For Such A Time As This

(Photo art courtesy of K-Love Books)

For Such A Time As This

Excerpted from “The Jesus Film” (book) by Marshall Terrill, forward by Greg Laurie (Copyright 2021). Used with permission from K-Love Books.

A wicked man named Haman wanted to have all the Jewish people rounded up and killed as part of a vendetta he had against a Jew he hated named Mordecai. Haman even got the unwitting king of Persia to sign the decree. Queen Esther was completely oblivious to what was happening to her people, but her Uncle Mordecai made her aware when he wrote a letter to her, reminding her she was a Jew who would not be spared from this slaughter. Then Mordecai asked whether Esther had not indeed been set in a place of influence in the palace with access to the king for a reason, writing, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 NIV).

The potential penalty for approaching the king without invitation in those days was punishment by death regardless of who you were; this even applied to the queen. Esther made the decision to do so on behalf of her people, knowing the possible and dire consequence. Her brave choice brings a great dynamic and tension into the story, leaving us with her giving one of the most memorable quotes from the Old Testament: “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16 NIV).

Like Esther, Smith understood he could use his influence to change the outcome of many people. After a while, he knew it was useless to argue with his Maker and finally relented. Besides, he suspected he wouldn’t get any sleep until he did it.

He really had no choice.

“Okay, I’m gonna do it,” Smith told God. “I’m gonna make this first worship album.”

God, in his wisdom, taught Samuel to recognize his voice. In his sovereignty, God used Esther to thwart the eradication of the Jews. And in his love for his people of the twenty-first century, he gave Smith the opportunity to respond to the challenge of drawing hearts to God through his music.

Smith would call the album Worship, and a concept soon began to take shape. Smith wanted songs on this new album to “say what I would want to say in a prayer song to God.” He envisioned a mix of traditional and modern-day hymns. It was an eclectic collection, combining songs like U2’s “40” (Smith and Bono enjoyed a nice friendship); Rich Mullins’s “Awesome God”; a ballad composition called “Above All” (which he sang at George W. Bush’s inaugural prayer service); and “Forever,” a touching song by budding artist Chris Tomlin.

Part of the concept was an all-star choir of CCM artists and musicians recording an entire album of worship songs in front of a live audience. There were about sixty artists he had in mind—a choir, bands, instrumentalists, and vocalists. Some of those he enlisted included Amy Grant, Darwin Hobbs, Chris Rice, Mark Schultz, Shaun Groves, Greg Long, Cindy Morgan, Ginny Owens, Out of Eden, members of Plus One, and the trio of Phillips, Craig & Dean. It sounded simple enough, but there was a question of ego and logistics. The situation was not unlike producer Quincy Jones’s session for “We Are the World,” where he gathered the Who’s Who of rock and pop stars the night of the 1985 Grammys and got them to record the charity single in an  all-night marathon session. Even though these CCM stars weren’t as world famous as Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, or Stevie Wonder, Smith still worried. They were, after all, the top artists of their genre.

“I said, ‘I want every artist who will do it to check their egos at the door and come and be in the choir,’” Smith recalled.

He chartered the artists on three separate planes in June to take them to Lakeland, Florida, where they would perform in front of a standingroom-only crowd of nine thousand people in the cavernous Carpenter’s Home Church.

The concert wasn’t an evening of furthering anyone’s careers, but one of worship. And it sounded like nothing before. This music had electric and acoustic guitars, bass, percussion, keyboards, and an orchestra, all playing and singing in unison.

Smith likened it to riding a wild stallion.

“About halfway through it, I was just hanging on; I was like not in charge,” said Smith, who led the group of recording veterans at the piano. “I literally don’t have the reins in my hand. I do not have the reins in my hand,” he repeated.

From the first bar of music (Tomlin’s “Forever”), all nine thousand were on their feet, singing and clapping in unison.

There were no solos, and several of the evening’s highlights occurred when no lyrics were being sung. It was an inspired communal experience, and every minute was divinely conscripted.

“The recording of that record was the most powerful concert experience that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Chaz Corzine, who managed Smith at the time. “Everybody knew we’d captured something really, really special.”

They did indeed capture lightning in a bottle. Everyone there, from the artists to the fans, knew this was a history-making concert. Even Smith—the inspiration behind the concert—was stunned when it was all over.

“I remember going backstage and sitting down with everybody, and we all just started to cry,” Smith said. “I was like, ‘What just happened out there? What just happened out there?’”

But there was another shock yet to come.

Worship was released on one of the worst days in American history. It came out on September 11, 2001.

For such a time as this.

It was a smash.

Worship sold sixty thousand copies in the first week and even charted Top 20 on Billboard’s Album Charts. It eventually sold more than two million copies, was the best-selling CCM album of 2001, and is the second best-selling CCM album of all-time. Worship also received a 2002 Dove Award for Best Praise and Worship Album of the Year, and “Above All” won Inspirational Song of the Year.

It was the best-selling album of Smith’s entire career and the easiest to make. But it was more than just an album; it was perhaps a brief glimpse of what heaven might be like.

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