Phil Wickham: The Ascension

The award-winning worship artist on music, ministry, and fatherhood

"This is the start of something amazing; a moment when Heaven touches Earth. Here in our hearts, Lord, we are waiting for something that's far beyond what we have seen or heard."

It is with this proclamation that worship artist Phil Wickham opens his latest release, "The Ascension." Drawing inspiration from the Songs of Ascent found in Psalms 120-134, Wickham paints a picture of the privilege we have to boldly approach the throne of God in worship.

Fans of Wickham's previous albums should have no problem relating to the sound of "The Ascension," and will enjoy a few surprises that exhibit Wickham's continued willingness to stretch today's Christian music scene to new bounds. On this album, Wickham also draws from his personal life more than ever before: Wickham welcomed his first child into the world just before the production of this record. Being a father has strengthened his relationship with the Lord, and has opened up new perspectives on Scripture that, growing up as the son of a worship leader, he has heard throughout his life.

Q: What themes do you want to proclaim to the church on your new album?

Wickham: The major theme of this record is desiring more of God. The idea of "The Ascension" comes from the Songs of Ascent, found in the Psalms. The Israelites would sing these as they ascended the hills into Jerusalem. Everyone would come together and do these massive celebrations of who God is with awesome moments of worship. The people were preparing their hearts for this holy moment with songs of remembrance, songs of anticipation, and worship.

That just created an awesome picture in my mind of what we do together today. Every time we get together we do a sort of ascension into his presence, because God says that he dwells in the praises of his people. Something special happens when people get together and worship God.

Talk about writing the song "Thirst." What does this song specifically illustrate about our personal, desperate need for God's love and grace in our lives?

Thirst comes from another idea in the Psalms where it says, "Even as the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you." That's the idea of the record. It's longing after God, wanting to be in his presence, and running after him. I would love to leave people with a thirst in their hearts for more of God—wanting to dive into the heart of God to experience life in the way he meant us to experience it.

You've been married since 2008. How has marriage helped you grow in your faith, and what has it taught you about the relationship between Christ and the church?

So much of my relationship with my wife is a reflection of my relationship with God. I see so much goodness in her, and realize she's inspiring me to be better. The same goes for when I'm reading the Bible and experiencing God through his word. It's like a mirror, so to speak. It shows me who I am in comparison to God and it makes me realize where I need to grow.

There's also an unashamedness with your spouse. In a marriage, you can be who you are and not be afraid of that. You can be honest about who you are and grow together to who you're meant to be. One of the most referred-to definitions of Adam and Eve in the garden was that they were naked and unashamed. Not even in a physical way, but the fact that they were blameless. Once sin entered in they realized, I've got to find something to hide behind, because now there's something between me and God. There's a shame there, and I think God is always trying to get his people back to a place of blamelessness before God. He finally made it happen through the greatest sacrifice of his son.

It's an amazing thing that we, little men and women compared to who God is, can boldly run into the presence of God. That's another way that I've seen the love of God as a reflection of my marriage with my wife. It's the fact that there are open arms to be honest, and to be unashamed.

You have a daughter—how has becoming a dad changed the way you perceive God as Father?

Passages I've known my whole life have taken on a whole new dimension of love. I never really thought about the idea of God enjoying me—of God enjoying us. Even when we're not viewing ourselves as extraordinary, when we're in obedience and we're enjoying life, God enjoys us. Even the greatest buildings we can build, songs we could write, or whatever we might do, it's so incomparable to the things that God can create and the things that he can do. And yet, he experiences joy when we are doing what we're supposed to be doing.

The first time I saw this in my daughter is a little bit of bathroom humor because I'm going to start talking about my baby's poop, but I'm going to go there (laughs). When a baby is first born, the way you can tell if they're eating is if they're pooping. If the intestines don't start working for a couple of days, the doctors have to go in intravenously to start nourishing the baby. That's obviously a step that would be nice not to have to take. So, we started praying for everything to be healthy.

We prayed for a couple of days and nothing happened. Then, right before we were going to go back to the doctor, there was an explosion in my daughter's diaper, and I remember me and wife literally cheering, so pumped and happy that our daughter just had her first bowel movement. We were so proud of her and thankful for it, and all she did was go poop, really. I immediately thought, what a great correlation of what God does for us (laughs).

What encouraging words do you have for Christian women in the church today?

Women are awesome. I'm thinking of my wife and how she is so faithful and full of prayer, humility, and kindness. Just watching her be a mom, it's like she's on another spectrum of love and devotion that I would like to be on one day.

My encouragement to women would be the same to everybody, which is to walk with God and find out what that means for you. Open up the Bible. Pray. Love God, love one another, and let that be the driving force behind you.

When life gets overwhelming, don't forget that God is near. That's been my prayer for my wife as I leave the house lately to travel and play. I pray that God would reveal his nearness to her—that he's there and available. God is with all women—he's ready to strengthen and empower you. Just know that he's near you today.

Something I've been challenging myself with lately is to keep my relationship with God simple and straightforward. Which is to say, God, I love you, I need you—help me to love other people today too. We can have big conferences and outreaches and everything, but it's got to be backed up by sincere and real love. That is what's going to change neighborhoods and communities and cities and states and the country: sensing real, genuine love in action.

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