I love sound. I love playing with sound. I grew up in a household that loves sound–particularly music. My brothers and I could easily spend several hours going through Dad’s tapes and vinyls (yes tapes and vinyls) playing one after another. I consider my Dad and his vast collection to be largely responsible for how much I love music to this day.
I still wonder how Mom survived in those days before we used headphones much, and all music was played (usually loudly) from the living room stereo. She likes music. She just doesn’t enjoy music in the “drown-out-any-surrounding-noise” way.
All this to say, eventually as we grew older, we kind of learned the difference between music we considered well done, and music which, well, came up short of what we thought was good. Honestly, we listened to some groups because they didn’t sound like what we were used to, and we thought it was entertaining and hilarious.
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If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Art is definitely included in that. Whether we are painting a picture, writing a song, or composing a photograph, there should be no room for half-heartedness or indifference.
That’s why I like watching and listening to kids sing. Most of them, unless they hate singing, or have been told by someone they’re no good, need little encouragement to throw themselves into it. Eyes bright with wonder, and mouths open wide, enthusiastic sound escapes them and excitement radiates from their little faces.
There’s no halfway.
I’m reminded of that almost every Monday and Friday morning at school. Too young to be conscious of themselves and their image, most of these kids belt out the chapel songs, pushing their vocal folds to their limits.
I think their motives are purer than mine too. They’re not conscious of the shapes of their vowels, or worried about whether or not the kid next to them has better, more resonant tone than they. They probably don’t understand the weighty, theological concepts behind the songs, but unconsciously they emphasize what is truly important:
They give what they have. And I think it’s their best.
Maybe that’s what David meant when he wrote this:
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When God is truly worshipped, when His people connect with Him in an honest way, it’s disturbing to His enemies.
What is more dedicated and could have purer motives than the heart of a child enraptured by the thought of God loving Him? What could be more discouraging to the enemies of God than a child praising God just because he can and should, and doesn’t think he needs to impress all the cool people.
Kids are amazing. I don’t think they praise God to make themselves look good, or because they feel that if they don’t, their businesses will fail. It doesn’t seem like they have agendas. If they’ve been taught that He’s worthy of honor, that’s good enough. Life doesn’t have to arranged into boxes and formulas that make sense, before they can lose themselves in the praises of the Creator.
One songwriter said, “Little children praise you perfectly, and so would we.”
I like that.
It doesn’t mean we ditch everything we know about music and just say, “Who cares?” or “This will be good enough, because its not about us anyway.” Sloppy haphazardness isn’t of itself anymore worshipful than technical perfection. We do need to care about our worship.
But when the focus is, indeed, worship, we need to get over the idea that we are so stinking important.
God wants the best we have. But we have to realize though that some people’s best isn’t like other people’s best. People have different strengths and abilities. Maybe some people’s best sounds awful to us. Maybe it sounds to us like they should have practiced for three more years, and after that gone to college studying nothing but music courses for another three years–before they ever got up to perform.
But, I have to remember that excellence isn’t an end in itself.
Life is packed full of things that need to be balanced. It’s true. We should not stroll casually into the presence of Almighty God with something we pulled out of the attic that we were going to cart of to the landfill anyway, and say, “Here ya go, God. Thought you might want this.”
We cannot achieve perfection. We never will. But when we talk about bringing the sacrifice of praise into the house of the Lord, it does mean it needs to be just that:
It requires something of us. We give what we have. We give our best. We put our hearts into it. It might make us tired. It might even take some of our money. But we step into God’s presence, knowing we’ve brought our best.
But with all of that, we remember not to turn up our noses at other people’s “best.” We don’t tell others their “best” doesn’t matter. We remember that every person God gave breath has every right that we do, to add his voice, no matter how horrible, raspy, and off-tune it might be, to the rest of the choir that gives the Creator the praise that’s due His name.
I’m picky about music. I really am.
But shame on me if I silence even one voice that wants to praise its Creator, just because I don’t think it’s good enough.
Scripture from Psalm 8