The reality hit me like lightning.
I was talking to a church staff member, or maybe it was another musician – the memory is hazy – after a long day of rehearsals at my former ministry. I remember it was late, and we were in the parking lot talking about God stuff – you know, the deep sounding, impressive long words that Christians use to display just how Godly we are.
At some point, however, the conversation turned to love. And while my memory of the rest of the conversation is vague, my recollection of the point that was made is not. Because as I pontificated on the reality that God loves everyone, I could not actually answer the question on how God’s love felt.
Working in church for half of my life, serving in every capacity imaginable, and helping to lead people into experiencing God’s love had not produced the love in my heart that I was singing about. My worship was one of duty, reverence, deep honor and respect. But to feel loved in return? That was for the congregation, not me.
Fast forward to a new church where I was serving, but also at the same time working outside gigs as a freelance musician. I often looked forward to my gigs as a place to express myself – supposedly outside of the more restrictive and controlled environment of the worship platform. But the question returned as I considered the hypocrisy of that attitude.
Why was I ‘freer’ in outside gigs and not in my own place of worship? Why couldn’t I feel joy and love within my role as a worship musician?
The answer came from deep within. It was because I was not playing like someone who was loved.
I was playing like someone trying to earn love.
My pastors had noticed that I was sometimes timid and unsure in my musicianship. Rather than playing freely, I was trying not to make a mistake – because in my mind, making mistakes meant a loss of love. It was not until I realized that God’s love has nothing to do with my ability to perform, that my playing and performance were free of those boundaries.
1 Corinthians 13 is famous for its declaration, “Love does not keep a record of wrongs.” Or as translated in the mythical MSV (Musician’s Standard Version), “Love does not keep a record of wrong notes.”
I don’t know if I played better once that reality began to sink in. But I certainly felt better as I played. A weight that had held me rooted to my piano bench emotionally was lifted.
Many singers and instrumentalists love to witness and hear performers that can do “runs”, which are harmonically and melodically complex lines we use to dress up our performances. A good run can make all the musicians stand up and make funny faces.
I would submit, however, that performing and singing – whether in the church or the club – is never as powerful as when it is accompanied by a sense and deep acceptance of God’s love. Free from judgment, need for approval from audiences, or perhaps more importantly, from self-doubt.
There’s a popular business book called “Love is the Killer App.“ It asserts that showing love to clients separates the best businesses from the rest.
Well, for any musical artist, love is the killer run.
Try working on that one in the next rehearsal.