What struck me was his willingness to share his newfound faith after his conversion. He released three gospel albums that are still popular among black gospel artists. (I'm a huge fan of black gospel so I thought this short documentary on the ties between the genre and Dylan was fascinating.) Too, for some time, he refused to perform his secular songs, saying in the trailer of the documentary Inside Bob Dylan's Jesus Years: Busy Being Born ... Again: "The old stuff's not going to save them," meaning, of course, his audience. Ironically, the trailer shows some of that audience walking out of his shows, blasting his gospel repertoire, saying they could have gone to church if they wanted to hear about "that."
I think that was the point for Dylan. He knew that most of his audience would probably never darken the door of a church. He recognized the opportunity he had to reach the un-reached. He used his platform to share what God had done in his life with an audience who recognized him as a poster boy for the rebellious, drug-using, free-loving spirit of their generation, an audience who had heard him paint pictures of a world that was gray, without meaning or hope. All of a sudden he was sharing a concrete vision of a world ruled by God and thought-provoking messages like "You've Gotta Serve Somebody."
It's easy to think of famous figures in an abstract sense, divorced from normal human emotion. But thinking through the courage it took for Dylan to do what he did—proclaim Christ to a generation who knew his "dirt"—inspired me. How many times have I've been timid to share my love for my God with those who know my "dirt" because I thought they would doubt my sincerity? Too many. They did that to Dylan, but he shared the gospel anyway. He faced ridicule and his crowds dwindled, but he must have known this one thing:
But whoever denies and disowns Me before men, I also will deny and disown him before My Father Who is in heaven. - Matthew 10:33The Message version reads this way:
Stand up for me against world opinion and I'll stand up for you before my Father in heaven.I like that phrasing because it shows the battle that is taking place when we speak the things of God. We are not just proclaiming Him in a moral and spiritual vacuum. We are doing so in a world that is controlled by all that is the opposite of Him.
In meditating on this verse, it occurred to me that the things of God are the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Like Dylan, we can stand up for Christ by proclaiming his message with our words, but when we choose to exhibit these characteristics with our very lives, we are also standing up for Him against world opinions.
When the world is distraught over the economy, we exude peace and joy. Where there is strife and dissension, we are marked by patience and kindness. Where there are harsh dealings and judgment, we speak gentleness. Where there is indulging of the flesh, we show self-control.
Standing up for God isn't just throwing a little "Hallelujah, praise Jesus!" into our conversations every now and again. It's letting Him live through us - in our words and actions. As the apostle Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica:
“Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” - 1 Thessalonians 1:5In other words, it wasn't just the words they were speaking it was how they were speaking them—with power and in the Holy Spirit with full conviction—and how they were living—what kind of men they had proved to be. Standing up for Him is a three-pronged act that involves 1) the words we speak 2) how we speak them and 3) who we are.
I don't know enough of Bob Dylan's life to know whether he fulfilled all three prongs. I hope so. What I do know is that he didn't let his past stop him from sharing his eternal future. The song he wrote entitled "I Believe in You" explains what it meant for Dylan to stand up for Him. He faced some heavy consequences, but he cared more about what God thought of him than what his audience thought of him.
As you read these lyrics, ask yourself, "What is different about my life 'cause I believe in Him'? Has believing changed the words I speak, how I speak them, and who I really am?"
They ask me how I feel
And if my love is real
And how I know I'll make it through
And they, they look at me and frown
They'd like to drive me from this town
They don't want me around'
Cause I believe in you.
They show me to the door
They say don't come back no more'
Cause I don't be like they'd like me to
And I, I walk out on my own
A thousand miles from home
But I don't feel alone'
Cause I believe in you.
I believe in you even through the tears and the laughter
I believe in you even though we be apart
I believe in you even on the morning after
Oh, when the dawn is nearing
Oh, when the night is disappearing
Oh, this feeling is still here in my heart.
Don't let me drift too far
Keep me where you are
Where I will always be renewed
And that which you've given me today
Is worth more than I could pay
And no matter what they say
I believe in you.
I believe in you when winter turn to summer
I believe in you when white turn to black
I believe in you even though I be outnumbered
Oh, though the earth may shake me
Oh, though my friends forsake me
Oh, even that couldn't make me go back.
Don't let me change my heart
Keep me set apart
From all the plans they do pursue
And I, I don't mind the pain
Don't mind the driving rain
I know I will sustain'
Cause I believe in you.
- Bob Dylan
Because I've never been able to wrap my head around what made Dylan popular (I've heard my dog make better noises when I step on his tail), I prefer reading the lyrics, but if you like his sound, here's the video: