In the spring of 1966, the entire 4th grade class was marched to the gym where we were made to take a musical aptitude test. Other than listening to single notes played on a variety of instruments and answering whether or not they were the same, I remember little else about the test. Weeks later, I came home from school and my parents greeted me saying “the school called.” Oh, how those words could make me sweat bullets and launch my suspicious mind into a frenzied inventory of excuses even before hearing the school’s complaint.
“Do you remember the music test you took?” my parents asked. “Uh, no” said I. Dad continued with a grin “it’s difficult to believe, I know, but the school says you have a talent for music.” My little mind did a Bat-Turn** trying to anticipate what was next. “The school wants you to play an instrument in the orchestra.” Ah, there it was – punishment – and I didn’t do nothing wrong. “But Dad! I want to play ball with my friends at recess, not play in some dumb orchestra!” In those days, the orchestra practiced during class lunch hour.
“What did I tell you?” Dad said to Mom and turned back to me saying “we want to enroll you in music lessons … would you rather play guitar or drums?” With visions of Ringo dancing in my head, I exclaimed “DRUMS!” Dad gave me that look of his what says ‘you never disappoint me, kid’ and answered “great … your first guitar lesson is Saturday morning.”
Since those days, music has often proved a tortuous passion of mine. From frustrated dreams of turning pro to giving thanks I never did; from visions of roaring crowds to the reality of a half dozen believers gathered in a living room who ask to hear my new song. In time, I came to be truly grateful for the humble local music ministry the Father gave me for nearly 20 years.
But the most difficult thing music has taught me, has to do with hearing.
They have ears, but do not hear (Psalm 135:17).
Spiritually speaking, some hear, some don’t. I’ve observed that truth in countless ways over 50 years as a guitar player, singer, and songwriter. But lest that sounds like a boast, I’m deaf as a post, save for the grace of God who gives me ears to hear.
The Father has blessed me with a number of songs I’ve recorded across a couple of CD projects. Then He instructed me to give them away, saying “Freely ye have received (from Me), freely give (to others)” and I’ve obeyed that request all my life. What’s funny about giving away free music CDs? People often ask “what’s wrong with it” and express reluctance to receive one. Meanwhile, the host of a radio station in the suburbs SW of Chicago interviewed me on air and said of my song Lord, You Are “that has to be one of the nicest worship songs I’ve ever heard.” So you can imagine how perplexed I was trying to resolve CDs I can hardly give away, with the glowing appraisal of the music director for a network of Christian radio stations.
I experienced such perplexity again at a city-wide music festival, where every church praise band and local artist were asked to sing a song during the 3 hour event. The host did an admirable job arranging the festival but failed to coordinate one important thing – namely, the song each band and individual performed. While waiting in the wings for our turn on stage, the crowd expressed palpable excitement when the very same song was performed several times in a row. I’d be lying if I claimed not to laugh about it.
And then Karen and I took the stage to sing Lord, You Are.
The people who were up out of their seats for the bands before, simply stared at us, gape-mouthed. While in the back rows of the church, under the shadow of the balcony, 2 or 3 believers, sitting alone, closed their eyes and raised their hands as we sang. We exited the stage to polite applause but it was nothing like the exuberant shouts and thunderous clapping for the groups who came before and performed the same CCM top 40 hit.
I’ve wondered for years what was missing; what would have made the difference in the success of our music. The simple answer is, unless the Holy Spirit grants us ears to hear, we’re all as deaf as posts. And where Karen and I made our home in the traditional, religious, and anti-charismatic rural Midwest, the Holy Spirit seldom made an appearance in church (see Revelation 3:20). There was and is nothing wrong with our music. It’s just that many people do not have ears to hear.
“How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13 ESV)
** the Bat-Turn