I know Rich Mullins was not your typical kind of hero. From what I understand, he was a very flawed and broken man. Nevertheless, the music and the words that God gave him have impacted me in a bigger way than I had realized until seeing a movie about his life. He taught me two very important things about following Jesus.
His message resonated so quickly and deeply that I didn’t even know it was him that God was using to teach me. While this is about the influence of a musician, it’s mostly about the faithfulness of God to walk so near to me.
Lesson 1: Honesty
“These days I need more than just a line about Jesus.
I need to see his love, these days.”
I grew up going to a Southern Baptist church. What I learned as a kid was that the best Christians looked good and shiny on the outside. They had two parents, and plenty of money, they dressed up for church and they never said bad words. I saw nowhere to express my confusion and pain over life (not to mention I was poor with divorced parents and started swearing in elementary school)…
I wondered how all these people knew how to live life so well. Was there a book? I’m not talking about the Bible, but some “Now that you’re a human, this is how you live a successful and happy life” kind of book. I felt totally clueless. (If you think the Bible teaches us how to live a successful and happy life, I hope you’re stretching the definitions of those words outside of their common understanding.)
I didn’t discover vulnerability or gentleness until I was nearly an adult. I had been a following Jesus (on purpose) for 3 or 4 years, but I still wasn’t anywhere near as holy as I’d expected I’d be. I still struggled with anger and lust and fear, I still fell into months of listless depression. What had happened? Was I too far gone for God to love? He must be so disappointed in me!
I thought the gospel- I thought grace- was just for those who didn’t know God. Those people all messed up by drugs and crazy living… they got the powerful and unexpected gift of God’s unearned favor. But the rest of us? A girl like me who knew better? Well, that grace wasn’t for me.
I found the truth in the lyrics of Rich’s songs and in that famed book The Ragamuffin Gospel.
“For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change.”
― Brennan Manning
It was in Brennan Manning’s book that I discovered that God’s grace was still available to me and always would be. It was daily as I worked and lived and listened to Rich’s music (because I listen to music during every activity in which I’m allowed) that it began to really sink in. Here, before God I could be absolutely honest about how I felt and what I thought- no matter how ugly or unorthodox. For many years (until very recently) I felt like an impostor in Church, but I have pushed myself to be that honest with other people, too, believing that if I could identify with Brennan and Rich, others must be able to identify with me.
The whole reason I am able to accept how unacceptable I am is because of what God himself offers and how freely he loves.
Lesson 2: Desiring God
“And when my body lies in the ruins
of the lies that nearly ruined me
Will You pick up the pieces that were pure and true
And breathe Your life into them and set them free?
And when You blast this cosmos to kingdom come,
When those jagged-edged mountains, the love are gone,
When the sky is crossed with the tears
of a thousand falling suns,
As they crash into the sea, then can I be with You?
Can I be with You?”
This one isn’t as easy for me to describe, so I’ll try to be as straight forward as possible.
A lot of what I heard peddled over the radio or in those bestselling books about Christianity is either how to be a better person, or how to get cool stuff out of God (by being a better person).
I rarely heard people talk about God himself.
I heard people talk about His holiness when they wanted others to stop sinning. I’ve heard them talk about his justice when they wanted to rally us to a cause. I heard them talk about his glory when we were encouraged toward world missions. Those are all real things, but they aren’t the source, they aren’t the real reason anyone should be choosing God.
Beyond all that we might become or do, God himself is beautifully worth knowing.
Just as we long to be known as we are, and loved, God desires this, too. We have this opportunity to be with him, but it’s rarely what we choose in any given moment. The real miracle of the cross of Jesus is that the Almighty Creator of all things wants to be with us.
“Some of us are so afraid that God’s not going to look at us. So we’re out there doing all sorts of things to get God to take notice, but folks, God notices you. The fact is, He can’t take His eyes off of you. However badly you think of yourself, God is crazy about you. God is in love with you. Some of us even fear that someday we’ll do something so bad that He won’t notice you anymore. Well, let me tell you, God loves us completely. And He knew us at our worst before He ever began to love us at all. And in the love of God, there are no degrees, there is only love.”
What I found in Rich’s music was this passionate longing to know God himself, to be near to God himself… Not so that he could get something out of him, or look really good or be really righteous. He loved God in a way that has challenged me to to seek to simply, miraculously know God.
The profundity of these two lessons have shaped my life with a kind of positive erosion. They have eroded my desire to manage my “image,” and my fear that I would be discovered as a fraud. But also, they have satisfied my longing to be known, satisfied my need to ask questions about everything. This incredibly gifted and totally human musician named Rich Mullins was a part of that and for the gifts God gave through him, I am grateful.
(Unmarked quotes said/sung by Rich Mullins)