CCM: Have you seen the Beatitudes theme affirmed outside of the studio?
Taya Smith: It’s funny how it all lined up. At the start of each year, Hillsong has a church service called “Vision Sunday,” where Pastor Brian [Houston] sets out a vision. When he started preaching, he talked about “A Dangerous Declaration” and he started reading the Beatitudes, his whole vision for the church this year. Joel said he hadn’t actually asked his dad about what he was preaching about that Sunday. He was sitting in church just thinking, Praise God. We must be hearing from God. We must be on the right track.
How did the process of creating Empires impact your personal lives?
JDD: The song “Heart Like Heaven” comes out of Psalm 51. It talks about how God is not looking for a flawless performance or for us to be perfect, but when our pride is shattered, when our hearts are broken, that heart God will not despise.
There is so much freedom in saying, “I don’t have it all together, but God’s not looking for perfection.” He’s looking for a heart that is honest and pure and after the things that He’s called us to be about. That is a massive relief for us. It’s the whole “come as you are” message. God didn’t come to make us all jump through hoops. His grace is sufficient and his strength is made perfect in our weakness. That is the heart of God for us.
JH: Everyone is striving to be on top. Everyone is searching to achieve something. Even in church we can so quickly feed our souls with the lie that we have to earn our way to God. Yet at the end of the day we do not feel like super Christians. We feel like ordinary, broken people who need a savior and God’s mercy every single day, who need to desperately cling to God’s grace in every moment. When you have stood on a platform and there is all this crazy stuff going on, you become more acutely aware of that need in your life.
CCM: Speaking of the platform, you guys are frequently on stage and in the limelight. As a worship-driven band, that seems a bit paradoxical. How do you balance an obvious desire for excellence in performance and the bigger picture of facilitating corporate worship?
JH: Excellence begins in the heart. It’s a determination of the spirit to give the best we can, to not settle on giving Him our second best or a half-hearted effort. It would be an indictment on what it is if we were not pursuing excellence in our worship. You know? The lighting and music being on point is the fruit of excellence. The most powerful worship experience I have ever seen was in a tiny village church in the Philippines. We roll in and there are a bunch of kids playing on an out-of-tune piano and a guitar with three strings. There are a lot of other kids singing their lungs out. The kids are throwing everything they have into it. So excellence can be a small church in the Philippines. We take the resources and opportunities we have and approach it from the same attitude, the same mindset, the same desire to give God our best. It should be excellent. The church makes excuses for excellence because we claim it’s about the show or the performance. Unfortunately, I’ve participated in it. There are times I’ve been more consumed that something looks good than it being appropriate for where we are or what we are trying to do. It doesn’t work. People see right through it. You can switch on the TV, go to a conference or see Hillsong in different services and sometimes it’s not right. Something is off. Then you can step into something that on the outside sounds like the worst music you’ve ever heard, but there is something powerful about it. That’s what we chase after with worship. In The Message, Psalm 51 reads, “Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heartshattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice” (Psalm 51:16- 17 MSG). To me, that’s what excellence is, understanding our position of brokenness but still choosing to come with the sacrificial heart towards God that is a part of us doing the best with what is in our hands. I pray that’s what people see when they see Hillsong United. Or when they see something that is in their opinion, flashy. I pray they catch the spirit of it. I guess time will tell. It’s out of our control.
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