Music is woven into the fabric of Christy Nockels’ being.
But music is much more than just chords and lyrics for this singer and songwriter. Christy lives her life to the cadence of a deeper song — one that resonates and echoes in each note and word she offers.
With a pace unhurried by her demanding schedule, Christy talks about living as a worshiper, letting go of control and learning to be God’s child.
Some of Christy’s earliest memories are of truth set to music.
“My dad was a pastor,” she explained, “but he was a worship leader before he was a pastor, and my mom has always played the piano and the organ at church and taught me to sing harmonies and parts. [They] taught me to love the Word of God and marry the Word of God with melody.”
One passage written by the psalmist David had a particularly formative effect on Christy’s young heart. Small plaques bearing the meaning of each family member’s name followed by a special Bible verse hung in her childhood home. Christy said, “Mine was Psalm 37:5 (KJV), ‘Commit thy way to the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.’” She said, “As a kid, I saw it every day. … I let it name me, in a way. It was like, ‘That’s who I am, and then that’s my verse. If it’s next to my name, it must mean something.’”
The meaning of her name — “Follower of Christ” — and Psalm 37:5 became a refrain for Christy: “I memorized it, and I would write it on everything.” One Sunday night in church, Christy wrote her verse on a scrap of paper and handed it to her mom, who turned it over and wrote on the back: “Yes, as Christy gives her heart to Jesus, he will show her the way to go.”
Something changed in Christy that night. “I felt convicted of my sin for the first time,” she remembered. “I had tears well up, and I went down and took my dad’s hand and trusted Jesus with my life.”
As Christy’s faith developed, she’s continued to find rich meaning in the Psalms. “I think I love the Psalms so much because … we just get to see humanity so beautifully connected to the glorious,” she said. And Christy sees great value in repeating David’s words in our corporate worship.
“I think we don’t often get to experience honor and awe [in the modern church],” she said. “And I feel like David just so beautifully brings that honesty with awe, all at the same time, being able to cry out from where he’s at. The Psalms are sort of like the songbook of our identity as the people of God. … As we sing them and say them, memorize or read them, we get to rise up above our fleshly tendencies and circumstances.
“There’s something for everyone in the Psalms — especially psalms that help us lay out our troubles and sorrow, [and then see] the circle of lament coming back around to ‘Yes, but your faithfulness endures forever.’”
Over the last 25 years of leading worship at churches, concerts and conferences, Christy has witnessed how songs can transform lives. “I always say that the right song in the right mouth can change the world,” she remarked. “I know that’s a big statement but … I’ve seen how that can happen, and how a worship song can grow hands and feet and begin to have reach and purpose — even in how we partner with God in the kingdom.”
Living as true worshipers, with our hearts surrendered to God’s way, can begin by simply joining the song. “Sometimes it really does start with singing,” Christy said. She continued: “The Bible tells us how important it is what comes out of our mouths. In confessing and saying [truth] out loud, I think our hearts start to follow that. It’s like our songs become prayers, and then God starts to answer them.”
She concluded: “Our hearts and actions begin to follow that confession, and it starts to seep way down into who we are. It changes us at our core, and we start to live it out.”
SILENCE AND DISSONANCE
Surrendering to God hasn’t always been easy for Christy. In January 2018, her health took a sudden, scary turn when what she thought was an ear infection turned out to be something more serious. “I started feeling like there was fluid in my ears,” Christy said. When she saw her doctor, he told her: “You have experienced sudden sensorineural hearing loss.”
Reeling from the news and wondering what it might mean for her as a singer, Christy had to put all of her plans on hold. For years, Christy had talked about having a consecrated heart before God. That concept took on new meaning as she was forced to let go of control in an unexpected season of dimmed hearing.
“A consecrated heart [says], ‘God, I am set apart for you, wholly and completely for whatever it is that you want to do’,” Christy explained. “I sat there having to go, ‘God, I consecrate my heart to you. I consecrate this season to you. I consecrate my ears to you.’”
While Christy’s hearing has completely recovered since then, she reflected on the season of silence she wouldn’t have chosen otherwise. “My heart wouldn’t have been consecrated to [God] in that season if he hadn’t brought that. I wouldn’t have been listening with the ears of my soul.”
But learning to yield to God’s ways and plans also means yielding to his Word — including the dissonance in portions we find difficult or uncomfortable. “Lately I’ve been asking God to help me know what it’s like to just hold tension well, and for tension to not scare me away,” Christy said. “A wise friend told me one time that even our wrestling with God and his Word is actually still intimacy with him, and I love that.” She concluded: “God is big enough to handle my questions and my wrestling.”
Christy also pointed out that Scripture isn’t meant to be painless, citing Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (NLT).
“We ask God to do surgery on us,” she said. “His Word is able to correct us and help us yield to his correction.” Christy elaborated: “There is an entire counsel of God’s Word that’s vast and we’re wise to make decisions based on all of it, rather than just the [passages] we feel comfortable getting nourishment from.”
As she has practiced relinquishing her will and trusting God’s goodness, Christy has found something remarkable in the midst of her growth — a return to her identity as God’s child. Last year, a friend reminded her of a song by Rich Mullins called “Growing Young,” and Christy connected in a new way with the song’s imagery of reclaiming our innocence and our dependence on God as our Father.
“As we mature, we actually grow ... into being a child,” Christy said. “And that’s been so freeing!” She then explained: “Being able to live from that place, I’ve found, you become a person of peace in a lot of conversations.” She finished: “It’s just beautiful that God brings this peace in living as his child that spills over.”
When Christy was in her early thirties, Psalm 37 — an integral part of forming her childhood faith — became a significant theme in her story once again. The familiar verses broke her open and brought her to a place where she needed to live out the gospel.
Christy explained: “Not just for salvation, but for every day trusting in him, not [out of] my own righteousness or anything I’ve done, but trusting in Christ alone.” As she internalized the words of Psalm 37 more deeply, God taught her to “start treasuring him above everything, away from the stage and away from the spotlight” and “really learn how to be seen by him in the secret place.”
Christy hears a refrain woven through all of Scripture and creation, one that repeats over and over: We are beloved. She marveled at how God sees his children: “That word ‘beloved’ ... it’s a call on our lives as who we are. And that’s something that’s fixed. It’s set in stone. We can’t undo it. We can’t add to it. We can’t mess it up.”
With her son, Noah, preparing to graduate from high school, and her daughters, Ellie and Annie, just a few years behind, Christy deeply desires for her kids to understand their own identities as God’s beloved children. “I think it’s great for kids to defend their faith, but it often doesn’t stick unless it comes from a place of identity.
“My prayer is that, when my kids give a reason for the hope that’s in them, it’s all about who they are because of Christ — that it’s about a relationship with Christ rather than defending a belief system. … [I want them] to live it out beautifully so that it’s an attraction for the people around them.”
SHARING THE SONG
Knowing the melody of God’s glorious love isn’t enough for Christy — she wants to share it. As she read Psalm 96:7, “ascribe” — a word that isn’t used much in conversation — caught her attention: “Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength” (NIV).
“‘Ascribe’ just really means to acknowledge … and give credit where credit is due for his glory and strength,” Christy clarified. Her thoughts on the passage eventually became her newest worship song called “In Every Way.”
“The bridge [of the song] just opens with one line and says, ‘I know you do all things well.’ And what a declaration that is,” she shared.
As someone who was transformed by God’s love song in his Word, Christy wants to see Psalm 96:7 become a reality — with all “families of nations” coming together to praise the God who does all things well. Christy has led worship for several IllumiNations* conferences, and has been touched by videos of communities receiving translated Scriptures for the first time. “It’s just so incredible, so impactful.”
“It’s so vital that people have the Word of God in their heart language,” Christy emphasized, “so that they can not only read it but … be able to hear it in a way that brings context to right where they’re at.”