“God Speaks, I Sing”: Lessons About Art From Lauryn Hill

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Lauryn HillI never really listened to Lauryn Hill back in the 90’s. The only song I knew by the Fugees was the popular radio hit, Killing Me Softly. And of course I loved everything Lauryn put her voice to in Sister Act 2. But that was about the extent of my exposure to the ‘miseducated’ lady.

Recently, though, my husband introduced me to her MTV Unplugged record, and I listen to it from time to time. I’m not sure exactly what, but something definitely happened to her between 1990 and today that totally changed her life. The way she talks between songs on that record makes me believe she’s had an encounter with Jesus.

Before I go any further, I want to go ahead and respond to what some of you are probably thinking while reading this:

“Lauryn Hill recently went to prison for tax evasion. There’s no way she’s a Jesus follower!”

And I’ll respond briefly with three points:

1. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, a.k.a. sinners, law-breakers, misfits, etc.

2. Saved people are called to obey the laws of God, not the laws of man. Our government has done more corrupt things with money than Lauryn Hill’s failure to pay taxes for two years.

3. The apostles went to prison multiple times for doing things the religious and political leaders of their day deemed unlawful. Doesn’t mean they weren’t saved by the grace of God.

“But render unto Caesar…”

Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Still, can you blame the woman? Taxes are stupid. 😛

All that aside, the Lord spoke to me today through Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged record. He spoke to me about my art. If you’re not convinced that she’s a saved woman, this only serves to prove that God speaks to people through other people — saved or not. And, just as Lauryn says in the track that most caught my attention:

“I know that God doesn’t lie. And I know that He knows how to talk to the hearts of people better than anybody else, so I don’t worry about that. ‘Cause whatever He relates to whomever’s listening, that’s what supposed to be understood at that time, so it’s all good.” — Interlude 1, MTV Unplugged No. 2.0

As a singer-songwriter, I often worry about whether or not my message is getting through to people. I don’t write about superficial things. I write about deep, meaningful things, which I hope others can relate to on some level. But sometimes I wonder if I’m getting too deep or cutting too close to the conscience. So close that they stop listening. Some of my songs paint very real, and often insulting, pictures of the tragedy of the human condition. But at the same time, I seek to inspire others by helping them gain a greater awareness of who we are as people, how in need of a savior we are, and how thankful I am to have been found by one.

I remember when I was in high school, I went to church camp one year and sang the song Why by Nichole Nordeman. It’s a beautiful song that tells the story of the crucifixion through the eyes of a child. I prayed a lot that week before taking the stage. I prayed that people would listen to the words, and that God would open their eyes to see Him, and not me. To hear His voice and not mine. A few seconds into the first verse, as people were cheering and shouting my name, the power went out. God had answered my prayers. That was His way of saying “Listen up!” Several minutes later it came back on and I resumed singing to a very silent congregation. I knew they were listening at that point.

When people hear my music, I want the same reaction. I want people to listen to the lyrics and connect to the song’s meaning, not just hear a beautiful angelic voice and a catchy tune. I worry that won’t happen, especially since the most difficult part of any performance for me is connecting to my audience through speech. I don’t talk much during a show. I figure people aren’t there to hear me talk anyway. But at the same time, I worry that by not using my spoken voice, I’m causing people to miss the message contained within each lyric.

Lauryn’s quote bears repeating:

“I know that God doesn’t lie. And I know that He knows how to talk to the hearts of people better than anybody else, so I don’t worry about that. ‘Cause whatever He relates to whomever’s listening, that’s what supposed to be understood at that time, so it’s all good.” — Interlude 1, MTV Unplugged No. 2.0

When she said the words above as I was driving down the road in my car today, I realized that it’s not my job to speak to the hearts of men. My job is to use the gifts God has given me and to leave the rest up to Him.

God speaks, I sing.

He gives me the seed, I plant it.

And I can only hope and pray I’ll get to see it grow and bear fruit. Either way, I can be confident that it will, as long as He’s behind it.

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