In 2014, Phil Wickham didn’t know whether or not he’d ever be able to sing again.
He’d gone to the doctor, having canceled a string of concerts because his throat was bothering him. He could barely talk. The doctors ran a few tests and discovered a vocal polyp – a small lesion on his vocal cord. They could remove it, but the healing process would take time. Phil wouldn’t be able to speak for a month, and after that, there were no guarantees his voice would ever be the same. He might not even be able to sing professionally anymore.
“I was upset,” Phil says. “I was afraid for the future. It felt like my identity was being stripped away.”
All of this had come a few months into the process of writing his seventh album, but it was a struggle. “It’d become this mundane thing – more a job than a passion,” Phil says. “I didn’t know what to write. I’d sit down to write a song, and I’d think ‘What do I say?’ I could say the same stuff I’d already said on old albums over again, but I didn’t want to do that. I needed a personal awakening.”
Then came the vocal polyp, the doctors, and the month of silence. Very suddenly, Phil’s whole future was thrown into question. “I remember a few days after the diagnosis, I was on my knees asking God for some peace and clarity and a sense of Him in it all. All of the sudden I had this strong sense of Gods presence there with me. There have only been a few times in my life where I felt, undeniably, His voice speaking to me. This was one of them. I felt, undeniably, His voice speaking to me. He said my identity is not in what I do, but it’s in who He says I am. He said ‘I’m your father. You’re my child. Trust me.’”
That sensation of being near to God stayed with Phil. He still had damaged vocal cords and an uncertain future, but one thing he didn’t have anymore was the fear.
“I’ve been singing songs about being a child of God since I was three years old,” Phil says. “I know that phrase. But it went from a Sunday School idea to this massive, freeing truth. Maybe because I’m a dad now. I equated my love for my kids to the God who is love – who created love. He loves me like a father. I found so much freedom and hope and peace in this fresh realization of my standing with Him as a child.”
Given a new sense of passion and freedom, Phil sat down to do what had proven so difficult just a few months earlier. He sat down to write some songs.
“I started writing songs out of this reawakening in my heart,” he says. “I still didn’t know if I was going to be able to sing a whole record of them. But I had a freedom and a lightness in my heart. That’s why I called the record Children of God. The way I feel about the record, that excitement and freshness, I feel like it’s my first record all over again. I feel refreshed. I have a new sound and a new heart. I can’t wait to get on the road and play these songs.”
That zeal is evident on Children of God’s first single, “Your Love Awakens Me,” a rollicking, massive worship anthem with an unforgettable chorus that dares you not to dance along. “I feel like my heart’s been reawakened to passion and purpose. That’s where the song came from,” Phil explains. “I definitely wanted the lyrics to be very communal in a way that wasn’t specific to my situation, but is specific to everyone’s situation who is going through something hard. The music coupled with the lyrics and celebrating God’s love and wanting more of Him – I hope that will inspire people.”
The whole album pulses with a new energy and zest that’s positively addictive. “With the arrangements, I kept thinking ‘If we were in a stadium with 40,000 people, how would we want to do this?’ We’ve never had that feeling before. We had to keep asking, ‘does this feel big enough? Does this feel epic enough? Does this feel passionate enough?’” By the end of the recording process, the answer to all those questions was a definitive yes.
But that doesn’t mean that Children of God is without its quieter, more introspective moments too. Phil also beautifully reworks the ancient “Doxology,” with a new verse and, more importantly, a new spirit. “These are age old lyrics,” Phil says. “The only thing that’s really changed is my posture and heart. Just remembering all that God has done. I didn’t try to reach for something brand new. Simple sentiments became fresh.”
Through the whole process, which Phil says was one the most collaborative and rewarding recording processes he’s ever had, Children of God was finally completed. “It expresses where the band’s hearts were at. We made music we’re excited about and we sung words from our hearts.”
And yes, Phil does sing on the album. Two weeks into his healing process, the doctors told him they didn’t even see any scarring on his throat. He didn’t even need to remain silent for the whole month. He spent some time in vocal therapy and now, Phil’s voice is back and as good as it ever was. And his spirit is better than it ever has been. “I felt totally free making this record,” he says. “I had an awesome time making it. I just feel like I’ve been reawakened.”
That shows on every single song of Children of God, not only in the words, but in the music, and the heart behind the songs. Fans of Phil’s music will find the same energy and talent coursing throughout the album, but they’ll hear something else too. A freedom. An energy. A confidence. It’s infectious.
It’s what comes from knowing you’re a child of God.