Thursday, 5 August 2010

by Madeleine Wilson

As the years go by, this is a question which is increasingly being asked. It is a question which Elvis himself asked many times. Why did God give him such a wonderful voice and so much success? Why was he loved and admired by so many people? Others are now asking why is Elvis still so successful and one may say, even more popular today, with many more people becoming fans and being deeply moved by his music? Why is Elvis known worldwide? Someone once said that there are three names which are recognised all over the world. They are Jesus, Elvis and Coca Cola.

There were two comments I recently read in a well-known Elvis magazine, which I feel, reflect the thoughts of many people. One was from Bill Burk, the editor of the magazine and a friend of Elvis. “How deeply Elvis touched so many millions of lives during his lifetime; and continues to do so has never ceased to amaze me. And it crosses political, financial and social boundaries”. The other is in the form of a question, from Kathy Braquet a fan from Texas who wrote: “What is it about this one man that keeps thousands of fans coming back (to Memphis) year after year from all over the world……..It’s obviously his God given talent/voice, his sensuous gorgeous looks, his deep spirituality and his kindness to others. But it goes much further than all of that. It’s something that blows my mind and I can’t seem to put my finger on.”

Since I became an Elvis fan in 1995, I have also been amazed and continue to be so by the phenomenon that Elvis is. After researching into his life, particularly the influence of the gospel in his life, I have discovered many things and have come to the following conclusion, which you may like to consider.

Elvis’ upbringing in the “Bible Belt” in the 1930s and ‘40s, where attending church two or three times a week was normal, ensured that he had a great love for God, a good knowledge of the Scriptures and that he knew how to pray. When they moved to Memphis, his parents made sure that they had a good church to belong to, and having met their pastor Rev Rex Dyson, I am convinced that his passionate preaching had a great effect on the young teenage Elvis. When they moved to The Assemblies of God Church, Elvis would continue to get good teaching, but was perhaps not so involved. After Elvis started travelling and became famous, he no longer had time to attend church regularly, and in any case was concerned that his presence caused a stir and took the focus off God. He got his preaching from the television evangelists, and his praise took the form of many hours of singing gospel songs, before, after and in between the shows, with his backing singers such as The Imperials and JD Sumner and the Stamps. At one stage in the ‘70s he even had his own gospel group, “Voice”, whom he employed to sing gospel whenever he required, which often was late at night and into the early hours of the morning.

It is clear that Elvis had many Godly characteristics: beauty, kindness, a sweet nature, a sense of humour, generosity and an interest in and a desire to help people. His lifestyle, however, did not always reflect the holiness of the awesome God whom he served. There were many forces in his life attempting to lead him away from God, and I am amazed that he kept his sweet nature till the end, even in the face of the most vicious attacks. It certainly is a case of “amazing grace”.

Having been brought up as a Christian, Elvis knew that he was on earth not only to live a good life and to help people but that the Lord had a specific purpose for his life. He endeavoured throughout his life to discover that purpose.

It was his desire to be a full time gospel singer. At the time of his death he had already discussed in detail and planned a full gospel concert. I believe also that he was called to be an evangelist, that is, not only to sing of God’s goodness and love and to give hope, but also, to bring people to a point of recognition of the need of redemption which comes only through Jesus Christ.

So, if this was God’s plan for Elvis’ life, what went wrong? I would maintain that nothing went wrong, in the sense that God’s purposes for Elvis’ life are still being worked out. It is true, that if Elvis had made a strong and determined effort to break free, he could still be alive travelling the world, singing, preaching and leading many people into the Kingdom of God. As it was, Elvis was caught in a trap. I believe the Lord knew that Elvis would not be able to get out of this trap, so in His mercy he took him from this scene of time and I believe Elvis now sees Jesus face to face and is having a ball singing gospel forever, as the song says ”we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first began.”

Perhaps Elvis is a type of Samson. Samson was an anointed man of God, who served God well, by destroying God’s enemies with his exceptional strength, but because of his moral weakness, he lost his strength, was captured and was reduced to being mocked in front of his enemies. Through his death, however he destroyed more of God’s enemies (did more for God) than when he was alive. (Samson’s story can be found in the Bible in Judges 13 –16.)

Perhaps it will be that through his tragic death, which has captured the imaginations of millions and helped to continue the “mystery” of Elvis, Elvis will have reached more people with the gospel than when he was alive. There are many stories of people who came to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ when Elvis was alive, as a result of attending a concert, or listening to recordings of him singing the gospel songs. Since Elvis’ death, more people have become Christians, listening to the gospel songs or even while standing by the graveside at Graceland.
So that is why I have come to the conclusion that what it is about this man, is the Holy Spirit. Elvis' lifestyle was not exemplary in holiness, but Elvis was given a gift to communicate the Gospel and the gifts of God cannot be revoked, therefore the charisma of that gift was very attractive whether or not he used it fully. People are still attracted to and hungry for the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and the presence of love, which was so evident in his life.

Why Elvis was and is still so famous and loved is I believe, because God’s plan for Elvis’ life was that hundreds of thousands of people would hear the gospel through him and be saved. Although Elvis is dead, God is not, and by His Holy Spirit, still reaches out to us to let us know that He loves us passionately and does not desire for any of us to perish.

Most fans are horrified by the people who “worship” Elvis in an open physical way. These “worshippers” bow down and kneel before statues of him and look to him to answer their prayers. Elvis consumes almost every aspect of their lives. Most people inherently know that this is wrong and yet one wonders how many “ordinary” fans do in fact worship Elvis without really realising it. I was recently speaking to an “ordinary” Elvis fan who is very happily married and living a very normal life. When I asked, “How would you feel if for some reason you would never be able to listen to Elvis singing again; for example if you went deaf, or all of Elvis’ recordings disappeared from the face of the earth?” His reply was, “It would be the end of the world. There would be no more reason to live without Elvis. Elvis is everything to me.”

Could it be that many fans in their attitude to Elvis are worshipping, not Elvis, but an “unknown God”. They see in Elvis something desirable, but cannot quite define what it is. Perhaps it is similar to the situation that the Athenians were in when the apostle Paul found their altar inscribed “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD”. Paul said to them, “ Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed (Jesus). He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." (Acts 27:23-31)

These words are as true and relevant today as they were when they were first written.

So next time you listen to Elvis singing gospel, remember that he was a servant of God bringing a message of hope to you. And it does indeed “go further than that”. God is still alive, only a prayer away, waiting for our response to his ultimate gift. For He so loved everyone in the world, that He gave his only son Jesus that all who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life. It is, as Kathy says, “something that blows our minds” and may perhaps elicit that “trembling” question, “what must I do to be saved?”

Perhaps if he were still alive, Elvis would say something like this to us:

“You can just say about all that Gospel stuff Return To Sender because I've Got A Lot of Livin' to do. You can also say that religion is just a kind of Good Luck Charm - only a bit of superstition to make you feel better when you get All Shook Up once in a while, or regret paying the heavy price for One Night Of Sin. Some however are afraid that they're too bad and that it is too late for A Fool Such As I and that they have missed their chance of finding God Some fear they've Lost That Lovin' Feeling for the things of God they once had, and that's that. But I Believe that God gives us another chance. You may feel deep down about God, that You're Always On My Mind and when the chips are down and I'm left to my thoughts, I Just Can't Help Believin', but beware, It's Funny How Time Slips Away... I tell you Doncha Think it's Time? to Reconsider Baby. Are You Lonesome Tonight? Is there an emptiness in your heart? If you feel stirred and moved and would really like to know the Lord for real, perhaps for you It's Now Or Never. When you think of Jesus dying on the cross you may not understand all about it, but If That Isn’t Love, nothing is. Many before you have said Where Could I Go But To The Lord? It is easy to begin that relationship with Jesus, even a simple prayer sincerely said is how you can Put Your Hand In The Hand (Of the Man From Galilee). All I can say is that when anyone is willing to Reach Out To Jesus they will know in their heart He Touched Me, and then they will want to sing for all to hear How Great Thou Art. Only Believe and there will be everlasting Life and Peace In The Valley for you.”
(Many thanks to Revd Peter Kay for this clever and thougth provoking composition)