This weekend I was at an open mic night as the proud mother of a certain drummer. The event was sponsored by a local youth group and consisted of teens performing cover tunes in the current Top 40. Some brave souls sang song they had written, which were good, but you won’t be hearing them on the radio any time soon. We like to think that Taylor Swift was born ready for the success she has. Or that Adele was always a great pop singer who just had to be discovered. But the truth is that it takes a lot of practice, open mic nights, failures and plain old hard work to get where they are. That night I was witnessing the making of the next generation of rock stars.
I was reminded that learning to be a rock star is a lot like the life of a disciple. These kids were learning how to be rock stars by singing someone else’s songs. For many of us who grew up in churched homes, we learned the Christian life by watching and imitating those around us. There were certain things that we did or didn’t do because we were Christians. I started having a quiet time because I was taught that Christians read the Bible. I went to church because that’s what my family did. I developed the habit of telling the truth because I learned there were consequences for lying. Like the teens who learned the words and the notes for their favorite songs on the radio, I had learned the notes and the words of the Christian life.
Some of the young musicians sang songs they had written. They were trying to bring their own voices to their music. For most of them, the seed idea behind the song was interesting, but they still used a lot of cliche phrases and pictures to present their message. The difference between a good song and a great song is that special something that makes it different from every other song out there. I admired their courage for sharing their personal art expression in a public way. Some very good singers never write their own songs.
In my life as a believer a similar thing happened when I left home and had to decide for myself how I was going to live the Christian life. Was I going to follow all the rules and go to church every Sunday? When I moved away from home, the idea of choosing a church was completely foreign to me because my parents chose for me. I had to decide what was important to me in a church. I had to look at how God made me and ask where He wanted me to serve. Would I still read my Bible if there was no parent there to check on me? Would I still dress the same and talk the same? During this time of trying to sing my own song, there were successes and failures. Sometimes my outward behavior looked good, but my heart was full of pride. My intentions may have been good, but the way I carried it out was a failure. Nevertheless, I was trying to make my faith my own.
The problem is that some Christians have never tried to sing their own songs. They are still singing the words and playing the notes their parents taught them to play. The problem is that there is no heart behind their actions. As I sat and listened carefully to the teens sing Adele and Bruno Mars, something was missing. The notes were right, at least most of them. What was missing was the emotion behind the song. We’ve heard the American Idol judges say the same thing. “You sounded good, but you didn’t really connect to what you were singing about.” That’s what makes the difference between a good singer and a great singer. I wonder how much teens can truly understand about deep love and deep loss and pain.
My Christian life is in danger of losing the emotion too. Sometimes I find myself singing the words and going through the motions. I know the words and the notes of the gospel, but have I forgotten how great the good news is? Do I live the Christian life with the passion and emotion of the songwriter singing her own songs or am I hitting the notes without connecting to the message?
The song I sing today has more depth and emotion than the songs I sang as a child. I realize more the depth of my sin and what my dark heart is capable of left unchecked. I grow more disgusted with the flesh and what it drives me to do. Like young song writers singing about love, I had no idea what love really was until I knew God and how much he loved me, even when I was so unworthy of his love. That He sent His only Son to die on the cross so that I could be in a relationship with God. His promise of eternal life is mine not because of all the good things I’ve done, but because of His great love for me. This kind of love is something to sing about; it’s something to live for. It’s the kind of love that consumes all of me.
Yes, knowing and playing the right notes is important. We all know from watching American Idol auditions that passion and emotion alone are not enough to get you into the competition. In the same way, the disciplines of the Christian life like reading, studying and memorizing the Bible, going to church and praying are very important. It’s impossible to experience growth in your spiritual life without them. Jack Miller in one of his lectures for Sonship pointed out that many of us know all the right words for the gospel song, but we have forgotten the music. Will you take a minute today to hear the music, not just the words, of the gospel? Will you let your heart feel the passion, the love, and the breath-taking beauty of the good news?