RELEVANT talks with worship leader Jason Upton on the process of writing songs, the commercialization of worship, and the key to entering into the presence of God. Part one of a two-part series.
[RELEVANTmagazine:] How would you define worship?
[JASON UPTON:] I think worship encompasses so much, because in worship in the Old Testament you couldn’t really differentiate between prayer and songs. And not only does [worship] encompass prayer, but also intercession. My definition is very broad, but I center it under the Ultimate. To me Jesus was the ultimate worshipper and the ultimate warrior, evangelist, prophet, because He’s the ultimate Son.
I feel like [in worship] there’s something connected with the Father in heaven where we are living for the will of the Father rather than the will of people. He created us with a purpose, a destiny, a particular desire in mind, and He wants us to serve Him with it. When He said, “Let my people worship me,” that word [in the Hebrew] was intertwined with the word serve. When Jesus talked about how to pray in Matthew, He said, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” He was able to move where the will of his Father was and there was a dependency in that.
[RM:] How do you write? Is there a certain process to it?
[JU:] I put revelation before the music, and every once in awhile I’ll get these Spirit songs in the middle of a service. The songs have random progressions and keys because I get on the piano and let it flow out of me and whatever melodic structure it is I just go for it.
We already have 25-30 new songs and the Lord just gives ‘em to us. A lot of the songs the Lord gives me aren’t necessarily worship songs; a lot of them are revelations or the word or expressions of the heart and take on more of a Psalmic approach. They might be declarative for a conference or people.
[RM:] On your site you talk about having an experience that helped you find the key to the Spirit. What exactly was that experience?
[JU:] I’d grown up in the church and was brought up like “use your talents well and the Lord [will be] pleased with you” and make tapes and go around to the churches and sing songs to the tracks. So when Rachel and I got married, all I knew was to travel around to different churches and worship and sing and speak, and really in my heart I didn’t know that it wasn’t the right thing to be doing. And then the Lord really spoke to my life — my wife said that whenever I ministered it didn’t have power, but when I sat at the piano it’s so powerful. She said she wouldn’t come with me to churches anymore unless I just did that.
So Rachel and I felt like, “Wow we’re just gonna plow in and put ourselves before the Lord every day.” We thought we’d be pastors so we went through seminary and plowed into the Lord. [Eventually] we made a commitment to come to people’s churches, but we weren’t going to change how we worshipped or make it performancy. We were just gonna worship the Lord. So we started carrying it out of our worship room and into churches.
Three years go by, and we expressed our heart and God’s presence would come down in the place and it was so powerful. It was just a transforming experience because I realized that I was created to sing for Him. My first purpose is not to be seeker-friendly. If I’m sensitive to my own expression and the heart of the Father, He will ultimately meet the needs of the people. When His presence comes down, that’s what will break the yoke.
[RM:] What is your live worship like?
[JU:] I always start worship from the place of being. Instead of 1-2-3-4, we lay down [our] instruments. It’s powerful; when we do that our spirits don’t push ahead. It is truly about the presence of the Lord. When we do play together, it’s so much more powerful.
God isn’t going to come to our service just because we set aside 10 minutes of silence. I wonder how many times God walks into the room and the church isn’t there because we told him “Be here at 11 on Sunday.” But there’s something about allowing Him to know that if He comes [we’ll be there].
[RM:] Worship music has become extremely popular lately, especially in younger generation. Why do you think this is so?
[JU:] I think because there’s a cry for relevancy and the reasons for why we do things. Why do we do things when we grow up; why do we go to church every Sunday morning and Wednesday and Sunday night, is it to just do a ritual? There is something in our generation that is repulsed by doing something just to do it. There’s a real heart cry in our generation for intimacy. And worship in its definition as being intimate with the Father and our deep calling out to His deep is what we’re looking for, because when we experience that the questions are answered.
I think this is a prophetic generation. Prophecy used to kinda weird me out so I asked the Lord one day, and He said, “It’s not about the future or fortune or fame of men or people, but it’s about knowing intimately the feelings of My heart.” When I was at the Call New York, the Lord told me that’s why it’s a prophetic generation. God has been calling out to not be a ritual but a relational being we can connect with. And that’s what this generation is calling out for.
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