “I think I need to write another ‘Lean on Me.’”
Maher said the song was the fastest he’s ever written, taking an hour to complete.
Maher said he’s been told couples have used it as their wedding dance song. “Really, I wrote a song about my mortgage, and you’re dancing to it at your wedding?” Maher said.
He added “I never lose the wonder of this.”
He also told of a man who turned his life around after hearing the piece, spent the next few weeks encouraging friends to embrace Christ and died helping a stranded motorist six weeks later.
“I was rendered speechless by that whole story because, once again, it wasn’t what I was thinking about,” he said. “It’s just an amazing testimony about what God can do with a song.”
Hits Deep Tour
TobyMac, Matt Maher, Mandisa, Mac Powell of Third Day, Capital Kings, Ryan Stevenson, Hollyn
WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10
WHERE: Cajundome in Lafayette