10 Keith Green Songs that Still Inspire Us Today
- Lori Stanley Roeleveld Contributing Writer
- Updated Aug 16, 2022
If you knew you’d only have seven years to live, could you imagine having a lasting, impactful ministry for Jesus? We sometimes wonder if we’re too young to make a difference or so old that we have too little time left to leave a mark for Jesus. Keith Green’s songs tell a different story. Keith Green’s short life testifies that neither youth nor limited time are barriers to profoundly influencing the world for Christ.
Who Was Keith Green?
Keith Green is a legend in Contemporary Christian Music for his uncompromising approach to music and faith. Both modern prophet and pop star, Green lived all out for Jesus—frontstage and backstage—until a plane crash ended his life, this side of glory.
Keith was born in New York in 1953, moving to San Fernando Valley in California in his early childhood. His musical interest and talent emerged early, earning him stellar reviews in the local papers for his performances in various stage productions from the time he was eight. He was the youngest to sign with the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), when he published his first song at 11.
Green signed a contract with Decca Records in 1965 and had written 10 songs by the time he was 12. He was mentioned in TIME magazine as an aspiring rock-n-roll singer. Green likely imagined he was headed to stardom, but stardom did not pan out.
Keith was ethnically Jewish but raised in Christian Science. When his dreams of musical fame failed to appear, like many others in the late sixties, he looked for life’s answers in Eastern spirituality and experimentation with drugs.
His life turned around when he married Melody (then Steiner), who encouraged him to explore Christianity. They were 19 when they met and married one year later. Keith also encountered fellow Southern California Christian rock musicians Randy Stonehill and Larry Norman around this time. In 1975, Keith committed his life to Christ. He and Melody both identified from then on as “Jewish Christians.”
Melody and Keith’s home became known as “The Greenhouse,” a place where people grow. Their house was open to anyone who needed to get off the streets or drugs. By 1977, they supported over 70 people in seven different houses, so they founded Last Days Ministries (LDM).
Green no longer sought stardom after coming to Christ but wrote songs in the spirit of John the Baptist, aimed at turning people’s hearts toward God. His songs were challenging, inspiring, and convicting. According to his website, Keith felt he might have come to know Jesus sooner if it weren’t for Christians who led “double lives.” Many of his songs called believers to repent and to wake up to living authentically for Jesus.
Keith’s straightforward message of repentance was received well because he wrote transparently about his own struggles with God. He was far from perfect and worked hard to live with integrity when he fell short, but he also modeled repentance and backed repentance with changed behavior.
It was out of conviction from the Holy Spirit that Keith chose to deliver his concerts for free. He issued an altar call at each concert’s conclusion, impacting thousands for Christ. As Green matured, he retained his passion for holy living, but always tempered it with compassion. Still, following a trip with Melody to Europe in 1982, Keith returned to challenge American Christians to step out of their comfort zones and live radically biblical lives.
On July 28, 1982, Keith and eleven others (including two of his children, three-year-old Josiah and two-year-old Bethany) died when a small plane leased by LDM crashed. The crash also killed visiting church planters John and Dede Smalley, their six children, and pilot Don Burmeister. The group planned an aerial tour of the LDM property but crashed less than 30 seconds after takeoff. Melody was not on board but home with the couple’s one-year-old Rebekah. She was pregnant with Rachel, who would be born in 1983. It was determined that the crash was caused by the plane being unbalanced and over its weight load. Keith and his two children are buried together not far from LDM’s property.
In seven short but intense years, Keith Green, through ministry and music, had a lasting impact on thousands of people. Keith Green’s songs continue to have that impact today, as does the story of his life. Last Days Ministries continues under Melody Green’s leadership.
10 Keith Green Songs
The richness of Keith’s lyrics combined with the brilliance of his uplifting musical style, making each selection a Scripture-inspired sermon in a song. When in concert, Keith would gently explain the Biblical context for each song so his listeners would receive it even if they came from an unchurched background. Here are 10 of his memorable pieces.
1. Soften Your Heart (1978)
“Soften Your Heart” is particularly poignant as Green fervently calls people to reject the emptiness of life apart from Jesus. The lyrics state with confidence that giving your life to Christ means that you will never die but will live forever. After the final line “You’ll never die,” Keith brings the song to an abrupt end and pointed end that leaves listeners breathless knowing how Keith’s earthly life came to a sudden halt.
2. Your Love Broke Through (1976)
“Your Love Broke Through” is Keith’s story about losing his dreams only to wake up to the truth of Jesus and find that everything else had only been a blinding fantasy. It assures listeners that finding God’s love was better than any other dream he was chasing.
3. To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice (1978)
“To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice” exemplifies Keith’s convicting, challenging message to believers that we must live in such a way that we demonstrate Jesus’ truth inside and outside the church. Before he sings, he delivers a brief message about his struggle with giving financially to God and what God taught him through it.
4. Lies (1980)
“Lies” (covered here by another musician, Jason Lon Jacobs) describes the believer’s struggles to defend against Satan’s lies. The spiritual realm was real and relevant to Green and he makes it likewise evident to his listeners.
5. So, You Wanna Go Back to Egypt (1980)
“So, You Wanna Go Back to Egypt” is a song with a light-hearted, humorous feel that still packs a wallop of a message for Christians. Green says the “working title” of the song is “Can God Change?” In this song, he answers that with the truth that God doesn’t change. He still calls people out of bondage into His wonderful life but people continue to complain that they were “better off back in Egypt.”
In the live clip below, Green is careful to educate his audience on the history of Moses and the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt before he plays the song so they get the most from it. The humor of the piece comes in when Green describes various imaginary ways of preparing manna and the grumbling the Israelites did about it. The message comes when Green draws a straight line from the whining Israelites to modern believers.
6. Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful (1980)
“Oh Lord, You’re Beautiful” is a haunting and well-known prayerful song about wanting to know afresh the joy of loving the Lord. It’s about the longing to be refilled with God’s love and to receive His grace with the welcome arms of a new believer.
7. How Can They Live Without Jesus (1978)
“How Can They Live Without Jesus” describes the mystery of people who reject Jesus and try to live without Him. As usual, Green brings this lament about those who don’t know Jesus back around to believers who aren’t obeying God and living up to our calling in Christ to reach the world for Him.
8. My Eyes Are Dry (1978)
“My Eyes Are Dry” is a plaintive prayer about faith that has grown stale and needs revival. This song is powerful in its confessional spirit and its longing for the refreshment only God can bring to one who has allowed their life with Christ to become dry.
9. Romans VII (1980)
“Romans VII” describes the battle of every believer against sin, echoing Paul’s words that the very thing he does is the thing he doesn’t want to do. The song leads singers from the ache of falling short to the action inspired by receiving grace. This was Green’s message repeated often.
10. Create in Me a Clean Heart (1984)
“Create in Me a Clean Heart” with lyrics from David’s Psalm 51, a psalm of repentance after he sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed, has been sung in congregations around the world. The song captures the repentant believer’s desire to be restored to a full relationship with God in His healing forgiveness.
Voicing the Faith of a Generation
Keith Green, in seven short years of loving Jesus, demonstrated the far-reaching impact one life sold out completely to Jesus can have, even when lived imperfectly. Green represented so many Christians from the sixties and seventies who loved Jesus but struggled to present Him to a generation that was dropping out and turning away from everything that represented the past way of doing things.
Keith Green’s songs showed us all that the past could be made fresh and relevant when applied through individual lives to the present. Green had initially taken the path of others in his generation looking for truth through substance use and eastern philosophies but found his way finally by rejecting Satan and the lure of musical fame and turning to Jesus.
Green captured this journey in his “Dear John Letter (to the Devil).” Through fresh music and transparent lyrics, Green also makes a clear presentation of the gospel as only Green could do.
Every generation needs voices like Keith’s to commit to an uncompromising life for Christ and communication to a new generation of old truths told in fresh ways. Are you that voice for now? What are you waiting for?
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Lori Stanley Roeleveld is a blogger, speaker, coach, and disturber of hobbits. She’s authored six encouraging, unsettling books, including Running from a Crazy Man, The Art of Hard Conversations, and Graceful Influence: Making a Lasting Impact through Lesson from Women of the Bible. She speaks her mind at www.loriroeleveld.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.