Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.
That is the DigiTracts.com version of the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer,” a conversion prayer included in evangelistic tracts or as the altar call response. It’s always presented trouble for Lutheran Christians with its emphasis on our action of choosing Jesus (we’d say conversion is completely God’s action), and so I submit a new sinner’s prayer—Michael Reno Harrell’s “Redemption.”
Harrell picks up a guitar and band to take Gordon Lightfoot’s picked tunes out of Canada and into North Carolina, a cross-section of Provincial plains and Appalachian country. However, “Redemption” is a country swing blues with the traditional bass thump and vocal holler reinterpreted like Chris Thomas King’s trad-present blues.
The song works like no sinner’s prayer found in evangelistic materials, because it is more aware of sin and more like a soul crying out in prayer. The song comes right out of a sinner’s life—not cleaned up for conversation with God, so Harrell sings,
I wrote a note to Jesus and left it on a pew
In a Pentecostal church of a town I’s passing through
I had two fingers of Four Roses in the pocket of my coat
So I don’t recall exactly what I wrote.
Yet, this isn’t a song that throws sin in God’s face and moves to celebrate it. Rather, this sinner’s prayer is very aware of the depths of our division from God, saying,
Some fell in with Lucifer, some answer Satan’s calling,
Is it possible that I’m one of those angels who have fallen?
Rather than your typical sinner’s prayer, this song doesn’t dress up the confession of sin with some polite theological talk. Instead, the prayer is rather straight-forward about one’s shortcomings and a bit resigned to the fact that the note to Jesus might not get through.
Then the song’s cry to God comes not as a self-decision, an action of one’s choice of Jesus over against the sin inside. The song realizes that salvation is up to God, saying, “I just hope there’s redemption.”
The message of Christ, as I understand it, is that there is an unlimited redemption for all sinners, salvation for all who believe in Jesus. And this song comes like how a heart truly approaches God—not with a smug self-assurance but rather a timid, slightly doubtful, amazed wonder at the possibility that Jesus has provided a way to save us.
Harrell’s Drive continues with Country-influenced Rock that’s kin with Johnny Cash, hints of Van Morrison walking through the Blue Ridge (“Drive”), and folk acoustic picking like the Greenwich Village Dylan (“The Ballad of Til Huffman”). Harrell paints stories from worn-out floorboards, rusty iron equipment left in the field, beer-soaked gravel lots in front of the village tavern, and the time-tested but easily ignored old sage in the corner. It does much for the listener to let it take you for a drive.
Thanks to Michael Reno Harrell for the review CD.