34. Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth – Rich Mullins


Rich Mullins

On September 19, 1997 two men were traveling on I-39 north of Bloomington, IL when their vehicle flipped over. Neither of the two were wearing a seat belt and both were thrown from the vehicle. Shortly after they were thrown out of their vehicle a passing tractor-trailer swerved to avoid the turned over vehicle. Rich Mullins was too sore from the impact to move out of the way…

It doesn’t get any more difficult than trying to make a decision about what Rich Mullins album to include. The two part “World As Best As I Remember It” were two wonderful projects with several memorable tunes. Brother’s Keeper was a dark, stark and contemplative album that was moving and piercing.

But it really came down to two titles. The amazing work of art “A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band” and the one I chose, “Winds of Heaven, Stuff of Earth.”

“A Liturgy” was a stunning artistic achievement. Combining the impressive forces of Jimmy A, Rick Elias, Beaker, Phil Madeira and Aaron Smith, Mullins was able to capture many differing voices musically and bring together an impressive work. Highlights from that album included the deeply personal and stirring, “Hold Me Jesus” and the fabulous reworking of the Apostle’s Creed in “Creed.” For the sole reason that millions of American Evangelical Christian were introduced to the Apostle’s Creed for probably the very first time it is worth mentioning! One other highlight from “A Liturgy” was a cover of Mark Heard’s stunning “How to Grow Up Big and Strong.”

In contrast, “Winds of Heaven” is a lighter, sweeter, sometimes melancholy project that is punctuated with worship and promise. But ultimately it came down to impact and lasting impressions and nothing on “A Liturgy” (or too many other albums for that matter) can match what “Awesome God” has meant to a generation of believers. If the reader is only familiar with the classic worship tune then they are missing a truly great project.

The album starts with a chorus of child voices singing a capella before an acoustic guitar takes over and Mullins begins with a discussion of the world in need of Jesus:

Well, the other side of the world
Is not so far away as I thought that it was
As I once thought it was so far away
Well, the other side of the world
Is not so far away
And the distances just dissolves into the love
Into the love

But he immediately recognizes the need to expand the American cultural horizons to fulfill the Great Commission and it is not going to be easy to realize this.

But the new Jerusalem won’t be so easy to build
There’s many bellies to fill
And many hearts to free
Got to set them free

But there is a hope in Mullins words when he takes seriously the claims of the Gospel in regards to its success and power.

And I know that the gates of hell
Are not proned to prevail
As I thought that they were
As I once that they were proned to prevail
But I know that the gates of hell
They have been destined to fail
I see Satan impaled on the Sword of the Word
On the Sword of the Word

Here Mullins explains a truth that has been unfortunately forgotten in modern Evangelicalism. Rather than a weakening, fainting Church doomed for failure, Mullins paints a Biblical picture of success of the Gospel when married with true Biblical compassion.

“With the Wonder” follows with beautiful expressions of the wonder God built into His creation. Mullins realizes that the appreciation for the creation, though, must inevitably lead one to find a glorious response from the creation toward the creator.

So, LORD, to You we give our deepest praise
And to You we sing our loudest songs
And while we live in the world that You have made
We hear it whisper of the world
Of the world that is to come

What follows would change how many people approach the Lord every Sunday morning all across the globe. What started out as a quickly penned worship song for a Youth gathering in Michigan became the single most often sung modern worship song in history. It was also listed as the Number One Christian song in history in CCM Magazine’s countdown of the greatest songs.

Oddly enough the verse structure and content is nothing like any other worship song and, in fact, does not lend itself to corporate worship. But when the chorus kicks in there is nothing to compare it to. Memorable, large, boisterous, powerful and lasting. Generations later I am firmly convinced this chorus will still be a staple for God’s people in worship.

“If I Stand” follows and may be the strongest song on the project. This song ultimately is about the recognition of man’s frailty and God’s loving compassion toward man. It is a story of reliance on the creator by that which is created. Mullins points to the ultimate relationship a man must have…greater than anything he can find on Earth.

So if I stand, let me stand on the promise
That You will pull me through
And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace
That first brought me to You
If I sing, let me sing for the joy
That has born in me these songs
But if I weep, let it be as a man
Who is longing for his home

One other radio hit from the project is “Such a Thing as Glory.” A musical backdrop bordering on world music sets the stage for a lyrical expression devoted to recognizing the great work of Jesus.

There was a man named Jesus
He was God and He was flesh
And He came down here to lead us
Out of this burning wilderness
He took upon His shoulders our sin
Our shame, our death
And there is such a thing as glory

But Mullins does not stop where many others have. He realized the Biblical truth that the glorification of christ is a promise for those who are His at the resurrection.

Now Jesus lives in glory
Jesus reigns as heaven’s King
And the love of God is pouring out
On the earth, the sky, and sea
We who’ve come beneath His mercies
Will be compelled to sing
There is such a thing as glory

Other highlights from this album include “…and I Love You,” and “Home.” For those who may dismiss this album as a “one hit wonder” they have truly missed the heart of an artist that was just beginning to hit his stride. After two poorly received projects (though decent releases on their own), this project moved him into a whole new level of acceptance and the Church and music industry is the better for it.

The only thing I have noticed in Mullins music is the lack of humor that he so often displayed in concert. In fact, I remember the first time I saw him was when he opened up for Steve Taylor and Amy Grant (seriously, they toured together). He sat down to polite applause and said; “Now, I know most of you don’t know who in the world I am…but, then again, I don’t know who you are either!” That broke the ice with the crowd and he then proceeded to perform a medley of songs he had written for other artist including Amy Grant’s “Sing Your Praise to the Lord.” That, for some reason, is etched in my memory as much as his memorable songs.

He is missed.


3 responses to this post.

  1. About the time this album was released, I was working in a Christian bookstore in Irving, TX, when Rich came into town to play a couple of shows at a local Christian nightclub (Footloose). On Saturday afternoon, he came into the store, looking for Frederick Buechner books. (Which, of course, we didn’t carry.)

    I got in a neat conversation with him… asking him about the change in style from the first two synth-driven albums to the more world music feel of Winds of Heaven Stuff of Earth. He said that the album had been the last on the contract and so he & Reed (his producer) had decided to simply make an album that they liked, since it didn’t look like he was going to be putting out any more albums. And then, “Awesome God” hit Christian radio… 🙂

    And the rest is history.

    Well written post… he was a rare & wonderful troubadour for the King.


  2. Living in Central Illinois usually is only relevant because Cornerstone is held somewhat near us. Sadly, living in Bloomington means I got to read the story in the local newspaper about this, and often pass by where it happened. A monumental loss for all of us, the last time I recall seeing him was a small show (if it can even be called a show) with the hammer dulcimer at a church in Rockford. It was amazing…


  3. Sigh, I mean in Naperville, not Rockford. Feel free to fix it if you can, otherwise I can just look silly for all time by this comment, hehe.


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