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God in the Detours
Brian Doerksen speaks from experience:  God’s grace is much wider and higher than our failures and detours in life.

From the time he was a teenager Brian Doerksen knew his life focus would be to create music for the glory of God. 

Brian Doerksen

Sometimes described as one of the founding fathers of modern worship, Brian has garnered international recognition that includes Best Worship Project 2001 Praise Awards from Worship Leader Magazine, the International Award in 2003 by the Gospel Music Association in America and Worship Album of the Year and Male Soloist of the Year by Canada’s People’s Choice Gospel Music Awards in 2005. Brian’s newest album, Holy God, was awarded the 2008 Juno Award for Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year.  While his songs, including Come, Now Is The Time To Worship, Faithful One, Refiner’s Fire, and Hallelujah (Your love is amazing), have become classics in the church, this soft-spoken musician prefers to keep a low profile while creating a window for others to look through and see Someone greater. We talked to Brian about his album Holy God, and what can come from the dark times of life.

Servant (S): Is your new CD any different from what you’ve done in the past?

Brian Doerksen (BD): I usually record my worship albums live. But because of the subject matter I wanted this one to be more reverent and in the studio it’s completely still. The record label and the publisher were a little nervous because the trends in the modern worship movement are toward hype and spectacle. But I’m not moved by that. I’m moved by truth and transparency. So I just took the risk.

S:  Is there a theme running through it?

BD:  The album is a call for us to return to the holiness of God and really dwell there. A sub-theme would be the husband heart of God, yearning for faithfulness from His people. He longs for us to return to Him saying, “The world can’t satisfy us; you alone can do that.”

S: How did it all come about?

BD:  Usually in January I try and spend time just being quiet and saying, God, I’ve got my ideas for the year; what are yours? In that quiet place I began singing every song on the holiness of God that I could think of. When I had exhausted them all a new melody began to come and I just sang that and wept in His presence. Then I began thinking, how does a holy God act? He’s transcendent, the Almighty who creates and commands and forgives. It’s the incarnation; He redeems; the nail-scarred lamb.

S:  And to what end?

BD:  God romancing, pursuing, restoring, transforming—they’re all action words.

S:  How do we get past the distractions of a noisy culture intent on drowning God’s voice to a fresh realization of His holiness?

BD:  When we suffer loss, when we don’t get what we want, or go through hard times, our culture encourages us to deal with suffering through denial or distraction so we don’t have to think about the deeper questions. I love the model of the Psalms where biblical lament is woven throughout. We remember what God has done in the past and who He is, but we’re incredibly honest in the moment. The Psalmist asked why is this happening, God? And then he looked forward to the future saying, “I know your character well enough to trust you. One day there will be deliverance.” But there’s a cost to this deliverance. It requires honesty and transparency and sacrifice. Most of the time we’re not willing to pay that price.

S:  You’ve experienced lament earlier in life than many.

BD:  I met my wife in high school and we got married when I was 19. From the beginning we dreamed about having a big family. We thought we were invincible. Then our first one arrived and another daughter a year and a half later, then a son a year and a half after that. We were on a roll. Then we began to notice that Benjamin wasn’t developing normally. By the time he was almost four we realized something was seriously wrong and discovered that he had Fragile X syndrome, the most common inherited cause of global mental impairment and autism. Right then we also learned that Joyce was expecting twins, plus we were in financial difficulty with a musical we were trying to launch.

We ended up losing our house and over a million dollars from people who invested money in the project. It was an intensely stressful time.

S:  How did people respond to you?

BD:  When the diagnosis came back and the musical collapsed, it was amazing how quickly everyone scattered. I prayed for deliverance but it didn’t come and I think that made me more acutely aware of the laments in the Psalms.

S:  Have you ever actually heard a song that honest at your church?

BD:  Likely not. So either something was really wrong with the psalmist or somehow we have bought into a culture of denial that’s not biblical.

S:  Could you write during that time?

BD:  After the musical collapsed we were offered a job in London, England to train musicians and songwriters. Right after we moved there, during the darkest point, I was out walking and praying one morning and I heard, “Come, now is the time to worship,” just like that. It’s not meant to be grand and triumphant. When Jesus spoke about worshipping in the spirit of truth, He was talking to an outcast woman in her deepest shame. “Just as you are” means I can come even in my doubt and confusion. I can bring who I am. Our time in London began a wonderful new season of life and ministry and we were amazed at the goodness of God in not writing us off. His grace is so much wider and higher than our failures and detours.

“… Joyce and I felt a strong leading that I was to continue with a ‘limp’…”

S:  What about your family?

BD:  Doctors advised us against having any more children but we believed there was another baby for us. We shared that with our prayer partners and they agreed to pray that God would give us a healthy son. But nine months after he was born we found out that Isaiah had the syndrome as well. That rocked our world. I wanted to resign from public ministry but Joyce and I felt a strong leading that I was to continue with a ‘limp’, sharing God’s heart through music and leading worship not just from a place of strength, but a place of weakness. God was allowing us to share some of the pain of a broken world.

S:  How does all of this affect the success of your ministry?

BD:  I don’t like the word ‘success.’ It feels so loaded with the world’s values. My own personal life goal is not to be successful but to be faithful. ‘Faithful’ doesn’t mean that I’m just making it, still here but miserable. Holiness and faithfulness are not dour concepts. They’re actually full of life. My goal is faithfully loving God, faithfully loving my wife as Christ loved the Church, faithfully being there so that my kids know who I am, and then trusting God with the broader things like my career. That’s difficult, because opportunities come along that would greatly increase the influence of my music. But when I look at the work and all the time I’d be away, I just have to say no. There’s only one of me, it’s all my family has. If I try to become more like Jesus, more godly, well, God’s a success. I’m not opposed to blessing or wealth or any of those things. I’m just opposed to seeking them as the goal.

S:  Tell us more about your marriage.

BD:  God says in the Ten Commandments, you shall have no other gods before me. His husband heart invites us to a covenant relationship, saying you were made to forsake all others and be devoted to me. Nothing reflects the response to that initiative more than the relationship between a husband and wife so in some ways it needs to be the most protected, revered relationship on the planet. Joyce and I have a weekly date night because if we keep connecting and building our romance, then our children will benefit too. Some things are important, so we plan them into the regular rhythm of our life. 

Then quarterly we go away for a romantic overnight getaway and once a year we go away for a week and just hang out because we believe it’s vitally important in our relationship. We’ve heard that over 80 percent of couples with disabled children divorce. Joyce and I decided years ago that we weren’t going to be part of that statistic.

S:  What has helped you stay together?

BD:  When the musical collapsed and we found out about the handicaps, instead of putting those issues between us we decided to find a way that they would bring us together and bridge our two different worlds. We’re very different. She’s not even into music. She’ll go to a concert with me and about half way through I’ll feel this weight on my shoulder.

So we go to fewer concerts than I’d like and we try and do some things that Joyce really likes that aren’t my first choice. We try and meet in the middle. Marriage is saying, “I’d really love to do this but I’m willing to let that go if it’s not going to be life-giving to you.”

I talked to a well-known worship leader who’s single and does about 150 concerts a year and I knew he just couldn’t fathom my world.

S:  Would you trade him places?

BD:  I wouldn’t. I love the music but some people get lost in creativity and lose their family in the process. It’s not worth it. Yes, you die to yourself, but you come out the other side to a delight that’s so much deeper than doing only what you want.

S:  In the midst of the trials you’ve been through, what gives you hope?

BD:  There is joy in our hearts as we imagine our boys in heaven, walking up to us, looking us in the eye like they don’t really do now and saying thank you for loving us, for changing our diapers. In eternity these things are going to seem utterly momentary and we’ll be enveloped in gratitude and love. The reality of eternity gives us hope for the pain of today. Music can take that truth that sometimes feels distant and bring it to bear in your heart and mind and help keep your eyes on where you’re going. That’s one of the reasons I offer up songs that help me remember and maybe they’ll help somebody else.

S:  When the last song has been written what do you hope people say about you?

BD:  That I was a faithful husband, father, and friend. And when people remember what they saw and heard of God in my life and my songs I hope they’ll see that He became greater and I became less.

Phil Callaway is the editor of Servant magazine, author of a dozen books and a popular speaker. His web site is: www.philcallaway.com.

Originally published in Servant Magazine, Issue #79, 2007.

 

 

 
 
 
 

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