The Dallas-based singer/songwriter BETHANY DILLON talks us through the tracks on her new album

Bethany Dillon
Bethany Dillon

Not many recording artists begin their recording artists begin their recording career aged 14, but then Bethany Dillon is one of those rare talents, a singer/songwriter whose gift has developed and matured down the years. Her previous CDs, 'Bethany Dillon' (2004), 'Imagination' (2005), 'Waking Up' (2007) and 'So Far: Acoustic Sessions' (2008), have all connected with Christian radio. Today the 21 year old lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband Shane Barnard of popular duo Shane & Shane. Her new 'Stop & Listen' album for Sparrow Records reveals a young woman coming to terms with God's grace. She admits, "This record is probably the most confessional record I've ever made. These songs feel a little more raw to me than usual. It's probably just true the more life goes on, the more aware you are of your failures and struggles. And with that, in a believer's life comes - odd as it is - a deeper joy."

Produced by Marshall Altman (Brooke Fraser, Warren Barfield), a Los Angeles-based producer who persistently sought Bethany out after hearing her acoustic EP, 'Stop & Listen' is a call to peace in the middle of life expectations and the day-to-day chaos that all too often takes over. Bethany offers her comments about each song on the album.

"Get Up And Walk" - I started this song almost a year ago. I was on the Christmas tour with Shane & Shane and Phil Wickham, taking advantage of a few quiet moments playing in a nursery at the church (I'll take whatever I can get on show days!). I opened my journal and read this St Augustine quote I'd scribbled down a couple months before, "To this you answered me that you are my God, and with a mighty voice you speak to your servant in his interior ear, and break through my deafness." This inspired me to begin singing the words that start "Get Up And Walk".

The promises in the Bible that grip me most are ones of contrast: turning ashes into beauty, heaviness into a garment of praise, being transferred from the domain of darkness to the Kingdom of light. The words of Jesus ring true today, that he (or she) who's forgiven much, loves much. I'm not sure if it was getting married, or going from age 18 to 21, or even moving away from my hometown in Ohio to Texas (or all of the above) - but I do know now more than ever that I have been forgiven MUCH. No, I never went through a "rebellious stage" per se (oh, but pride hides so well in that!), yet I know that in my humanity, I am naturally hostile towards the things of God. I can try to be as good a person as I want, but sure enough, I will eventually gravitate toward things that offend God and distance me from true life. That is the truth with all of us, but Jesus changes the picture! I think facing my depravity and the depth of his mercy is kind of crammed into the first words of this song: "I've got no one to blame, except if that someone's me/I washed my hands, but just the same, my eyes confess for me/I come in filthy rags/You know I'm guilty."

I've been forgiven much; I was deaf, blind and completely lost. But he broke through my deafness, and has forgiven me much, and I can't help but love him much in return.

"Everyone To Know" - This was written with my good friend and producer of my last three records, Ed Cash. He'd had the melody and chorus of this song stashed away on his Blackberry. This song is deceivingly light-hearted sounding, but behind it there's a very. . . confronting. . . commandment. I often forget what a commandment it is to share who Jesus is in my life and what he's done. I think it's a pretty common sentiment among American believers not to want to be too pushy with their faith. I would agree that there is discernment in sharing Jesus with people, but speaking from personal experience, that quickly becomes an excuse for me to be silent. Always. In every situation.

I'm not sure it really even hit me what a coward I was about sharing the Gospel boldly until I left the bubbles of Nashville and Dallas to record in Los Angeles for a month. When you're flying solo, finding yourself in uncomfortable situations, and the "are you a Christian?" question is received with blank stares, you begin to realise how RADICAL Jesus is. How his name really does change the mood in a room. And, in the sweetest of ways, you're reminded how powerful his presence is in your life!

TRULY, it is so worthy of talking about. Really, he's worthy of talking about. Probably the biggest battle I'll ever fight in my life is pride - especially the pride of people-pleasing. I learned quickly during my month of recording that seeing people with the eyes of Jesus means loving them more than wanting to be liked by them. So, on that sunny afternoon in Ed's studio, we wrote this song, without me even knowing what a personal challenge it'd be for me in coming months. But God knew.

"I Am Yours" - I love this passage in Hosea 2: "Therefore, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me 'My Husband' and not 'My Master.' . . .I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness."

The story of Hosea is so profoundly beautiful and real - God calls a man named Hosea to go and marry a prostitute named Gomer. And when she was unfaithful to him, he was to keep taking her back in faithfulness. God used it as a picture of His pursuit of Israel. . . and us today.

It's a simple song, but hopefully it communicates the surrender, abandon and romance that comes with being pursued by God as a broken, messy person. We love him because he loved us first.

"Stop And Listen" - The story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10 is beginning to feel like a pair of worn-in jeans to me. I've read that little paragraph so many times, underlined too many words, scribbled a lot of indistinguishable thoughts in the empty spaces next to it. I love both of those women - I relate to one, and am inspired by the other.

This song sums up the last two years of my life, and it seemed a fitting title for the record. Being a "to-do" list person, I read the story of Martha and Mary and think, Oh Martha, I get you, girl. And I really love the way Jesus responds to her in her flustered moment. . . gently, calmly, honestly. I don't think the point of this story is that work is bad or serving is bad. After all, Martha was the one who invited Jesus over for dinner! But the words of Jesus to those like Martha have proven true: the good portion is with him. You can take away a clean house, a finished "to-do" list, or a perfectly ordered life, but you can't take away the good portion of sitting at his feet and listening to what he has for you. There is only one thing necessary, he says! Sometimes I feel like there are 10 things necessary, but really, only one thing lasts, and that's knowing him and being known by him. I'm learning how to do that. . . and he's being very patient with me!

"Say Your Name" - I've been married for about 18 months now. Can I say first off that marriage is wonderful and that my husband is the most amazing man ever? Okay, now that we've got that settled. . . Before we got married, I felt like a walking bullseye for marriage advice. Everyone from dear friends to almost complete strangers started handing me books, sermons, CDs, invites to marriage conferences, the whole nine yards! It was very sweet, but at times overwhelming.