Amidst a year of restrictions and distancing, Jacob Hilton’s album release, The Onlookers, is immersive, raw and centred on close encounters with Jesus. I caught up with him for a conversation about developing creative expressions of worship in this season, and calling the attention of others towards Jesus as we do.

Bible journaling has helped me worship. Writing creatively, as I feed on God’s word, helps focus my mind in this pandemic. For me, worship is about getting to know and love God, conversing with Him, and lifestyle, as much as it’s about singing with others when at church. What are your thoughts on creativity and personal worship?

Worshipping God is totally a lifestyle. So, for example, I enjoy going on walks, and it’s at those times when I’m surrounded by nature that I find myself chatting away to God, singing a song to Him, praying in tongues. I’ve also taken up woodwork, which has created great times to reflect on what God has done in my life, causing me to worship Him more.

How do you relate with God through the music you create? And how does He influence your songs?

I tend to write songs about what God has done in my life. I think I’m quite an observant person, so I’ll write about what I’ve seen God do in the lives of my friends and family, too. Then I’ll just take those details and turn them into lyrical form. I also find myself writing more about the struggles of living a life for God; for example, Rest’ is a song about the struggle we have as believers to fully rest in His presence.

The pandemic has disrupted how we worship, both corporately and individually. What have you learned about worship during the pandemic? Has the way you give your all in reverence to God changed?

First of all, it’s made me appreciate the joy and importance of meeting together with other believers as one body to worship Christ. Having no commute to work, being able to take more walks and spending more time at home, has given me space to spend more time with God, to think about Him and reflect on what He’s been doing. My aim for 2021, when things are a bit more normal’, is to intentionally carve out more time just to be’ in God’s presence. He’s my priority and I should always make time for Him, even when I think I don’t have time.

I’ve personally found it a little bit challenging to worship amid the pandemic. How about you – in what ways has the pandemic made worship harder or easier? And what advice would you give to people in my situation?

I’ve also found certain aspects more difficult. Overall, though, I’ve experienced a fresh ease of worshipping God in the pandemic. I would say, think about all the things in the world that you now realise are fragile and uncertain, then think about the fact that God is 100 per cent certainty! Things have crumbled around you, but God is faithful. Holding onto that caused me to be more in awe of Him.

That’s great advice. Thank you! I’ve enjoyed listening to your tracks. The soundtrack elements and cinematic atmosphere of your album The Onlookers make each person’s encounter with Jesus on the street feel pressing and in the moment. How did that come about?

I love listening to film scores. It started when I was reading about Jesus carrying the cross on His back to Calvary. I imagined being there as an onlooker. Watching the man you had seen perhaps days ago. Maybe He healed your daughter, raised your friend from the dead, or spoke pure love over you. Then seeing Him tortured and sentenced to death. It blew my mind. That led me to write Should Be Me’ and the other songs flowed from there.

And then there’s your latest track, For You To Know’. Can you share some of the story behind this recent release?

It’s about a friend I used to walk home from school with. We had the occasional chat about God, but now I feel like I didn’t say enough, that I could’ve said more to help Him believe in Jesus. I know God uses us at different stages of people’s journeys to giving their lives to Him, but I wanted to capture the frustration that goes on inside many of us believers who so badly want someone they know to be saved, but all they can do now is pray earnestly for them.

Sometimes, I find myself reimagining mainstream songs as if they are about God. On the other hand, sometimes I’ve found it confusing when Christian lyricists put me’ at the centre. While your lyrics are pretty raw, personal and honest, they frame Jesus at the centre. Even if He is not named, He is there, as the person you are singing to or about, or pointing people towards. This tells me that your music both functions as an act of personal worship but also a witness so that others will come to know Christ. How intentional are you about that?

That’s spot on. I’ve always wanted to write music that anyone of any faith, or lack thereof, could listen to. Now, at least, I feel like God is giving me songs that are both enjoyable and fascinating to listen to, but also have lyrics that speak of the reality of following Jesus. So, yes, I’m often intentionally trying to write songs to draw people into knowing Jesus.

How might our worship, whether individual or when we gather, be both moments of loving intimacy with God and a witness to others that He longs to be in a loving relationship with them?

That captures two key purposes of worship. We should be spending so much time with God every day that those moments of intimacy with Him just overflow into our conversations with people who don’t know Jesus, and simply all parts of our everyday life. I hope my songs will always act as a witness of God’s love to those who don’t yet know it, and that they will always overflow from times spent with Jesus.

Find out more about Jacob and listen to his music at www​.youtube​.com/​u​s​e​r​/​H​i​l​t​o​n​J​a​c​o​b​O​F​F​ICIAL