This one was written by the esteemed Margaret Pope.

29f84c081c60b630732dc587a023a115-1Growing up in the Bible-belt south and actively participating in youth group, I could hardly be considered a good Christian if I didn’t listen to NEEDTOBREATHE. I distinctly remember singing “Washed by the Water” for the first time in ninth grade on a senior high youth group retreat, and the rest, as they say, is history. Wikipedia classifies NEEDTOBREATHE as an “American Christian rock band,” but I think of NEEDTOBREATHE as a rock band with a hint of folk whose members happen to be Christians. Each of their albums consists of a mix of subtly Christian-themed songs and secular love songs. As an avid listener, I enjoy picking out the truths that they slip into their songs, and during a recent driving-home-from-work jam session, I was struck by such truths in “Rise Again” from their 2014 album Rivers in the Wasteland.

While singing “Oh, Carolina” in Live from the Woods at Fontanel (2015), lead-singer Bear Rinehart admits that producing Rivers in the Wasteland proved to be the most challenging yet and threatened to break up the band. The pain of that season for the band certainly can be heard throughout Rivers in the Wasteland, but a hope for the future also emerges. In an interview with The Christian Post, Rinehart remarks, “We were in a dark place when we made the last record, but to me this album is mostly a story of redemption…Most bands would’ve broken up ten times by now if they’d gone through what we went through, but I think it made us stronger than ever.” “Rise Again” sums up Rinehart’s thoughts on Rivers in the Wasteland as the song progresses from despair to hope.

The song starts slowly and despondently with minimal instruments and only Rinehart singing as he contemplates how the band got to this desperate point and whether “a bitter end” would be less painful than trying to work through the challenges at hand:

I know how it started the walls that we build to separate us
Make it wider, stronger, til it’s too tall for us to touch
Heaviness is on me I don’t see how we might be whole again
We might be better off in the wake of a bitter end

The last two lines of the second verse show a significant shift in their view of “heaviness” from completely debilitating weight to simply a fact of life that leads to something greater.

Heaviness is only temporary the daylight will soon break in;
The sunlight can change a heart in the wake of a bitter end.

The juxtaposition of these two verses echo Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians when he says, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (4:16-17). Although we often cannot perfectly live according to the idea that our afflictions are “light and momentary,” these verses are a comforting reminder that such afflictions are renewing our hearts. Similarly, NEEDTOBREATHE recognizes that the sunlight, the truth of God’s love and perfect plan for our lives, can shine through those hard times and “change a heart.”

As “Rise Again” continues, the band’s mood picks up with the second chorus with more instruments and voices joining in, as if the light is continuing to shine into their lives. And finally with the bridge (and my favorite instrumental break of the entire album), the singers are ready to forge ahead and persevere through what initially appeared to be inescapable suffering:

I could see us moving on I can feel that coming on strong;
We’ll never start all over like this and I still can’t believe it.

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The singers almost can’t believe they made it through this valley in their lives but recognize the growth that will inevitably come as a result. The song hits its pinnacle with the final repetitions of the bridge and chorus with still more instruments and voices as they face this hard time in their lives as a united front. They seem to finally believe the chorus they’ve been singing repeatedly:

Oh I know I’m gonna rise again
Set my sights on where I’m going
And my goodbyes to where I’ve been
Oh I know I’m gonna rise again
Singing farewell king of the broken
So long my friend

By the end of the song, they confidently “rise again” from the ashes of the trial they faced and look with hope to the future. They turn from their turbulent past, having lived under the rule of the “king of the broken,” the enemy of God’s people, and “set [their] sights on where [they’re] going,” to live in the light they have been singing about.

NEEDTOBREATHE shares their struggle with us in a very public, vulnerable way and demonstrates that no one is immune to tribulation, all while pointing to the hope they have. Jesus also repeatedly reminds us of this hope. In John 16, he says, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus doesn’t shy away from the fact that life on this earth will be hard, but because he died and rose again, conquering sin, we have the hope of heaven. And in the meantime, we can rest in the knowledge that Christ, who came to earth in human form, has experienced everything we have and can sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:14-15). He gets it. He knows life sucks sometimes. And he wants to carry that burden for us. We are not alone in this. Thanks be to God!