Despite growing up in church, Chad Mattson, lead singer of the Christian band Unspoken, had been losing his battle with addiction until God answered a simple prayer.
“I prayed this simple prayer: It was just, ‘God, help me.’” Years later that life-changing prayer would develop into a song. However, Mattson first had a lot of growing to do.
“In my early 20s, I started doing drugs and eventually selling them. It was my entire life for a few years,” Mattson said.
While he was still in active addiction, Mattson went on a missions trip to the Dominican Republic.
“I was still an addict,” he said. “At least I was an addict until I got on the plane going from Boston, Massachusetts, to La Vega, Dominican Republic, (on) Feb. 4, 2003. I just prayed a simple prayer. I (had) prayed it a hundred times — I don’t know why something changed at this moment.
Back to belief
He had been raised in church and knew who Jesus was, but he didn’t really know Him. He started reading the Bible and really praying for the first time.
During that time of learning how to walk with God, everything became new.
“It was kind of like I got on that plane and never went back. Now the funny thing is that over the years, there’ve been opportunities, even in the Dominican Republic playing basketball on the city courts. There have been opportunities to fall back into drugs and alcohol and whatnot. But for whatever reason, God gave me the power to be done with it,” Mattson said.
Mattson admitted that it also took work to stay sober. He had to surround himself with the right company and make sure that he stayed accountable.
Looking back, he has discovered that timing was a big part of this change.
“I think I was just tired,” he said. “I was tired of running from God. I was tired of barely making it through life. I was tired of doing what I was doing so I was ready at that moment, when that trip came along, for something new — for God to show up in my life.”
Change of plans
The trip to the Dominican Republic transformed his life in more ways than one.
Mattson had dreamed of being a basketball player when he grew up. However, he joked that he “never grew up” and only played one semester in college.
He believed he could sing, but like the hope of becoming a professional basketball player, he knew making a living singing full time was almost impossible.
“I was so grateful and so changed by God that I just told the Lord, ‘Man, if I could do anything to serve You, I would,’” he said.
While still in the Dominican Republic, he met a guitarist who had just been saved. He and the guitarist wrote some songs together and were even on TV. They decided to keep up the momentum and went from place to place, sharing the gospel with anyone they could find, using music as the tool to do it.
When it was time for him to go back home, Mattson brought his musical partner along. His parents were really excited to see him clean.
“My parents were psyched — absolutely psyched — because I had been living in that addiction, living in that lifestyle, and now I was free. They were supporting me in anything I would want to do with the Lord,” he said.
On top of the joy of seeing him off drugs, his mom, also a musician, appreciated that he had embraced music.
“I felt very loved and supported,” Mattson said.
On the road
The pair continued musical evangelism in the U.S. They bought an old car and again played anywhere someone would listen — from coffeehouses to open mic nights, from New York City subways to college campuses, all uninvited.
They didn’t plan to do this full time. They were simply taking it day by day.
“We went out and tried to serve the Lord and serve people and share the gospel, and doors kept opening,” Mattson said. “Everything was slow and everything was hard, but God was with us, and doors opened at the right time.”
Fast forward about 18 years. One night after a concert, Mattson listened to a new friend tell his recovery story. That friend’s recovery had also begun by simply praying, “God help me.”
Mattson picked up his phone where he had about a thousand song ideas. He put this idea in with the others and, unlike the rest, he couldn’t let this one go.
“I got thinking about, ‘That’s my story too. I prayed the exact same prayer.’ The really cool thing is, it’s just that prayer of desperation,” Mattson said.
“God hears every prayer that we pray, regardless of the dark space we may be in. He hears us; He knows us; He sees us; He’s willing; He’s able to help.”
Completely unplanned, Mattson’s song “God Help Me” was released Feb. 3, a day before his 20-year anniversary of sobriety.
“It was an absolute gift from God for me that made me feel seen by God. It was just a gift and I was very grateful.”
To learn more about Unspoken and Chad Mattson, go to unspokenmusic.com.