All things happen in God's perfect timing. Broken dreams are restored. Relationships are renewed. Dormant gifts are awakened. Just ask John Waller, the newest artist on the Beach Street Records roster. Waller has seen God move in a powerful way as he's entered a new season in his life.
A talented singer, songwriter, and worship leader considered by many to be one of the best-kept secrets in the Christian music community, Waller gained national attention fronting the group According to John. But as often happens in the music industry, the group's record label went out of business, and John and his cohorts found themselves without a deal.
"When the journey came to an end with According to John, I left it behind and I really closed that chapter in my life," says Waller. "I never had any intentions of being a recording artist again. I went about a year without writing any songs."
He and his wife, Josee, moved to Colorado and helped launch SouthLink Church, where he became worship pastor. It became an extraordinary season in Waller's life and ministry. And at a time when he had given up "the music business," he suddenly felt more inspired and began writing songs that were immediately embraced by his congregation. The people at SouthLink began clamoring for John to make a CD of his new material.
"I was teaching my songs to our worship team and we were playing them in church. They were declaration kind of songs," he says of the new songs God was laying on his heart. "People wanted to go sit in their car and listen to them. They didn't want to wait a whole week before they could hear these songs again. I saw that happening and I said, 'If this could happen with these people then perhaps they are meant for a bigger flock.'"
The congregation at SouthLink loved John's new music and believed in it so strongly, they raised the money to finance a new CD. He traveled to Georgia to record with Brian Scoggin, a friend from his According to John days. Brian knew Casting Crowns' lead vocalist Mark Hall from a brief tenure filling in on drums with the group. He left a message asking Hall to sing on a song called "The Blessing."
John was getting ready to board a plane heading back to Colorado when he got the call that Mark Hall would do it. "I just couldn't' believe it," he says. "I was so thrilled."
Hall remembered Waller from an event that happened the week after the September 11 terrorist attacks. According to John was performing and Hall was impressed with Waller's ability to reach kids. "The songs immediately grabbed my attention," he recalls. "Then John started talking between the songs and something stood out about him. As a youth pastor when you teach a lesson, you aren't teaching a lesson, you are teaching people and I could tell he was reaching my students."
Thus began the chain of circumstances that led to John Waller signing with Beach Street, which is owned by Mark Miller, lead vocalist for the award-winning country group Sawyer Brown. Mark Hall sent a CD to Mark Miller, anxious for him to hear Waller's music. However, the CD stuck in Miller's truck and it was quite some time before he was able to hear Waller's music.
When he finally did, he heard the same passionate vocals and lyrical integrity that his buddy Mark Hall had identified with so strongly. "John sent me the entire album and the thing that just impressed me more than anything was just the messages in these songs," Mark Miller says. "It reminded me of the approach that Mark Hall takes with his songs. They are like mini sermons, message songs. I could just tell when I heard the lyrics that this guy was much more interested in what he was saying than being a rock star. For me here at Beach Street, that's the kind of artist that we're interested in."
Waller joined Beach Street's small, elite roster that includes Casting Crowns and Josh Bates, and began working on his debut CD with Mark Miller and Jason Hoard, lead guitarist from According to John, producing the set. The first single from Waller's new disc is "The Blessing," which features Mark Hall. The lyric is a compelling challenge to other believers to speak positively into the lives of those around them. It encourages us all to choose to be a blessing to those in our lives. "I believe in the power of spoken words," he says. "My wife and I started speaking a blessing on a daily basis over our three children."
One of the things that inspired this practice is a book John read by Aaron Fruh titled "The Forgotten Blessing: Ancient Words that Heal Generational Wounds." "It talks about the Old Testament tradition of the father blessing his son and daughter," he says.
Waller feels passionately about sharing the message in "The Blessing." He knows first hand the power of the spoken word. Members of his family battled depression and unwittingly spoke the affliction into John's life as a young boy. Consequently, he battled the illness and was on medication for 20 years.
"For years I struggled with depression," he relates. "It was all in my family. It was a generational thing that was passed down and I believed I would always struggle with it. As I started learning about who I was in Christ, this did not add up. If I believed that I was a depressed person, then I probably always would be a depressed person. If I believe that I'm a joyful person and I've declared it and realized that is who I am, then that's going to manifest itself in my physical body."
With a strong circle of friends lifting him up in prayer, Waller was able to break the bonds of depression. He no longer found himself reliant on the medication that had become part of his life. John's songs convey the power of God's grace and the sense of renewal that flooded his life. In the gorgeous, poignant "Breathe on Me" John sings "I believe, I receive everything you have for me."
One of the most potent songs on the album is "He Still Calls Me Son." "Mark Miller actually called me up one night and said, 'Hey I've got a challenge for you: Write a song about the prodigal son, but don't ever mention the word prodigal,'" recalls Waller. "I've always loved the story of the prodigal son and I've always said you either are a prodigal or you are about to become one. I think anybody could relate to this song because we all know what it's like to go our own way whether it's rebelling from our parents or rebelling from God."
On the lively anthem "Say Your Name," Waller's clear passionate voice celebrates the power and authority we as believers can claim simply by calling on the name of God. "Identity" wraps a powerful message in an inviting pop/rock package that immediately invites listeners to sing along. The lyric speaks of finding our identity in Christ and not the things of this world. "All of the songs celebrate life, who you are in Christ," Waller says. "I just want to celebrate what God has done and give him glory.
In listening to Waller's debut album, it's easy to hear why Mark Hall says he's impressed with Waller's musical sensibilities, but most of all with the words he's sharing. "For me the song is all about what you are saying," he relates. I think anytime an artist comes out and they are saying something that goes right into your home, right into your life, right into what you are doing right now, then it's something you can use. I'm not saying it needs to be simple, but at the same time, there has to be a purpose in what you are doing. John Waller's music has purpose."
What John Waller has to say comes out of a servant's heart and a desire to draw people closer to God. "He's a praise and worship leader," says Mark Miller. "He's tied into his church and I think--like Mark Hall--there's a difference when they have contact day-to-day with their flock. We're not just talking about artists who sit around in the studio and write all day. They actually have interaction with people in their church so a lot of things that John writes about are experiences that he's had and seen. You hear that in these songs. He's still very young, but he's seasoned in the church and spiritually and that comes out in his messages. You can't write the kind of songs that John Waller writes and not be touched by the hand of God."
John Waller knows God orchestrated his steps to this exact place, with these people, at this time. He laughingly admits, it wasn't the time frame he would have chosen, but it was God's perfect timing. "I thought the Lord was going to put me on the fast track," he says of his early ambitions, "and the fast track was about 17 years. It wasn't fast at all, but I wouldn't trade that time for anything in the world because it defined who I am."
These days he has a clearer sense of mission than ever before. "God has called me to use my songs to help set people free. It could be from depression or some other strong hold," he says. "I just believe it's about delivering people. I had to be free before I could set people free. I want to help give people a new legacy. God can create a new legacy in their life to pass on to their children. That's what I think my ministry needs to be about."