Have you ever struggled to leave your old self behind?
Even though we’ve been born again into new life, it’s hard to cut ties with our old lives of sin.
As For King and Country’s new album shows, living as a new person requires incredible grace.
For King and Country is a Christian pop duo composed of brothers Joel and Luke Smallbone. Originally from Australia, the two brothers have relocated to the United States to record and perform.
The brothers weave thoughtful, personal lyrics with wildly creative soundscapes, and they’re well known for featuring an eclectic array of instruments, including cellos, xylophones, brass instruments, and an experimental percussion section.
Their latest album, Burn the Ships, recently won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album! It’s a moving combination of intensely personal stories, ethereal arrangements, and prayerful lyrics.
The brothers admit that it’s their most honest album to date. “You could go through these songs and I could point out something that Joel walked through or something that I walked through very, very clearly,” said Luke Smallbone.
The brothers were intentional about writing an album that addressed the many struggles of leaving behind the old self—and the ways in which God provides much-needed grace.
The first track, “joy.”, hits home with many modern listeners. It’s an examination of our daily need to choose trust in God over the many fears that prevail in the world today.
“Lately, I’ve been reading, watching the nightly news / Don’t seem to find the rhythm, just wanna sing the blues,” the song begins. It goes on to ask the question of where we find our peace.
“Oh, hear my prayer tonight, ‘cause this is do or die / The time has come to make a choice,” the brothers sing. “And I choose joy / Let it move you, let it move you, let it move you / Yeah, I choose joy.”
Joy can move us beyond our old fears and failures, the song argues, and it urges listeners to “step into the light” of trust and joy in Christ.
The next song, “God Only Knows,” has won a Grammy of its own (Best Contemporary Christian Performance/Song, in collaboration with Dolly Parton). It’s a raw, hopeful anthem that addresses suicide, loneliness, and mental illness.
“God only knows what you’ve been through / God only knows what they say about you,” the lyrics tell listeners. “God only knows the real you / There’s a kind of love that God only knows.”
The song reminds us that even if we’re not honest about our struggles with the people around us, God still knows what’s happening inside us, and His love is enough to fill any void and conquer any pain.
The album’s title track, “Burn the Ships,” illustrates the appropriate response to that overwhelming love. Inspired by a personal experience of addiction, the lyrics draw on an old story to paint a picture of the hope and resilience found in Christ.
“I read a story about an explorer going to a new land. When he arrived on the shore, he calls everybody off of the ships and said, ‘Hey let’s go explore this land and see what there is to be seen,’” Luke explained.
“All the men were terrified of going into the unknown and he realized that even those boats were grimy, stinky and small, they wanted to stay on the boats because it was familiar. The next day… he gives the command to burn the ships.”
It’s an illustration of our calling as believers to leave behind our old lives, our old selves, and “step into a new day” as followers of Christ.
“Burn the ships, cut the ties / Send a flare into the night / Say a prayer, turn the tide / Dry your tears and wave goodbye,” the brothers sing.
The duo’s characteristically poetic lyrics weave a story of transformation, rebirth, and a constant need for God’s presence in “Fight On, Fighter,” “Control,” and “Need You More.”
Each song on the album is tied to a moment in the lives of Joel, Luke, or their wives. Tracks like “Never Give Up” and “Amen” showcase experiences of triumph and trust, while songs like “Hold Her” are simple prayers in moments of darkness.
The album’s final track, “Pioneers,” is a celebration of moving forward. The brothers and their wives sing about marriage as a journey into the unknown, but the lyrics, which soar over an otherworldly soundscape, aren’t just for married couples.
“Let’s be pioneers / And we’ll build our home / In the great unknown / Yeah / Let’s be pioneers,” the brothers sing, and, in a way, that’s what all Christian are called to do.”
As new creations, we forge ahead into “the great unknown” of life as disciples of Christ, trusting Him to provide and protect along the way. We have the privilege of building His kingdom, working alongside Him, and eventually reaching the home He’s prepared for us.
Burn the Ships is a thought-provoking and honest exploration of the Christian life as a constant battle to overcome sin and step into the light of God’s presence.
For longtime fans of For King and Country, it’s yet another gem, while new fans will find it a captivating listening experience. The album is suitable for all ages.