By Maina Mwaura
Facts & Trends sat down with Peterson to talk about his journey as a Christian artist and his process for writing songs.
When did your journey begin in knowing God had called you to sing for Him?
When I was 19 years old, I think it was 19, maybe I was 18. I was directionless, didn’t know what to do with my life and I loved music but wasn’t very good at it. I loved the idea of singing, but couldn’t really sing.
I wanted to be a songwriter, but didn’t really know how. All I knew is that I felt like I had been given some kind of a gift. It didn’t occur to me to do it in the context of ministry at all. I just didn’t have a paradigm that my gifting fit into.
And then I heard Rich Mullins’ music, and that was the thing that kind of made me realize what I could do. It was like I was lost in the woods, and when I heard Rich’s music, I turned around and there was this path, and I was like, “Oh, that’s something I can do.” That’s a way for me to use my gift.
I was a Christian, a pastor’s kid, and I’d grown up in the church. It was a culture I knew. But it was the music ministry of Rich Mullins that helped me realize what path I could be on.
Do you remember what the moment felt like?
I just asked God to let me sing about Him and let me tell stories and write songs that would wake up other people’s hearts the way Rich Mullins’ songs did for me. All that to say, 25 years later, I’m very, very thankful. It’s hard sometimes, but I really am. I don’t know what else I would be doing.
Where does the storytelling and the creativity come from?
That’s a good question. I think part of it comes from my older brother; he’s three years older than me. He’s a brilliant dude. He’s a playwright and a novelist. He’s also the executive director of the Rabbit Room ministry.Storytelling is a way to tell the truth beautifully.He’s the one who passed along books like Lord of the Rings and other great literature to me and inspired me early on in the storytelling process.
The second reason is because God speaks through stories. It’s part of the way He draws attention to Himself. Storytelling is a way to tell the truth beautifully.
What’s the song-writing process like for you?
I try to approach [songwriting] with humility. And I ask the Lord to help me make the song that He wants it to be, not what I want it to be. I believe when I do that, I stand a chance for it to be better than I can imagine.
In some ways it’s different every time, but there are certain practices that work for me. I think every songwriter has their own system. I don’t actually do a whole lot of songwriting until it’s time to make a record. It’s risky, but it’s a process that has worked. Never underestimate the power of sheer panic to summon the muse.
What’s the song-writing process like when you’re in the middle of creating a new album?
When I sit down to write a song, I feel like I’m starting at zero. I feel like I know no more than I did about songwriting 20 years ago.
But what I do know is that God helped me write a song then, and then, and then, and there are all these little Ebenezer stones I kind of go back to. I didn’t know how to do it then either, but He’s been faithful. You have to push back at the enemy’s voice that way.
Is songwriting ever difficult for you?
Songwriting is hard for me, in fact, it’s super hard. It’s difficult, it’s scary, and I always feel like a failure during the songwriting process.
One of the lies of the enemy that can slip into me is believing sometimes I’ve sinned one too many times for God to use me anymore. Who am I to sit down to try to write a song about who God is? Those voices can be pretty paralyzing, and the lie is that the Lord is withholding Himself from me.
And then God will remind me that’s not what the Bible tells me. In fact, the Bible tells us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. And I would say while we were yet sinners, Christ let us write songs about Him.
MAINA MWAURA is a freelance journalist and minister who lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, Tiffiney, and daughter Zyan.