This post is several, several days late – just like the last one.
I just could not possibly squeeze in the time to say a few words of reflection on the recent goings on of my musical world. And so much keeps on just happening!
But this is what I do want to say today: all the folk who talk about keeping going when you have a vision – they’re onto something. The practical problems I have encountered in trying to realise my own musical and spiritual vision/s have meant that I have not spent anything like the time that I would have wanted with my scores as a conductor – and I have some very serious performances coming up for which I need to know the music as well as I can! Because it is more than music, and while my own integrity is weak and spineless and just wants an easy life, the integrity of Jesus Christ absolutely demands that I know the music well enough to be able to lead spiritually as well as musically – even within the music itself. And as redeemed child of God, I have been given the righteousness of Christ – and that is the ONLY reason that I can choose to not fail my calling before God and man. Ah well. More midnight oil ahead!
And on that note, given the spiritual seriousness of this blog, it behoves me to say to all those responsible for musical leadership that you cannot make demands of players and singers and then fail to carry out your own responsibilities as a musician to the music. First in the firing line today – gospel choral directors who are frequently carried by their singers (who often know the music better than they do due to the endless rehearsal and learning by ear). I’m one of those – I know what it is to teach music better than to know it yourself. But that won’t do. In classical music, you won’t get very far if the singers know the music better than you!
There are also classical choral conductors who have the gift of thinking on their feet and living in the moment, but who survive for varying periods of time without ever really learning the music properly. Bach, Brahms, Mozart, Bruckner, Stanford et al – all of this sacred music is frequently conducted by music directors who can make no real confession of God – because they do not know Him! And those of us who have had the enormous privilege of meeting God for ourselves frequently do not do the work to lead singers and instrumentalists through some of the most amazing music ever conceived for the praise of God Himself to a standard that is worthy. I am talking to myself as well as those of you to whom this might apply. I am currently so busy with classical music and jazz that for the first time I understand why it might be that I have no serious gospel choral project at the time of writing this post…
I have been trying so hard to keep all these balls in the air that I have been at risk of burnout. But I am delighted to be able to give a testimony that God has found ways to show me how I can continue on this journey, but work smarter rather than harder. I can also see why certain things did not happen earlier in my career. And I also see that the challenge of sharing faith in music is so great that many better and more talented musicians than myself have come unstuck. Today, not for the first time, I think of Mervyn Warren, one of the most astoundingly talented musicians to have come out of the late 20th century anywhere and in any genre – but he happened to be a black American and a Seventh-Day Adventist. He was the driving creative force behind Take 6, and the 1990 album So Much to Say features many of his arrangements/compositions, including Come Unto Me – which, over 2o years later, will continue to be beyond the reach of the vast majority of vocal ensembles – even those who specialise in gospel music.
Mervyn Warren has left his biblical Christian heritage behind for a lifestyle and career that is a world away from sacred music. How does this work? How can a man write music that has a real devotional quality to it, only to turn away from the truth in such a radical way?
And how does a gospel composer/arranger like myself avoid going the same way? Why do some of us stay in the church, and others leave?
There is a text which has provided me with much comfort but also given me much confusion:
John 10:28-29 (New King James Version)
28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.
If this is true, then I have one option, and one option only – to believe it. But how come some of us face certain temptations and stick with God and find ourselves carried to higher ground, and others fall? How does it work? Why has God chosen me, and called me to ministry when the facts show that I am no better at being a perfectly consistent Christian than anyone else? How does God use anyone at all? This is an example of an amazing promise that also sparks very serious questions!
I know that there are those who have used this passage in conjunction with others to argue for a doctrine of predestination that is as unbiblical as can be – given the picture of God that emerges throughout the entirety of the Bible – and this is not the time to address that. What I wish to say in this post is that out of the craziness of my life, God is at work and He is making sense out of what I cannot understand. And so if you cannot make sense out of the circumstances of your life and the promises of God in His Word, then stand alongside me today in a re-commitment and re-consecration of your entire life to God’s purposes. I am amazed and humbled to see that God has not allowed me to fall into the hands of the enemy – which means that the passage above does apply to me – and it is for that reason that I am dedicating the rest of my life to sharing the gospel message here in the Western world where outright atheism is more rampant than ANYWHERE else in the world (Japan being about the only exception).
God has not called us to understanding. He has called us to obedience. He will not call you into greater faith only to then give you security. Today, if everything in your life makes perfect sense, I want you to know that I rejoice for you, but pastorally, I do want to suggest that if it’s all…straightforward…are you being spiritually stretched?
Do not misunderstand me. I am not God. I do not judge. But this blog is not a means of public expression for the sake of my own ego. It functions as a virtual pulpit in many senses of the word. It is my duty to ask of you the questions, and to leave you and God to work out the answers for yourself. We are not given the same walk. Nor the same burdens. Nor the same callings.
Sometimes, the only way for us to experience order in chaos is to believe that our steps are ordered (Psalm 37:23) – even when the way does NOT seem orderly to our human comprehension.
Which brings me to my last point on this post…
A friend of mine who is currently struggling in her walk with God made what I think is an astonishingly prescient observation. I quote:
“The devil isn’t stupid. He’s learnt from God how to reach us where we are.”
So, here we are in the church, exulting over the fact that God can take the very things that Satan means for evil and use them for good. But in our praise of God, we forget that Satan sees that God has been doing this for a very long time, and so because he is jealous of God, he wants to take what God would use for our own good and DESTROY us right in our salvation!
This does NOT mean that Satan has equal power with God. But it means that our salvation is a matter of conscious decision-making on our part to accept the grace that God has given and to continue choosing to accept it moment by moment. We pray for God’s blessings – but what if God has to withhold some blessings for some believers because He knows that they do not have the character to handle those blessings, and that Satan can force their weaknesses against them?
I have known for a long time that God has had to use trials and tribulations to ensure that I stay on my knees. This does not mean that part of me stops crying out for an easier life. But I know that we are all charged with a solemn responsibility, detailed in Philippians 2:
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
The amazing thing about the chaos is that God will bring order – and your faith will grow exponentially as a result. I close by encouraging you to go look up Isaiah 42:16, and then talk to God about it – and about your life in general.