Southern gospel music emanating from a 19-inch black-and-white television set was the background for my family getting ready for church in our small Barnesville, Georgia, home in the 1960s.
We’d listen to two programs that an Atlanta station sent our way.
The first show was the “Gospel Singing Caravan,” which featured the LeFevre family. Boomershine Pontiac in Atlanta sponsored it. The second program was the Gospel Singing Jubilee, hosted by the Florida Boys.
Both programs featured other popular Southern gospel groups of the time.
Fast forward half a century (which is pretty much what I’ve done). These days, as my good wife and I are getting ready to go to church on Sunday mornings, we listen to the Southern gospel station on Pandora.
It doesn’t play the quartets my parents and I listened to in my growing-up years. Instead, it mainly plays country artists singing gospel songs.
On a recent Sunday, we heard two classic songs by two classic artists back to back.
The first was “Peace in the Valley” by George Jones – the greatest country singer of all time. He sings with a tear in his voice. He could sing “Pop Goes the Weasel” and break your heart.
So, as Jones sings the opening words of “Peace in the Valley” – “Oh well, I’m tired and so weary, but I must go alone, ’til the Lord comes and calls, calls me away” – you can hear him suffering.
But you can hear the hope in the chorus:
“There will be peace in the valley for me, someday.
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray.
There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow, no troubles I see.
There will be peace, peace in the valley for me someday.”
The second song was Merle Haggard’s version of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.” Haggard had a reputation as a tough guy, but he sounds vulnerable as he pleads,
“I am weak but Thou art strong.
Jesus keep me from all wrong.
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.
Just a closer walk with Thee.
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea.
Daily walking close to Thee;
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.”
Hearing those two great hymns back to back made me think about the fact that until we reach the peaceful valley, we must live in this less-than-peaceful world.
Until we reach the state in which we’ll know “no sadness, no sorrow, no troubles,” we deal with sadness, sorrow and troubles.
While we’re here, we Christians want to walk closer and closer with Jesus. We have committed our lives to following him, and we know he will lead us in the ways we should go.
On one hand, walking with Jesus can give us greater personal peace. It can give us the greatest peace we can have before we get to heaven. On the other hand, walking with Jesus leads us to confront the world’s lack of peace.
As a Christian, I cannot be satisfied with having ever-greater peace only for myself. I cannot be at peace while so many people know no peace.
I cannot be content not to suffer or to have help in my struggles. I want as many people as possible to be lifted out of their suffering or to have support in their struggles.
A half-century of walking with Jesus, and hopefully steadily drawing closer and closer to him as we walk, has taught me several lessons about what it means to be his follower:
- Caring more about others than I do myself
- Putting other people’s needs ahead of mine
- Standing with those who are struggling with the hard realities of life
- Embracing those whom society tries to push out to the margins
I’m grateful to Jones and Haggard for helping me think about the important truths that their songs announce, and for giving me the opportunity to push on toward truths that lie behind the songs.
Until we reach peace in the valley, our walk with Jesus should lead us beyond satisfaction with personal peace and on to a quest to bring greater peace to as many people as possible.
Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia.