Aaron Shust: "It's a very different prosperity gospel that God would allow you to discover your potential—your full potential. I have plans for you to discover your full potential."
It's one thing to sing about Jesus being the light in dark times from a removed place. It's quite another to sing of His goodness and His grace in the midst of those dark times. That's the storyline shaping Morning Rises, the fifth studio album from worship singer-songwriter Aaron Shust.
Whether it was dealing with heartbreaking diagnoses for two of his children or dealing with challenging interpersonal situations, Shust had to live his faith in a way that went beyond cliches, one-liners and warm fuzzies; he had to truly ask himself whether he believed God's promises.
In this collection of songs, Shust's worship focus is the kind of praise that goes through gritted teeth, the kind of adoration that carries with it an ache. But the truth throughout this new project is the fact that hope is never far. The phrase "Morning Rises," Shust says, represents the hope and promise past the darkness.
Editor-in-Chief Marcus Hathcock sat down with Aaron to talk about the new album, particularly how his testimony is being used to positively affect others.
You've talked about how your new album, Morning Rises, is forged from the difficult moments that you've gone through. What has been happening in your life and what has God been up to the midst of it? What has forged this?
So much. Some of the stuff my family and I have been walking through with health issues with my boys, with false accusations that have been brought up against my family—up against my wife, specifically, in how she cares for our children and false accusations of abuse and neglect, which is just ridiculous.
It's sad that we have to jump through the hoops that we have to make sure that the truth comes to light. There's also just the residual damage that happens emotionally. But I look back at the songs, just the very fact that I can sing night after night, day after day, "I'm not skilled to understand," and "my hope is in you alone" and "to God alone be the glory."
So many of the themes that I've written about and songs that I've embraced have to do with us not having all the answers. It goes back to the verse, "His ways are higher than our ways. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts." It's so freeing to be able to admit that that God is higher than us and once you have that perspective, things begin to fall into place.
That definitely affects the songwriting and specifically, Morning Rises. I just chose to take a responsive praise based on the story of Job. After everything happened to him in chapter one, he didn't respond—at least it's not recorded in scripture this way—with begging God to deliver him, begging God to get him out of this mess. What he did was simply praise. God gives. God takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
I think the best thing I can do right now, if perchance this is a test, if perchance Satan went before God and accused and God said, "OK. Go ahead and stir the pot in the Shust house..." If it's a test, I want to be able to respond like Job responded in praise. These albums recently have been full of praise. As much as I can squeeze them into an album.
Really, in the end, it doesn't matter where trouble comes from. God is going to use everything, right?
What has God been up to in your family in the months since? Has there been healing and restoration and good things?
We're still in the tunnel, so to speak. We see the light at the end of the tunnel and we have been told that there's proof, a case quite specifically opened up against my wife in April, and if we can make it through the [next few weeks] without any more things, unfortunate red flags being raised by other people—anonymous people by the way—then our case should be closed.
I was reading a case recently that said, "When man brands something on your forehead, brands you with a name, it cannot stay if heaven disagrees." I love that. I showed that to my wife. You may be branded something, but if heaven disagrees, it won't stick. That's the way it's going to work out because God loves us.
So many people have given us such advice of bad theology. It's bound and determined to work out in the end because God takes care of those who love Him. In theory, yes, God takes care of those who love Him. That doesn't mean we never have trial. That doesn't mean we never have pain. We're walking through this and we know we're growing more closely with God throughout this.
To some extent it sounds very parallel in a small way to Job's experience, with your friends telling you advice that God takes care of people who love Him.
We receive advice and we just kind of walk away. We categorize things. We get some bad advice and we get some good advice as well.
Kevin and I had the privilege of hearing "God of Brilliant Lights" even before your own record label people got to hear it. You got to play that for us. You've probably played it quite a bit since then. How has the response been initially?
I think it's going really well. We just played it in the worship tent earlier today and it went over well from what I hear. From one specific fan I have in Buffalo and my dad, who actually sends me the reports every week, I don't follow the charts unless they get sent to me because my skin is a little too thin, but they let me know the good news. My dad lets me know the good news. It's doing well.
That's great. How would you say your worship has changed over the years? I'm not talking about your commercial marketing worship. I'm talking about you, Aaron Shust—your worship.
It's interesting, and I'm probably too much in the middle of it to accurately analyze it well. By nature of the fact that I was working at a Presbyterian church and the beauty of the theology just blew my mind 10 years ago. I just love the truth, even if it wasn't clear, even if it didn't quite make perfect sense to me in my heart. If I found it in the Bible openly in front of me, I simply said, "OK. I believe it. I don't understand it, but I'll believe it."
I think that created a bedrock for me to be able to get a little more—I don't want to use the word charismatic, except for in the true sense of the word. Just be more free to worship. Ten years ago I wouldn't have been a hand-raiser, but I'm starting to become a hand-raiser. Why am I becoming a hand-raiser? Not because it's cool, not because there aren't very many people in my church that do it, but because I had to admit because I'm afraid to do it. I didn't like the fact that I was afraid to just raise my hand in worship before the Lord.
I said, "I'm just going to force myself to do it, because it's not for the people sitting behind me." I'm talking not when I lead from the stage. I'm talking about when I find myself in the pew. That's what I'm talking about. Whenever I'm sitting in the second row with my family and the hundreds of people who are behind me. I think maybe they're watching me, maybe they're not. I don't care because I'm here to meet with God. It's become a bit more reckless, in a good way.
In a sense you're leading worship from the pew, too—in authenticity and where God's leading you. What gets you excited these days as a worshiper?
I mentioned this earlier today. Someone said, "Who's your new favorite worship artist?" Will Reagan and United Pursuit. It's just fresh and it's new and I can't figure out the song structure. It's so unusual and it catches you off guard. He'll be singing something and he'll land on a line. It feels like it's so organic how the songs were created because he'll land on a line and he'll just stay on the line for like a minute and then move somewhere else.
What would you say to people who are going through hard times right now, that are in the midst of their pain where worship isn't an easy reflex?
I think the first step is to ask yourself, "What is it that I believe. What is my default setting? What is the secure thing that I reach out to grab a hold of whenever the world around me starts to shake?" Personally, I believe from experience that the only thing that is worth grabbing onto, the only thing that is worth putting full faith in is the Word of God, the promises of God, and that God is in control—that He has a plan.
As we read in Jeremiah 29:11, regardless of what we see with our eyes or experience here in our situation, God has a plan to prosper us, to give us a future and a hope. I just recently heard last week that the definition for "prosper" in Hebrew was to allow you to find your potential. That's not the word "prosper" that I've ever heard.
It's a very different prosperity gospel that God would allow you to discover your potential—your full potential. I have plans for you to discover your full potential. God has created us with potential for His kingdom purposes, that He wants us to find what that potential is. I love that.
How has your testimony really impacted other people, your fans or people close to you? How have you seen God use your testimony to transform the lives of people around you?
My wife said our circumstances are like the talents that God gives, and we can choose to bury them or we can choose to use them for greater purposes. That's why we went public with the whole situation with the accusations against my wife. That's embarrassing. It's not even true and we know the people are going to draw their assumptions now that we've blogged about it and talked about it on a video. People are going to wonder if there's not some truth to it, but we just strongly felt that if we kept that to ourselves, one of two things could happen.
She said it would be easier to tell our story than it is to defend our story. We'd rather say it first, and secondly, if God's given us this to impact other people, we can't bury it. I've seen people making comments on the blogs "We're in the same situation," or, "I've got a friend who's in the same situation and it's so cool to see your faith as you walk through it." it's given me encouragement.
If we hadn't shared those stories, if we had kept that close to our vest and said, "That's a personal matter. We're going to keep that to ourselves," we wouldn't have been able to see the people who have come out of the woodwork saying, "We just found out that our kid has down syndrome as well. We were so scared and we're so nervous. How you guys have walked through it is giving us encouragement."
It makes me really glad that I'm willing to open up about things.
Posted August 06, 2013 | Editor-in-Chief Marcus Hathcock has been a newspaper reporter, an editor and a church staff member. He's also been involved in opera, acappella, a CCM group and now is a songwriter and one of the worship leaders at his home church. Follow his journey at www.mheternal.com.
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