Nothing could have prepared pastor/songwriter/singer Marvin Sapp for the trials he has faced. As detailed in a recent episode of the music documentary series “Unsung,” Marvin wrestled the harrowing untimely losses of his wife of 20 years MaLinda Sapp to cancer, his father and two very close friends. Through faith in God, he saw his three children through school, continued to lead his Lighthouse Full Life Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and still delivered musical spirit balms that comforted and uplifted his international fan base in its times of need and questions. Today, Marvin is a 50-year-old empty nester – single – and looking at his life from a perspective that is not weary, downtrodden or filled with despair. Marvin Sapp greets each sunrise with the thought that all of the trials he has endured have resulted in one divine reality: that he is that much closer to God. Thus, the title of the 10x Grammy nominee’s 11th album as a leader in the truest sense: Close.

“‘Close’ is my personal anthem,” Marvin states. “It’s my walk and experience over the last 7 years. I believe no matter how crazy my life has been, God has to be up to something! He has made me some specific promises in his Word, so I will hold fast in my encouragement as I encourage others. The Bible says, ‘Be not weary in well-doing, for in due season you shall reap – if you faint not.’ You’ve got to be close to what God is saying to attain what belongs to you.”

“In this season,” he continues, “people need to understand that even though we go through situations, it’s not because of God forsaking us, He uses life challenges to ensure we are prepared for what He is about to walk us into. I want to encourage people. You’re closer now than ever before. The 10 songs on Close speak to the entirety of the aspect of you being an overcomer and an encouraged one at that.”

With his tried and trusted team of Aaron Lindsey, Myron Butler and others, Marvin Sapp fortifies spirits with new gems such as the majestic opener “Safe in You” and the righteous 3/4 backbeat glory of “All in Your Name” in which he proclaims, “I wave The Banner / You hold The Answer!” Particularly poignant is the dynamic testimonial “Carried Me” on which Sapp sings, “My life was in shambles…and He held me.” Marvin explains, “When we look back on life’s challenges, the only reason we made it to where we are is because He carried us. This is a song for every individual to reflect upon (part of a mid-CD trinity of introspection that begins with the compelling Kirk Franklin contribution ‘Kind God’ and also includes the power ballad ‘Face to Face’). We tried to make it a moment…to reflect, worship and magnify God all at the same time.”

Marvin also took a couple of leaps into contemporary crossover on two songs. The first, “You and Me Together,” is a collaboration between Marvin, Aaron and super producer Rodney Jerkins (a.k.a. “Darkchild” of Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston and Patti LaBelle fame, among many multi-platinum others). The song also features Erica Campbell of famed Gospel duo Mary Mary. “I usually don’t do songs with guests on my records,” Marvin reminds us. “It’s very difficult to replicate that live when they’re not there. But I was excited about this one.”

Then there is “Listen,” composed and produced by R. Kelly (“I Believe I Can Fly” and Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone”). “Listen” animates the age-old message that God is trying to tell you something with modern day lingo “Hold up / Shhhhh…Listen / I know you’ve got your own plan / But He’s got a better one.”

“A musician that travels with him plays for me, too, and has been for 20 years,” Marvin shares. “He told me R. Kelly always wanted to work with me. He already sings my biggest song, ‘Never Would Have Made It,’ in his concerts. So, I said, ‘O.K., cool.’ ‘Listen’ is a great song. I’ve always said the message is bigger than the messenger. I’m singing about the God of my salvation. I pray that people embrace it and see the heart in my music.”

A Marvin Sapp CD would be incomplete without something to get your Gospel Boogie on to. “I don’t deviate from my Motown mentality,” he assures us. “I still keep it churchy but funky! ‘Light the Way’ has a strong `90s feel – like the vibe I had with Commissioned when I first arrived in 1990. Then there is ‘He Is’ (a bullseye mashup of `70s Soul bands Earth Wind & Fire meets Tower of Power) that goes back to when I was growing up – real music! We don’t have much of that nowadays with all the computer programming and sampling. The people can listen for lyrical empowerment while the musicians get inspired to tighten up their craft.”

Renowned for songs such as “Sweeter as the Days Go By,” “Perfect Peace,” “Praise Him in Advance,” “The Best in Me” and a dedication to his wife, “My Testimony,” Marvin Sapp has received 22 Stellar Awards, 2 Soul Train Music Awards, 2 BET Awards, 2 Dove Awards and 8 BMI Songwriter’s Awards. Reflecting on his powerful journey – largely private until his episode of “Unsung” – Marvin concludes, “It was therapeutic. People saw through me that just because you have a level of success doesn’t mean you won’t go through things. Prayerfully, they glimpsed the light of God in my life.”