Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Gift and the Giver

I have a story to tell you today, so bear with me. I'm afraid this could turn into a lengthy post. But stick with me. I need your input!

There once was a little girl who loved music. She loved to try picking out church hymns on the piano. She loved to sing "Jesus Loves Me". When she got a battery-operated little "organ" for a present, she spent hours trying to figure out songs. (An older sister even taught her to play "Jesus Loves Me" on the little organ.) Whenever there was a school or church Christmas program, she learned every word of every song, and sang with all the gusto she could muster. She began taking piano lessons at the tender age of 6, and it brought an abundance of joy into her life, knowing what all those wonderful marks on the pages meant.

As the little girl grew older, she continued to play. She learned other instruments as well (clarinet, alto saxophone, and, eventually, tenor saxophone). She would sit at the piano at home, and sing to her heart's content. She would tape record herself playing some of her favorite piano pieces, dreaming of one day playing a piano concert for an appreciative audience.

While in junior high, the girl began enjoying singing even more. With the encouragement of her pastor's wife, she decided to take the plunge and sing in a church-sponsored talent competition. She wore her new Easter dress, and, prepared as well as she knew how to at the time, she sang at the competition. However, there were snickers from older boys. Comments about how her pretty dress made her look "pregnant". Besides, her voice sounded like that of a little girl, in comparison to the others in the competition. She was mortified. She would never, ever get up in front of others to sing again.

She continued to play the piano, though. She even agreed to play for her church's children's choir at their Christmas program. Eventually, she was asked to play for the adult choir and was one of several piano players for her school's high school choir. She even went out on a limb and played the piano for the church-sponsored talent competition. But sing? Not again. Not even at home, really. Just played the piano.

Finally, early in high school, she sat back down at her piano at home and began to play and sing. She was older now, and her voice was somehow different. And she was reminded once again of how much she loved singing songs of praise to God. Her church was going to have a night of singing on New Year's Eve. After fighting through her fear and nerves, she finally decided to put her name down. She would sing in front of others again, if only this once.

But it couldn't end there. After the experience turned out to be a positive one, she wanted to sing, sing, and sing some more! Any chance she got, she would sing. She practiced and practiced, but loved being in front of others even more. It was such a wonderful feeling, looking out and seeing others with their hands lifted in praise, as they personalized the message of the songs she would sing. Leading others to praise wonderful!

There were many who encouraged the girl to continue to use her voice to praise God. Someone even once told her they were jealous of the gift she had. But she didn't see it that way. Not that she was a "better" singer than others. It was simply a way she could express her praise to God.

On the other hand, there were some who discouraged her. After weeks of practicing for a special community event, and showing up early to set up, it was discovered that no one had had the foresight to set up a sound system. She couldn't sing loudly enough for all to hear her, and she had no way to play her background music, which was all on cassette. The man in charge of the service, a pastor from another church, basically said, "Oh, well. We just won't have music. We don't have time to get a sound system and set it all up." She was so disappointed. And at another of those church-sponsored talent competitions, she made the mistake of drinking some lemon juice before taking her turn at performing. The lemon juice "froze" her throat. Not a decent note would come out of her. She was devastated. All those weeks of practice were wasted. Maybe God didn't want her to sing in front of others after all. Maybe singing at home, in her own living room, was all God had for her.

Thankfully, the voices of encouragement won out. She looked for a college that would allow her to hone her voice and piano skills. A place of ministry training. She found such a college, and looked forward to it with great anticipation. Again, though, the voice of discouragement came. This time, in the form of an audition. Prior to arriving at college, a youth pastor encouraged her to try out for a particular singing group at the college. He assured her that she would definitely be accepted. He was wrong. And there were so many people at the college with much more talent than her. The college was full of music majors who sang and played the piano far better than she did. She withdrew, and only sang in choirs. No more solos. No more singing in front of others, and leading them to worship God with her. She didn't have enough talent for that. The only time she would sing a solo was at her home church, where she knew she would not be rejected.

Finally, near the end of her first year in college, God reminded her that she was hiding her light under a bushel. She took the initiative, and signed up to sing at a chapel service. It didn't matter how many others could sing better than she did. She would use what talent she had to glorify God.

After some time, the girl, now becoming a woman, found the man of her dreams. As they got to know each other, he asked her to accompany him when he led music at the church he attended. He taught her more about playing "by ear" and by chord; he, on his guitar, and she on the piano.

The woman and her "dream man" fell in love and got married. God led them to be a part of a new church that was being started. The pastors of the new church needed a team of musicians. The keyboardist they had worked with previously was out of the country on a missions trip. Would the woman consider playing with the music team? She would try! A few months later, though, the original keyboardist returned. Feeling very inadequate, the woman stepped aside so the other keyboardist could take her place.

Over the years, there were other experiences of encouragement and rejection. There was always someone better, and she would gladly step aside to allow the better musician have the position she held.

All along, though, there was one puzzle the woman could never figure out how to solve. What should she say if someone actually complimented her? How did one maintain their integrity and humility, and yet acknowledge the compliment graciously? Saying, "All the glory goes to God" almost sounded "holier-than-thou". What should she do? Just smile, and say, "Thank you?", then look like a glory hound?

Most recently, the woman was given the opportunity to join a group at her church. The other musicians have played together for years, and she is definitely overwhelmed by their talent. She doesn't feel up to the job. She knows it is something God wants her to do, though.

Yet whenever she is given any type of compliment, it really pushes her in the opposite direction. It causes her to want to shrink away from it altogether. She doesn't want attention. She just wants to sing for God's glory and encourage others to do the same.

And I guess this is the question for all of us. How do we use the talents and abilities God has given us without allowing ourselves to become discouraged when it is not a positive experience, or allowing ourselves to become prideful when it IS a positive experience?

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