I don’t think I knew much about Rich Mullins before his untimely death in 1997, except that he had a written some great songs including the contemporary praise chorus, “Our God is an Awesome God.” I was also familiar with his two-volume CD, “The World as Best as I Remember it.”
These are deeply spiritual songs that shy away from a neat, packaged faith. Mullins will ask a question without feeling the need to make up an answer for God. Things don’t always work out well, people suffer heartache and bitter disappointment. They are tempted. Sometimes they fall. Sometimes they wonder where God is.
There’s the haunting honesty of “Jacob and Two Women”:
“Jacob, he loved Rachel and Rachel, she loved him
And Leah was just there for dramatic effect
Well it’s right there in the Bible, so it must not be a sin
But it sure does seem like an awful dirty trick
And her sky is just a petal pressed in a book of a memory
Of the time he thought he loved her and they kissed
And her friends say, “Ah, he’s a devil”
But she says, “No, he is a dream”
This is the world as best as I can remember it.”
Then there’s the challenge of “Screen Door”:
“Well there’s a difference you know
Between having faith
And playing make believe
One will make you grow
The other one just make you sleep
Talk about it (yeah)
And I really think you oughta
Take a leap off of the ship
Before you claim to walk on water
Faith without works
Is like a song you can’t sing (sing)
It’s about as useless as
A screen door on a submarine
Faith comes from God and
Every word that He breathes
He lets you take it to your heart
So you can give it hands and feet
It’s gotta be active if it’s gonna be alive
You gotta put it into practice”
And there’s the confession of “Hold Me, Jesus”:
“So hold me Jesus,
Cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace
Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight you for something
I don’t really want
Than to take what you give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees”
It was songs like these, as well as joyful and playful songs, that drew me to read “Rich Mullins: A Devotional Biography: An Arrow Pointing to Heaven” by James Bryan Smith.
(the Kindle version is currently $1.99 I also have a copy to lend.)
As one would expect from a devotional biography, Smith doesn’t give a comprehensive account of the facts. We do learn though what Mullins was like as a child, how his first album bombed, and how he went back to school in his 30s to get a degree in music education. But mostly, Smith looks into Mullins’ heart and tells the inside story of what fueled Mullins’ outer life.
It’s an uncomplicated but rich picture. Mullins loved the Bible, Jesus, and the church with passion. To live a simple life, he let someone else manage his finances so he wouldn’t be tempted by how much money he was making. He received a modest salary from his earnings, and gave the rest away.
Mullins also wasn’t afraid to challenge Christians but he was able to critique without being cynical or harsh. When he spoke the truth, it was with love. He focused on being centered on Jesus instead of making sure everyone else was living right.
He didn’t care about public opinion, but he did care deeply about how God viewed him. Jesus was his starting point and his ending point. But he didn’t focus on devotion to the exclusion of action–or vice versa. He managed to keep the balance between loving God and loving people.
I think what people found refreshing about Mullins was that he lived the gospel–not a Sunday School version but the real-life gospel. He was aware of his sinfulness–and his capacity to sin. At the same time he was grounded in the redeeming love of God through Jesus for those sins.
I came away from the book encouraged by Mullins’ story. My life may look very different from his, but I desire the same simple faith, childlike heart, and graceful love for people. Reading his life story helps point me in the right direction.