Grace's Humbling Necessity
“The Man in Black,” the moniker of legendary country singer Johnny Cash, was an imposing figure on stage; one that commanded admiration and respect from fans and peers alike. His deep gritty voice sang of a life marked by sorrow, moral tribulation, and redemption. Cash’s music bridged the musical genres of rock, gospel, and country music, and established him not only as an icon of American culture, but as a musical superstar leaving an incomparable legacy on the musical landscape.
Yet behind the stage lights and the acclaim, there was a broken man whose life was marked both by great faith and humbling addiction, by extreme highs and the depths of despair. His well-documented struggles with drug abuse, alcoholism, and dysfunctional relationships struck a resonant chord with those who had faced similar hardships.
In October of 1967, Cash was at what he considered the darkest point in his life. His personal and professional lives had spun out of control, and he had become isolated from everyone around him. He had built his life on the fleeting nature of fame and fortune. Feeling like he could no longer go on, he decided to end his life. “I never wanted to see another dawn,” Cash recounted later, “I had wasted my life. I had drifted so far away from God and every stabilizing force in my life that I felt there was no hope for me.”
Driving his Jeep to Nickajack Cave, a remote subterranean cave near the Tennessee River, he entered the mouth of cave, hoping to descend deep enough within the labyrinth of passageways, to never be found alive. After hours of crawling inside the tunnels, he lay down in the consuming blackness to die. “The absolute lack of light was appropriate, for at that moment I was as far from God as I had ever been,” Cash remembered. Yet as he lay in that dark abyss, he began to focus on God and suddenly he felt overcome by a sensation of complete peace. With a renewed sense of hope, he began to slowly inch his way along the cave floor blindly crawling towards what he hoped was the outside. A slight breeze led him to a stream of light, which eventually led him to the outside world.
After emerging from the cave, Cash earnestly committed himself to God and promised to “do whatever it took to get off drugs.” He kept that promise, and in time recovered both his strength and sanity. “I rebuilt my connection to God,” he said. From that time forward, Cash knew both personal and professional success, but more importantly there had been a real and profound spiritual awakening from his cave experience. God had divinely intervened in his life. For Cash, the ascendance from the underground cave represented a spiritual rebirth and a self-revelation that resulted in a renewed connection with God. He had entered Nickajack Cave with the oppressive blackness of sin consuming him and had emerged a redeemed man of God. He summed it up this way in his autobiography, Cash: The Autobiography, “The greatest joy of my life was that I no longer felt separated from Him. Now He is my Counselor, my Rock of Ages to stand upon.”
Cash’s life was not all smooth sailing after that, however. But he had found the redemptive forgiveness and healing power of Jesus Christ, an ever-present anchor in his life. Humble enough to confess his brokenness to God and to the world, Cash always returned to the cross for forgiveness and redemption. And God always met Cash there, just as He had in the depths of Nickajack Cave. It is in this same way that He meets each of us in our darkest times.
In our passage this week, Luke 18:9-14, Jesus reminds us of our great need of grace. In his story, Jesus helps us to see the simplicity, yet necessity, of crying out for mercy to our holy God. We are reminded, then, that the Lord extends grace and mercy to those who honestly seek Him with repentant hearts.
At the beginning of this new year we will take several weeks to consider our need of grace in the Christian life. Grace is not something we leave behind once we decide to follow Jesus. Grace is our present need as well as our past experience. The gospel is not just the way into the Christian life; it is also the way on in the Christian life. We continually need to remember that God ‘saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus’ (2 Tim. 1:9).
Let me take a moment to express how grateful Michelle and I are for your prayers for our family over the past number of weeks. The Lord’s grace has been sufficient, just as he promises. In the midst of moving (we can’t wait to have you over), and Michelle’s dad passing away, and then returning to our hometown for an emotionally laden wedding following a full Christmas season, the Lord has sustained us through your prayers. It is with eager expectation that we join you this week in worship. Invite someone to come along with you as we discover anew the amazing grace of our good God. We love you and give thanks to God for you.
Grace upon Grace,