Israel Houghton, the multitalented worship pioneer, explains how creativity, talent and, yes, a little bit of perfectionism can be a good thing when yielded to the King. Read part one of Charisma‘s exclusive interview with him.

CHARISMA: The Bible says God searches for those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. How did you learn to worship like that before ever picking up an instrument?

Israel Houghton: I had my first real presence-of-God-experience when I was 5 years old. My parents had just moved to a little mining community in Arizona, we went to an evangelistic event one night. I remember seeing these guys with heavy stories, these incredible pasts, come and give their lives to God and watching this moment of surrender. And at 5, I didn’t know what was happening, but I just started weeping—not necessarily about their story; it was bigger than that. My mother had the good sense to tell me that was the presence of God—that I should always go after when God is in the room and make sure I’m sensitized to that.

When somebody does a drug and it’s a particular high, they say they spend the rest of their lives trying to match that first high and it never sort of happens. But in the presence of God, if anything, it’s greater and more beautiful every time if your heart’s in the right place. So as I grew up in the church and saw the power and the presence of God, it became a deep part of my foundation—a deep part of my DNA.

CHARISMA: Your music embodies the idea that worship is a universal expression—that it crosses and blends styles, ideas, cultures, etc. How did that multidynamic element come about for you in worship?

Houghton: Very naturally, because I was a black kid in a white family in a Hispanic neighborhood. Our church was probably 80 percent Hispanic, so my cultural expressions came from a bunch of different places—and it keeps growing. I’m 42 years old, but I’m still childlike in the sense that there’s still a sense of wonder. Some of the places we go in worship, I’ll think, Wow, look at that! and Wow, did you hear that?

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