Au-then-tic: real or genuine; true and accurate; not copied or false.
Authenticity is rare these days. But it is a trait that Janeen Michael has in abundance. Whether penning a new song, leading her church in worship, or journaling through her greatest heartbreaks of abuse and divorce, Janeen has learned that honesty with God is the only way to be truly free. On her latest worship CD, “Press On,” Janeen opens up even more as the truth behind the title song sets the tone for the entire project.
“I battled feeling invisible to God for many years,” says Janeen, “and in that process, I struggled with staying the course with spiritual disciplines and faith. This song is a reminder that regardless of how we feel, God is always present and it is important that we continue to press on in integrity, courage and confidence, despite the deception of the enemy that messages to us that God is not really watching over us and that and we don’t really matter to God.”
Janeen’s music is a reflection of the difficulties she has endured which she shares with fierce transparency in the book, Journey to Love. The book was birthed from years of journals that Janeen kept during her first marriage to a minister who was abusive and controlling. Janeen’s most personal thoughts of despair and anguish as she cries out to God for help are chronicled during the darkest period of her life.
“Securing God’s love seemed so elusive during that time that I made attempts to cure myself,” Janeen admits. “Unfortunately, I wound up causing myself greater injury as I sought out alternatives that I could intellectually grasp and measure up to. Each substitute for His love that I gathered failed me miserably until I finally answered God’s question to me, ‘Janeen, will you let Me love you?’”
Several songs on “Press On” are Janeen’s personal answers to God’s question. “You Reign” was inspired by I Chronicles 29 where David blessed the Lord and, as Janeen describes the lyric based on scripture, it brought the “country church shout” out of her. “I Love Calling You” is a lively, worshipful tune that celebrates the power of Jesus’ name. The beautiful ballad “My Inheritance” is a poignant song which Janeen says is her way of “rejoicing that I am not only healed through Christ, but I have the Healer. I don’t just have provision in Christ, I have the Provider. He is my inheritance.”
Inspired to begin her songwriting career shortly after her first child was born, Janeen believes that today’s worship songs are less authentic than they should be. “I often feel like the meat is missing from the message, in that, lyrics seem to be lacking in doctrine and substance, as the hymns of old were replete with.” Her love of music dates back to being just a toddler and singing in kids choir near her home in Pasadena, California. Sitting around the piano was the nurturing springboard for her current musical endeavors. Her late cousin Michael O. Jackson, credited with a Grammy Award for his work on Quincy Jones’ “Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration,” was one of the many talented family members at these regular gatherings.
Today, Janeen serves as the Worship Arts Director at Emmanuel Community Church in Conyers, Georgia, where she hones her craft of songwriting, singing and leading worship on a daily basis. She realizes the task before her is to help other people understand what she has learned -- that transparency before the Lord will lead to a deeper worship experience.
“Worship is our God-given gift and opportunity to revere and show respect to our holy God and it can’t be achieved when we aren’t honest before Him, by living lives that are contrary to His Word. The more obedient we are before Him, the deeper the worship experience will be. Additionally, it is difficult to receive and enjoy His presence in the worship experience when we’re all covered up. It is really heartbreaking to see brothers and sisters during a worship service, singing songs and going through the motions yet seemingly leave “empty” though deeply longing to feel “full” from the experience. We are so dependent on Him for everything, including our need for His help to render acceptable worship, but until we come honest and disrobed, it will always lack in depth.”
Q&A with Janeen Michael
Talk about your new single “Overcomer’s Joy (I’m Free).” What inspired the song?
As I began to reflect over the last few chapters of my life, I thought about the many missed opportunities to trust God with my existence. The verse in Romans 15:13 (NIV) says, May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t trusting God and as a consequence I wasn’t experiencing much joy or peace. But, as I put my trust in God, my capacity for joy increased and it emboldened my hope for my life today and the life to come; my joy is bubbling over now and I wanted to share it! I hope listeners experience a joy-filled Latin swing with, most importantly, a reminder message that no matter where you find yourself in life, as you trust God with it, joy is yours for the taking; it is not based on external factors but on the finished work of Christ.
From a musical standpoint, the rearrangement of the lead vocal is super fun! I was truly blessed to work with the team that remixed the song --Ron Benner (Jennifer Holiday, Donnie McClurkin), Ray Seay, and especially Kenny Daniels (Prince, R. Kelly). They truly brought the track to life by sharpening the vocals and raising the incredible sound of the band which includes Jessie Bond (Mary J. Blige, Celine Dion) on lead guitar, John Elmore on keys, and Payge Cooper (Dietrick Haddon) on drums.
When you were in an abusive relationship, did you ever believe you would become an overcomer?
When I was in an abusive relationship, I didn’t believe that I was an overcomer because I was intoxicated by my environment. I was completely disoriented in my ability to see the truth of Christ’s finished work, which unfetters everyone that trust in Him and fills their souls with joy unspeakable! The correlation between freedom and being an overcomer is joy. I believe that freedom is a result of what we do and being an overcomer is a result of who we are. Freedom is realized, within every decision we make, in each of life’s moments. Being an overcomer is realized when we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior because it settles our state of being, from now until eternity.
How can people who are oppressed learn to walk in joy?
Taking one step at a time in deliberately trusting God with my life, released me from oppression. In doing so, it reoriented my lost vision of His character; ever present and unceasing in His care and love. I can relate to the children of Israel in the time of Nehemiah 8:10-12 who were oppressed but then were filled with joy because they too understood the truth of His Word and witnessed his character. Indeed, “the joy of the Lord is your strength and stronghold”.
When did you start songwriting? I began songwriting soon after my first child was born. There was something about child birth that created a heightened level of desire for intimacy and transparency that I never had before, and it spilled over into my relationship to God through song. The first song I ever wrote is titled, “God Sees” and was inspired by the story of Hagar and her experience with El Roi. I connected with it in a profound way because of the place my life and marriage was in, I felt invisible but was reminded through that narrative that I was not invisible to nor could hide from God; He always sees me.
When are you most inspired to write? I am most inspired to write in the morning and in the heat of the day. God has my attention when the pressure is on in my life and also when I awake in the morning, seeking His face. Those are the two times that I am able to hear that still small voice best and wind up overflowing in song, from what I’ve heard Him speak to my heart through those experiences, reading His Word, prayer and reflection.
How do you hope this CD will affect listeners?
As they sing-a-long, I hope this CD will be a tool for listeners to connect with God through praise and worship, enabling them to declare their feelings to the Lord, in a fresh way.
You tell your story of being an abused wife in your book, Journey to Love. Why did you decide to share your story?
I honestly never intended to share it but as those years of old journal entries began to take on a narrative form, I was reminded of the grace of God that I experienced through that tough time in my life and as He lifted that heavy burden off of me, it bubbled up and over and compelled me to share.
What do you tell other women who are in abusive marriages?
God created you to love you! He did not create you to be a manipulative play toy for another. The issue is not a matter of to divorce or not to divorce but it is a matter of, will you let God love you?
In the book you talk about being “Ish-You” free. What does that mean?
“Ish-You” is a phrase I use to help illustrate the idea of the mental bondage we create and too often live in, as we attempt to live up to the expectations of others or, in some cases, live according to false expectations we place upon ourselves. I define Ish-You as, “the imagined state or status that is hampering you”; hampering you from living according to the liberty that Christ secured for each of us. An Ish-You, looks like a mask, as we outfit ourselves according to what others say we and our lives should look like. We become Ish-You prone when we apply the masks, for a myriad of spiritually unhealthy reasons. We need not mar the gift of life and expression of His glory that He has uniquely crafted each of us for and live Ish-You Free!
Are pastor's wives in need of ministry and if so, how can the church make room for that?
Pastor’s wives need support and one way the church can make room for that is to give the pastor’s wife room. Often, the context of the church provides such a tight, unrealistic box of traditions for her role that she becomes injured as she tries to freely move about or shuts down and decides not to move at all. Truly, however God has made her a helpmeet suitable for her husband, she must be free and supported to do that and yet remain obedient and sensitive to the call that God has placed on her life, as His beloved daughter.
How do you feel worship in the church has changed for the worse or the better in the last few years?
As a lyricist, I believe we’ve got some work to do. I often feel like the “meat” is missing from the message, in that, lyrics seem to be lacking in doctrine and substance, as the hymns of old were replete with.
How can people experience a deeper worship experience in their lives?
Transparency before the Lord! Worship is our God-given gift and opportunity to revere and show respect to our holy God and it can’t be achieved when we aren’t honest before Him, by living lives that are contrary to His Word. The more obedient we are before Him, the deeper the worship experience will be. Additionally, it is difficult to receive and enjoy His presence in the worship experience when we’re all covered up. It is really heartbreaking to see brothers and sisters during a worship service, singing songs and going through the motions yet seemingly leave “empty” though deeply longing to feel “full” from the experience. We are so dependent on Him for everything, including our need for His help to render acceptable worship, but until we come honest and disrobed, it will always lack in depth.