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2008 Conversations

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2006 Conversations

Conversation: Paul Baloche

Open-heart worship

Paul Baloche is a worship leader and recording artist who has written some of this generation’s most compelling worship songs, including “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” He visited with Editor Ken Horn.

tpe: Tell me about your first experience with the Assemblies of God.

BALOCHE: I was raised Catholic in the Northeast, outside of Philadelphia, and walked into an Assemblies of God church. The people were so enthusiastic and excited, and a worship band was playing. It was really the first time I had heard praise and worship. I couldn’t wait to be part of the band. After I was there awhile they let me play bass. Then my wife — we weren’t married at the time — got born again at that same church, and we grew in the Lord there for a couple of years and got married in that church. We moved to Texas, where we’ve been almost 19 years and where I’ve served as a children’s minister.

tpe: How did you become a worship leader?

BALOCHE: I played guitar and sang in high school and in bands. When I got involved in children’s ministry I started leading the children’s worship. When I moved to Texas I was playing guitar for Kelly Willard and different artists, and I just started playing guitar at the church until the pastor there said, “Hey, Paul, why don’t you come and lead us in a song?” I hadn’t been accustomed to leading adults, but that kind of broke the ice. I’ve been there 19 years now.

tpe: Can you remember the first song you wrote?

BALOCHE: I was at a nondenominational church. I remember ending a song and thinking, Yes, Lord, wow! We love to be in Your presence, with Your people, singing praises, yeah! and I remember stopping at that moment and saying to the congregation, “Hey, this may be crazy, but doesn’t this sound like a song? … ‘I love to be in Your presence, I love to be in Your presence with Your people, singing praises.’ ” I looked at the band, and we just started playing for about 10 or 15 minutes all these little pieces of song.

tpe: You said the best worship songs come as a by-product of worship. What does that mean?

BALOCHE: Instead of locking yourself in a room trying to come up with some clever ideas, it’s trying to just live a life of worship. Be an authentic believer and a disciple of the Lord and walk with Him 24/7. As a by-product of just living the life, songs and ideas arise from that. I don’t pursue the ideas, but I pursue the Lord and let ideas be the overflow.

tpe: How do your songs come to you?

BALOCHE: I try to be awake to songs all the time. Even in our family, we’re always paying attention to sermons, or maybe a phrase here, a line from a movie, or something you overhear someone pray during a prayer meeting. I always have my antennae up to capture phrases, prayerful ideas, and then make time during the week to take a phrase and just begin to spend time singing it back to the Lord and seeing if anything else comes.

tpe: You talk about the value of personal worship time. How does that look?

BALOCHE: A lot of times during the week I like to go into the church when no one is there. I’ll turn on the PA system and just plug in my guitar and open up my journal, or open up my Bible to the Psalms or some other passage, and just begin to sing out these ideas. Years ago, at an AG church in New Jersey, a friend and I would walk around the sanctuary praying in tongues, praying in the Spirit, reading Psalms, praying for hours. We were just trying to press into God, and I continue to do that.

tpe: You are well known for “Open the Eyes of My Heart.” Is there a story behind that song?

BALOCHE: “Open the Eyes of My Heart” started with a phrase I heard a pastor pray one time in New Jersey. It was a house meeting, and one of the things he prayed was, “Lord, as we look into Your Word tonight, we pray that You would open the eyes of our hearts and help us comprehend.”

I thought, That’s a neat prayer. Then I thought about Ephesians 1:18 where the apostle Paul prayed, “That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (NIV).

tpe: How do you keep worship fresh and keep it from being routine?

BALOCHE: As worship pastors we must do whatever it takes to keep our own hearts inspired in the Lord. I think it’s different for every person, but we need to be able to identify those things in life that inspire us in God. To connect to God I need to make sure I’m hanging out with like-minded believers, a handful of friends I can be accountable to and inspired by. I take walks a lot and just enjoy the quietness of nature. I go into the church sanctuary and just sing my prayers, sing the Psalms. When I write songs, I don’t try to write for a publisher or a record, but to connect with God. Writing songs is therapy for me. It’s a way to keep my heart tender towards the Lord.

tpe: Your latest Integrity CDs are A Greater Song and Our God Saves.

BALOCHE: A Greater Song was a collaboration with other worship writers, people like Matt Redman, Brenton Brown and Kathryn Scott. We run into each other at conferences and we always say, “Hey, we should get together.”

Our God Saves followed the same idea. I came together with other writers, and we were a little more purposeful in our theology. We really tried to look at the song catalogue in the church and ask ourselves some tough questions. How come we’re not singing about the Trinity? Let’s purposely write some songs that reference the Trinity. And we wanted to tell the gospel story from creation to Christ’s coming, His death and His resurrection.

Whether we realize it or not, we get much of our theology, our image of God, from the songs we sing. We glean much from the spoken Word, the Scripture and sermon, but it’s amazing how the songs we sing unconsciously form our image of who God is. As songwriters, we need to be aware of that. We need to be sure we are presenting the full counsel of God so that people see Him as King and Redeemer and Shepherd and Friend and Lord. He is our awesome God, yet He is compassionate and gracious, a God of justice and yet a God of mercy.

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