Kari Jobe: 'The blessing' singer on praising through a pandemic
The writer of this year’s biggest worship song speaks to Megan Cornwell
I’m not usually this excited before an interview, but I’m fizzing with anticipation as I prepare for my Zoom call with Kari Jobe. The 39-year-old American worship leader co-wrote this year’s hit song ‘The blessing’, which for many of us has become the soundtrack of lockdown, especially after it inspired Tim Hughes to bring together worship leaders from 65 different UK churches to cover the song. That YouTube video has since racked up 4 million views. The acoustic ‘Live from home’ rendition by Jobe’s singer/songwriter husband, Cody Carnes, was sent to me by a friend while I was seriously ill with Covid-19. The Grammy-nominated tune had a profound impact on my journey to healing, so I’m keen to thank Jobe for what many have labelled an anointed song.
When I briefly recount my story to the mother-of-two she becomes genuinely emotional and a little teary. I’m touched by her compassion, but I’m not that surprised by her response; Jobe strikes me as one of those Christian leaders who cares deeply about the people of God and whose worship really does seem to be done “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).
Jobe is a major name in evangelical circles in the US. She has sold 1.4 million albums and her music has had more than 1 billion streams, but the award-winning artist is still passionate about serving her local church and regularly leads worship at The Belonging Co in Tennessee.
The story of how ‘The blessing’ came about is an interesting one, given the vantage point of hindsight. It was written by Jobe, Carnes and Elevation Worship’s Chris Brown and Steven Furtick in early March (just before the start of lockdown). The team had spent the afternoon working on a completely different number, but, after eight hours, Furtick began to hum a new melody along with some of the words from the Aaronic blessing in Numbers 6 (familiar to many in traditional church settings as The Benediction). Carnes previously admitted that after many hours the team was tired and had considered whether the new tune was worth pursuing. It was only after they performed the song at their Sunday service that they began to realise its power. After the congregation’s reaction they knew they had to release it to a wider audience quickly: “We wrote and sang it and put it out in ten days, and then a week later was when the pandemic swept across the globe,” Jobe tells me.
Born in Texas but now living in Nashville, Jobe appears with apologies three minutes after our scheduled meeting time – she is polite to a fault, open, relaxed and quite unassumingly beautiful, in that all-American way. During the course of our 30-minute interview she assures me she’s “ready to talk about anything” – and is true to her word when I ask about her visit to the White House last year to pray for Donald Trump, an event she admits she might have been “more careful” about.
Jobe has been a Christian for most of her life (she said a prayer of salvation at five) and spends much of her time singing about the love and faithfulness of God, but she is honest about the challenges that have been thrown her way – including a recent freak accident involving her young children. When we speak, she’s at home with her family, including Canyon, four, and Kingston, one, whom she affectionately calls “my babies”. We laugh about the joys of “working from home” when one of them tries to bust open the door of the room she’s in. It’s where she has been conducting most of the interviews to promote her latest album (also called The Blessing), which is her first in almost three years. The new release is, somewhat surprising given our current context, marketed as a live album, though not in any traditional sense – it may have been recorded back-to-back in one venue, but was performed without an audience. She likens the decision to go ahead with the record during a global pandemic to “Noah building an ark in the middle of something that made no sense”. This is typical of Jobe, who has talked previously about the importance of obedience to and friendship with God above all else. You get the impression that success and financial reward are secondary to a genuine desire to honour God and serve the Church.
I’ve got to start by asking you about that song, ‘The blessing’. What does it feel like to know the impact it’s having around the world?
It’s really beautiful. Honestly, it has felt like a gift in this whole pandemic season…My little one-and- a-half-year-old will sing the “Amens” with me, and it’s my favourite thing. It just feels like a gift to read comments and emails of what people are saying and how it’s helping them have peace.
To get to watch God whisper something to your ears, and you start to be brave and sing it out, and it turns into a song, and then it just goes all the way around the world…I’m undone. It just feels like such a beautiful honour to get to be a part of something that the heart of God wants to do for people. It’s so fun.
It’s phenomenal, isn’t it? My theory is that during the pandemic Christians have felt a bit lost. At times we’ve wondered where God is in all of this, and I think ‘The blessing’ has reminded us of the goodness of God. Would you agree with that assessment?
A thousand per cent. We just looked at it, going: “God, thank you that you just gave all of us something tangible to hold on to in a season that feels so hard and unknown.”
Those little things to me are like gifts from the Lord, of him saying: “Hey, I’ve already gone before you, just like I say in my word.” And I think that’s part of maybe why that song has meant so much to people – just the timing.
Is there anything that your family has specifically learned about God during this lockdown?
Oh, man, I feel like it’s something new maybe every week. I’ve just been really thankful for his peace. There was a lot of fear at the beginning of this pandemic for us and, as a mum, you know, not wanting my babies to get sick, not wanting us to get sick. And I’m just having to resolve in my heart that I trust the Lord, no matter what, you know?
I feel like I grew muscles in the area of trust with the Lord; muscles that I didn’t realise I really needed. I could say I trusted the Lord, but we’ve had to really walk that out in this season of: “OK, God, we’re going to trust you in our finance, we’re going to trust you in our relationships, missing being at church, missing being in community.” All the things you didn’t think would ever go away. It has been hard, but it has been really sweet in the way of just letting God meet us in that place. So, not that I’ve enjoyed this season, but he does turn things for our good. I have seen that.
Many of the songs on your new album cover this theme of the love of God. Have you always had a strong conviction of God’s love?
I think you just don’t know some things about the Lord until you walk through hardship, and I think we’re afraid of hardship or afraid of the unknowns, but we wouldn’t have to cry out for him to be our comforter if we didn’t need to be comforted. And we wouldn’t have to cry out for him to be our healer if we didn’t need healing.
What have some of those hardships been for you?
Oh, man, just a couple different things. Like, when I was in my teens, we had a family member go to prison for this secret lifestyle that he’d been living. It accosted me, it astonished me that I thought I knew someone, and I didn’t. I had to learn: “God, do I know you? Can I trust you, or are you gonna, all of a sudden, change your character on me?”
I think walking through some difficulties with my family; my sister losing a baby a couple years back. You can sit idle in your relationship with the Lord and then those hardships make you have to use those muscles of: Do I really believe that? I believe this for other people, but I don’t think I believe it for myself, you know? I’m thankful for those things I’ve walked through because it has made me have to decide what I believe.
About a year and a half ago, I was out on a walk around this really beautiful lake here in Nashville and the stroller with my seven-week-old baby got away from me because my other son fell. When he fell, I turned around to grab him and pick him up, and the stroller rolled, and I didn’t realise it. It actually fell into the water. I had to jump into the water to get my baby. It was a very supernatural thing: I think the Lord really helped me save my baby’s life. And that night, when I got home, I’ve never in my life heard the cry that came out of my voice. It was like a mama bear (but also a very angry Mama), saying: “That’s enough. I’m not gonna live in fear.” And I just began to cry to the Lord. I began to declare over my family that the enemy had to back off, that I wasn’t going to live under torment and fear. And that, you know, really changed my life actually.
If we’ll let him come in and heal and do the deep work that he wants to do in our lives, it can change our lives. I could have kept walking in extreme fear from that, become helicopter mum, but I’ve watched God set me free from fear and torment through that. And out of that came a song called ‘Your nature’, which is on this album.
In the UK at the moment churches are still not able to sing together. Do you have any advice for struggling leaders wondering how to connect their congregants to Jesus at this time?
For our community, we’ve just kept doing what we do online, like we would if there were people in the room, you know? And God’s been showing up, and we feel it on our couch, we feel it in our house. It has just been supernatural.
I really feel like the Lord is very present. This hasn’t changed his heart for his people. This hasn’t changed his heart for us having encounters with him. So I think as a leader, maybe the hardest part is still having those encounters for myself at home, without the hype, without the assembling, you know? But it’s such a spiritual exchange; getting in the word, continuing to find things that bring life to me as a leader, so that I can lead from overflow.
I would just encourage those leaders to keep pressing in, keep worshiping Jesus, keep that worship on in our homes. That really does shift the atmosphere…I just pray that they feel refreshed in the presence of God, and that they’re able to keep doing this, because I think people are still so hungry.
Around this time last year, you and your husband were photographed at the White House and filmed talking about praying for Donald Trump and the good things that his administration had been doing for faith communities. Given the photo and the video were shared on social media without your foreknowledge, do you feel in any way that Trump has used prominent Christians, yourself included, to shore up the evangelical vote?
Oh, goodness, I have no idea [laughs]. I really have no clue. I’m such a trusting person that when something comes out that you’re like: “Huh? Oh, I guess that could be shifted in a way that wasn’t meant to be.” But it really was such a strong, beautiful day to be with his team and just to pray. The reason we went was they asked if we would come and lead worship in the White House and pray over their team. And getting to pray over Trump that day, I cried the entire time, because I just, you know, any leader, God’s put a mantle on them to lead. It [scripture] says he appoints leaders and that he’s in control of those decisions, and so it’s like: “Wow, God.” He’ll use the just and the unjust; he says he rains on the just and the unjust. And so, I don’t know, but I do know that I always want to be able to be a positive voice…Whether it’s an evil person or a really righteous person I always want to go in, and if they ask me to come pray, I wanna pray. If they ask me to come lead worship, I wanna go lead worship, because it’s the Spirit of God that changes hearts, it’s the Spirit of God that brings revival.
That was a kind of a scary unknown, after the fact. You’re like: “Hmm, maybe we should have been more careful about that.” But, oh well [laughs].
What does 2021 have in store for you and your family?
Oh, who knows? I pray that the pandemic is over. That my boys can go to school. Yeah, I just pray that this season is over and that we can just forget about 2020. I pray that we can come to London; it’s one of my favourite cities. I turn 40 in 2021 and I want to go to London and Italy, so I’m praying that I can come across the pond. That’s my hope.
You know, another dream of mine is we want to do a night of worship in the Royal Albert Hall. And I think with what happened with ‘The blessing’, I feel like we could do it. I feel like it could be a really cool night.
Honestly, we got a few [versions of ‘The blessing’] from different countries, but the UK one made us weep, I mean like ugly crying. I just love the UK. I’ve always had such a heart for the UK, and any time I get to lead worship there it’s always so powerful. There’s just such a reverence for the presence of God in the UK and, I don’t know if it’s because of the traditional way of doing church there, but it’s such a beautiful place to worship God, so it has been beautiful to watch that video.
To hear the full interview listen to Premier Christian Radio at 8pm on Saturday 12 December or download The Profile podcast