I repent of ever having recorded one single song, and ever having performed one concert, if my music, and more importantly, my life has not provoked you into Godly jealousy or to sell out more completely to Jesus! — Keith Green
Keith Green was 15 the first time he ran away from home. He started a journal that ran for years as he looked for musical adventure and spiritual truth. Keith had a Jewish background, but he grew up reading the New Testament. He called it "an odd combination" that left him open minded, but deeply unsatisfied. His journey led him to drugs, eastern mysticism, and free-love.
When Keith was 19 he met a fellow seeker/musician named Melody. They were married a year later -- but his spiritual quest continued. Then when he had nearly given up hope, Keith found the truth he was looking for. He was 21 and he never looked back.
What once confused him now made sense as he proudly told the world, “I'm a Jewish Christian." As soon as Keith opened his heart to Jesus, he and Melody opened their home. Anyone with a need, or who wanted to kick drugs, or get off the street, was welcome. Of course, they always heard plently about Jesus.
Not only did Keith's life take a radical turn, but as an accomplished musician and songwriter, so did his music. His quest for stardom ended. His songs now reflected the absolute thrill of finding Jesus and seeing his own life radically changed. Keith's spiritual intensity not only took him beyond most people's comfort zones, but it constantly drove him even beyond himself.
Somewhat reluctantly, Keith was thrust into a "John the Baptist" type ministry—calling believers to wake up, repent, and live a life that looked like what they said they believed. Keith felt he would have met Jesus sooner if not for Christians who led double lives. He made audiences squirm by saying, “If you praise and worship Jesus with your mouth and your life does not praise and worship him, there's something wrong!"
The radical commitment Keith preached was also a desire of his own heart. He said, “Loving Him is to be our cause. He can take care of a lot of other causes without us, but He can’t make us love Him with all our heart. That’s the work we must do... Anything else is an imitation.”
Keith's songs were often birthed during his own spiritual struggles. He pointed the finger at himself, penning honest and vulnerable lyrics—but he left room for God to convict the rest of us too. He knew the journey to heaven often winds through muddy valleys, and saw no value in portraying things as otherwise.
With Keith's honesty, he would have chafed against a glossed-over reading of his own life. After all, Keith was in the spotlight as he grew in Jesus. He made mistakes. We miss something essential when we overlook the frailty and humanity of those who've gone before us. Keith was far from perfect, but he honestly hungered after righteousness—constantly asking the Holy Spirit to, "change my heart, convict me of my sin." And when he was convicted, he took action. If he needed to repent, he repented. If he needed to phone someone to ask forgiveness, he did.
For Keith, meeting Jesus was one thing. Becoming more like Him was another. After striving for years to measure up to God's holiness, at times questioning his own salvation, Keith came into a deeper understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross—both to forgive his sins, and to clothe him in His own righteousness. It wasn't that Keith became less concerned with purity and holiness. But he was now motivated more by love and less by fear in His pursuit of Jesus.
While on earth, Keith struggled with the same things we do—discipline, deadlines, problems crying for attention. He had music to write and a growing family. And he was also discipling the 70 believers who had come to be part of Last Days Ministries—the ministry he and Melody expanded from the outreach that began in their home. But he learned, in the midst of it all, the importance of pausing simply to behold the glory of God and to enjoy His presence. That is perhaps, more than anything, the legacy Keith would have wanted us to remember.
In seven short years of knowing Jesus, the Lord took Keith from concert crowds of 20 or less—to stadiums of 12,000 people who came to hear only him. His recordings were chart topping—and when he began to give his recordings away for whatever people could afford, some misunderstood. His views were often controversial but never boring. Television and radio appearances became the norm. Still, Keith's heart was to please the Lord and build His kingdom, not his own.
And in the last few months of his life, the Lord turned Keith's heart once again toward the lost. He wanted to go back out into the streets, the prisons, and the nations to reach those without God. He wanted to sing to them. He wanted to tell them how much Jesus loved them. However, it was not to be.
On July 28, 1982, there was a small plane crash and Keith went home to be with Jesus. The crash also took the life of his three year old son Josiah, and his two year old daughter, Bethany. Melody was home with their one year old, Rebekah, and was also six weeks pregnant with their fourth child, Rachel. Keith was only 28 years old.
Although Keith is now with Jesus, his life and ministry is still making a huge impact around the world. His songs and passionate delivery are still changing lives. His writings are translated into many languages. Keith once said, "When I die I just want to be remembered as a Christian." It's safe to say he reached his goal, and perhaps, a bit more.
Keith Green was simply a man of conviction. When his convictions led him to an eternally worthy object in the person of Jesus he sold all that he had—ambitions, possessions, and dreams—to possess His love. In so doing he became a man of devotion. He also became a man remembered, and still missed, by millions around the world.
The only music minister to whom the Lord will say, "Well done, thy good and faithful servant," is the one whose life proves what their lyrics are saying, and to whom music is the least important part of their life. Glorifying the only worthy One has to be a minister's most important goal.