September 20, 1997 was a sad day. I had only recently turned 7 years old, but I remember well when my mom told what happened the night before: Christian artist Rich Mullins had died in a bad car accident. My mom was especially sad by this news, partially because she was pregnant with my little sister at the time, but also because my mom had followed Rich through most of his career. She actually got to see Rich perform in the living room of one of her church's elders while he was still a student at Cincinnati Bible College (pretty cool, right?). She was only in high school at the time, but she still lights up when she talks about it. It made be sad to find out he had died, because of how much I loved his songs, even at a young age (mostly Awesome God and Sometimes by Step). Although I was a little young to understand all that happened, I sensed that the world had lost a wonderful man.
I don’t think I could have possibly realized how amazing he was until I really got to know the heart behind his music. Fast forwarding to 2006, I was in a Christian school choir as we were deciding what to do for our spring program. Our director decided that we would do a Rich Mullins tribute, and we would write skits that complimented the themes of his songs. We liked the idea, because most of us remembered his music from our childhood, but I don’t think I could have imagined the impact learning his music would have on my life. Aside from all the fun we had making 80’s get-ups and doing our performance barefoot, we learned so much more than we could have imagined.
I had almost forgotten about the love I had for Rich’s music until about the time I had heard about the movie Ragamuffin two years ago. I became so excited to see the portrayal of his life that I went back to his music and fell in love with it all over again. My favorite CD to play in my car right now is Songs, and it has been that way for over a year. There is so much depth and wisdom in his lyrics that stands out above all the rest, even almost 18 years after his death. In honor of his legacy, I want to share some of the life lessons I have learned from his music.
Loving Our Lord and Savior should be #1
When the skies were starless in the void of the night (Our God is an awesome God)
He spoke into the darkness and created the light (Our God is an awesome God)
The judgement and wrath He poured out on Sodom; the mercy and grace He gave us at the cross
I hope that we have not too quickly forgotten that our God is an awesome God
Unfortunately, I think that too many of us have forgotten how amazing our God truly is. Many people forgot that this verse is even part of the song Awesome God. It reminds us that not only is God amazing because of His power, but He is also awesome because of his mercy and grace as demonstrated through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He has the authority and power to judge us and condemn us, like He did in the days of Noah or what He did at Sodom and Gomorrah. But He chose to give us grace through His Son, giving us the ability to receive His salvation. If we take the time to think about how powerful that is, that is when we are compelled to declare that our God is awesome.
Rich talked about what he believed to be the most theologically profound statement: Jesus loves me. If we truly believe that Jesus died for us on the cross, then we really should be assured beyond the shadow of a doubt that Jesus does love us. You don’t die for something or someone you hate. If you know God is awesome and that Jesus died for you, then living your life in light of this truth should be your first priority in life. You should be able to live your life in the assurance that He will always there for you. These are truths declared in many of his songs, like My One Thing and If I Stand. It really challenged me to think about these things from this perspective. I imagine you can see why.
Jesus is the Answer
When we did the program for my high school choir, I had one of the solos on the song My Deliverer. This is a special song from Rich’s last project, The Jesus Record. About 9 days before he died, he recorded the songs for this project on a cassette tape in an abandon church. These are the only recordings that exist of Rich performing these songs. After he passed away, his Ragamuffin Band (with the help of a few other artists) recorded his album. Rich never had the chance to see the impact this song or any of the other songs on The Jesus Record had. After having to perform this song, I believe this song to be one of his finest. This is his original demo for the song.
It’s a reminder that a deliverer was what the world wanted from the beginning, and that Jesus is that Deliverer. This world sometimes seems like it’s falling apart at the seams, but it is important to us to remember that Jesus has already delivered us and will continue to be there for us because He conquered death to deliver us. A similar hope is reflected in one of my other favorite songs of his, While The Nations Rage.
Where are the nails that pierced his hands?
Well, the nails have turned to rust, but behold the man
He is risen, and He reigns
In the hearts of the children rising up in His name
Where are the thorns that drew His blood
Well the thorns have turned to dust, but no so the love
It is given, no, it remains
In the hearts of the children who will love while the nations rage
Even when it seems like nothing is right in the world, we can find our solace and hope in the love demonstrated in the sacrifice of Jesus. He can hold on to this hope while the world wages war all around us. When we don’t know how to carry on or we don’t have the answers, we do know that we have a deliverer that gives us hope while the nations rage. What a powerful truth.
There’s A Cost To Genuinely Follow Jesus
One of his best quote was: “Never forget what Jesus did for you. Never take lightly what it cost Him. And never assume that if it cost Him His very life, that it won't also cost you yours.”
Rich was one to remind Christians constantly that Christianity is not about being comfortable. Being a real disciple of Jesus is a serious challenge and not for the apathetic. We are not just to hear the word; we are supposed to do the word. Rich reminded people of this in both serious and humorous ways. One of my favorites was his song Screen Door.
My school choir performed this song as well, although we tapped the rhythm on our legs (more like the studio recording) rather than using the cups. Not only does this song illustrate his creative genius, but it also makes a valuable point. An inactive or passive faith isn’t just a bad idea; it’s pointless and stupid. There is no reason to have a screen door on a submarine. We need to have an active faith and to do what the word tells us to do when we recognize its instructions.
This is often easier said than done. Rich pointed out that our closeness to God is determined by our obedience to Him, not our feelings. But obedience isn’t usually easy and is often sacrificial. Three of Rich’s song come to mind: Alrightokuhhuhamen, Hold Me Jesus, and Sometimes By Step. All these songs have great messages. Alright illustrates that it is always better to do what God asks and just be willing to say yes than to fight him. Hold Me Jesus says a line that has proven to be true at many times in my life: “Surrender don’t come naturally to me.” A little later, the songs says “Your grace rings out so deep, it makes my resistance seem so thin.”
Of all the songs Rich wrote, Sometimes by Step is probably my favorite, mostly because I have carried its message with me the longest. The chorus was written by his friend “Beaker” and is still commonly sung as a worship chorus of its own. I loved that chorus when I was a girl. But the verses Rich wrote are just as powerful. My favorite is the second verse.
Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me
He was a stranger in this land, and I am that no less than he
And on this road to righteousness, sometimes when life can seem so steep
I may falter in my steps, but never beyond Your reach
This verse compliments the chorus Beaker wrote perfectly.
Oh God, you are my God
And I will ever praise You
I will seek you in the morning
And I will learn to walk in Your ways
Step by step you’ll lead me
And I will follow You all of my days
This song is such a powerful declaration of what we should do with our daily Christian walk. The verse reminds us that others have struggled on this path before us and that we will also struggle, but never fall out of His reach. So beautiful. I hope and pray that I never forget it.
A Legacy of Joy
Rich said that he hoped to leave behind a legacy of joy, and I believe that he did. There was darkness in his past and sin that he struggled with throughout his life, but Rich found joy in the hope in his salvation that he wanted to share with everyone. He was totally in love with his Savior and he couldn't wait to meet Jesus. Many of his songs spoke of his longing for heaven, and Rich often struggled with “fitting in” within the context of Christian community. He knew better than most people I know that this world was not his home. I am glad to know that Rich no longer has that struggle and that he is now in the presence of his Savior. One of the only reasons it makes me sad that he is no longer with us is because I wish I could have met him! It’s amazing to see the impact his life and music left, and that it continues to speak to us today. I hope that by sharing about what I learned from Rich’s testimony, you will be encouraged to learn more about this incredible man, listen to his music, and learn how to pursue the love of Christ every day, step by step.
[If you are interested in reading my review of the movie about Rich Mullins, Ragamuffin, click here]