Christy Nockels has led worship for gatherings of Christians around the globe for two decades. A key leader for Passion Conferences, her new album, Let It Be Jesus, released this spring. TCW connected with Christy to hear more about her album and how she navigates the relationship between difficult emotions and heartfelt worship.
Christy, you’ve been involved in the Passion movement since the beginning. As you look back over your 18 years with them, what do you see God doing in and through this worship movement?
It’s really powerful to be a part of helping young people express themselves and be in communication with our living God. Honestly, it’s quite humbling. Leading worship is sort of like setting the table as a kid. It’s exciting to get to prepare the table, and you also get to sit down and be a part of the big meal. It’s beautiful to get to do that as a worship leader.
From the moment participants walk into a Passion event, you can see them carrying such heavy, heavy loads (wounds, or sin, or the effects of sin on their lives). But as we spend two or three days leading them in worship, as they’re able to connect with the living God and have this time set aside for him, you can see the walls start to come down. You can see the softening of hearts and the expressions of brokenness. After just a few days of worshiping God together, you can visibly see a difference.
Sometimes we naturally come to worship with deep passion or joy, but other times we may feel discouraged or even frustrated. From your experience, what role do you see emotions playing in worship?
God made our emotions. He even made us to feel a certain way when certain chords are played. We’re wired with the ability to respond to beautiful music. But along with emotions, we each have a will. God has given us a brain and the ability to think.
So when we come to worship, our will needs to be surrendered to Jesus—and so do our emotions and our mind. Our mind, will, and emotions are all uniquely created by God. The best place to be in worship is when all three are surrendered to the Holy Spirit and aligned with who God is.
Of course, we’re not always in that right place when we come to worship, but I’ve heard it said that Jesus is always in the right place. In order to align ourselves to that right place, we need to come to him. Scripture says, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” So a key idea is entering into worship and surrendering ourselves to him.
The Psalms are full of this idea. One of my favorites is Psalm 38:9, which says, “All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.” I love that! For me, emotions are connected with longing. Saying, “All my longings lie open before you,” is surrendering. It’s saying to God, I surrender how I feel right now. I surrender what I want and all my desires—it all lies open before you. That’s a beautiful picture of worship.
And I love that it says, “My sighing is not hidden from you.” A sigh is such a small, little breath that probably no one else notices, but God sees the smallest care that we have. We can cast our cares upon him because he cares for us.
In worship, our emotions—and everything else about us—are invited into a place where we can be fully surrendered. When our emotions are fully surrendered, we’re able to experience God in such fullness.
Would you say the same is true when it comes to feelings of malaise, a lack of passion, or simply feeling unemotional in general?
Absolutely. We often have to preach to ourselves like David did in the Psalms. He’d tell himself to rise up and bless God. He’d say to himself, “Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” We sometimes have to tell ourselves the same things. In those moments you need to literally say to your soul, “Bless the Lord”—even when you don’t feel like it.
This is tied to the idea in Matthew where Jesus says, “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” Whenever there’s a part of us that’s being attacked or feels crushed in spirit, we can just say to God, Lord, I surrender it to you, and I want to do whatever I can in this moment to focus on the truth of who you are. It’s a way of posturing yourself—posturing your heart and soul, so that your whole self can follow. It’s a discipline of determining to love God even in those moments.
Your new album explores some difficult emotions in the context of worship, such as the song “Everything Is Mine In You,” which explores longing. What motivated you to write that song?
I wrote it with a friend, Ellie Holcomb. I came to our writing session mulling over the Scripture passage in 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul talks about how the wisdom of this world is foolishness compared to what God provides. He says, “The world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are in Christ, and Christ is of God.”
In Christ, all things are truly ours. What rich theology that is, especially in the midst of our deepest longings that may not be fulfilled in this life on earth. How do you stand in the face of suffering, waiting, or longing but still say, Jesus, thank you that all things are mine? Obviously, this isn’t talking about earthly things—it is about kingdom promises, and the benefits of knowing Christ, and just understanding who he is.
Ellie came to our writing session with a friend on her heart—a friend who was struggling with infertility. She teared up as she spoke about how hard it was for her friend to walk through that pain. I began talking about a friend who desperately wants to be married—and together we talked about what it is like to just stand inside of deep longing.
The song was really birthed for women who are in a place of longing—whether it is dealing with miscarriage or infertility or waiting for the right man. There is such a responsibility with what we do with our longings as women. We can come to this precious place of surrendering it all to God. This song is essentially saying wherever you’re at—you could be in the darkest place—but you can still say, Everything is mine in you, Jesus. I truly believe that.
Your song “Jesus, Rock of Ages,” also wades into experiences of grief and struggle. What’s at the heart of those lyrics?
This album marks 20 years of marriage for me and Nathan. We wrote this song together and, essentially, it’s us saying as a family—us saying to our kids—when all else is sinking, he is the Rock of Ages. Jesus is a rock that will not be moved.
I remember sitting at the piano when I wrote this song with tears just streaming down my face. It meant so much to sing those words and truly mean it: he is our rock. No matter what we’re facing, no matter what we’re going through, when all else is sinking, there has to be one sure thing. For us, it is Jesus. It is on Christ the solid rock we stand.