I sing in a community choral group at a local university. We work on one piece for an entire semester and perform it only twice. We spend a great deal of time perfecting the piece so that the few performances are worthwhile. This particular semester we performed R. Vaughan Williams’ “Hodie,” which is an incredibly beautiful and moving Christmas piece. There’s something about performing a choral work of that magnitude that really changes a person, particularly when you really get to know the piece. It sort of becomes like an old friend. And I am fortunate enough to be able to sing under an incredibly talented director, who often teaches us much more than how long to hold a note or how to convey a particular mood through our singing. Such was the case this past weekend.
At the end of our first performance, we received a great round of applause, at which the conductor pointed out the soloists, orchestra and choir for recognition. In that moment I imagined what it would be like to be our conductor, and thought about how rewarding it must be to hear the audience respond to something he had poured so many hours into. Next, he took the customary bow, and then he surprised me by picking up the conductor’s score, and pointed at it for the audience to see, requesting that the applause be directed to the composer of the piece, without whom there would have been nothing to perform.
I was impressed at his humility, by his deflecting the praise to the one who wrote the piece. And I was even more moved by a very tangible demonstration of how we as Christians are called to redirect praise to the author of our very lives. It’s so convenient when things are going well for me to say a quick thanks to God, and then go on to think about whatever great quality I possessed to make that happen.
In Romans 1:25, Paul writes, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” So often we think “they” in that passage can only refer to terrible, God-hating people. But the idea of serving created things rather than a Creator is a habit that even the most sincere and dedicated followers of Christ can fall into. We glorify the things we create, the plans we develop, the good we do without remembering that while created things may come through us, they are coming from God.
It’s easy for me to thank God privately when He does something for me, particularly if it’s something specific that I’ve been asking for. It’s another thing altogether for me to thank Him publicly when the praise is for something about me. I forget that the qualities that I’ve always had that make me particularly good at something are just as much of a gift from God as being surprised by an unexpected success or favorable outcome. When I think of something as being part of me, I forget that the whole of me is only because of what God has done.
My prayer is that, like our choir director, I am able to start reflecting praise of the good qualities in me—my acquired skills, my gifts, my successes, my opportunities—to the one who made them possible. I want to see the big picture of the work God is doing in me, and not just give Him praise when He answers a prayer the way I was hoping. Our director reminded me to give credit to those in my life who support me (in his case, the soloists, orchestra and choir), to enjoy the moment, and to remember that it is only because God gives me every opportunity that I am able to accomplish anything.
I want my prayer to be like that in Psalm 138:1, “I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; before the "gods" I will sing your praise.” Before my “gods” of success, abilities, satisfaction, or personal accomplishment, I want to direct praise to God.[Kelli lives in Ona, W.V., and enjoys singing, reading, writing and taking naps. In her spare time, she is self-employed and going to graduate school.]
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