Every time I hear those words, chills line dance up and down my arms. The words were spoken by Cash-"The Man in Black"- at the beginning of his mega hit, "Folsom Prison Blues", when he recorded it live at the penitentiary it's written about.
Cash, a brother in Christ who went home in 2003, had a heart for those who needed another chance to get life right. His feelings were reflected in some of his music.
That's something I appreciate about country music-from the classic twanging to the contemporary rocking, it's got something for everyone. No matter where you've been or what you've done, there's a country song that'll get you in the heart.
Trace Adkins sums up a lot of people's love for country music when he sings, "'Cause it's songs about me and who I am. Songs about loving and living and good hearted women and family and God."1
And that's another thing I appreciate about country music: its complete disregard for society's push to keep God out of things. Can't find God in the schools or courtrooms? Well, you'll find Him on CMT. (For those who don't know-or care-about fiddles and griddles, that's Country Music Television.)
My husband and I enjoy CMT, and often comment on how more country music performers are including God in their music. Some don't mince words. My favorite example is this line from a Montgomery Gentry song:
"And I'll pray to God any place, any time."2
In the video, Eddie Montgomery not only sings it-he looks at you like he dares you to try and do something about it.
God bless those country boys-and girls.
For six years, I was creative director at one of the largest and highest rated country music radio stations in America. Because of the station's size and popularity, a lot of people came through our doors-with a dream.
They had a song in their heart-and on a homemade tape they wanted us to play on-the-air.
They wanted to be country music stars.
I met people blessed with God-given musical talent, along with IT-that something special that set them apart from the pack. Sadly, they never made it past local followings.
Only the Lord knows why stardom didn't come, but there's one thing that might have hurt their chances-that put them in the category of "we'll never know."
They weren't willing to go the distance. Literally. They weren't willing to move to Nashville, the heartbeat of country music-at least, not until they were famous enough to have their house included in a Tour of the Star's Homes.
Granted, if stardom is the dream, the "come true" odds are low. Yet, if that's what a person wants, here's something for prayerful consideration: read the biography of most country music stars and you'll see a common thread-sometime during those pre-fame years, they MOVED TO NASHVILLE.
Nashville is the place with the country music resources, the city where it all comes together. If an aspiring singer isn't willing to accept that reality, if they insist upon trying it without Nashville, their plans will probably leave them with...in the words of Willie Nelson..."Blue Eyes Cryin in the Rain."
Van Zant sings, "and if you wanna make God laugh, tell Him your plans."3 They give a good lesson, one that reminds me of Proverbs 16: 9: "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." (NIV)
Have you ever felt that God was laughing at your plans, even if you thought they were about serving Him?
In Jeremiah 29:11, we read, "For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (NIV)
That settles it: God does not get His jollies from watching us tank. He wants us to succeed. Trouble starts when the pride of "My plans" overrides the submission to "His plans."
Plans can fall prey to the mysteries of tomorrow. We're reminded of this in James 4, and taught not to draw our plans sans God. Verse 15 says, "Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
Living in God's will is the key to success. We've got to move to God.
Living outside the parameters doesn't mean we'll be wailing the blues, but we might be singing the lyrics, "There's gotta be something more, gotta be more than this." 4 (Sugarland)
They're referencing 9 to 5 drudgery, but such feelings can affect our whole life. "Out of His Will" leaves us as restless as a struggling garage band, while "In His Will" has us pickin' and grinnin' like the band that's made it to the Grand Ole Opry.
God's plan for us might not be big in the eyes of the world...but because He planned it, we can be sure that it's big to Him, and woven into this "crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic, awful, beautiful life"5 (Darryl Worley) we're all part of.
Never forget the echo of one small voice spoken into a canyon...never underestimate the power of one life lived according to God's plan!
King David said, "Teach me to do your will, for your are my God; may your good spirit lead me on level ground." (Psalms 143: 10, NIV)
We find God when we seek Him with our whole heart. (Jeremiah 29:13). His desires become ours. Through prayer and praise, by testing our motives, dreams and opportunities against scripture, by submitting to and waiting upon the Lord, His Holy Spirit leads, convicts and affirms.
"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'" (Isaiah 30:21, NIV)
Talk to any Christian who has made matters about God-not themselves-and they'll testify: where God guides, He provides. Doors open.
I sometimes wonder about the aspiring singers who crossed my path. What would have happened if they'd gone to Nashville?
We never want to wonder that about the Lord's will for our lives. What would have happened if we'd gone to God?
Whatever God has planned for us, we need to be willing to go the distance, assured that we have what it takes to succeed. We have the one Toby Keith sings about in "If I Was Jesus":
"I'd lay my life down for you and I'd show you who's the boss. I'd forgive you and adore you while I was hangin' on your cross."
Jesus is our God-given gift. Jesus is IT-that something special that sets us a part.
And like a lot of country music stars are telling the world-He's someone to sing about!
(c) Donna G. Morton, July 2005
1 Songs About Me, Trace Adkins
2 You Do Your Thing, Montgomery Gentry
3 Help Somebody, Van Zant
4 Something More, Sugarland
5 Awful Beautiful Life, Darryl Worley