Back in September I went out to Wisconsin for the wedding of one of my closest friends. The morning after the wedding I went to church with my cousin and her husband. By the time we arrived the music had already started and we quietly snuck in and sat in one of the last rows. As the congregation sung out beautiful songs of worship I could not help but be distracted by a voice behind me. Was it a man or a woman? Was this person young or old? The voice was SO LOUD and I could not hear myself or the people next to me. Between his voice and the sounds of the instruments I just could not hear anything.
(On a side note, it may sound selfish to not be able to hear yourself, but in music it is important to hear yourself. If you ever notice a singer cupping his/her ear it is because they are trying to make sure he/she is singing the correct notes. This is also one of the many reasons that musicians have amps that face them and the pros wear buds in their ears. If you can’t hear yourself then you can’t really tell if you’re singing in the right key. Remember Fergie and how awful she sounded at the Superbowl Halftime Show?? Yeah. Supposedly she couldn’t hear herself…)
Anyway, my cousin and I were laughing so hard because this guy (yes, it ended up being a young, high-school-ish aged guy) was singing so loudly and really struggling to hit the notes. We joked back and forth as she said, “Everyone wants to be a tenor.” I laughed and said, “Soprano.” No joke. This guy was singing way up at high notes rather than falling back to the notes of the tenor (which is what he probably was). He was also belting it all. No falsetto. Just this yelling in my ear! I could not focus. I didn’t hear the words we were singing…just the noise. (disclaimer: we did not say these things out loud for him to hear…He probably had no clue that we were thinking any of this).
After the service was over my cousin and I felt a little bit guilty about how we had laughed and made fun of this situation. Jocelyn pointed out that, compared to the voices of prideful people, his voice probably sounded amazing in the ears of God. It was so true. Now, I can’t know that his heart was in the music. Maybe he was singing loudly for everyone to hear. But maybe he was enthusiastically lifting his voice in praise to God with a true heart. Maybe I didn’t know what his heart looked like. But I know what mine looked like. Mine was irritated, frustrated and prideful.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I don’t have an amazing voice. I’m OK. I know how to match pitch and have had a lot of choral and music experience in High School and College. I LOVE choir and I LOVE singing. But I love it enough to know that there are people in this world that sing infinitely better than I do. The only reason I got the lead in our school musical my senior year is because the other girl would have been the love-interest’s sister and it would have been awkward. I would have been better at a lesser role.
Either way, my prideful heart was in the way of the beautiful time to sing to God. I’ve never really understood how God could appreciate music sung by a not-so-great-singer. I always thought, “God created music! He knows music better than I do. It isn’t that he can’t hear it…” But I figured it out that day.
Emery is the sweetest little 3-year old I know. He knows a few songs but ones that he really loves to sing are “Jesus Loves Me” and the “ABC” song. When Emery sings to me it is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard. He is totally not in key. He is not matching pitch. He barely even goes up and down when he is supposed to in the song. But it is so beautiful. I love him so much and I love how he is singing to please me…because he knows I want him to and knows that it makes me so happy. I believe, now, that this is how God is. It isn’t that he can’t hear that the notes are sharp or flat or just completely off. He can totally hear it. It sounds beautiful to him, though, because he loves us so much. He can hear our heart behind what we’re singing.
Contrast that with someone who has a beautiful voice who is singing to impress everyone. The person who sings just because he/she knows that his/her voice sounds amazing. The one who just can’t wait for someone to say, “That sounded so wonderful! You have such a great voice!”
1 Corinthians 13:1 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” Essentially, “If I say the best things and sound the most eloquent and have the most beautiful voice, but am not doing it in a heart of love, then I am just making noise.”
Isn’t that so true? Don’t you know someone like that? Don’t we all know someone like that? Not just in the church and not just Christians. But people all over. If someone comes to you and says, “I think what you are doing is wrong. You’d better stop,” but doesn’t say it in a heart of love, but rather a heart of pride and condemnation, doesn’t it just rub you the wrong way?? And don’t you all know that person who sometimes says things that hurt, but you just can’t be mad at him/her because you know they’re telling you because they love you??
It makes me think of how people who are NOT believers feel by what Christians say. When we say something or point out something that we find to be wrong in the eyes of God, are we saying it in a heart of love and respect? Are we saying it in hopes that it will benefit the other person? Or are we saying it because we want to sound right…sound righteous and holy? When we look at the life of Jesus it is clear that he interacted more with people who would have been considered sinners. He interacted with prostitutes, adulterers, thieves, the greedy…He interacted lovingly for 3 years of ministry with a man whom he knew would betray him and ultimately send him to his torturous death. He showed them miracles. He fed them. He taught them. He asked them to follow him. (In that day it was a very high honor for a rabbi to ask someone to follow him…) He washed their dirty feet…something a servant would normally do. This is in complete contrast to how he interacted with the religious and holy men of the day. Those who believed they were perfect. He called them “whitewashed tombs.” In other words, they may have looked wonderful and clean on the outside, but in the inside they were full of everything dirty and dying.
Peoples’ lives were forever changed when they encountered Jesus. Whether he healed them physically or set them free from a life that they thought they were bound to forever…a life of lies and cheating or oppression…everyone who encountered Jesus knew that he was different. Jesus never turned someone away from being healed. Whether the person claimed to be his follower or not. He was willing to help all who asked. Jesus was a voice of love. Jesus’ voice was not prideful or arrogant. He did not walk around and only associate with the great and wonderful…but the lowly and poor…anyone who was willing to see him. He truly loved.
I think back to that day and how my voice was just noise. My heart was just noise. I was just making loud noises in God’s ear…noises He probably wanted to drown out because my noise was getting in the way of the true music: The people who were praising God in their hearts. I walked around without love in my heart that day. That day I was no better than a pharisee who made others feel like they could never reach God. When, in reality, on the outside, my voice may have been OK, but on the inside it was dead.