#263 - "Eyes on the Prize" by Sara Groves
Sara's continued support of a social justice cause drives the message behind the song, as NRT's Kevin Davis discovers.

Each of Sara Groves’ albums have received well-deserved acclaim for her premier songwriting ability. Ten years ago, Sara’s major label debut album, Conversations, led to her nomination for Best New Artist. She has followed up each album with her next “best” album with All Right Here and The Other Side of Something. With her three previous INO recordings (now Fair Trade Services)--Add to the Beauty, Tell Me What You Know and Fireflies & Songs--Groves focused on a theme and wrote poetic commentary with songs about social justice and the impoverished. Invisible Empires is the landmark tenth album by Sara Groves.

Sara Groves still spends her “advocacy currency” on the organization she’s supported for several years: International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights agency that works toward justice for victims of human sex trafficking and other forms of enslavement. She writes an IJM song for every album to keep the message of their organization in front of people.

For Invisible Empires, that song is the gospel-inspired “Eyes on the Prize.” The song opens with the hymn “The Gospel Plow,” adapted during the Civil Rights Movement and recorded for this album acapella by the talented young voices of a group based in Jersey City, N.J.: the New City Kids.

Groves enters the song singing about Paul and Silas, and asking listeners to keep their eyes on the prize and hold on. While that message is universal, Groves had IJM specifically in mind, knowing that this nonprofit social-justice organization, like many do, has reached its point of the “long haul.” Some supporters have lost their fervor but the ones remaining, like Groves, are growing more attached to the cause. I had the great opportunity to speak with Sara about her song “Eyes On The Prize.”

Please tell me the message behind the song “Eyes On The Prize.”

The lyrics of this song were taken from a hymn that predates World War I called “The Gospel Plow.” In 1956, the lyrics were re-written for the Civil Rights Movement. I wanted to bring new life to this song as I don’t feel like this song is done. It’s meant a lot to people over the years. With every album, I have at least one song about the work of International Justice Mission ever since I felt God calling me to advocate for them and what they are doing. Not just IJM, and they’d be the first to tell you, but living for justice in the broader sense. In my mind, the trafficking of young girls and slavery is the biggest evil in the world today.

As a student of history, I wonder what my role would have been during the abolishment of slavery and during the Civil Rights Movement. Would I have risked losing friendships defending people being oppressed and abused? I have always wondered that about myself. When I learned about IJM in 2005, I couldn’t sleep at night. I was pacing the floor and wondering how I could be in involved in their vision. It is broad-reaching vision to strengthen judicial systems and rules of law in communities where that has been trampled. It’s working--that’s the incredible thing.

Are there any Bible verses that connect to the message of the song?

1 Corinthians 9:26-27: “I don't know about you, but I'm running hard for the finish line. I'm giving it everything I've got. No sloppy living for me! I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.”

Acts 20:24: “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

…and 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

What is the take-away message for listeners about the song?

IJM and other organizations have a lot of other organizations competing for attention. Sometimes, the enthusiasm of supporters can seem like a fad. People might have signed up and then dropped off. Fighting human trafficking is not a fad. It requires sustained engagement and we’re seeing unbelievable momentum in communities where the work is persevering. And it is visceral how powerful the work of prayer has been in these communities. At IJM, every morning the employees have a half hour of devotional time and then corporate prayer at 11 a.m. in Washington, D.C., and around the world every day. They have seen miracle after miracle as the effects of their prayers.

I feel a little fatigued thinking about all of the needs in our world. This message of the song is two-fold, in every way the spiritual sense of keeping our eyes on the finish line as Paul says in Corinthians, Acts, Timothy, and other places in the Bible. You need to ask God in prayer to reveal what that finish line is in your life. Then you need to ask yourself about the advocacy you support. For me, it’s about International Justice Mission.

Paul and Silas bound in jail
Got no money for to go their bail
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Paul and Silas thought they were lost
The dungeon shook and the chains fell off Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Freedom's name is mighty sweet
And one day soon we are gonna meet
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

I got my hand on the gospel plow
Won't take nothing for my journey now
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The wait is slow, and we've so far to go Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The wait is slow, and we've so far to go Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Only chain a man can stand
Is that chain of hand on hand
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

Ain't no man on earth control
The weight of glory on a human soul.
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

The wait is slow, and we've so far to go Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on

The wait is slow, and we've so far to go Keep your eyes on the prize [x3]

When you see a man walk free,
It makes you dream of jubilee.

When you see a child walk free,
It makes you dream of jubilee.

When you see a family free,
It makes you dream of jubilee.

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

Matthew Henry’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 9:26-27: “In these verses the apostle Paul hints at the great encouragement he had to act in this manner. He had a glorious prize, an incorruptible crown. It is quite otherwise in the Christian race than in your races; only one wins the prize in them. You may all run so as to obtain. You have great encouragement, therefore, to persist constantly, and diligently, and vigorously, in your course. There is room for all to get the prize. You cannot fail if you run well. He who keeps within the limits prescribed, and keeps on in his race, will never miss his crown, though others may get theirs before him. And shall not Christians be much more exact and vigorous when all are sure of a crown when they come to the end of their race?”

Matthew Henry’s commentary on Acts 20:24: “Paul fixes a brave and heroic resolution to go on with his work, notwithstanding. It was a melancholy peal that was rung in his ears in every city, that bonds and afflictions did abide him; it was a hard case for a poor man to labor continually to do good, and to be so ill treated for his pains. Now it is worth while to inquire how he bore it. He was flesh and blood as well as other men; he was so, and yet by the grace of God he was enabled to go on with his work, and to look with a gracious and generous contempt upon all the difficulties and discouragements he met with in it. Let us take it from his own mouth here, where he speaks not with obstinacy nor ostentation, but with a holy humble resolution: “None of these things move me; all my care is to proceed and to persevere in the way of my duty, and to finish well.”

I love this song and somehow Sara has released her newest best album, topping even her previous excellent work with Invisible Empires, my top album of 2011. This song is a great example of how I am challenged by Sara’s songs to think beyond myself. Being a Christian isn’t just keeping Jesus to ourselves; it’s also about keeping our “hands on the Gospel plow” and our “eyes on the prize” to finish the race that God has set out for each of us in our walks.

Look at injustice in the world through God’s eyes and you can’t help but be moved to act like Paul and Silas. As Sara and I discussed, whatever cause you support, be passionate about it and speak into the cause consistently. Ask yourself if you’re losing sight of God’s purpose for you. Don’t give up on worthy causes; they are not fads.

Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ.

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