Johnny Cash, David, and Living as a Psalmist
I love Johnny Cash.
I love the film, ‘Walk The Line’.
Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, Reece Weatherspoon plays June Carter Cash and early in the film – a young Cash, fresh out of the Air Force, walks into the famed Sun Studios in Memphis in hopes that record producer Sam Phillips will give him his big break.
Johnny plays the first minute of an old gospel song when Sam interrupts him – “Got anything else? I’m sorry but I’ve heard that gospel song, sung – just…like…that. I don’t believe you.”
This scene has always stuck with me.
In my own life, music and leading – how often do I switch to cruise control, singing the same songs – just…like…that?
When I read the Psalms and examine the life of David, the world’s most acclaimed songwriter, there is no sense that he was ever phoning it in. There are no “just like that” Psalms.
In Psalm 23, David writes of God’s rescue from death, His nearness and comfort.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
In Psalm 35, David pleads with God to defend and protect him in battle.
“Draw the spear and javelin against my pursuers! Say to my soul, I am your salvation.”
In Psalm 51, David mourns and confesses his sins of adultery and murder.
“Against You, You only, have I sinned. and done what is evil in Your sight.”
In Psalm 63, David writes from the wilderness of God’s steadfast love.
“My soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you – as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
In Psalm 142, David, writing desperately from a cave after fleeing the enemy in Gath.
“Attend to my cry, for I am brought very low! Deliver me from my persecutors for they are too strong for me!”
David was a leader. He was a songwriter. But it was his life, a radical (though often times imperfect and chaotic) pursuit of God that fueled these Psalms. He was nothing if not honest before God in his songwriting.
What fuels our leadership and songs?
Are the demands of excellence and the temptations of replication chocking us as leaders, songwriters and pastors?
Are we leaving that radical pursuit of God to others as we try to merely survive – and in doing so, do our Psalms reflect that?
Sam Phillips continues “If you were hit by a truck and you were lying out there in the ditch, dying. And you had the chance to sing just one song…one song to God before you die. You telling me you’d sing that same old Gospel song? Or would you sing something else, something real, something you felt?”
John Calvin wrote “I call the Psalms the anatomy of all parts of the soul, for not an affection will anyone find in himself, an image of which is not reflected in this mirror.”
Can this be said of the music we lead and the lives we are living? Like David, does our worship reflect all of God’s divinity in the midst of all our humanity?
Let’s lay aside the “just like that” songs and start living as Psalmists.