On the stage, the music begins, the story ignites with melody and lyrics, movement and nuances of character. The energy of the others there with me and those engaged from the audience thrills and drives me. It fills me with a passion and satisfaction like absolutely nothing else. I had almost forgotten. It’s been a long time. Like riding a bike it all came back to me. And I realized once again that this is what I was made to do.
This is part of my story. Part that has brought so much beauty to my life and much brokenness, much fulfillment, and much longing. You see, I was a singer from the womb! Music is part of my DNA, handed down through the generations. There are times when I am reduced to a blubbering mess over things like the musical underscore of a cartoon (and just for the record, I am not much of a “cry-er”). And I think, “My word, what is that all about?” Well, it’s the way I was made. Music moves me, like nothing else. That is why I am so passionate about worship. For me, there is no more powerful way to rehearse the truths of who God is and what He has done, to state my absolute dependence on Him, or to cry out to Him for mercy, than through music.
God made me in His image, and clearly my passion for music and the absolute pure fulfillment I feel when performing are innate, given to me by Him – part of Him. A gift given for His glory, my joy, and to serve others. But there have been times when the passion for those things became my end, my all, my only satisfaction. When I needed to perform to feel whole. When I needed the attention of performing well to feel that I had value. That is when the gift became a god.
When those good things that God puts into us become elevated to the position of THE thing, that is when the good things become god things, and we create idols.
Perhaps this is a basic struggle for all of us in this world. Every single one of us is created by God, in His image, and we bear specific gifts, specific imprints of Him, specific touches of grace meant to bring glory to Him, and fulfillment to us. Perhaps one of our greatest challenges as human beings is learning to see the gifts in us as part of God Himself. We must learn that only in seeking Him will those gifts bring true and lasting joy. Elevating the gift to become the thing we seek eventually leads to brokenness. When we seek only the gift we begin to operate in a counterfeit manner, independent from the God who crafted the gift and put it in us. In that place, temptation swells and sin lurks. The desires that God put within us can become contorted by the desires of sin.
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions (Romans 6:12).”
The Greek word here translated “passions” is epithymia, which means desire, craving, longing.
When I have craved that passion, that thrill, that fulfillment, and not sought God Himself, I’ve found myself in places I never intended to go. Sometimes the realization of it comes quickly. Other times the deception can take hold for a long time and a jolt of some sort is required to wake us. But eventually our eyes open and we look around in horror as we clearly see where we are.
For me, the jolt came when I realized that seeking and obeying sinful passion, the fulfillment it gave, and the admiration of others, had led me into a pit of betrayal. I was crushed. And when I came face-to-face with my sin, these words from Psalm 143 became my song of repentance:
“Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications! Answer me in Your faithfulness, in Your righteousness! And do not enter into judgment with Your servant, for in Your sight no man living is righteous…My spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart is appalled within me…I stretch out my hands to You; My soul longs for You, as a parched land. Answer me quickly, O Lord, my spirit fails;…Let me hear Your lovingkindness in the morning; For I trust in You; Teach me the way in which I should walk; For to You I lift up my soul…Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground. For the sake of Your name, O Lord, revive me. In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble….I am Your servant.”
For many years I simply cut off that gift. I was afraid of it. I didn’t sing at all. The enemy of my soul was there with lies, keeping me convinced that singing made me prideful and that people would think I wanted attention if I sang. And that if I received that attention, I might slip into sin again. It was an awful feeling, but I listened, deciding that it was easier just to avoid all of it. All the while my soul grieved.
I believe that was necessary for a time – to help me gain some perspective. I needed to learn who I was outside of singing – where my value really was. God slowly began to heal me and I’ve begun to see that He is all about making things new. God doesn’t give good gifts to be hidden under bushels forever. His heart is to let those imprints of His nature shine out of us, though there may be times when we need to do some work before we are ready for it. In His time, God sent other people to speak truth into my life in this area and to minister peace and revival to my heart. He is a good and unchanging Father who desires good things for me. God was not my enemy. My gift was not my enemy. My enemy was my own fleshly desire.
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:13-17).
The Greek word for “desire” in James 1:14 is also epithymia. The connotation of this Greek word is not always negative. The desire or longing can be for good things. But when those good things, which are given by God, are elevated in our lives to become things we MUST have to be fulfilled, desire for them leads us into sin and away from God, and it brings forth death.
I believe we have God-given longings and cravings. But the passions and desires of sin can quickly hijack what was meant to be good and contort it into an instrument of unrighteousness.
“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness” (Romans 6:13).
We all serve something. All of us. We may serve ourselves, our careers, our families, even our independence. But the One we are created to serve is God alone. Because we have been brought from death to life by the sacrifice of Jesus, we now get to present ourselves to Him, along with every gift He has given us, every nuance of our character, every emotion, and all our history. He is not only the giver of every good and perfect gift, but also the ordainer of the perfect plan for how the gifts should be used. Serving Him is the only way to find true freedom.
I need only seek Him. He is the ultimate prize, His presence my only goal. He is not just the giver of the gift. HE IS THE GIFT.
“I am the bread of life” – not just the giver of the bread, but THE bread itself.
“I am the light of the world” – not just the giver of light, but THE light itself.
“I am the door” – not just the one who shows you where the door it, but THE door itself
“I am the way, the truth, the life” – not just the giver of these things, but THE way itself, THE truth itself, THE life itself.
For every situation, our God says “I Am!”
So, now, as I step onto a stage and feel the emotion and passion rising up for what I am doing, I can almost hear His voice whisper, “I am the music in you. I am your song.” And as I present all that I am to Him, I feel the most perfect joy.
What are those imprints of God that He has placed in you? Can you relate to having sought after the gift rather than the Giver? Have you been brought to a place of repentance and developed a desire to present yourself fully to Him? I pray that you will also experience the absolute, true fulfillment and joy that is found in that place of surrender, and that you will begin to see more and more the evidence of God Himself shining out of you!
Live Free. Live Loved.