My latest song performed live on national radio for the first time!
There have been a few landmark moments in my musical journey, where I’ve felt particularly aware of what a privilege this ministry is. Speaking and performing my songs at the internationally renowned Hay Festival, two years ago this week, is a shining example. Witnessing at Peterborough Prison is another. And the opportunity to sing and speak live on national radio recently is another wonderful, humbling example.
To celebrate the landmark and share with you what an honour it was, I’ve picked out some of the highlights of our interview with the fabulous Ruth O’Reilly-Smith, including the inspirational story behind my newest release One More Mountain. (Check out the full show on SoundCloud here and if you like a good dose of silliness on your airwaves, check out the hilarious One More Mountain launch show with Simon Tuck)
The Faces of the Mountain – Meet Matt and April
Ruth: April you’ve been on the show a few times but Matt, we’ve not had you on the show before, tell us a bit about yourself.
Matt: Sure, I’m a singer-songwriter, I’m based in Bristol and married to a lovely lady called Vera. I love music, I think it’s an amazing tool, an amazing way to express emotion. I’m working for a church as a Worship Director, and then I go around pubs and clubs and Christian events as well.
Ruth: Apparently you spent some time in Tanzania?
Matt: Yep that’s right. My dad’s a Church of England Minister, and while I was a teenager my folks moved out there so my dad could run a Bible college. I went to boarding school in the UK and then during the holidays I flew out to see them.
The Mountains in Our Own Lives
Ruth: April, your journey with anorexia is something that the Lord delivered you from, quite literally – in a moment – but I have listeners who write in regularly who are still on that journey and it hasn’t quite happened for them that way. How do you feel when this part of your story becomes what God starts to use as an encouragement to others who are journeying through the same thing?
April: I’ve seen it so many times, it’s amazing. I think that God gives us all these experiences and for better or worse we can use them, so that they can bless God and bless other people.
Part of what Matt and I are doing is using our experiences of what we’ve overcome and what God’s done in us, and we’re partnering together as we’ve got quite different stories here. Matt explained that when he went through depression and grief, that it was a hard slog and God journeyed with him through it to get him to the other side. But for me, God moved the mountain. That’s the difference in the story, but both stories have such meaning and such rich beauty to them that God has worked in us each individually. So if anyone is still battling something like anorexia or whatever it might be, I just want to encourage you that God is not done with you yet, and that there is a hope and a plan for your future like it says in Jeremiah 29:11.
I had anorexia, it lasted for about 2 years while I was in college, and that was driven by things like jealousy and turmoil at home and just seeking something that was my own, something that I had control of and a bit of independence. It became really dark, spiraled out of control, and became something that wasn’t a coping mechanism anymore, something that actually oppressed me, and that happened really subtly – I didn’t see it happen. Then, towards the end of it I was just getting really upset with myself, I was really out of sorts and slipping into depression as well.
I finally went and received some prayer. So I had to get to the point where I was willing to give it up, because if you’re in that place and you’re ill, you believe that being healthy means being fat, so I had to accept “I’m going to go and be healthy now” which was a big step to take. But then when you’re face-to-face with Jesus, it’s amazing – nothing can resist him, it’s awesome. No illness, no darkness, no power, nothing above the earth or under the earth can separate you from God’s love. So when someone’s praying for you, and just speaking Jesus over you, all the darkness has to flee. It is literally that simple, it’s just amazing.
So that was my experience, someone prayed for me in the name of Jesus, told anorexia to go, told depression to go, told self-rejection to go, and all the other things that had come along on the way, and just said, “In the name of Jesus, you have to leave now.” And off they went! The next day I did not have anorexia any more, and I was not depressed anymore, literally overnight.
Ruth: And you realised this when you bought a Fanta, and that’s become a little thing that God has used, hasn’t it?
April: Yes. It’s my Freedom Fanta! It was the first thing I had that wasn’t 0 calorie or wasn’t an oppression, it was like – you know, “resist the devil and he will flee from you”? It was like that. It was like a step of obedience drinking that Fanta.
Ruth: And you knew you were free from that moment?
April: Yeah. It was breathtaking. And there was never any temptation since then. No more twisted, nasty comparing myself to others, no more dissatisfaction in myself; everything – the root of it – was pulled out. It’s awesome.
Ruth: Amazing. That is a miracle. And it’s not everybody’s story, but the story of God’s miraculous power is still the same. It’s like our Love Languages, right? It doesn’t mean God loves you any less because you haven’t been healed or delivered instantly, it’s just different. No one is better, or worse.
April: Yes, because we’re all different, we need to receive his power differently. What is important for my life might be very different in Matt’s scenario and visa versa. It’s supposed to be that way. He knows us better than we know ourselves so He knows what we need.
Ruth: We’ve heard your salvation story as well April, you grew up in a Christian home and then through this journey, when God just reunited and reminded you of your first love. But how about you Matt? How did you come to know Jesus?
Matt: As I mentioned before, my father was a CofE minister so I grew up as a Pastor’s Kid – a ‘PK’. My parents are a real inspiration to me, I’ve always said that if I grow up to be half the man my dad is, that I’m doing something right. So I’ve always grown up believing in God and my boarding school was a Christian ethos boarding school.
But things kind of went wrong for me while we were out in Tanzania. We got caught up in an armed robbery. That was quite an intense experience for a 16/17 year old to go through, so after that I kind of thought that God was there but that he didn’t really care about me. That sent me on a bit of a spiral while I was 17/18 and I ran away from God, did a Prodigal Son thing. I ended up dropping out of school in my final year, and then I flew back out to Tanzania because I didn’t have anywhere else to go.
While I was in Tanzania one night, I was woken up by something. So I got up, and walked out onto the veranda, and I saw the stars. And there was just a real clarity, and I felt the voice of God in my heart saying that I made you and I love you, and I want you to walk with me again, I want to lead you into the future and the plans I have for you. Well you can’t really say no to that!
After that, I re-dedicated my life to Jesus. I spent a gap year in a church in Bath and that’s where I started leading worship and cultivating those skills. Then I went on to Moorlands Bible College after that and got equipped there. I met Vera there as well, she was studying. They do call it ‘Moorlands Bridal College’. The rest is history.
It’s a journey, you know. It’s a real journey walking with God and there are ups and downs, and it’s real. There are times when there’s real happiness and breakthrough, where God’s moving, where you can hear him clearly, where he’s guiding and directing life. And there are times when He’s quiet, and God’s kind of on mute. What I’ve found is that at the end of it when you look back, you can see God walking with you through the entire time. It’s kind of like the road to Emmaus isn’t it? Where the two guys are walking along and the stranger is there with them, Jesus is there.
So mine is a slightly different story in terms of that journey and that process, but as you were saying it is miraculous, and you can feel God’s presence in those moments as well. To anyone out there who’s thinking, “Where is God in the quiet? Where is God in the chaos?” The answer is, He is there; He is walking by you. Hang on, hold on, lean into Him, draw near to Jesus because He’s there for you, He loves you and He wants to meet with you.
Before ‘One More Mountain’ – The Songs that Paved the Way
Ruth: This hour we’re gonna hang out with you guys and find out a bit more about your stories. What I also like to do is find out the stories behind the songs. Let’s kick off with Journey On, April, tell us the story behind this song.
April: Well it was written by a friend of mine called Dave Wheeler. That man is in his seventies, he’s been writing songs for 55 years and this is the first time that a song of his has had traction, so it’s such a privilege to be able to sing it and be able to take it forward and make it into a track.
It’s all about when you’re trying at something that’s really hard, and there’s obstacles you have to overcome but just knowing that God’s rooting for you. The song says, look back, see where He’s taken you, see what you’ve already overcome, and just keep pushing on, keep running the race. For me, that really speaks to my journey of faith; particularly as a musician because you get knock-backs all the time and you’re constantly facing rejection. Journey On is a reminder that I know what journey I’m on, I know God’s ordained it so I’m gonna walk in faith on it even when things get hard.
Ruth: Matt, your debut single is called Pebbles, and it’s a song that was released after loss. What happens when you sing songs like this that just become massive and people expect it when they see you perform, but it’s a song that brings up hurt and pain and a time of loss?
Matt: It’s an interesting one. Pebbles came off my debut EP Raising Questions, which I wrote off the back of losing a close friend of mine. I slipped into a time of low mental health, depression, and during that time I felt really lost. I’ve always played music, but I hadn’t really been much of a songwriter until after this event in my life. I then started to write music as a way of articulating the emotions in me that I couldn’t express in words. I believe that music is a really powerful tool, and a gift that God has given us to express those deep emotions. As I started to share those songs, I found that people were also responding to that music so they were able to use those songs to express the hurt and pain and challenges in their lives.
I think something that’s quite challenging within the church context and worship, is that we write a lot of songs which are exaltry and talk about God’s love, God’s grace – these are really important things, but if you look in the Bible there are also songs of lament. There are times when we need to be able to tap in and mourn and grieve things. So Pebbles is all about loss, whether it’s, as in my case, the loss of a friend or a loved one, or the loss of other things; a job, possessions, whatever it may be. A lot of people are touched by the song, so I try to play it when I can.
For me, God walked with me and I overcame those mountains. But I use it as a tool to allow other people the opportunity just to vent and to process. So that’s why I continue to play it.
Behind the Scenes of One More Mountain
Matt: April and I met on a Christian songwriting retreat, and we both have quite a methodical approach to songwriting, i.e. any word won’t do. We’ll literally wait and be like, what is the best word we can put into this lyric? We talked about writing a song together and we realised that our stories were similar, but had differences; so the message was the same, that God helps us overcome the mountains but he moves the mountains as well and sometimes he even flattens them. That’s where this song came out of.
April: We got a scripture from Isaiah, which says, “He goes before you, and He levels the mountains.” We hear lots about moving mountains because it’s actually in the Bible loads! It’s just such an encouragement. So the song is that, it’s declaring that truth over your situation, declaring truth over the hard, uphill battle.
Ruth: How did you write it? Did you actually get together and write it together until you were done, in one session?
April: Pretty much! We found some green space in Bristol which is a bit weird, sat in a park with fish and chips, and just sat for about 4 hours and wrote.
Ruth: Well it’s been fantastic hearing your stories. Some new ones, some not-so-new ones, but some great reminders of the faithfulness of the Lord, how He loves us, He journeys with us and in some moments He’ll flatten those mountains that seem immovable, and other times he enables us to scale the mountain, sometimes he moves the mountain, but regardless He is the same God. Just as we’re reminded this morning, press into Him; don’t lean away from Him. Thanks guys.