About 15 minutes before the first exam of finals, four of us were waiting in the car. To some extent we were dodging the melee outside the exam hall, but we were also trying to psych each other up. “I just wish I could feel like this,” muttered a friend as she plugged in the aux lead:
Lord, I’ve been broken
Although I’m not worthy you’ve fixed me.
Now I’m blinded by your grace.
You came and saved me.
Nobody in that car except me would’ve called themselves a Jesus-follower. In the run-up to exams, I’d had a lot of imaginary conversations, practising sharing with these guys how the anchoring presence of Jesus held firm throughout revision. So I was grateful that Stormzy, the Croydon rapper behind the gospel cadences of Blinded By Your Grace Pt 2 could bring four minutes contemplating grace to our anxious Astra. But why couldn’t I? What can I learn from Grime’s man-of-the-moment about both living and talking authentically about my faith?
- Encounters not edicts
Several stories unfold through Gang Signs and Prayers, Stormzy’s 2017 debut album – he shares personal stuff. When he discusses faith, that’s personal too: no universal proclamations, just lived experiences.
Evangelical-turned-atheist Chris Stedman promotes improved communication between his new sphere and his former life. Like Stormzy, Stedman finds that our faith is most engaging when we’re “presenting the promises of Christ as proposals and as encounters rather than as edicts”. Reeling off the principles of my faith is easy, but it’s my encounters that matter to other people.
- Put spirituality on the table
He doesn’t just rap about encountering God. He touches on family, community and fame. The guys in the car could’ve talked about Croydon or Stormzy’s mum, but they were ready to explore the spiritual side of the album. In Being A Contagious Christian Bill Hybels calls this “putting spirituality on the table”. Last night I listened to a new remix and a surprising sermon; which do you want to talk about?
- Celebrate God’s goodness
If you’re anything like me, you probably handle your failures through irony and your successes with quiet smugness. Stormzy explains the popularity of his music: “Look at what God did … This is God’s plan.” Neither humble nor bragging – he authentically shares his inner prayer life out loud. I can’t be the only one translating my lived experience of God into secular-ese: “my inner-strength and focus” not: “God’s transforming presence in my life”. I want to tell it how it is and Stormzy makes that so attractive…
- Authentic vulnerability
… Especially by opening up about his failures too. Stormzy admires his mum forgiving his absent father, but refuses to do the same: “I’ll keep the pain.” Despite Stormzy’s suffering, he shares his need to learn forgiveness, his aspiration to radical Christ-like living. Mark Greene calls it Moulding Culture: “enabling people who are not Christians to discover what it feels like to act in the ways of Jesus.” I’m struck that being real about my walk is the way I can go about inviting my friends to take a few steps with me, and with Stormzy, and find out how following Jesus feels for themselves.