Petra Calls It Quits

It was a couple of weeks ago when I first heard that Petra had officially announced their retirement. One of the pioneering Christian rock bands, and for many years one of the most popular, Petra has decided to retire after 33 years of ministry. I am a little embarrassed to admit that the news hit me hard. To be honest, I had to hold back the tears. That may sound strange, I admit, but you must consider that Petra has played a pivotal role in my life and in my spiritual development.

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It must have been 1991 when I first heard of Petra. At the time I was still (as far as I can tell) an unbeliever, though one who had been raised in a Christian home, but the Spirit was beginning to stir my heart. I visited a friend’s house one weekend and he played me some of Petra’s music from their latest album, Beyond Belief. I scoffed at it, laughing at the mere suggestion of Christian rock music. At the time I was attending a church that gave tacit approval to secular music, but would not hear of Christian rock, so my reaction flowed naturally from the beliefs that had been drilled into me. But at one point when my friend stepped out for a few hours, I copied one of the songs (piracy, I know) and took it home with me. I must have listed to that song, titled “Underground” at least 100 times. My family and friends joined me in scoffing at the suggestion of Christian rock music. But something about that song spoke to me. The words challenged me to develop a faith of my own and to take it seriously, rather than to simply live out the faith of my parents.

I won’t go underground
I won’t turn and flee
I won’t bow the knee
I won’t go underground
I won’t turn and hide from the rising tide
I won’t go underground
I won’t compromise what the world denies
I won’t go underground
And I’m not ashamed of the cross I’ve claimed

I remained skeptical, but the next time I visited my friend I went with him to the local Christian bookstore and bought two albums, Beyond Belief and Petrified (a best-of album). I was hooked. Shortly afterwards, Petra’s next album, Unseen Power was released, and I snatched it up.

These songs continued to stir my heart. They challenged me to find and develop a personal walk with Christ, a concept that was missing from the church I attended at the time. While I had spent countless hours in church, had been educated in Christian schools and had memorized the catechism, I had never been challenged with the idea that perhaps I was not a believer and that faith had to be personal. The song “Beyond Belief” was particularly challenging:

Leap of faith without a net
Makes us want to hedge our bet
Waters never part until our feet get wet
There’s a deeper place to go
Where the road seems hard to hoe
He who has begun this work won’t let it go

There’s a higher place to go, beyond belief, beyond belief
Where we reach the next plateau, beyond belief, beyond belief
And from faith to faith we grow
Towards the center of the flow
Where He beckons us to go, beyond belief, beyond belief

And eventually I did take that leap of faith, finding for myself that the waters did not part until my feet got wet. I remember one evening kneeling beside my bed and just crying out to God to make me His. I was tired of living a fake faith, a faith that was built around doing and being, not built on the firm foundation of grace. And God, in His mercy, heard my cry. I know that God did not need this music to bring me to this point. Yet I firmly believe that it was an instrument He used to show me the necessity of a personal walk with Him.

I am grateful that I have had opportunity to thank the band for their help in this. In 1998 I even hosted and promoted a Petra concert, and was able to sit with John Schlitt for a few minutes, shake his hand, and just thank him for his ministry to me. I have also shared this with Bob Hartman, who founded the band and who wrote the songs that meant so much to me in my spiritual awakening.

I will always be thankful to Petra for their years of selfless ministry. I am thankful that God chose to use them to help open the eyes of my heart, that I could see the wonder, joy and necessity of walking with and in Him.

Petra will be embarking on a farewell tour this Fall, and it appears that Toronto will be on their list of locations. You can be sure that I will be there (my fifth or sixth Petra concert) to thank them one last time for all they have meant to me. For more information, press releases, and so on, visit Petra Rocks My World.

Does anyone else have Petra memories? Favorite moments, concerts, albums or songs?