I've long been a fan of the musical group Jars of Clay. The depth of their lyrics always seem perfectly attuned to the melodies around which they spin. Their enlightening messages are driven by elusively powerful riffs and are artfully accented with intriguing sounds that one might not think "musical" until heard. Most of their songs are simple and elegant, but some of their best work is so subtle as to seem poetically hidden. They are quiet, concealed waterfalls that cascade miles from known paths, except to those that have traversed them previously and returned to meditate on their flowing wisdom.
As I was struggling my way up the perpetual ascent of the stepmill in the subdued peace found only before dawn, one of my favorite songs came across my headphones. It was one of the songs from their debut album. The album most individuals would know for "Flood", a song so universal that it crossed over into mainstream music and touched many souls, some of whom accepted Christ as a result. But the song that came on was "Art in Me." Another powerful and superbly understated piece of musical genius.
At this point I have to confess. I have enjoyed the intricacies of the music for years. (The gentle melody of acoustic guitars supporting whimsical accents of a violin while a piano and some sort of hand drum dance quietly in the background). It's a thoroughly enjoyable tune. Yet, the message, which always piqued my curiosity, remained shrouded slightly in ambiguity.
I've never been good at singling out lyrics. If I don't have them in front of me, I usually insert the wrong ones, so I typically avoid plugging in my own and just enjoy the song. I also never bothered to read them on the CD insert. It just wasn't something pressing on my mind. So I typically glossed over the song on to the way to the next favorite that I knew was coming. Yet, in amongst all the touching instrumentals, one could pick out a sense of discord lightly addressed in the verse that provoked wonder as to what they were truly attesting.
I had my ideas. But I know now I was always just a little off. This morning, the Spirit opened my eyes a little. Curiosity converted to knowledge in the wisdom of life and forced me mentally to my knees (who were screaming at me to stop climbing the stepmill).
I hate to address the song's meaning directly, as subtlety is the true art of poetry. But for the sake of discussion, I'll indulge in the briefest of summaries. The song, I think, is deliberating on the dysfunction of this world and it's desperate dissension against God. A profound concept for a Christian.
"Wait a minute, Seth. What do you mean 'profound'? I would think it would be an apparent and simple concept as it's the essence of Christianity. Recognizing man's depravity in his fall from God's grace and God's miraculous reconciliation of us to that grace through belief in the sacrifice of His Son is the entirety of the salvation He offers. This isn't profound. This is Christianity 101."
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." Romans 12:1-2
Here I am sitting, waiting, wishing for Christ's return. I see the world about me. I know what He wants me to do. His Spirit attests to it daily. There are things in the world I shouldn't enjoy, but should separate myself from for His sake. The TV comes on and the humor found in popular shows ridicules society in a crass and coarse manner. I stumble. Music comes on the radio that is worldly and steeped in self-indulgence despite the enjoyment to be found in the depth of musical talent or complexity of lyrics. I trip. A movie is selected by friends and I know it will be saturated in the shallowness of society, but I don't wish to offend anyone. I fall flat on my face. I'm tired and just want to relax and my household needs my attention. I entangle myself clumsily in the hurdles, sprawling all over myself. My patience is wearing thin and I lash out angrily at someone. Was I ever standing upright to begin with?
And the worst one. The world seems to be imploding. Death, wars, pain, and suffering are rampant. Selfish, shallow entertainment and divisive, partisan politics are the focal point of the media, spun expertly to capitalize on foolishness. Greed is the perpetual, driving thought of society. Community, responsibility, and self-sacrifice are forgotten. Love has become a byword of sensuality and romanticism. Into the corner I huddle, petrified. Turn out the lights. Let me lay here in ignorance. I'm so tired.
"For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." Matthew 11:30
His burden is so light, I can not bear to hold it up! His yoke is so easy, I toil and struggle to work its righteousness! I feel constantly a failure!
It's so simple. Christian men and women I plead with you now. Remember.
Remember who you were. What brought you to the cross? Who made clear the path to the Father? If not for His salvation, where would you be? Lost in sin. Lost in ourselves. Desperate. Destitute. Delusional. Depraved. We were apart from God and apart from true joy because we were stumbling in sin.
"But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness." Romans 6:17-18
Oh, Christians, it's so simple. We complicate matters. We separate ourselves from those teachings we learned in the newness of Christ. We've forgotten the widow, the orphan, the needy. Most importantly, we've forgotten the righteousness of our God. The same righteousness we were called into. We have slipped into sin. When we indulge in sin, we can not bear the weight of righteousness.
We need only submit to return to Him! We need not wallow in the muck any longer. He will wash us and set us apart. Freedom is ours for the taking. He's paid the price. Free to be slaves! How glorious a thought; how wondrous a joy! Slaves to something we had no right to claim. Slaves to perfection that none of us deserves.
Submit to God. You know what the Spirit has spoken on your heart. Live it. Pursue righteousness for the perfect gift that it is. We will stumble. Will we learn? Will we truly give it to the One who has already done everything to reconcile us to Him? Will we stop clinging to our desires and turn them over?
Praise God that His Son submits to the authority of the Father! Praise God that His Son is One who would not be deceived by evil temptations! Praise God that His Son refuses to cave to selfish desires! Oh, that I would be like His Son and honor our Father!
© 2011 Seth Alan Jackson
© 2011 Seth Alan Jackson