Worship is many things. It’s heartfelt, comforting, awe-inspiring and above all, it’s celebratory. Over the years, Aaron Shust’s songs have embodied all those qualities and more. Shust’s music washes over the listener like a gentle current urging them to focus on the majesty of God. He does that yet again on his latest album, Nothing to Fear, a powerful collection of songs that take worship to an exciting new level.

Named both New Artist and Songwriter of the Year at the 2007 Dove Awards, Shust is well known as a master craftsman when it comes to penning lyrics, and on Nothing to Fear, he explores new sonic territory in framing those poignant words. “I wanted the freedom to make an artistically beautiful record and not necessarily feel like it was captured on a Sunday morning experience,” Shust says. “We are using horns, bagpipes, string sections and accordions. There are all different kinds of sounds that are incorporated into it. For example, ‘This I Know’ begged for a Celtic treatment and I said, ‘Let’s not hide the bagpipes. Let them be heard.’ At their core, they are worship songs, but in the production, we said, ‘Let’s just be as free as we can be.’”

Though it’s not a live recording, there’s something about Nothing to Fear that feels very alive, very vibrant and present, especially on such upbeat tracks as “None Like You,” which kicks off with a blast of horns. “When we recorded the horns in the very beginning, the opening seconds of the song came in really gentle and there was a gradual crescendo that came out of nowhere,” Shust explains. “But I said, ‘Hey, can they make a lot of noise up front like a blast and explode in that opening?’ That’s what ended up happening and we captured that. There’s definitely a place for celebratory worship and it’s often overlooked in the name of the intimate or earnest. I’ve definitely recorded earnest songs, but to make room for the celebratory ones is so important.”

Celebrating God has been the foundation of the Pennsylvania native’s rewarding life and successful career. Shust honed his musical skills singing in coffeehouses and leading worship in his home church. He became more acquainted with musical masters like Bach and Mozart while studying music theory at Toccoa Falls College in Georgia. The young singer/songwriter was catapulted into the national spotlight with the powerful anthem “My Savior My God,” which was named Song of the Year at the 2007 Dove Awards. Since then he’s populated Christian radio and church pews with such memorable songs as “To God Alone,” “Give Me Words to Speak,” “God of Brilliant Lights” and “My Hope is in You.”

On Nothing to Fear Shust continues to deliver powerful songs of worship and praise to our Almighty God. “‘More Than Welcome’ ended up being a song that is a predominant theme throughout the whole record,” Shust says of the piano-driven ballad inspired by Hebrews 4:16. “Initially when I was writing this song, I was picturing Queen Esther when she needed to approach King Xerxes. As the story goes, if you weren’t asked to come into his presence by the king himself, there’s a chance that you could have been killed. So she calls for a three-day fast and then she does boldly approach him because she’s trying to save the lives of her Jewish people. He extends the scepter meaning she is welcome and he said, ‘Welcome my queen. I’ll give you whatever you want, even half the kingdom.’ This is an analogy for the song. We are absolutely welcome before the throne of grace. Our Father is the king. We are accepted in His presence. We are more than welcome because of what Jesus has done at the cross. So that’s the theme of that song very specifically and that’s where Nothing to Fear comes from---‘boldly we come because there’s nothing to fear.’”

One of the most poignant offerings on the album is the tender ballad “Death is Not the End.” “I wrote that for my uncle when he was dying,” Shust says. “Death is heavy and real and we do grieve, but we don’t grieve like the ones that have no hope. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to record that song, what should it sound like. It’s a dark lyric---even the word death is in the title---but there is this string of hope that is critical to the entire song.”

“Your Word” is another song taken directly from Scripture, specifically Psalm 119:105. “The song is talking about how the Word of God is the lamp to my feet, guides my every step,” Shust shares. “It’s so important to use the words of Scripture in the lyrics of my songs as much as possible because we believe that the Word of God does not return void. It goes out of our mouths or it goes out through radio waves and does its work. It doesn’t return having not done its job.”

“Heal Our Land” is a potent track that seems especially significant in these troubled times. “It is basically the prayer of Solomon and God’s promise to Solomon that ‘If my people will pray and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from Heaven and I will heal their land,’” Shust says. “The theme is definitely a big theme to tackle. It’s that we need to pray and repent, turn from our wicked ways and plead to God that he would bring healing to us individually, to us as a church, a body of believers, to a nation.”

Though Shust, his wife and three sons currently make their home in Nashville, TN, he can often be found performing all over the world and those experiences informed the music on this album. The Celtic flavor of “This I Know” was inspired by Shust’s 2018 trip to Scottland with Billy Graham’s grandson Will. “I fell in love with that music. Going to Scotland, there are literally bagpipes in the vicinity no matter where you go. It was amazing,” he says. The lyric of “This I Know” references the classic “Jesus Loves Me” to create a powerful moment on the album. “As we were singing it, it felt like an old Celtic hymn, so it’s a combination of lyrics that feel like home, that feel safe, and then music that also feels like it’s been around for a long time. The bagpipes are playing through the choruses of the song, but it’s a actually a Uilleann pipe at the beginning. When I hear the opening of that song, I can picture myself on the hills of Scotland.”

On the new album, there are two versions of “Zion” with the bonus track taking listeners to Jerusalem. Shust recorded the song while in Israel leading worship at an event with his friend Joshua Aaron, a Messianic worship leader who lives near the Sea of Galilee. “He rented out the Tower of David in the old city in Jerusalem and had a concert. I believe it was the first Messianic Jewish concert at the Tower of David in history,” Shust says with a smile. “I was there and played for the whole thing. I played piano for Joshua and we sang a song that we had written together, ‘None Like You,’ and he asked me to perform ‘Zion’ as well in the concert. So the album has the studio version of ‘Zion’ but it’s special to have this version too. It’s not just live from anywhere, but live from Jerusalem. There’s actually a catch in my voice in the beginning when I sing ‘Hear the words of your Father.’ I started to get really emotional when I sang ‘your Father’ and my voice kind of choked a little bit on those words. Afterwards, I said to Joshua, ‘Maybe we need to fix that so you can’t tell,’ and he said, ‘No you have to leave it. I love the emotion that you have for my people. You have to leave it in there.’ It was a special night.”

Shust can’t help but get emotional when leading worship. Every time it’s like his heart just overflows and comes right out of his mouth. His passion for celebrating God and ushering believers into the Throne Room is absolutely contagious and that’s rarely been more evident than on this stunning collection of songs. “You hope people enjoy the musical experience, but if they pay attention to the words or if they let those words just sink into their hearts a little bit, I hope that when that last track ends they are feeling like, ‘God really does love me!’ As simple as that sounds---the simplicity of ‘Jesus loves me this I know’---it may be a simple statement, but the ramifications of that statement are massive,” Shust says. “If we believe that God is our Father, and we believe that God is good and He loves us, then we have to believe that we are welcome in His presence. The truth is that we too often live and act as if He does not desire our presence. We live in fear that the next thing we do wrong is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and God will be done with us. That’s just not true. We are welcome in His presence not because of anything we’ve done, but because of the perfection of Jesus Christ.”