An Introspective Heart

As I wrote some notes Wednesday night on the passage I’m preaching this Sunday 1, I found myself listening to music written by Rich Mullins. I don’t typically listen to Christian music, and usually can’t stand any music with lyrics while I write, but there’s something about Rich Mullins’ music which captures my heart.

Rich was an imperfect Christian, which is not unusual. But he never claimed to be anything other than an imperfect follower of Jesus, and in the world of Evangelical triumphalism this was extremely unusual. What was even more unusual is Rich didn’t seem to be publicly held up to suffer the mental and spiritual beatings “perfect” Christians seem to enjoy inflicting on others 2.

The aspect of Rich Mullins’ poetry which most speaks to me is its undercurrent of deep sorrow. His music is utterly lost in the rapture of the glory of God’s majesty and the love of Jesus Christ, but his deep ache of unworthiness before this great God is equally present. Even still, in his songs God isn’t a distant judge waiting to squash his unworthy being. Rather, God is intimate and loving and revealed in a deep mystical vibrance — and this love deepens his ache even as it draws him nearer and nearer to the God who loves him in Christ. But this wrestling doesn’t leave him bitter and resentful, it increases his empathy — he feels the pain of others, and of Creation itself, in the ache of his own heart.

That empathy worked out in his life. In fact it’s probably what kept him in the Church, with whom I always got the distinct impression he was deeply frustrated. But empathy led him to embrace those he might have rejected in bitterness, and so he wrote songs which enlightened, challenged, and veered toward theological introspection.

As worship has shifted more and more to concert, and the lyrics of so much mass-market worship fan the flames of spiritual narcissism, I find myself longing for more of the introspection Rich had in abundance. Worship has become about feeling good, or having our comfortable notions reinforced, or spending time with people we may actually like. But Christian introspection, the art of inspecting our own hearts and souls through the light of Christ, is too often in short supply. We’re lesser for it.

People sometimes wonder why I tend to name my internet presence “Painfully Hopeful,” I suppose Rich’s music had a role to play in my title. The painful hope of my heart is expressed in his Song, If I Stand.

So if I stand, let me stand on the promise that You will pull me through.
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to You.
And if I sing let me sing for the joy that has born in me these songs.
And if I weep let it be as a man who is longing for his home.

Those words might be the clearest picture of my heart in existence.

  1. James 2:14-26 
  2. If you aren’t one of my Christian readers, you can insert “perfect <anything>” in this sentence and it would still ring true — human beings like to pretend to be perfect.