Tamara Winslow: The American author with a new book

Thursday 1st August 1996

The book The Song Of The Lord describes itself as "a practical guide to prophetic singing." Its writer TAMARA WINSLOW was interviewed at length by Mike Rimmer.

Tamara Winslow
Tamara Winslow

25 years after charismatic renewal began touching the mainstream churches, most of us are familiar with free worship and prophecy. God has used some of us in prophecy. Yet, for all that, there is often a feeling that we are still scratching the surface of the prophetic. Particularly evident is a desire amongst many people involved in worship to move in a more powerful anointing, to be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit in communicating the heart of God.

Tamara Winslow's recently published book The Song Of The Lord (Kingsway) claims to be a biblical and practical guide to prophetic singing and that's just what it is - a thorough investigation into the nature of "song" and an examination of the prophetic. Focussing on Scripture, this is a summary of thousands of hours of research from Tammy and rather than a simplistic 10 steps to becoming a prophetic singer, the book seeks instead to give insight into the theological implications whilst giving some advice and encouragement to those who would be prophetic singers. But in the end, the measure of the prophetic gift will be between the believer and their Lord.

Even the word prophetic has so much baggage attached to it these days. In the wider Christian music scene there are some artists who are recognised as being prophetic in as much as they write songs that reflect the heart of God. I ask Tamara to define her understanding of the term. "The term prophetic has all sorts of shadows and questions all the way round it," responds Tamara. "The word prophetic means seeing into or desiring to find the heartbeat of what God is saying to his people at this time and what he has set for us in years past in the thousands of years heritage he has given us. If I say I have a prophetic song then it's something that I believe is what God has put on my heart as a word that he wants to communicate from his heart to his people."

I am left reflecting that this is all well and good in theory but I am curious as to how she actually hears God. "There are 11 different ways that God will speak to us," Tamara replies. "The most important thing is to discern what is the difference between my thoughts and his thoughts. First and foremost whenever I say I have a song from God I ask myself is it biblically based? Is it doctrinally accurate and will people clearly understand it if I sing it? I will not give something unless I am sure it is biblically based. If God gives me a song and he wants me to sing it, it can wait until the time it is solid and it will not cause people to be torn or confused. Secondly, I wait for what I call a prompting. Some people call this a gut feeling, they just know that they know that they're supposed to do something. That's part of how I know."

By this time in our conversation I have to recognise that to ask Tammy what I think is a simple question does not always provoke a simple response and the depth of her knowledge of the word shames me into realising none of this is simple. For example, during the rapid flow of our conversation she casually slips in an example of angels being used to minister to us today. Hold on, hold on! I get her to back up and before elaborating Tammy instructs me about the 26 different types of angels in the Bible. Here is a woman who has devoted herself to understanding what it is that God is wanting to communicate through music. The book itself only scratches the surface of one aspect of her ministry as she explains, "The book covers only the early infancy stages of the song of the Lord. It deals with things for the everyday Christian who just wants to step out in the song of the Lord in their everyday walk with God. I did deal with some ministry things in the corporate setting but my primary interest is to draw people into the personal expression in their prayer life and not to depend so much on some music tape to carry them through the day but their relationship with the Lord."

That isn't to say that Tammy doesn't have a desire to see a development of the songs of the Lord in a wider church ministry setting. "I do deal with some things on the school of prophets," Tammy says, "and the development of the prophetic song in the sense of leadership but didn't deal with anything on training because that wasn't the emphasis of the book. I have spent over 2,000 conferences or workshops where I have trained people in this. A lot of people don't understand that the reason the song of the Lord isn't heard in the Church is because many people are trying to teach it from the ministry of helps position rather than from a prophetic position."

Tammy continues, "Scripturally, when you study there is actually only four prophetic ministries out of 4,000 that released that kind of song during the time of King David so that's less than one per cent that were possibly involved. People ask me why is it that you can be so fluent? It's because I've got a specific ministry calling that's why I do what I do. Church praise and worship leaders that don't have a prophetic office try to manufacture the song instead of actually knowing how to release that. It all boils down to the graces and callings that aren't in their lives. There's no condemnation for that, we've just got to know where the boundaries of our gifts are and it's more than just manufacturing words, it comes out of relationship. Ephesians 4 talks about gifts being given unto man; the word there talks abut gifts that unlock another gift. The primary function of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is to unlock the rest of the gifts in the body of Christ. So when I train people, I emphasise that it is my concern to put the keys in the right hands."

Tammy continues to explain that there is no mention in the New Testament of the ministry of worship leader. Even in the Old, there is just one mention of a leader of songs in King David's time but he wasn't necessarily a prophet. She explains, "Just because you have talents doesn't make you a psalmist. Just because you write songs doesn't make you a psalmist. A psalmist has to be prophetic."

Meeting Tamara Winslow, there is no doubt that she's a remarkable woman. Brought up in an American Methodist church, Tammy's public singing began when she was seven years old when she sang solos in church. Around the age of 10 years, there was a defining moment in Tammy's experience of singing that changed her life and set the course of her ministry today. One Easter Sunday, she was scheduled to sing "Were You There?". "For some unknown reason I had a very, very strong knowledge in my heart that the people I was singing to really did not know God in the way that they needed to know him. They knew about him but they didn't know him. So I prayed that morning before I was due to sing. I prayed, 'Jesus, sing through me today. Don't let me just sing at you or about you or to the people but sing through me so the people can know you as you really are.' A very unusual thing happened because as the organist began to play and I stepped up to the microphone to sing, something very spectacular happened where the ceiling of the church disappeared and I saw this garment of bright lightening white fall on my shoulders and I felt like I'd gotten a hold of a hot electric wire. The power of God came upon me and as I began to sing the people in the church wept from the front row to the back row. That became my heart's cry, 'Lord, sing through me.'"

Tammy's life was never the same again and even as a little girl, God began to instruct her and encourage her. She remembers the experience well. "It was part of the change," recalls Tammy. "God began to reveal himself to me where he taught me about the Word and told me that I needed to study the Word of God." That love of the Scriptures has stayed with her and today it informs her thinking and theology when considering her approaches. "In any spiritual experience which is Christian oriented we have to ask ourselves the question what are we doing? Are we doing something just by going through the mode and traditions that we're comfortable with or is there something more?"

I wondered whether Tammy perceived, particularly in charismatic circles, a danger of being caught up in a wave of emotion in worship and in prophecy? "I do not want people to be so caught up in emotion that they lose the sobriety of mind that they need," Tammy replies thoughtfully before continuing. "There is a sobriety that Scripture talks about in our thinking which is very important in the context of worship. That's why Jesus said we were to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul and with everything within us. I want people to realise it's more than just a mental expression but it's not limited to the emotions alone. If I see people getting too emotional in services I will calm them down because I believe we need to have a focus which is clear when we communicate with our Lord."

Tamara's book brings much needed insight into an area of ministry which has yet to be discussed with an in depth scriptural perspective. I wondered whether it felt like it had been a life's work of study. "I feel it's like a baby that's been waiting to be born," replies Tammy. "It's a culmination of many years of experience. I've been singing like this for over 20 years. There's also at least 17,000 hours of biblical research involved in this book."

Did Tammy have a clear idea of what she want to achieve? She answers honestly, "The greatest thing that could be accomplished through this book would be for people to realise that the songs that we sing in church do not have to be empty and void. Not only do they have a song that can be sung from every part of their being to God but also God has a song to sing to them. That in itself challenges and causes all sorts of stirrings in the heart when they realise that God wants a relationship. He wants to sing that song, that he cares for them and loves them with all that he has."

One section of the book which will interest every Cross Rhythms reader whether they desire to indulge in prophetic singing or not is Tamara's study of the different forms of song in Scripture. Years of study have informed her current observations of the Christian music scene and I wondered how she felt current CCM fitted into the biblical patterns she'd researched. Tammy is forthright in her response, "There are many different types of songs mentioned in the Bible, secular as well as Godly, and in one of the chapters of the book I talk about secular songs and compare them to what we have today in the CCM market as well as the secular market. One of the things that affect the songs in the Christian music realm is a condition that is called Babylon. In Revelation 17 and 18 and Psalm 137 it talks about Babylon being filled with music and how the Judean captives were asked to sing the songs of the Lord in Babylon. The reason why this is important is that Babylon captures Judah which means praise. I think one of the greatest factors that is affecting Christian music today is that there is such a temptation to appease the world and appease the monetary system and lay aside the biblical approaches and the heart attitude which God is desiring. When I look at Christian music today and the whole scope of it, anything from rap and disco and rock, I'm not concerned about the style because actually there is no wrong way to worship the Lord if your heart is right and it's done according to the manner that God has ordained. I believe that a lot of CCM today doesn't fit quite into that mode."

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Reader Comments

Posted by helen romancia in Big Bear Lake, CA. @ 09:08 on Sep 28 2010

I am always blessed by Tamara's deep insight. Music is so much a part of our being and has been lost alot in the modern times. Much of the modern church music has emphasis on self rather than on God. The spirit is not edified. Singing and music is God's gift to us and we give it back to him in praise. Thanks and blessings. Helen

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