Written by: Laura Chambers (1/12/2017)
Life is a series of struggles. We finally make our peace with one heartbreak, but before we can lay it down, BOOM! Another one body slams us into the ground and sits on our chest, daring us to breathe. It’s enough to make you want to surrender and just lay there, weak and helpless. As tempting as it can be, God never meant us to remain mired in our grief and defeat. Instead, Danny Gokey’s Rise assures us that God is calling us to take up our mantle and armor, boldly soaring to new heights of joy and peace. This is not the voice of someone who has “arrived” telling us to get over ourselves; having faced his own personal losses, Gokey is eminently qualified to share the truth he has embraced.
“Stronger Than We Think” begins by asking us if we’ve noticed how our surroundings seem to be darker and more difficult than they once were. But there’s something that can defeat fear and evil; God’s love. We tend to underestimate the ability we have in Christ to battle back against the shadows. In “If You Ain’t In It”, Gokey confesses failed attempts at seeking things to fulfill him and concludes that nothing he wants is worth having without God’s presence and approval. We wouldn’t be able to handle everything ourselves. Despite our shortcomings and willingness to substitute lesser things for Him, He continues to embrace us. Appropriately, a song whose message may make you want to dance facilitates grooving along to the music. “Rise”, the title track, addresses someone who finds it difficult to move on from their painful past. God created us for a purpose greater than we could imagine. When we rise up from the depths and declare the hope that is within us, we not only receive the fuel to persevere, we also inspire others to search for that same hope. “Masterpiece” grieves and questions why raw pain is still present long after the trouble began. God answers by saying that He is creating a work of art through the brokenness and sorrow that would not be possible any other way. He can already see how we will look when He is finished with us. Comforting like the embrace of a friend, this song gives us hope that something wonderful will come from our trauma, lending us the strength to endure it.
“Comeback” alerts us to be ready for another shot when everyone least expects it. No matter how far we’ve fallen, we must keep fighting and pushing ahead. Nothing in our way can’t be moved or scaled or crushed. It’s the perfect anthem for pretty much every day of your life (mine included). Turning the dial way down, “Slow Down” pictures a restless soul whose life is one frantic day after another. Seeking stillness in God’s presence is elusive, yet necessary. If we don’t take some time to breathe, we’ll collapse. It’s impossible to find fulfillment in busyness and being needed by others. I would describe this song’s mood as “frantic with a touch of molasses”. “Never Be The Same” describes the struggle between one’s past life and what one has become in Christ. We can’t remain as we once were after Jesus saves us from our sins through the cross. He continually renews us. “What Love Can Do” reminds us that without love, life is wasted. Nothing else in all the world has the healing, transformative power that love does. Gokey testifies to this power, asserting that it was love that made his life possible. It costs nothing, but the results are priceless.
The piano driven duet “Chasing” laments not focusing on God as often as we ought or say. Instead, we run after other things fruitlessly. In doing so, we fail to realize that God’s right behind us, following us everywhere we stray. With a dreamy, lost quality, this track sounds like a hug feels. Jordin Sparks’ tender vocals provide the perfect complement to Gokey’s smooth delivery. “Symptoms” runs back into sound effect pop territory with a description of true love in terms of an illness that’s hard to shake. It’s a harmless love song that evokes sweet love rather than the lust most “love” songs portray these days, and therefore a welcome change. “Better Than I Found It” bemoans the tragic deaths and violence that fill the pages of the news. Our goal should be to illuminate the world and improve it. He suggests love would be a better ammunition than bullets; I’m not sure whether to give him points for creativity or take them away for sappiness. Kierra Sheard shares the mike on this track, lending her powerful voice to the cause of peace. The final track, a remix of “Stronger Than We Think”, skips the intro and gets right to the song. I think I liked the first version better.
When you’re tackled to the ground and have the wind knocked out of you, there are two options; stay down or take the hand that is reaching for you and stand again. Danny Gokey has taken the second approach, and the rewards have been many. Rise beckons to the wounded soul with an irresistible offer that can be ours if we trust God with our hearts.