Creative

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Our Identity & Inheritance As Worshippers

    By Alarice

    “For the hour is coming, and now is,
    when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth;
    for the Father is 
    seeking such to worship Him”

    – John 4:23

    The Father is seeking Worshippers – worshippers born of His Spirit who abide, meditate, and live upon the truth of His Word. It’s funny that the passage doesn’t say that He is firstly seeking evangelists, teachers, prophets, pastors, and apostles, instead the Father is searching the earth for worshippers. Perhaps it is because, in the act of worship of totally surrendering our lives, hearts, ambitions, dreams, and desires unto Him, that we find who we were truly meant to be.

    God isn’t some tyrannical egotistical god who demands worship for His sake or because He needs it, He is seeking worship for OUR SAKE – because without it, we will not fully live out the destiny He had planned for us since the beginning of the foundations of the earth (Eph 1:4).  We only discover who we were truly meant to be when we worship – it is in intimately knowing our Creator that we discover His intent for us, His creation.

    “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters,
    in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a LIVING sacrifice,
    holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.”

    – Romans 12:1

    If we want to grow as worshippers, we need to be discerning to whom or what is actually sitting on the ‘throne’ of our hearts. To worship is to ascribe worth to something, which means it usually comes at a cost to attain. An indication of what we truly worship is when we consider where our time, finances, and energy of our thoughts go to. Things like financial security, your career, your reputation, and the praises of man above the fear of the Lord can easily crawl their way up onto the throne of our hearts. In Romans 12:1, Paul urged us to be a LIVING sacrifice, meaning there is a daily surrendering or sacrifice of our own hearts and desires in exchange for a God who is worth infinitely more than anything the world could offer. What are we willing to lay down at the altar of worship to gain more of God?

    But you are holy,
    you who inhabit the praises of Israel.”

    – Psalm 22:3

    As worshippers, we have an amazing and rich inheritance that we as children of God can access by faith. The enemy wants nothing more than to disarm us as worshippers because he knows of the power we carry in releasing God’s kingdom on earth. When we worship and praise in faith, the presence of God inhabits our praises, and His Kingdom and dominion is established in our world. The Kingdom of Light is greater than the Kingdom of darkness, so when we praise we must expect that strongholds will be broken, darkness will flee, sicknesses are healed, dreams and visions are released, captives are set free, and that the lost will be saved!

    The Lord is calling His church back into intimacy of worship with Him. He is not looking for more programmes, nor is He looking for Sunday church-goers, nor seeking form without power.  He is instead searching the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him (1 Chronicles 16:9). Will you completely surrender your heart and devote your life completely unto Him who is worthy?

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Detours & Destiny

    By Caleb Kay

    27 November 2017: I attended the graduation for Awaken Generation’s Class of 2017 alone as a guest. I was friends with a few members of the staff, had played the drums once or twice with them, but that was it.

    I had just landed a new business development job, with hopes of saving up to head to Bethel’s School of Supernatural Ministry this year in August. It felt like God was opening all these doors; I had all these plans and dreams in my head.

    I thought I was stepping into my destiny.

    26 January 2018: everything derailed. Towards the end of my 3-month probation, I was unexpectedly let go, and given just three days’ notice of my termination. I was devastated. The entire weekend, I wrestled with my identity and self-worth: “was I really not good enough?”

    I wrestled with God: “why did You open doors only to shut them in my face?”

    Unbeknownst to me, God was setting things in motion. Just the week before my termination, I had arranged for a lunch with Ian and Calvin, just to catch up, and it was at that lunch that I was offered a short-term position at Awaken Generation.

    One year on, as I witnessed our Class of 2018 graduating – now as a full-time staff in Awaken Generation – and thinking about where I was a year ago, I’m truly lost for words at God’s goodness.

    Here are three things I’ve learnt on this journey:

    Detours Are For Growth

    I remember how I felt when I got the news that I was going to be terminated. I remember my mind going into overdrive, planning how to update my resume and who to send it to.

    In the midst of swinging between self-deprecating thoughts and psyching myself up to blast my CV to potential new employers, I suddenly felt a prompting upon my heart to stop and worship. It was so tough and I remember barely getting past a verse and a chorus before choking up.

    But then there was a peace – in the midst of all that chaos and turmoil.

    I’d like to think that I grew more in the heart of a worshiper in that moment. It was in that eye-of-the-storm moment that I realised what it was like to worship through the pain and to be given a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness.

    Detours Are For His Glory

    “Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
    I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.”
    Isaiah 43:19 (ESV)

    For a way to appear in the wilderness, and rivers to flow in the desert, we must first take a detour into the wilderness and the desert.

    An impossible circumstance is a prerequisite for a miracle to take place.

    It was because of this sudden interruption to my life that I could see God’s providence, with a position in Awaken Generation offered to me just a day after my termination.

    It’s in the detours that our faith is tested and strengthened; it’s in the detours that our character is refined and purified; it’s in the detours that we are brought to a place of complete, total reliance, so that God can come through for us, and so that we can get through only because of God.

    Distraction & Deception

    Oftentimes, with detours come distracting, deceptive, and destructive thoughts. I constantly found myself wondering if I could’ve done more to retain my job. I doubted the abilities God had given me and the fact that when God created me, He said, “this one is fearfully and wonderfully made!”

    Even joining the AG staff team felt like a detour to my Bethel dream, and there were real doubt and fear: would God be able to provide? Was this the right path?

    I’ve since realised that fear is a tool of the enemy, and that fear is not our own; when we step out in obedience, the enemy projects his fear onto us. Our obedience makes the enemy afraid, because it advances God’s kingdom and His purpose in our lives.

    In Joshua 1, God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous; it’s not merely an encouragement, but a command, to be obeyed.

    Take detours in your stride! Step out with confidence and courage, eyes firmly on the Lord, our God, who is ever with us.

    Detours: The Route Towards Destiny

    David was anointed to become king when he was merely a teenager. Little did he know that the path to his eventual destiny as king would be riddled with detours, discouragements, and even danger!

    Psalm 27 is one of the most-quoted passages on worship; the entire psalm is penned by David as a declaration of courage, with his security rooted in his desire to seek God and God alone. David was unshakeable in his obedience because he kept an unwavering gaze upon an unchanging God.

    Sometimes walking into our destiny may require us to take what might seem to us like a detour.

    My season with my previous employer, along with the dramatic and sudden termination, felt like a huge detour (a derailing, even) but what gave me perspective was a realignment of my gaze to Christ.

    Perhaps you may be considering taking a year to join Awaken Generation’s year-long programme. Perhaps you’re counting the cost and it may seem like a detour.

    But I know that God wastes nothing. He is never too early or late; His timing is always perfect, and even when we think we are too far out on a detour, God still uses those detours to direct us towards our destiny. What keeps us walking steadily is a steady gaze on the Lord.

    Whatever battles you are facing, step out with boldness and courage, for the Lord, your God, is with you!

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Meditating on the Word

    Interview with Josh Yeoh

    What does it mean to meditate on God’s word?

    It means to slow down the reading pace, to prayerfully contemplate every word and every phrase, looking for deeper and fuller meanings. Meditation is the art of digging out the most that we can from each and every word.

    So often we read the Word as if we’re doing a workout – reading plans, checklists, and such. The art of meditation is what really unlocks the riches of the Word. It means to not take things at face value, but dialoguing with the Lord about it. Each verse or passage is a doorway into encounter with God; it’s an expression of Who God is.

    Meditation on the Word is the key to the often-asked question: How do I hear God? The same way He has been speaking since we’ve had the Word of God! It causes us to know Him more and hear Him better. How far or deep should we go?

     

    Why is meditating on and studying the word important in our spiritual walk? Does it practically benefit us?

    Joshua 1:8 says, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Every tool for succeeding in life is within His Word.

    The Written Word of God is revealed by the Living Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit of God. Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” The source of illumination is the mouth of God. Meditation made me feel like Aladdin entering the cave of wonders; there’s so much more! There’s a difference between looking at a photo of Niagara Falls and actually standing before the roaring waterfall – that’s how it is to read a book that God wrote and commune with the Holy Spirit that inspired it.

    There is a cry across the body for intimacy. There can be no intimacy without conversation and communion. If we truly love God, we will love who He is, not who we think He is. If we only love the idea of a God that we create in our minds, it’s at best, fantasy, and at worst, idolatry! Meditating and studying the Word is a way of conversing with God – with the ultimate goal of knowing God – is the doorway into such intimacy.

    Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Meditating on the Word is how we slowly transform our ‘inner well’, so that we are depositing ‘good treasure’; so that what comes out in our speech, thoughts, and behaviour is Christ-like.

    Proverbs 16:26 says, “A worker’s appetite works for him; his mouth urges him on.” We labour because of hunger. Similarly, as we meditate more and go deeper, we get addicted; hungry for more revelation!

     

    How should we do it? Are there any action steps we can use?

    Have a sheet of paper or journal where you write your meditations. Also, have a column or separate piece of paper. Your mind will likely wander to other things, such as to-do’s. This separate section is where you pen down all your stray thoughts, so that you can push it out of your mind for the moment without the additional thought-traffic. You can then proceed with a clear mind.

    You may combine pray-reading the Word with meditating on the word. Theology must lead to doxology. The study of God must lead to the worship of God. Here are some practical handles you may find useful:

    • Write down one or two verses that you will be focusing on.
    • Slow the pace way down. As you read, meditate on each word or phrase. For example, in ‘How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!’ (Psalm 84:1), take time to meditate on ‘how lovely’. Why ‘lovely’, not ‘awesome’? God is intentional with His word choices. There are so many layers of what He wants to reveal. Where is His ‘dwelling place’? How do we get there? Think of it as sitting down with your favourite author over a coffee, and asking them about their inspiration for this or that character, or idea.
    • Study the word / phrase:
      • Context: verses that precede and follow. David Pawson said: “A text out of context is a pretext.” We sometimes apply a verse out of context and it becomes false or inaccurate. Look for what’s before and after, in that book.
      • Look up word meanings; translations; lexicons at BibleHub.com or apps such as Blue Letter Bible. There are sometimes layers we miss.
      • Cross-reference it with word studies online.
      • Where there’s repetition, ask: What is its meaning? Why is it there?
      • Symbolism: What do they represent? Any deeper spiritual meanings?
    • Speak, pray, and sing the scriptures back to the Lord.
    • Do it in the context of Worship.
  • Behind the Scenes
  • Our Light Has Come: The Heart Behind the Album

    by Alarice

    “Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
    See darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
    But the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.
    Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn”

    – Isaiah 60:1-3

    It was the 27th of January 2018. We were gathered in Changi Cove, Isaiah 60:1-3 resounding in our hearts, our minds locked together, fitting together the puzzle pieces of what we knew was to be a powerful prophetic song. It took 8 songwriters to finally piece this song together in a way that we felt best captured the message that was beating in our hearts, both lyrically and melodically.

    I love how it took a team; the ‘Body’; a ‘family’ to unlock the pathways that would ultimately culminate in the creation of not only this song, but of several others. The song was indeed birthed out of community; a community that loves Jesus and were ready to listen and attune themselves to His heart.

    This was just a glimpse of the journey of what we’ve seen released today as the fruit of labour by a family, a Body of Christ – the release of Awaken Generation’s first full length album, “Our Light Has Come”. More than just the songwriting process, there were the long hours of arranging, creating musical layers and dynamics, and working out the sorts of instrumentations that would best communicate and carry the message of the song. Then there were the many rehearsals that required grit and precision to ensure that what was imagined could effectively be brought to life in an accurate and sharpened manner.

    There were the divine appointments of kindred hearts that sacrificially offered their resources and talents to execute this vision, and many hours of prayer-walking and intercession – because we all knew that this album was not unto ourselves, but a greater purpose of awakening an entire generation unto Him.

    Perhaps the process of the album itself was just a little reflection of what it means to “arise and shine” – to step out, to use our gifts and offer our ‘little’ pieces to a big God who is more than able to pull it all together; to multiply our Hallelujahs.

    Perhaps we are to simply live in the reality of this scripture, now that we are living in the era where Jesus has already been given to us and where His Holy Spirit is being poured out across the earth onto the young and old to prophesy, dream dreams, and see visions (Acts 2:17). And as we live out that purpose, may all the nations “come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn”.

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Life As an AG Student

    by Serene Lim, Songwriting Student

    I didn’t know quite what to expect as I began the process of relocating back to Singapore after having lived away for more than five years. Some of the questions going through my mind were: What godly communities could I be a part of? Could I do anything about my music skills this season? What is Father God doing in Singapore and the region?

    I certainly hadn’t heard of AG while overseas. When I returned, two sisters separately shared a link to AG with me. As I pored through the AG website and watched video snippets of who and what AG was about, I felt something or Someone tug my heartstrings.

    Allow me to share three thoughts as I reflect on my journey as an AG student.

    Excellent Craftsmen

    Speaking of hunger – supper after AG with classmates discussing chord formations!

    I am both humbled and impressed by the quality of the curriculum taught at AG. Our year-long course has been interlaced with solid technical skills training, suited to various types of learning, offering plenty of space for self-discovery and expression.

    We are privileged to be taught by a group of high-calibre Mentors and guests who are successful in their careers, not holding back with sharing the highlights and ‘lowlights’ of their own journey. I’ve been touched by their hearts for God, the nations, and for us students.

    Servant Leaders

    A goofy moment with our Songwriting Mentors!

    The AG core team and Student Mentors are a truly special group. It seems like each of them was finely curated and handpicked to lead here. They teach, impart, and impact with authority and humility. And we never forget to have fun in the process; that’s important for all of us who live down-to-earth, and yet are also heaven-dwellers!

    Our leaders and Mentors have exceptionally well-honed music skills, reminding me of Proverbs 22:29: “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men.” It is however, never primarily about the technical skills in AG, although we are not ashamed to say we pursue Excellence with every ounce in us. It is always, first about the condition of our hearts. This combination of heart and hands is rare and highly attractive.

    Dream Big

    Walking out our destiny together.

    Destiny is the theme of the AG’s 2018 cohort. By saying yes to God and AG, I feel like I have taken more steps into my God-given destiny. One phrase that has been etched in my heart: ‘Songs have the power to transform nations’. As we dare to believe in the goodness of our Father God to release through us – His little ones – new songs and new sounds, unique in the ways He has formed us, He will absolutely do more than we can ask or imagine.

    I also see all my classmates creating ripples and waves in their own spheres as the River of Life flows through us. I cherish the friendships formed amongst us, in the midst of all the joy and laughter, tears and fears. As we encourage and cheer one another on, these relationships have transcended church lines, age groups, family backgrounds, and all other differences.

    I’ve counted the cost of being a part of AG – the weekly commitment and commute after a hectic day’s work, school fees, stepping out of my comfort zone in ways more than one, the frustrations in the midst of sharpening my craft… But it has all been absolutely worth it, hands down.

    We graduate from AG in a month’s time. I was surprised to feel like I already miss my year in AG, looking back on it with much fondness.

    Week after week, we end class with our musical brain and spirit filled to the brim. I often feel there is a release of creativity and courage in our craft. We leave inspired to grow to be the very best in who we are as sons and daughters of God, and in what we do as worshippers and songwriters.

    I end with this: Sow and invest into the musical gifts God has placed in you. As we walk with the AG community, we are growing and maturing into fullness together, as a family!

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Assembling Your Guitar Pedalboard

    Pedals, pedalboards – words that perk up the ears and quicken the pulse of almost every guitar gear junkie guitarist around.

    We all dream of having our ‘ultimate dream rig’ – whether it’s our favourite Boost and Drive pedals (even Fuzz, for those who are of that inclination?), or the ultimate Modulation pedal for a divine ethereal effect, and of course our various time-based pedals like Delays and Reverbs.

    And who can ignore the ‘packaging’? Choosing a board to accentuate the look on the pedals, LED lights for aesthetics, and so on… It’s a rabbit hole, and it’s bottomless

    Nevertheless, here are some thoughts that I have put together based on my own personal journey to share. It is by no means conclusive, and definitely not the gold standard of guitar pedalboard set-ups, but rather some of the thoughts and experiences that I have collected as I have walked my musical journey.

    Tone is king!

    Before we even talk about a board, we have to understand that TONE is everything. What tones and sounds are you looking to craft and get out of your pedals?

    Knowing what tone you want will help you in decision-making when it comes to purchasing pedals. But how do we understand the tones that we want?

    Listen, listen, listen. Keep listening broadly and make a note of guitarists you enjoy listening to, and the tone they produce. After you do that, do research – see what fellow musicians think in terms of assembling gear to achieve those tones. Then, don’t just take people’s word for it, but try it out for yourself. YouTube is great, but inconclusive; always play-test the product in person so see if it sits well with your ears. We are all wired differently and we all listen to music differently, so it’s important that you like what you’re listening to as you’re playing.

    Building the components of the board.

    With that said, here are some basic principles that I always consider when building my board, starting with signal flow.

    Boost pedals -> Drive pedals -> Modulation EFX – > time-based EFX
    (
    We’re going to leave out the Volume or Wah pedals for the time being)

    As a general rule, we always put our Boost and Drive pedals right at the front of the chain, before any Modulation or time-based pedals. The rationale for this is simple: Boosts and Drives affect our tone directly. It’s what we want to fix and determine first, before sending that tone through Modulation, Delay or Reverb. 

    If we get our tone right, Modulation and time-based EFX help to bring it from good to great, but poor tone cannot be fixed/covered up by anything that follows.

    Boosts

    There are various boosts or pre-amp pedals out there, and it is really up to your individual taste (again coming back to the idea of tone). There are some extremely clean boosts like the RC Booster, that gives a nice, clean jump in volume, before sending the signal to other boosters to fatten up the sound. Some people even use some drive pedals, turn the gain real low to give a semi-dirty boost. This fattens up the tone before going to the drive pedals.

    Drives

    Different people have different tastes when it comes to drives. Drive pedals come in varied versions, from high-gain sounds to fully distorted or even fuzz sounds. Some of us have a combination of 2 or 3 drive pedals to have various stages of overdrive or distortion. In most cases, I would have a lower gain pedal followed by a higher gain pedal to increase the ‘dirt’ in the tone. Also, I could add a final piece which would be a fuzz, but that said, fuzz pedals aren’t as versatile and are seen as an ‘acquired taste’.

    Modulation

    In recent years, Modulation pedals have come back in a strong way. Such has been the emphasis on atmospheric sounds, especially in worship music, that these effects (and reverbs) have come to the fore for the guitar player. My personal preference is that modulation should be subtle (too much and it may end up like bad KTV sound). I mainly use these sounds in conjunction with reverbs. The Strymon brand has been really popular in the last few years for such effects, and using various combinations can really push the boundaries of the audio spectrum. The only limit is your imagination and creativity!

    Time-Based EFX

    Delays! Everyone loves delays…ha! Some purists dig the analog, tape-sounding type of delay. However, the trade-off in getting that coveted analog delay tone is the inability to digitally control the time or tempo of the delay (imagine manually trying to turn the knobs to set the tempo to the bpm – while playing!)

    On the other end of the spectrum are the digital delays where there is the very-necessary ‘tap tempo’, and various presets and even MIDI information to be explored.

    Again there is no right or wrong answer to which end of the spectrum to use. You have to find the delay pedal that suits your needs in terms of sound as well as ease-of-use. Strymon, Eventide and TC Electronic have proven to be very popular in recent years.

    Volume

    To round it off, some of us like to use a volume pedal. Do bear in mind that a volume pedal ‘sucks tone’ out of your sound. It really depends on your intended application, and how crucial is it to your playing. That said, there are workarounds and pedals that help to preserve as much of the tone as possible, if you still prefer using a volume pedal. For instance, JHS has provided a solution for that in terms of a modified Ernie Ball volume pedal.

    Putting it all together. 

    After choosing your pedals, you have to assemble your board. There are ready-made boards available (like PedalTrain) commercially, or you could look for carpenters to make custom boards. It really depends on your budget and what you are looking for.

    One final component – wiring or cabling, which is just as important as choosing your pedals. Good cables can enhance your signal, reduce noise, and hence improve your tone. It is also important to keep wiring tight and tidy, as it then makes it operating the board easier.

    With that, your board will be ready to go!

    Even after saying that, there is no end to the search and quest for perfection. There are always better effects, better cables, and nicer pedal boards; your musical and tonal preferences may even change over the years…

    The most important thing is to keep listening and keep experimenting, as music is very dynamic; it’s always evolving. Keep experimenting, budget well, and remember, it’s all in the quest for ‘great tone’.

     

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Learning to Celebrate the Success of Others

    One of the most exciting events the Awaken Generation Team has the privilege of hosting every year is our annual ‘Mid-Year Showcase’ – where a few of our songwriters, together with the musicians from other streams get to work together to arrange and present the original songs they have been working on throughout Semester One. It is definitely a huge highlight for us as Mentors to see our students get the opportunity to share their creative work in front of an audience, and ultimately revealing an aspect of the Father through their testimony and sharing. One of my greater highlights though is actually witnessing a beautiful culture emerge amongst my songwriting class – a culture that celebrates the gifts and successes of their peers.

    No doubt that creatives or humans, in general, will be confronted with an uncomfortable feeling that arises from insecurity one time or another – a feeling of discomfort when you see someone else succeed (especially in your area of gifting) leaving you feeling inadequate, insufficient, and left behind.

    God is in the business of breaking off this spirit of jealousy, envy, and ‘kiasu-ism’ from our lives. I believe God wants to rewire our ways of thinking (Romans 12:2 – ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’) in this area, to set you free so that you can rejoice and celebrate with those who succeed around you.

     

    Here are 3 truths I’ve learned to start walking in freedom in this area:

    1. Know that God is a God of ‘More Than Enough’!

    If God chooses to bless someone, that does not mean He now has less to bless you with!  Our God is Jehovah Jireh, a God of unlimited resource and of abundance. If someone else gets blessed or receives a breakthrough, learn to get excited instead, because if God can do it for him/her, He’ll be able to do it for you! Meditate on the truth that He is MORE than enough for you.

     

    2. Develop a heart of a spiritual father/mother/mentor

    Brothers compete with one another, but a father’s desire is to see their children’s successes surpass them in every way. Grow in your mindset as a disciple-maker, and know that your greater purpose is to sow into and raise up effective leaders in the Kingdom of God who will go further than you. We are part of the same team and want to see the bigger vision of God’s kingdom established on earth, and we need one another to achieve that!

     

    3. Trust that God has a unique plan in your life that only YOU can fulfil  

    Look at your thumbprint – no one else in the world has the same thumbprint as you do! I believe this is an external expression of your inner destiny that is in the same way, completely and utterly unique. Psalm 139:14 says that you are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. As much as I would like to, I am simply not able to reach the same people as you, because I’m not you; I don’t have the exact same gift mix, personality, culture, DNA, spheres of influence, calling, and position as you. No one else can fulfil your destiny, except you! So, choose to break off the spirit of comparison, and learn to steward what God entrusted specifically to you and steward it well for yourself, not comparing yourself to others.

    My prayer is that the Lord will make you a CHAMPION for others. May God give you grace to be an encourager – just as Barnabas was to Paul. Allow God to take you into the fullness of the destiny He has for you, and know that it is His desire to promote and prosper you in every way.

  • Behind the Scenes
  • 5 Things That Make for Awesome Lyric-Writing

     “It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.”
    (‘Words’, The Bee Gees)

    Music has always been a big part of my life – there’s usually a tune of some kind in my head no matter the time of day. But melody aside, it’s the lyrics of any song that really sticks with me even for years. Whatever the mood of the day, there’s always a good lyric to express and bring clarity to what’s really going on in our hearts, and this is all the more so when it comes to songs of praise and adoration unto God.

    So, for all you aspiring songwriters/wordsmiths, here’s a list of ‘5 things/steps’ you can take to hone your craft and make your lyrics awesome: 

    (1) What’s the Big Idea?

    As with all things, perspective is important. With each line or completed verse, ask yourself how it addresses, contributes to, or propels the main message/idea of the song. Each lyric is like a brush of paint on a canvas – how does it add to the picture you are painting? If there is one image or phrase that you want to leave your listeners with by the end of the song, what would it be?

    If you find yourself struggling to answer these questions in a sentence or two, chances are that you might need to spend a little more time reflecting on what you are really trying to say.

    (2) Go Back to the Source

    When you seem to have hit a roadblock with what you are trying to say through your lyrics, go back to the source of inspiration what was it that caught your attention and inspired you in the first place? Whether a picture, phrase, passage of scripture or moment of revelation, return to it and take the time to unpack your thoughts slowly. Linger there and invite God in, asking Him: “Where are You in this?”

    Chances are, no one is really pushing you to finish your song (unless it’s an #AwakenGen Songwriting assignment!), so converse with God over it and listen in closely. What is it that you have heard from the heart of the Father and what is it that you really want to say in response? I do believe that God is speaking to us all the time, but we need the discipline of slowing down to listen closely with intent (“Speak, for your servant is listening.” – 1 Sam 3:7-11). 

    (3) Write Relationally

    Once you’ve sorted out your big idea, put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and write. Write down everything that comes to mind first – there’s always time to edit it later, so don’t curb your creative expression by pre-judging yourself and cutting off the flow.

    I find that it helps tremendously to also be clear who you are writing to. As you write the verses, chorus, bridge, bear in mind: who is this really directed to? (check out Deuteronomy 31:19-22 for a great example) Be specific – it is for the Church? The broken and hurting people? Is it a reminder to yourself, or perhaps, a love note to God? If it is a prophetic word that’s meant to be like a wellspring to dry bones, who should it be channeled to (Isaiah 50:4)?

    We write to express ourselves and have that desire for expression only because we are made to be relational. Understanding who you are speaking to/writing for will help shape the words you choose, and the way you structure them.

    (4) Metaphorically Speaking (Show, Don’t Tell)

    Now, for the nitty-gritty. Once you’ve got a working draft down (remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect!), examine each line closely and consider whether there is a better way to express it. A fantastic rule I’ve learnt from AG Songwriting mentor Ian Chew, is “Show, don’t tell”.

    There are myriad tools you can use to achieve this purpose – alliteration, contrasts, rhyming, symbols, metaphors, description of sensory experiences, wordplay, etc. Experiment, and don’t be afraid to try new methods that are out of your comfort zone; get into the habit of re-examining your creative inclinations/idiosyncrasies and challenge yourself to express things in a fresh way. One of my favorite things to do is write down a sentence and flip the keys words in that sentence to explore if they somehow bring a different angle to what I’m saying. For instance: “Do you know who I really am?” vsDo you really know who I am?

    I believe that good songwriting is oftentimes about laying hints and teasing a listener into exploring and unfolding the mystery themselves. Like a cat with a ball of yarn, release just enough so that the listeners pull on it and unravels the rest on their own. And guess what? It’s totally biblical! Jesus was always speaking in parables. For instance, in Matthew 20:1, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is “like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers” – what on earth does that mean??

    He’s always leaving some kind of mystery for us to discover. If the most Creative Being in the universe adopts these methods, count me in. 

    (5) There’s Always Time for Rhythm and Rhyme

    At different points of the writing process, stop – look through what you’ve written and read it out loud. Songs are meant to be auditory so don’t just look at it on a piece of paper or laptop.

    Does it flow well, or does it somehow feel choppy and misaligned? You will have a sense of it somehow. While our lyrics don’t always need to have rhymes, it should carry an inherent rhythm (or meter). The internal rhythm of the words that we write and the flow of our expression is very much the heartbeat of the song, and this especially true whenever we endeavor to write lyrics from the heart.

    It’s like the principle of ‘Selah’ in the Psalms: Pause. Listen. Realign.

    Lastly, (‘bonus’ point, yay!), our input almost always equals our output. I find that the more widely I read and listen, the more inspired I am to write. Build into your life the discipline of writing and create space to do it. The pen is not just mightier than the sword – it is a different kind of sword that requires sharpening as well.

    As you write, keep your ears, minds, and hearts open to how God might be moving all around us. It’s a great discipline to have a notebook at hand, just to make sure we don’t fail to capture the things that God is showing us. He’s always speaking – even singing – around us, and I believe that our role as songwriters is merely to listen in and be a scribe to the songs that He’s hidden all around us.

    The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
    to know the word that sustains the weary.
    He wakens me morning by morning,
    wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.”
    (Isaiah 50:4)

    Click here to find out more about Awaken Generation’s Songwriting stream!

  • Behind the Scenes
  • Pastoring Creatives

    By Calvin Hong & Shawn Wong

    If you’re a leader in any capacity – in church, a company, your family – you’d have probably found out that leadership is an art. A leader requires flexibility, sensitivity, courage, and innovation, among other qualities, in order to be effective.

    In a creative environment, there are challenges that present themselves perhaps more frequently and overtly than usual. Some examples are a critical spirit, pride, perfectionism, and an ‘orphan’ mindset. All these stem from how each person answers this question: “Who am I?” Basically, IDENTITY – the fundamental bedrock that determines not just how effective we are, but every aspect of how we live life.

    As leaders at Awaken Generation, our whole role is to nurture creatives, and we get plenty of opportunities to do so with our songwriters, singers, musicians, and dancers. I believe leaders are often too quick to pass judgment on creatives, that they are too ‘emo’ or ‘edgy’ to pastor. The quickest solution becomes to typecast them, rather than get in the thick of it and help them to discover who they truly are. Leaders are often too quick to correct the ‘expression’ rather than to take time to call out their identity. Remember, it’s out of identity that creative expression flows.

    In pastoring creatives, it’s important that we recognise their gifts, but at the same time learn to work with their hearts. So as leaders, the very first heart-journey we must take with them is their path of identity.

    Establishing Identity

    Oftentimes creatives rely on their talents to prove themselves, but we need to help them express themselves from a place of knowing they are children of God. Why is this important? Because their talents don’t determine their worth; instead, their identity in God does. Once they have grasped this truth, transformation will happen, not just in their art or work, but in the way they live their lives.

    It’s usually the ‘orphan’ mindset that causes this insecurity; this mindset tells us that there’s not enough recognition to go around, and we always have to one-up ourselves and others to be appreciated, approved of, and loved. The problem is that orphans turn to the wrong source when they should be looking to God. This ‘one-upping’ game never really ends – orphans will remain orphans until they find their identity in the Father.

    Many creatives may find their value in the ‘quality’ of the art they create. But if we base our value on circumstances or what others say or think, we’ll always be disappointed, because these are fleeting and unstable. However, God never changes; He is the one constant, the fixed point. Likewise, our identity, rooted in Him, never changes – that is the most reliable basis of our value and self-worth.

    Bill Johnson (Bethel Church) once said, “If you live by man’s praises, you will die by their criticisms.” Delicious food for thought!

  • Blog
  • My 2.5 Star Review: Dealing with Criticism

    When I launched my album ‘The Kingdom’ back in 2014, it was a joyous night of celebrating the accomplishment of the songs that the Lord had given me in that season. I was very proud of the work because I was deeply satisfied with the revelations and the messages these songs carried, which I knew would have a significant impact on people’s lives. It was also a dream to have recorded it with Ed Cash’s studio in Nashville, Tennessee, which had always been a lifelong dream of mine!

    I remember the next day being pleasantly surprised that there had been a critic at my launch and they had written a public article reviewing my music. Curious of course, I logged in straight away to read it. Interestingly though, the article was not quite a positive one that I would have ‘shared’ enthusiastically over my social media. In fact, the album was given a 2.5/5 review for its work.  

    I remember sitting there, having a brief moment staring at the computer screen. I knew I could allow my heart to go either of two ways: 1) I would let a number dictate or destroy the works that I knew to be powerful, or 2) listen to God’s voice, and be confident in the value of His work done through me. I chose the latter.

    I know for some people receiving difficult criticism, especially in a public setting can cause one to spiral into condemnation and question their self-worth. First, your work is separate from your identity as a child of God, so don’t foolishly let a ‘performance’ dictate your value. Secondly, if your art has a greater purpose than just to ‘impress’, then that in itself is invaluable.

    For me personally, I was and still am very proud of the work of art the Lord had given me. Not just because of the production and the effort put into the art of songwriting, which I personally thought was done phenomenally as a team, but also because of the fact that I’ve had very REAL testimonies of miracles that have been released because of these songs! One woman received a miracle baby (his name is Lucas) after declaring in faith the lyrics of ‘Hand in His’. This song also gave couples, who were suffering in marriage, the courage to love again with the strength of Christ. Do these songs have value? Absolutely.

    As artists and creatives, especially if you know you are a son or daughter of God; having purpose in your art beyond simply ‘entertaining’ or ‘impressing’ others is vital. Art can be used to heal, uplift, and invite Heaven’s government – it is a conduit to express the very heartbeat of God. Your primary role is not to win the praises of man, but it is to be faithful to the assignment entrusted to you by the Father.

    I pray that the Lord will release His grace upon you to create without fear but to create instead from the overflow of a steadfast confidence that He loves you and will partner with you to release His goodness across the earth.  

    You can find the link to listen to my album ‘The Kingdom’ here!