Stories behind the songs


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, May 10th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. The scriptures remind us that the words we speak are powerful. They can build up and encourage, or tear down and disappoint.

EICHER: Worship leader and songwriter Jonathan Helser believes that’s also true about music. Today, WORLD Radio’s Myrna Brown talks to the musician about the depth of his inspiration.

SONG: NO LONGER SLAVES [LYRIC] I’m not longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.

HELSER: No Longer Slaves has been just such a beautiful journey song for us.

MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: The journey began in 2011 on a corner of 50 acres of rolling hills in Sophia, North Carolina. That’s where singer-songwriter Jonathan Helser and his wife Melissa live and teach discipleship classes.  

HELSER: We had 12 nations represented in the school. Ninety staff and students that live on the land here for six months. All our students say God’s voice is so loud out here. And I say, well maybe it’s because you just turned off all the other noise.

For the lanky, bearded Helser, it’s the perfect setting for worship.

HELSER: Some of the students are on their chairs and we’re just shouting out, I’m God’s beloved. I’m the one He’s chosen. I’m the joy set before Him, and I spontaneously say, we’re no longer slaves to fear. We’re the children of God. We sing it for 20 minutes.

Helser says they sang that simple chorus for the next three years.

HELSER: And after that year my wife comes up to me and says, babe, every time the school sings that phrase, I’m no longer a slave to fear, you can feel something shaking in the atmosphere. You’ve got to write a song around that.  

Helser added a few verses and a title, “No Longer Slaves.” The song caught the attention of leaders from Bethel Church in Redding, California, one of many large congregations with its own music label and publishing. In 2014 the Helser’s were invited to become part of the Bethel Music Collective, a group of artists with similar vision.

HELSER: To me, it reminds me of the book of Psalms, because you see David writing the Psalms, and all of a sudden there’s Asaph and all these other songwriters that come out of this movement David was leading.

That collaboration led to a number of well-known songs. But then an unexpected illness created an opportunity for Helser’s music to reach even farther in 2017.

JOEL TAYLOR: Hi, it’s Christmas morning, and a lot of you are asking how Jaxon is doing.

That’s Joel Taylor, the CEO of Bethel Music. He’s talking on Instagram about his 2-year-old son.

TAYLOR: They can’t get to his blood because his veins are shot.

An illness caused by an E.Coli infection had shut down the little boy’s kidneys. He was suffering seizures and other serious complications.

HELSER: We get a text and Joel said, he’s not going to make it through the night unless there’s a miracle. And my wife’s just weeping in my arms. I just begin to feel this unbelief, almost like a dark cloud hovering over our house. Jackson is not going to make it. He’s going to die. God is not good.

SONG: MUSIC RAISE A HALLELUJAH

HELSER: And I felt something rise up in my heart. It was in the form of a melody and it was like David standing in front of Goliath. I felt this melody come out of me.

SONG: MUSIC RAISE A HALLELUJAH [LYRIC] I raise a hallelujah. In the presence of my enemies.

HELSER: And I sang that out loud.

SONG: MUSIC RAISE A HALLELUJAH [LYRIC] I raise a hallelujah. Louder than my unbelief.

HELSER: And as soon as I sang it, I begin to feel the fear and the unbelief backing up.

Helser says he sent a recording from his phone of the simple chorus to Jaxon’s father.

HELSER: He held it over Jaxon that night, played it over him while he was in his hospital bed.

And God answered their prayers.

TAYLOR: So Jaxon was lifeless and blue lips earlier today [baby boy chatter heard in background], and now he’s talking.

HELSER: Two weeks later, Jackson left the hospital, fully recovered, just  a walking miracle.

In January of 2019, the Helser’s recorded the song “Raise A Hallelujah” at Bethel Church. Sitting squarely on his father’s shoulders, the little blond-headed boy who inspired it all.

HELSER: And I remember looking down in the crowd seeing this 2-year-old and thinking, oh my gosh, he’s going to have this testimony his whole life.

Helser says it reminds him of another boy’s God story.

HELSER: And I’ll always think about the little boy with the lunchbox, when Jesus wants to feed 5,000. And Jesus put it in His hands and multiplies it. And that’s what the songs feel like to me. They’re just simple songs that I wrote as a little boy before my Father. And all of a sudden the Father multiples them and feeds thousands.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Myrna Brown.


(Photo/Jonathan Helser)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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3 comments on Stories behind the songs

  1. Nicolas Burns says:

    I really enjoyed this segment and I found the story of the boy’s healing to be as encouraging as it was compelling. My own son has had serious health issues early in life and I know first hand how dark those hours can be. I also know just how vital the prayers of the saints are. Yet, as much as I enjoyed the segment, I do have a deep and abiding concern with what I presume was an unintentional promotion of Bethel Church and their music label. I admit they have a significant presence in the Christian pop-sub-culture, but much of the theology and doxology that comes from that church is aberrant. Of particular concern is the pulpit ministry of Bill Johnson. I was cautious to post my concerns, but 1 John calls us to unity in the truth and I think there is enough falsehood within the context of the Bethel movement that it should be brought to your attention.

    Thank you all for the attention you put into every program. I am consistently impressed with the quality and the breadth of WORLD’s journalistic endeavors.

    1. Kurt Calloway says:

      I agree with you, Nicolas. I sent an email to WORLD detailing my concerns about this story and its close relation to the Word of Faith and Prosperity Gospel movements.

      I think we as Christians have the responsibility to help guard against other Christians being steered toward teachings that are bad, if not false. Being careful of the influential music we promote should be one of these responsibilities. I’ve asked WORLD to consider a warning to their listeners concerning this story and the teachings of Bethel Church.

      For those interested, see the following links for more details and info about Bethel Church and the Word of Faith movement:

      1. The Gospel Coalition – 9 Things You Should Know About the Bethel Church Movement (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-the-bethel-church-movement/)
      2. Challies – Review of the documentary, American Gospel: Christ Alone (https://www.challies.com/music-movies/american-gospel/)

      All of this said, thank you, WORLD, for your continued work and influence in the world to bring a Biblical worldview perspective to current events. I enjoy your show and recommend it often to my friends and fellow church members.

    2. Kurt Calloway says:

      I agree with you, Nicolas. I sent an email to WORLD detailing my concerns about this story and its close relation to the Word of Faith and Prosperity Gospel movements.

      I think we as Christians have the responsibility to help guard against other Christians being steered toward teachings that are bad, if not false. Being careful of the influential music we promote should be one of these responsibilities. I’ve asked WORLD to consider a warning to their listeners concerning this story and the teachings of Bethel Church.

      For those interested, search for the following posts for more details and info about Bethel Church and the Word of Faith movement:

      1. The Gospel Coalition – 9 Things You Should Know About the Bethel Church Movement
      2. Tim Challies’ blog – Review of the documentary, American Gospel: Christ Alone

      All of this said, thank you, WORLD, for your continued work and influence in the world to bring a Biblical worldview perspective to current events. I enjoy your show and recommend it often to my friends and fellow church members.

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