When Jeremy Camp was sixteen, he didn’t plan to play music for a living. He had no idea that he would become a national sensation in the Christian music industry. He didn’t expect to receive a Grammy nomination, or sing forty #1 radio hits, or inspire a movie based on his life. Nor did he know that tragic loss and restoring love would mark his story. Like most of us, Camp had no way of anticipating the triumphs and trials of the future—triumphs and trials that, by the grace of God, often remain hidden to our eyes until they happen.
When Camp was sixteen, he packed his bags and set off for youth camp. He had just written a song called “Set Me Free.” As a young teenager, Camp had been struggling with worldly temptations, but he was eager to make a change. He sensed that the path he had been traversing was dangerous, and he wanted to turn around. “The song was literally a cry of my heart saying, ‘You gotta set me free from sin. Help me, Lord,’” recounts Camp. “God just spoke to my heart and said, ‘I want to use you, Jeremy, but you’re on the edge of a cliff about ready to jump off. You need to run as far away as possible.’ It was kind of like this almost sobering moment—like, ‘You’re living in sin, but you’re about ready to dive into a darker part of it.’”
Camp remembers this turning point in his faith journey not as a condemnation but a rescue. When explaining how the Lord convicted him at youth camp that year, Camp clarifies that “it was out of love,” a description of God’s discipline not unlike the image presented in Hebrews 12 of a loving father correcting his son. And in response, Camp felt an awakened love for his Heavenly Father that prompted him into submission: “I said, ‘God, whatever you want me to do, I’ll do. I’ll serve you with all my heart.’” Camp would hold on to his openhearted willingness to do God’s will through his calling to be a musician, through the devastating loss of his first wife, and through his involvement with the production of I Still Believe, the just-released movie based on his memoir of the same name.
“It was in Bible college when I really felt God saying, ‘I want you to play music,’” Camp shares, adding, “It was interesting. I wasn’t like, ‘I want to do this. That’s all I want to do.’ It was more, ‘God, whatever You want me to do, I’m willing.’ And He started opening doors for me and…bringing the right people alongside me to mentor me and encourage me. And it came to the point where I just said, ‘Okay, obviously this is of You because I’m walking through doors that You’re opening, not me forcing it and kicking it down.’”
And it was after Bible college that God opened up yet another door for him. Camp met his first wife, Melissa, at a church group in San Diego where he was leading worship. Fans familiar with the story know that, after dating and quickly falling for Melissa, Camp learned she had cancer. Though he knew the cancer could mean the end of her life, they were married on October 21 of 2000. On February 5 of the following year, just four and a half months later, Melissa passed away.
Despite living against a backdrop of sorrow and grief after Melissa went to be with the Lord, Camp decided to remain faithful to God’s calling for his life. The first song he wrote after her death was “I Still Believe,” a song saturated with the defining resilience of Camp’s story. For those who aren’t familiar with the song’s affecting lyrics, the chorus of “I Still Believe” is a powerful proclamation of faith in the unseen:
I still believe in Your faithfulness
I still believe in Your truth
I still believe in Your holy Word
Even when I don’t see, I still believe.
And today, when asked what he would like to say to encourage other Jesus followers, Camp again highlights this sort of faith-in-the-unseen trust. With striking vulnerability and humility, he explains that trusting God is still hard: “Because of what happened to my wife, the enemy tries to attack me.” Specifically speaking, he sometimes fears more heartbreak and pain, or wonders whether God really inhabits the minor details of our days. Yet Camp speaks of how, in those moments full of doubt, God is full of tender faithfulness.
“One thing that God constantly shows me and encourages me with is the saying, ‘Jeremy, perfect love casts out fear—like if you understood how deeply I love you, how much I love you.’” Camp cites Romans 8:39 to make his point: Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. “That’s when you really go to the depth of going, ‘Oh, my word. Okay, God, You do love me.’ And I think we have to understand that God’s not out to get us, that He loves us and that He has good plans for us,” says Camp, who has been blessed with his current wife, Adrienne, and their three children. He adds, “Now, it doesn’t take us away from going through trials and tribulations. We’re going to go through those…He’s trustworthy, and it doesn’t mean it’s not gonna always be hard or difficult, but He is good, and He loves you.”
Camp maintains that God’s grace is sufficient, even when we walk through difficulties. When Camp goes through tough times, he takes care to look backwards with intentionality. He explains that, by remembering how God’s grace and peace were sufficient in the past, we can move forward with confidence that His grace and peace remain sufficient for the present. “I always encourage people—it’s like, if you never trust again, then you’ll never walk again, you’ll never move on again. And I think you have to move on, and you have to know that you may stumble again. You may have a hard time again, but His grace is sufficient for thee.”
But what about those trials that are so heavy, so cumbersome, so painful?
Camp’s been there.
He admits that he doesn’t have all the answers, that all he can say to people is to go to God. But in the middle of pain, sometimes people just don’t want to hear it. Nonetheless, Camp insists that trusting God to carry us through hardship is worthwhile. Two years ago, he experienced a downward spiral that kept him bed-ridden for a week. “I don’t have the formula of how to get through things,” he confesses. “I can tell you that I decided to trust the Lord again, and He has been there for me when things have gotten tough again.” Camp talks about how he prayed, worshipped, and sought God through that low week, and God faithfully hoisted him “out of that pit.”
Even with a star-studded Lionsgate film hitting theaters this month, Camp’s desire for I Still Believe is that Christ would be glorified, not himself. “I don’t need another notch in my belt,” Camp says. “If this doesn’t really impact the kingdom, then there really is no point.” When asked what he would like to share about I Still Believe, he zeroes in on the film’s domestic and international reach and its potential to spread hope to those viewers. In Camp’s eyes, the movie extols Christ and celebrates the hope that only He can bring.
He goes on to admit that having his life’s story on display for millions of people is “not easy.” That’s because, of course, I Still Believe centers around his relationship with Melissa and how God brought him through the death of his spouse. Camp refers to Melissa’s passing as “the darkest part of my life.” He realizes that he will “get questions from people and, you know, story after story from people,” but he’s willing to carry the “responsibility and weight of that.” Camp knows “it’s for ministry and for the kingdom.”
This kingdom mindset serves him well in other areas of his life too. In his walk with the Lord right now, God is teaching him to steward relationships with the people in his life from a place of humility and grace, Camp explains. “I’ve had a lot of different things come up through conflict,” he says. “People say things that aren’t true and you’re just…hurt. And the natural reaction is, of course, to be offended or to be like, you know, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ or, ‘How could you do that?’” In those situations, he has to take a step back and realize that God wants to refine him through the hurt.
It’s all about “how we react in those situations,” according to Camp. He’s recently been reading The Calvary Road by Roy Hession, which, for Camp, emphasizes finding true humility through Christ in the midst of true brokenness. “I read this passage in The Calvary Road, and it said, you know, if He wouldn’t have been that gentle lamb, then the dove would not have been able to land upon Him…This whole kind of beautiful picture…that He came as a lamb, [which] of course later led to the sacrifice. But the lamb is that gentleness; the dove is a symbol of peace. And for me it’s [about] being willing to lay my life down as a sacrifice so that peace could rest upon me. And I think that’s a lot of what God’s teaching me right now.”
As I Still Believe reaches theaters across the world, Camp is very hopeful about how the movie will encourage viewers, but he anticipates some level of resistance. He says that people may find something they don’t like about the movie, or about him, and criticize him for it. And that’s no fun, especially when those people don’t actually know Camp personally. He is determined, though, to turn the other cheek: “I think that I have to walk into it with just humility and not succumb to that and not be offended but say, ‘This is a broken world that needs Jesus. I need Jesus.’…It just kind of allows me to have a lot more joy, a lot more peace, to be honest.”
Camp clearly desires for God’s will to be done in his life and through his story. His humble approach even shines through the comical story he shares about the beginning of his music career. He explains that “it was almost like God was giving me this [experience to start] my career off right.” While performing at a stadium in San Francisco, Camp wanted everyone to jump along with him at a certain point during the song “Lay Down My Pride.” However, this choreography did not go as planned for Camp, who recalls, “It was raining outside, but we were covered. But it was still wet on the stage. So, I jump off this drum riser, and I land, and I just slip and go *BOOM* right on my back. And I…laid there and I went, ‘Keep jumping…’” Camp laughs. “It was just this moment of going, ‘Yeah, I was literally singing a song called ‘Lay Down My Pride.’”
Camp’s fall onstage in San Francisco—and his candid retelling of the anecdote—speak not only to the immensely popular singer-songwriter’s humility. The story, funny as it is, also paints a picture of endurance and hope. Even in the darkest valleys, God desires His children to keep going. (Or, in Camp’s case, to keep jumping.) To keep walking. To keep trekking onward toward the light. Not by our own strength or striving, but through the Lord’s guidance and grace.
As Camp puts it, “His expectations of us aren’t for perfection. He just wants to help us walk through and to trust Him and to continue to allow those things to soften us.”