Most of us -- especially those from big cities -- understand the concept of the "third rail." It is the rail running between the railroad tracks of a train that runs on electricity -- the one that carries all the power.
You will often heard the "third rail" used in other ways. People might talk about prayer in schools or abortion or another controversial topic as the "third rail" of politics, meaning you might be electrocuted if you step on it.
I'm going to use it in a more benevolent sense -- as a quiet source of power, hidden beneath the more "public" commerce represented by the thundering trains.
OK, that sets up the elaborate analogy. The trains are we believers or would-be believers rolling towards an understanding of God, salvation and eventual sanctification. Underlying these trains are two traditional rails that represent sermons, Scripture, Bible study.
My own personal "third rail" is Christian music.
I've always loved music. I've always loved to sing. I've played guitar and piano since I was 8 years old. I loved the Beatles, Elton John, Al Jarreau, even The Ultimate Spinach (who remembers them?)
Christian music -- and by that I mean music with identifiable Christian lyrics and themes -- is different. It speaks to me all the time, a subliminal tide of ever-changing songs that respond to my moods and even empower the work of the Holy Spirit.
This may be something unique to me, but I pray it is not, because it is so powerful and because it could truly offer a way for those who have a hard time with "traditional" worship to embrace Jesus.
I began noticing the power when I started learning Christian songs like "Awesome God," "All in All," or "Shout to the Lord." They reinforced what I had read in the Bible, but they also spoke in an undercurrent, in another language.
As I began to acquire CDs by artists like Caedmon's Call, True Vibe, Michael W. Smith and Avalon, I noticed that lyrics of one song may leap out at me, even bringing tears to my eyes. I'd play that song over and over for a week or so, then suddenly a different song would take over.
As I tracked the songs, I noticed the lyrics that were making me cry were more and more "challenging." I started writing down which ones they were, copying off the lyrics, learning the guitar chords and storing them away -- knowing somehow that I would use all of them someday.
The first wave or two of those songs are now staples that I perform for Alpha -- a 10-week course in Christianity.
Here's some lyrics for one of the first, "Beautiful Mystery" by Caedmon's Call:
The truth is a river
Where the strong can swim down deep
The weak and the helpless
Can walk across so easily.
But there are waves beyond that. Here are some of my current favorites:
From "Mystery of Mercy," Caedmon's Call:
I am the angry man who came to stone the lover
I am the woman there ashamed before the crowd
I am the leper that gave thanks
But I am the nine that never came
My God, my God, why hast Thou accepted me
When all my love was vinegar to a thirsty King
My God, my God why hast thou accepted me
It's a mystery of mercy and the song, the song I sing
From "Wedding Dress" by Derek Webb:
So could you love this bastard child
Though I don't trust you to provide
With one hand in a pot of gold
and with the other in your side
I am a whore I do confess
I put you on just like a wedding dress
and I run down the aisle, run down the aisle to you
From "Only for the Weak," by Avalon:
But it's not about perfect performance
Or resolution of will
It's all about surrender
From "Come and Fill my Heart," by Avalon:
Free, I long to be free. I long for the day I'll believe
That all You say You see in me is true.
That's hard for me to do.
It's hard for me to die to myself, entrust my life to someone else.
So come, empty me out,
I'm no good without
You inside of me.
From "See the Light" by True Vibe:
All around us, everywhere, are people hurting
Opportunities to love
Make the most of every day, of every moment
That it gives for us to share
Take the time to show you care
From "I Repent" by Derek Webb:
I repent, I repent of my pursuit of America's dream
And I repent, I repent, of living like I deserve anything
Of my house, my fence, my kids, my wife
In our suburb, where we're safe and white
From "This World," by Aaron Tate:
And the least of these look like criminals to me
So I leave Christ on the street
From "Thousand Miles" by Caedmon's Call
So take my broken offering and make it whole
And set my feet upon the road that leads me home
Let me walk as one who's fixed upon the goal
Even though I've got a thousand miles to go
I encourage everyone, especially if today you are listening to secular music in your cars, or -- even worse -- talk radio that brings you down, find some Christian music that speaks to your soul and listen to it until it becomes part of you.
Al Boyce is a former writer and reporter for The Associated Press. He lives in Raleigh, NC, where he now writes for God.
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