By: Brad Masters //
I’m pretty miserable at piano. I know only one song (which I memorized in 8th grade so our piano wouldn’t go completely unused), and even though I know how to read music, something happens to my brain when I sit down in front of a piano.
In my defense, it’s not all my fault. When I was in 3rd grade, my piano teacher, who by this point was entirely fed up with my less-than-stellar practice habits, issued an ultimatum: baseball or piano. So I did what any sensible 9-year old would do when put to such an absurd choice. “Peace out, lady.” I can’t really remember, but I must have hit a grand slam and pitched a perfect game that night or something.
The problem is, I really love music. Especially church music (called “hymns”). And I love to sing. So this whole “can’t play the piano” situation is a real drag. But over the years, I’ve found a way to utilize my minimal piano talent in service of my love of music. I’ve found that I can usually figure out—with significant effort—the first chord of each measure, and if I play those chords as I sing the words, I can crank out something that almost sounds like music.
This past Sunday, I played the piano and sang along to some of my favorite hymns. And as I did, I realized that my really weak attempt at “music” was a great analogy for how difficult, but worthwhile, it is to follow Jesus Christ. I recorded it. If you want to listen along as I explain the analogy, feel free. It might give you a real glimpse into what I’m talking about. I’m being fairly vulnerable here, letting you into my private worship sesh and also revealing how frequently I fall flat (or sharp), but I think hearing my struggle is as instructive as the words I write here. So don’t judge too harshly.
If you’re listening to the recording right now, you can see I’m fumbling through this first song (“Where can I turn for peace?”), and quite slowly at that. Most of the time, I can find the right notes, but sometimes I can’t. I play the chord a few times until I get it right. But even when I find the right chord, it usually takes so long that it would offend anyone with even a slight sense of rhythm, meter, and tempo. The last verse is usually faster than the first, which means I’m slowly getting better with each repetition, but the difference in speed is so slight that one might wonder if I’m really improving at all.
But the one thing the casual observer will not be privy to, of course, is how I’m feeling throughout this objectively poor performance of musical virtuosity. The truth is, I’m invigorated , transported to a spiritual place where I experience real, tangible connection to Jesus Christ’s grace and love. The messages of the lyrics, the emotions in those notes. In its own way, this is an act of worship, even if Bach is rolling in his grave.
As I fumble along, my feeble attempt to connect with Jesus buoys me up. At times it is frustrating (it took me 6 minutes to play 2 out of 3 verses to Be Still My Soul, for heaven’s sake!), and the only solace I take is in my hope that Christ is not annoyed by my rhythm-less cacophony. He is not standing nearby, with His hands cupped over His ears, hoping that I’ll stop butchering these songs, which are otherwise beautiful in more adept hands and voices. No, I believe he sees my attempt for what it is: an act of worship, of struggling—but earnest—devotion.
Jesus Christ has made some amazing promises: life-after-death, salvation, temporal and eternal happiness. But, you see, if we want to enjoy these promises, we must trod the difficult path of Christian discipleship. We must literally become “new creatures” in Christ, a process that demands that we shed some of our selfish inclinations. If played right, the Christian “score” is beautiful: selfless service, empathetic consoling, unflinching kindness. If only it were such an easy piece to play. Instead, the path is fraught with frustration, in ourselves, in others, and sometimes even in God himself (Christ himself once uttered, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”).
The process of “soul building” isn’t easy. C.S. Lewis put it perfectly, analogizing it to “house building”:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
We are not just passive bystanders in this process. It takes a lot of work to re-shape our lives into something so majestic; it requires consistent and determined effort to do what Christ asks of us. The trouble is that none of us are very good at that.
So we fumble along and feebly attempt to connect with Jesus. We get better as time goes on, though probably not by much. Our gradual improvement is nothing to write home about, but we are trying. We love Christ and yearn for his promises, so we can take courage at even the most imperceptible growth.
To any casual observer, our Christian devotion may look hopelessly hypocritical. “She professes to be a Christian but she parties more than anyone.” Or “He says he believes in Christ, but he sure does gossip about his neighbors a lot.” Even other Christians who fancy themselves to have a better handle on gospel living may scoff at how slow we are in the uptake.
But what the casual observer is not privy to, of course, is how we feel throughout what may be an objectively poor performance of Christian ethics. The truth is, we feel invigorated. The process is difficult and painful, but the joy that is felt in the trying is real and tangible. Our attempts fall far short of perfection, but Christ sees our attempts for what they are: acts of worship, of struggling—but earnest—devotion.
So come enjoy the music with us. The experience is transcendent.