The Perfect Gift

Sep 30, 2014

Still jammin” for Jesus

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comethdown from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:17 KJV)

The other day I had so many bright ideas I had to lie down and take a nap. I’m sort of stuck with this extreme personality type. Anyway, I’ve learned to let these blasts of inspiration settle for a few days, then I ask God which ones are from Him. Sometimes He doesn’t tell me and I wonder if it’s because it doesn’t really matter; He wants me to Just do something!”

I’ve had the privilege of working beside some incredibly gifted Christians; musicians, actors, artists, writers, speakers and preachers. But even our very best must be a far cry from just one minute in glory. Do the angels hang over the railing of heaven’s balcony, shaking their heads and chuckling at our imperfect and often pathetic attempts to bring God glory? I don’t think Jesus even cares how it all comes out. He’s looking at the hearts that are behind the curtains.

When I was eight, my mom starting taking me to piano lessons. Mrs. Adams was old, and her hands had blue cords running down to her bony fingertips that rested on the ivory keys just so, wrists up. I remember watching the dust dancing in the air as it found a place to land in the silent house, but it never rested on the beautiful Steinway grand piano. If I showed up with dirty hands or long fingernails I was taken to the bathroom and ordered to scrub. It only happened once.

There I met Bach and Mozart and Beethoven, whom I credit with bringing some order to my chaotic little life. First I had to learn the right hand part perfectly. Then the left. Playing just the bass for nine pages of classical music is pretty painful. Then I could play both, but perfectly, with no piano or forte (soft or loud) or the sustain pedal. Still pretty dry. Then, and only then, could I “add feeling” as we studied the composer’s crescendos and rests and staccatos. The music would suddenly transform inside me and reach way down into my soul; then a new voice emerged and played those keys. When I was done, Mrs. Adams would be siting across the room, leaning forward in her chair, her head with the soft white hair cocked slightly, her eyes looking away. A few moments after the last note faded into the quiet room, she’d grin and say, “Perfect!” She never called me great or gifted and I didn’t care. She loved to hear me play, to hear Bach speak through a hyperactive 9-year-old girl.

She had a friend named Karen who was young and born with cerebral palsy. Her mom had written a book about her called With Love From Karen. It was the first time I ever met someone so different, her arms and legs and voice all twisted and constrained. I played for Karen and she had that same smile. Maybe in her soul, her fingers flew across the keys with mine.

I stopped playing piano when I started taking drugs. At 13 I ran away to a hippie commune. I thought it would be Arlo Guthrie strumming a guitar in a teepee but it was a split-level ranch in the suburbs with a guy named Ed as the head hippie. He told me my role in the commune was vacuuming. What? Hippies don’t vacuum, I was sure of it. Carpets were so conformist , so establishment.

Then they discovered my true gifting – shoplifting- so they sent me out every day and I returned with food, clothes, even wine. I was happy not vacuuming. But one day another hippie asked me for sneakers, size 11 and it was my undoing. A kind but stern manager stopped me at the door of a Grant’s department store and I handed over the shoes, which I had stuffed in my big overalls. I was booked and sent home finally after lying about my name for three hours. My dad had to drive a long way to get me and was mostly silent as the car sped along the Connecticut turnpike. I felt so lonely but I wasn’t sad to leave Ed and the commune. I was looking for something I couldn’t grasp or speak and it wasn’t there.

The bible talks a lot about gifts. But the thing I love is God hands them out, like a big Dad next to a Christmas tree. That’s why they’re called gifts; they are from Him.

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) The Message

Everyone. No “Talented and Gifted” class. No one feeling like a dud because you didn’t get picked to play. And even though the Bible talks about teaching and preaching and prophesying, there are many other gifts in there too, like being a giver or comforter or encourager. Even a joyful vacuumer! And don’t forget Love. That’s where the gift comes from.

When I first met Jesus, I had nothing to offer. I just loved to praise Him, so I bought an old upright piano for $50 and painted it cobalt blue. My fingers had grown stiff after 20 years and I when I sat down to Beethoven, I cried. God said, Forget Ludwig. Just play, just worship, and I was happy….until someone asked me to play in church and I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up right there in the special Christmas service.

But then another musician offered this advice:

Play like there’s no one else in the room except for Jesus. Play for Him,” and that wisdom has transformed my worship, my labor, every little thing I do in life. Do it for Him, like He’s just sitting there in the back of the room with his arms folded, eyes on you, His kid, and loving every minute of it, the fire of love burning in His eyes. You can trip and fall, make big goof-ups and He will just smile and say, “Perfect!”

I think western Christians are overfed. We hear sermons and podcasts and read books and blogs (hmmm) but then we just sit there and critique it. God is there, handing us gifts but we have to unwrap them and use them. Now do something! He whispers. And you will find Him there, smiling.

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zephaniah 3:17 NLT)