February 13, 2009

“Is there anything I can do?” he pleaded as he met me at the front door of his home.
The distressing look in his eyes testified to a high level of frustration. His normally effervescent countenance was hidden beneath a mask of anxiety. I knew immediately something had gone terribly wrong. He was one of my more gifted piano students, a ten year old boy normally high on excess energy and consumed by a strong desire to master the instrument. For a couple of years I had been traveling to his home in a neighboring city and giving music lessons to his entire family. His parents, who were home-schooling their kids, had been graciously employing me as a piano teacher in order to help support my ministry and pad the meager income of a church planter. In the process I had grown to love them all and thoroughly enjoyed watching them progress in their musical skills. So it was with deep disappointment that I discovered the reason behind this boy’s request. He was wearing a t-shirt, the right sleeve of which hung limp, lifeless and empty. Lifting up his shirt he revealed his missing right arm, imprisoned in a sling.
“I broke my collar bone,” he said glumly. “I was running in church and slipped and fell. The doctor says I may have to wear the sling for six weeks. I can only raise my arm about four inches before it starts to hurt.” As he spoke he lifted his arm slightly and grimaced with pain. “How can I play the piano with only one hand? Is there anything I can do?”
“Of course there are things we can do,” I answered reassuringly. “We can do our scales and exercises with only one hand. Just think how strong and coordinated your left hand will be after six weeks of getting all the attention.”
His half-hearted attempt at a smile told me he could see through my false enthusiasm. Scales and exercises are far more drudgery than joy for most musicians. They are the means to an end, necessary evils on the way toward the goal of making music. But with the ability to make music temporarily withheld, the motive for the grunt work was all but nonexistent.
“Why don’t we sit down at the piano and discover what we can still do?” I offered trying to sound as positive as I could. Reluctantly, the boy plopped down on the piano bench and began working through some scales, but it was obvious his heart wasn’t in it. After watching him labor dispassionately for a few minutes over some one-handed keyboard calisthenics, I decided on a different approach.
“Let’s have some fun together!” I announced. We had previously learned some simple, three-note chords and I surmised that now was the perfect opportunity to put that knowledge into action. After reviewing and numbering the chords, I explained to my wounded protégé that I would call out a number and he was to play the corresponding chord in rhythm and continue playing it until I called out a different number. Intrigued by the new approach to his piano lesson the boy’s demeanor seemed to improve slightly.
Once we had a few practice measures behind us I began playing some simple melodies over his left-handed accompaniment. The room was filled with the sounds of “Jingle Bells,” “Ode to Joy,” “It’s A Small World After All,” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” The results by any standard were crude, but my intentions were rewarded with a huge smile and a giggle from my student as he realized what we were able to accomplish together. I provided the right-hand melody, he provided the left-hand chords. Together we were making music. Did it sound all that great? Not really, but it impressed my student enough to keep him practicing while he only had use of one arm. Could I have played the music better all by myself? Of course, but that wasn’t the point. My aim, my joy was in enabling him to become successful in spite of his brokenness. Since that day I have taught all my piano students using this same method realizing that partnering together motivates them toward greater achievement.

We stand before our Master in a state of sin and brokenness, our souls imprisoned by a sling of frustration. We have tried to do great things for Him only to slip, fall, and fail. Everything we have taken upon ourselves to accomplish for Him seems to have fallen far short of perfection. In our hearts we know there is something missing; something has gone terribly wrong.
“Is there anything I can do?” we plead, searching for an answer to our desire for significance and longing to be whole.
“Of course there is,” answers the Master Teacher. “You can always read and study Scripture and draw near to Me through prayer and meditation. Just think how much closer the two of us will become! Prayer and Bible study aren’t just the means to an end; they are not just the way to become better equipped to serve. Intimacy with Me is the end; it is your primary goal!”
“But I want to accomplish something truly great for You,” we whine.
“Nothing done in My name is insignificant in God’s eyes,” He replies. “But now that you have discovered how difficult success is without allowing Me to work through you, let’s have some fun together. I will call out a direction; you follow and continue following until I call out a different direction. Listen carefully to My instruction and obey what you hear. Over your accompaniment I will play the sweet melody of my will. Together, we will make beautiful music and accomplish more than you can dream.”

What’s the message? Ministry is not for soloists. Not only does it require a group of committed, faithful believers partnering together to advance the kingdom, it also requires the hands of the Master Teacher. Without Him we are broken, handicapped, powerless, and hopeless. We might as well try to serve Him with one hand. But when we join in a love duet with Him, allowing Him to lead, He “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us.” – Ephesians 3:20. Will the results bring critical acclaim? Perhaps not in this world, however all of heaven may very well erupt in thunderous applause. Could He do it better all by Himself? Of course, but that isn’t the point. His aim, His joy is in enabling us to become successful in spite of our brokenness. He knows that partnering together will motivate us toward greater achievement.
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” – Philippians 2:12-13. “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5.
Let’s not be discouraged over our inabilities, for it is when we admit our brokenness that Christ says to us, “Let’s have some fun together!” “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” – 2Corinthians 12:9.
So He composes the music as we play. He leads, we follow. He plays the right hand; we accompany His melody with our left. It is a blessed partnership bringing satisfying significance and sweet success for us, and for Him, an opportunity to display His grace and power. What a thrill it is to play alongside the greatest musician of all time! What a blessing it is to be in concert with the Almighty! Together, we have a love duet of eternal joy. Together, we can make some awesome music!

Bill, a child of God in the midst of a love duet

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