21 February 2006

On contentment

The other night I went to a fundraiser where two musical acts performed to raise money for a local charity. The first was Lori Willcuts, a local Christian/Country/Folk singer. I’ve had the pleasure to get to know Lori a bit because we work on her website and she’s one the sweetest, most genuine folks I know. More to the point I wanted to make – she a great musician and I really enjoy her music. Besides Lori, or after Lori as the case may be, came a gospel singer who’s name escapes me. This woman had an incredible voice. Her specialty is singing gospel and soul music standards with those remarkable pipes and wow!

So I’m sitting there enjoying this second woman’s performance and I find myself thinking about Lori Willcuts, who presumably is lurking off stage, hearing what I’m hearing. For a moment I imagine Lori, the wonderful musician that she is, watching this woman and close to tears. She’s thinking, “Who am I kidding? I can’t sing. THAT’S singing. How can I possibly compete with that.” And in a flash I see Lori abandoning her fifteen year effort, throwing her guitar in a dumpster and finally deciding if her hair is blonde or brown once and for all.

And as she does, the Devil smiles at the fruit of his labor.

More and more I’m convinced that contentment and satisfaction come almost entirely from simply using the time God gives us, using the talents he gives us, and doing so wholeheartedly. Case in point – even if there were a way to say with scientific certainty that Lori was an inferior singer to this gospel woman, who also sang her heart out for Jesus, the question for Lori in that Great White Throne Room won’t be, “Lori, why couldn’t you sing as well as her?” it will be “Lori, did you sing with all your heart?” and knowing Lori her answer will be “Yes, Lord.”

If this is so, then I suddenly see covetousness as a gigantic problem, and a profound sin. Rather than being thankful for the gifts I have I instead long for others. Neglecting the tools God has equipped me with, I envy the better singer, the better writer, the taller, the balder, the more, the less...the other.

About five years ago (I’m guessing, so give or take two years) I remember being pretty timid about singing in church. I wanted to worship “undistracted, unrestrained” as the song says but I “knew” I had a less than pleasant voice so I kept pretty quiet, singing mostly under my breath. I remember running across the verse about being faithful with little things and got the distinct impression that God was inviting me to sing – and if I did he would teach me how to sing better. Slowly but surely I found my spine – ugly or not I started to find the courage to nothing more complicated than raising my voice and soon I was having a great time! Hell, I couldn’t hear myself, I hadn’t really learning how to do that, but I was having a lot more fun. (Which totally transformed worship for me by the way...but that’s another story)

One day after the singing was over and we were doing the compulsory ‘say hi to the stranger next to you’ thing the woman in front of me turned around with this huge smile and shook my hand. “Praise God for your wonderful voice.” she said. I looked at her with one of those ‘Are you talking to me?” looks and she went on to say how my singing had made her feel. The experience still seems a little surreal to me in memory but it was this odd affirmation of something that I was kinda struggling with. Today, I’m a regular singer with our church worship team and it’s AWESOME! And let me be clear on something, it’s not that I somehow grew a great voice in that time. Rather I offered my mediocre voice to God and he made the most of it, and those days where I’m singing with my church and the Spirit it cutting loose – there couldn’t be anything more precious, more fulfilling!

OK – back to the point. Use what you have. Better yet, offer what you have to God and watch HIM use it. I never learned to sing well – I just sing from my heart, that’s what I learned. I realize that there is a fine line here as well. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with ambition and striving for excellence, but that’s different than coveting.

I reckon the other big stumbling block is fear. There is a great line from Dune – ‘fear is the mind killer’ Fear is probably a bigger problem for most folks than covetousness but it’s also less subtle – easier to recognize. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of not knowing what to do next – all these things keep us from reaching our potential. God’s call to us so often includes an adventure of some kind and when that happens fears can roll in like a flood.

Remember that parable about the three servants and the master’s talent? It was fear that kept the third servant from doing anything with the money – he just buries it. When the master returns the servant says “I know you a hard man...so I buried the money.” That poor scrub gets thrown into the outer darkness – and for what? For playing it safe. I confess, that has always sounded pretty darn unfair to me. The servant didn’t steal the money, or squander it like the prodigal son. All he does is stick it in the mattress and he winds up in the teeth gnashing. Did you also notice that in Revelation, in the list of people who go into the lake of fire – you know idolaters, sorcerers, murderers – the people at the very top of that list: cowards.

I’ve always read Christ’s “Be anxious for nothing” as an encouragement. Sort of like “everything will be ok – you’ll see.” But I wonder if it shouldn't be seen as more of a command. Taken just as seriously as “Thou shalt have no other God before me” because in a way isn’t that what fear is really about? When I fear, doesn’t it suggest that I’m really not that sure that God’s in charge after all. Or perhaps it hints that I don’t believe God is all that good after all – perhaps he’s capricious, fickle, distant.

Love God.
Know Him and seek his heart – you’ll see that he IS good.
And be yourself – ALL of yourself. Don’t wish you were somebody else, somewhere else, sometime else. Take exactly who you are right now and offer that to the kingdom. Nothing will make you more content and nothing will sooner earn you the accolade “Well done my good and faithful servant.”


Michael said...

Hey, man--

I just wanted to say thanks for this post. It's thoughtful and thought-provoking as well. It really hit me where I needed to be hit yesterday.

I was just reading a book containing another iteration of the idea that God helps us so we can help others. Your sharing your thoughts absolutely reaches out and alters the thoughts of others. You are a powerful tool in God's service.

Though I just enjoy being able to call you a "tool" with impunity. There should be a line of t-shirts like that: "I'm a tool--for Jesus."


Kathie said...

You already know I don't blog...so this is short.

This particular posting has been encouraging and engaging for me, and hits me where I live. I have thought about the example you used here every day since you posted it. It deals with issues I have struggled with forever, it seems--comparison and perfectionism (though I have only recently copped to the latter).

Thanks--even though I know you don't blog to get praise or comments :) Just thought I should tell ya, I'm grateful for this post.

Silverback said...

Funny how God works. This is an entry that felt pretty half-baked when I posted it but it seems to have hit a chord with some folks. As Mike says - it's cool to be a tool. :)