The following begins an occasional series of reflections on the music that has influenced my life as a Christian. From time to time a song pops back into my head, and I want to try and capture why that song was important to me then, and maybe even now.
So I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately. That’s not really something new, but I’m finding that it’s not as easy as it was in LA to listen to my favorite songs and especially to hear new ones. I don’t drive here. Sometimes I get home from work just as Ian is ready for some play time. There just aren’t the same opportunities to listen to music.
So I’m learning some new ways to keep music in my life.
It helps that I’m using my iPod more, and I’ve started playing music in the background when we have dinner. I can also listen to Jack-FM from LA here at my desk via the internet, which is great. In the mornings here, there are several music-oriented TV shows where I’m catching up with some newer songs as well.
Listening to more music is bringing back a flood of memories. We listened to a lot of music in our home when I was growing up—I can remember singing songs by the Eagles, Queen and Neil Sedaka (not very often you see those three in the same sentence), sitting around our living room. My sisters and I will always have a soft spot for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’
As I got into junior high and high school music functioned for me in the same way it does for a lot of adolescents: it gave words and emotion to things that I thought affected only me. Jackson Browne was especially influential. I learned to sing and play most of his songs on guitar, and to this day the only song I can play on piano is ‘Looking Into You’ from his first album.
When I made a commitment to Christ as a teenager and started to grow in my faith during high school and college, I started listening to some of the Christian rock/pop of the day. Back then, before people realized that it was profitable (and promptly ruined it), Christian pop music had an energy and creativity that mirrored that of other kinds of music. In the early 1980s it seemed that a new Christian band exploded out of Orange County every few weeks or so. This music—faithful, challenging, passionate and innocent—the Christian pop of the early 80s was the soundtrack to my early growth as a Christian. In the same way that secular music gave words to my teenage years, Christian songs gave me the language I was looking for to describe my attempt to be a disciple of Jesus.
Some of these performers might be familiar to you: Keith Green, Randy Stonehill, Bob Bennett, Sweet Comfort Band, Allies, Petra, Amy Grant, Mark Heard, Pat Terry... I’ve been listening to some of them again and have found myself transported to very specific times in my formation as a Christian. Over the next few months I want to share some reflections on why or when or how these songs made an impression on my life.
Why do this? Well, for one thing it lets me write about music, which I love to do, and maybe it’ll get you to dig some of these chestnuts up and listen to them again for yourself. Some of you weren’t even born when these songs were popular, though some have worked their way into the worship music canon. Find them on iTunes and hear them in their raw, un-homogenized state.
But the real reason is that today, as I was walking to my office, I listened to a couple of Keith Green songs on my iPod. One in particular—it’s hard to explain how this can happen on a London street—one of his songs put tears in my eyes and I had to stop for a moment before walking on. The song was called ‘Until Your Love Broke Through’, and it took me back to my early college days when I was still trying to figure out what this faith thing meant to me—and what I might mean to a God who seemed so distant and powerful and HUGE. This song—more than any sermon I heard or book I read back then—helped me put into words what I needed to know about an important part of who I am and whose I am. Here are a couple of verses and the chorus:
‘Until Your Love Broke Through’
(Keith Green and Randy Stonehill: 1976)
Like a foolish dreamer who was trying to build a highway to the sky,
All my hopes would come tumbling down and I never knew just why.
Until today when you pulled away the clouds that hung like curtains on my eyes,
Well I’d been blind all those wasted years and I thought I was so wise,
But then you took me by surprise.
Like waking up from the longest dream,
How real it seemed,
Until your love broke through
I’d been lost in a fantasy
That blinded me
Until your love broke through.
All my life I’ve been searching for that crazy missing part,
And with one touch you just rolled away the stone that held my heart.
And now I see that the answer was as easy as just asking you in
And I am so sure I could never doubt your gentle touch again.
It’s like the power of the wind.
It’s funny, but what I remember from back in 1980 or so when I heard this for the first time was that line: ‘with one touch you just rolled away the stone that held my heart’. I remember thinking then that I could picture God just flicking away with his little finger whatever kept me from being with him, from feeling his love for me. At that moment the ‘bigness’ of God became something I could rely on—could rest in—instead of something I needed to fear or avoid. No pun intended, but that was huge. It was a step for me in growing closer to God at a crucial time in my life, and it drew me into a deeper commitment (flaws and all) than I ever thought I would make.
It was that line that got me again this morning as I walked down Cleveland Street from Euston Road in the middle of London. That stone rolls back into its place every so often, and it was a gentle reminder to me, pouring out of my iPod, that God is there, poised to flick it away again when I come to him in faith. Not a bad way to start the day.