NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming next on The World and Everything In It: Back to the stage.
With COVID restrictions loosening across the country, some Christian music artists are slowly making their way back to live music performances.
And, Myrna, you had the chance to talk with one artist about his own COVID journey.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: I did! Charles Billingsley. Let’s dive in.
YOUTUBE CONCERT: Come on let’s worship together, how about it…
MYRNA BROWN, REPORTER: On March 12th, 2020, Charles Billingsley stood on a Tennessee stage leading a packed auditorium in worship. Within 24 hours, he’d cancelled the rest of his tour dates and the mandatory lockdown began. What started as an inconvenience soon turned serious.
BILLINGSLEY: Well it was late March. It was actually my 26th wedding anniversary. I’m having dinner with my wife and I’m starting to feel like I got a little bit of fever. Didn’t really think much of it.
But each day Billingsley says his fever got worse. After two weeks, he began experiencing shortness of breath. Finally, a house call from his doctor confirmed his suspicions.
BILLINGSLEY: He said man you have severe double pneumonia. You got to go to the hospital. He said this virus has gone to your lungs. I said, geez, when do I have to go into the hospital. And he said right this minute. I said what?
Billingsley says the hardest part of his hospital stay was the isolation.
BILLINGSLEY: You’re having to deal with all the emotions and the anxieties and the fear of this by yourself.
He still gets emotional thinking about the kind faces and hands that served him.
BILLINGSLEY: The poor doctors and nurses, I mean bless their hearts. They don’t want to get this thing, so they come in covered from head to toe. So when you think about the thousands of people in the medical profession who are risking their lives and doing that, it’s very meaningful.
During the hours of solitude one night, Billingsley pulled out his newest CD—the one he’d recorded the year before.
SONG [WHERE YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE]: You said you believe that God works all things for your good…
BILLINGSLEY: I’m listening to these songs and I forgot it was my own record I was listening to because the lyrics were just so poignant for what I was going through at that time.
SONG [WHERE YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE]: You’re in the grip of his grace. You’re in the palm of His hand. Maybe the eye of the storm is the center of His plan.
BILLINGSLEY: It’s almost like the Lord gave me those songs six months ago to write for myself.
After three days in the hospital—and against the advice of his doctors—Billingsley checked himself out and headed home.
BILLINGSLEY: They kept warning me, if you leave and your lungs shut down on you, you are not going to make it back, and I said, well I’m going to take that risk. It’s Easter weekend and I don’t want to be in the hospital on Easter Sunday.
Back home and quarantined from his wife of 26 years, Billingsley says he got angry with God.
BILLINGSLEY: Well, I knew He could heal me and I kept asking him to heal me right then and there and He wasn’t. You know when you pray with all your heart for something and then it doesn’t happen, the natural reaction is to get upset and wonder, now why won’t you do this?
He says he eventually found peace—and answers—in Philippians 1:21
BILLINGSLEY: Here’s the best news about a believer. God’s going to heal you one way or another. It may be on this side of heaven or on that side. But for you to live is Christ and to die is gain. And I finally got to the point to where I believed that and just started thanking the Lord for healing me or taking me home.
During his slow recovery, Billingsley spent a lot of time reflecting on his 30-year music ministry. It all began one Saturday morning in Birmingham, Alabama, after hearing a sparrow outside his window.
BILLINGSLEY: And I wrote this poem called The Sparrow. Went back the next day to my college dorm and handed it to a friend of mine and said hey, maybe you could try and put some music to this. And he did.
Billingsley sang that little song at a luncheon. A young couple, about to launch a city-wide crusade heard him.
BILLINGSLEY: She came up and she said you’re going to sing that song all over the city. Come with me. I mean who knew by me just being frustrated and writing a little poem on a piece of paper that God would build an entire 30 year career off of that.
On April 20th, his wife’s birthday, his 24-day fever finally broke.
CONCERT: All man, I’m so tired of 2020. Does anyone feel that way. Is it just me? (applause)
In June, Charles Billingsley returned to that Tennessee stage, leading worship in the same venue he had so abruptly left three months earlier.
BILLINGSLEY: I mean the room seats 10,000 and there were only 1100 people in the room and they were all six feet. I told them, I said look, this is even better. Now you got dancing room, so you can dance around and do whatever.
Billingsley says he can’t wait to see what God does next. And while he’s waiting, he’ll worship.
BILLINGSLEY: Worship is the one thing that we’re going to do for an eternity. So I just encourage everybody through every aspect of their life, not just a Sunday morning, one hour experience, but no, with everything you are and all that you do, we are called to worship and bring glory and honor to the Lord.