Musical Musings: Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone), Chris Tomlin

Now playing: Chris Tomlin - Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)
via FoxyTunes


Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone), Chris Tomlin

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind, but now I see

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing grace

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing grace

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing grace

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow
The sun forbear to shine
But God, Who called me here below
Will be forever mine
Will be forever mine
You are forever mine

I write these with the song on repeat on my laptop as I write, so I hear it over and over again as I write. I find myself struggling this time to put into words quite what I want to say; I'm stolen away again and again by the beauty of this song, these lyrics. And there are tears in my eyes (which is good... it makes it easier to see, actually!) because of the truth ringing through every word, every note.

Amazing Grace is not a new song. It was written around 1772 by a former slave trader (though not until some 22 years after he left the slave trade for health reasons) and has been used not only as a hymn in Christian churches, but also as an anthem for human rights groups. (See the Wikipedia article for more information on the history of the song and its author.) It's a favorite on bagpipes at funerals (and yes, I LOVE hearing it on bagpipes!) and was even in the second Star Trek film, the Wrath of Khan (yes, I recognised it the first time I heard it in the movie!). Because of it's simple meter, it gets set to other melodies, and even Elvis covered it.

But there's something amazing about this version by Chris Tomlin. It's simple, it's sweet, Chris' voice accompanied by a piano (and maybe a guitar?) and joined on the chorus for layers of harmony. But more than the simple majesty of the music, there is the message. And, oh, what a message.

The Creator of the universe pours out grace upon us to redeem us to Himself. The God who spoke time into existence, who breathes life into our frail bodies, who set the heavenly bodies in their courses, who divided the land from the sea and created every living thing upon this earth... this is the God who condescends to pour grace upon us and redeem us. This God who speaks from the whirlwind and in the whisper gave up the limitlessness of divinity for us.

Me. Who lied to my mother. Who hated my stepfathers. Who disobeys His commands. Me. In this frail, mortal body, marked by death (your very genetic structure contains a countdown clock until your death... the telomeres that shorten with every division until they no longer protect your cells genetic coding from mutation and error and death, that even cloning can't get around). Me. A housewife in suburban Oklahoma, on the edge between city and farm. Me. God gave up divinity for ME.

Stop for a minute, beloved, and reread that paragraph, but put yourself in it. Think about all the things about yourself, even the ones you never tell anyone, all the shortcomings and failures in your life. Think about every reason you don't deserve anything good. You know what they are. Even now, guilt is whispering in your ear.

Who am I, who are you, that God would descend from Heaven, would step from outside of time into entropy, would limit himself, for me, for you? What, Beloved, in your life deserves such a sacrifice? I know there is nothing in my life that is worthy of that sort of divine condescension. And if you are honest with yourself, truly honest, brutally so, you will know the same is true of you.

And that, Beloved, is what's so amazing about grace.

Grace is not given for what we do. It is not given for who we know. There is nothing in our lives that would merit what God did for us. Nothing. Even the good you do, you should be doing anyway, so it cannot outweigh the ill you do. Grace has nothing to do with who we are. Listen to me, Beloved. Grace has NOTHING to do with who we are or what we do.

Stop striving, stop struggling, stop fighting to be enough. Stop. You cannot earn grace. You cannot do enough. And while that causes a panic at first, doesn't it sort of feel good to just stop? Doesn't it feel good on some level to just stop fighting?

Grace is not about me. It's not about you. Grace is God. It's all about God. Grace is God, looking at us, seeing that we are completely unworthy, completely unable, and completely undeserving. Grace is the Creator of the universe seeing our failings... and overcoming them Himself. Grace is God stepping out of eternity, into time, and redeeming us from our mistakes. Grace is the divine condescending to come to earth, the Creator coming to His creation, and drawing us to Him.

Grace says you don't have to be enough. You don't have to do enough. Grace knows you can never be enough or do enough... and it doesn't matter. Grace comes to you, undeserving you. Grace says “Stop fighting Me, Beloved, and rest in My embrace.” Grace cries over the heartbreak “I love you, not for what you have done, but because of who I am. I love you, Beloved. I can do no other.”

I remember when my baby sister (she's 18 now, rapidly approaching 19, and less a baby... but she will always be my baby sister, a fact she's been told her entire life) was tiny. I was responsible for caring for her, and there were times I let her cry. I'd put her to bed, and she'd cry; babies never understand why you're going away, why they have to stop and sleep. They cry because their will is being thwarted and they don't know how else to protest. Sometimes, you just have to let them cry. It's part of how they learn to comfort themselves (“self-soothe”) and cope with the unfairness of life, even at that tender age. But sometimes, they don't know how to stop. I may have stepped away and let her cry her frustrations out... but I could hear when the cry changed from “this isn't fair!” to “I don't know how to stop!” And that's when I'd go back in to her. I'd scoop her into my arms and hold her. And she'd fight me; she was still upset, she still didn't want to be thwarted (though she certainly couldn't have put it in such clear, articulate terms). But she also needed me to hold her close, to comfort her, to soothe her and help her stop crying. I had to hold her tightly while she fought me, knowing that she wouldn't have peace until she trusted me enough to stop fighting. If you've spent time with small children, none of this should be surprising to you; you may have done this with your child, or niece or nephew, or grandchild.

That's Grace, Beloved. God steps down to earth because He sees we cannot stop by ourselves, and He holds us in His arms and lets us weep it out, lets us fight it out. He holds us close as we struggle, soothing us and waiting for us to trust Him enough to stop fighting.

When I tell you to stop, that's what I mean. God is waiting, Beloved, His arms outstretched, waiting for us to trust Him. And just as it feels good to be comforted in the embrace of another, to stop fighting and just let it go, oh, Beloved, how much better it feels when that embrace is God's.

I was bound in chains. I was blind, lost, confused. I could not even see the chains that held me. I could not tell I was blind. All I knew is that every day was an endless battle, a heartbreaking fight that sapped me of all my strength and life. I did not know I needed Grace... I did not know what I needed. I was suicidal from exhaustion... it wasn't a longing for death, it was a weariness of the existence I was leading. There was nothing in me that deserved what I needed.

And God ran to me. He was ever there, ever waiting for me to stop fighting and surrender to Him. Like my sister in my arms, fighting me even as she needed me, I had to give over my will to His... and oh, how much better it is now.

Beloved, Grace is available. It is ever unchanging, because it exists outside of the limits of time. It is eternal, always present, always working in us. And when the end of days comes, when the sun finally reaches the end of its life and the earth dies as all things must, Beloved, Grace is still there. You will never run so far that Grace cannot reach you. You will never unearn Grace... for indeed, if you could not earn it, how could you lose it?

Ah, you say, but if it is always there, then what is the rush? Or, perhaps you are mortified by so “easy” a Grace... you fear that Grace so readily reached is unappreciated and abused. You see, Beloved, another thing amazing about grace is what it does in the life of its recipient. Grace, freely given, lavishly poured out, a libation from God instead of to Him, forever changes those who receive it. Aware of our great need for it, our gratitude for it is great. Indeed, I would say that the greater our awareness of our need for grace, the more we receive and the more we appreciate it.

The best illustration I can offer for this comes from my marriage. You see, my husband loves me. I do not doubt this. It is tattooed indelibly on my soul. And I know, that like the grace I receive from God, my husband's love for me is not based on what I do for him, but rather on who he is. He has chosen to love me; he can do no other. There is nothing I could to take from him his love for me (though it should be noted that any spouse can grieve their partner past the breaking point... we are human, after all, with human weaknesses, and even my husband is only human). I could take advantage of that love and treat him horribly. I could trust that my husband will always be there for me, when I am ready for him, and run around on him, abusing him. I could trust that his love will always be there for me, and cheat on him, or even intentionally fight him. I could, if I so chose, intentionally make his marriage to me the most miserable thing ever he did.

But I don't. You see, because I am so keenly aware of just how precious my husband's love for me truly is, I treasure it. Because I know that there is nothing in me that he should love me, I treasure and prize and am extremely grateful for his love. I don't have to dress up when he takes me out; he loves me in pajamas as much as he does in fancy dresses. I don't have to do my hair when we go nice places; he doesn't care if my hair is up or down, grey or red, long... none of that matters to him. I choose to dress up, I choose to look nice not in order to earn his love, but out of appreciation for it. When people look at us, I want them to think well of my husband because of me. I want to reflect well on my Beloved. I want my life to be a witness, a testimony, of his love for me. Because he loves me, I change myself to be more pleasing to him in gratitude.

That's how it is with Grace. I don't live right in order to earn grace, just as I don't dress up to earn love. Because I am so keenly aware of my need, I treasure what I have been freely given as a gift. I don't take advantage of it, trusting it will always be there... because life is short, and the tomorrow I'm counting on may never come. I don't abuse the gifts I'm given, nor do I abuse the giver. And because I am so grateful, I change myself to please those who have given to me. I seek to reflect well on the one who gives to me. I live “right” not out of fear for my future, but to please the one who sealed my future.

And, that, Beloved, is Amazing Grace. Grace saw me in my wretchedness, in my lost, blind, chained state, wholly unworthy of it, and condescended to come to me anyway. And because Grace came to me, because I have been freed, I will forever live to please the one who freed me. Won't you stop fighting? Won't you let Him hold you close? I so want you to feel the thrill I do when I sing

My chains are gone!
I've been set free!
My God, my Savior, has ransomed me!
And like a flood, His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing Grace...
And God, who called me...
will be forever mine.

There is nothing like it in all the earth. Once you are free, you will marvel that you stayed chained so long. Life is sweet, Beloved. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him. (Psalm 34:8). Won't you come?

No comments: