May 30, 2008
The highly acclaimed maestro walked across the front of the stage as the eager audience rose to their feet with enthusiastic applause. He stepped up to the podium, politely acknowledged the symphony seated before him, then turned and bowed to the audience humbly accepting their cheers. As the wild ovation began to subside, he faced the orchestra and raised his baton. Immediately the musicians snapped to attention poised for action, every eye fixed on the maestro’s hands. The downbeat was given, but what happened next came as a total surprise shocking the conductor, confusing the audience, yet eliciting smiles and suppressed giggles from some of the musicians.
The location was an outdoor amphitheater in Phoenix, Arizona. The Phoenix Symphony was performing a “Pops” concert, a benefit for the Symphony Association and other local charities. The afternoon concert was packed with music fans looking for a good time. They would not be disappointed; surprised maybe, but not disappointed. Conducting the orchestra for this particular piece of music was none other than Richard Dreyfuss, the well known movie star. This was only a couple of years after the release of the movie, “Jaws,” one of his best known and best loved films. Richard was at the pinnacle of his popularity so his presence on the program had aroused a great deal of interest and sold a lot of tickets.
What many people didn’t realize at the time is that Richard is quite the classical music buff, and he is particularly fond of Mozart. Naturally, he jumped at the opportunity to conduct a symphony orchestra playing a piece written by his favorite composer. So when the downbeat was given, Richard was expecting the opening chords of “Eine Kleine Nachtmusic”, as was the audience. What few people knew, however, was that the string players had conspired to play the ultimate trick on Richard. Instead of the bright, majestic, opening chords of Mozart, the audience was treated to the low, undulating tones of the theme from “Jaws.”
For a few brief moments Richard was in a confused panic. Then it dawned on him what was happening and he nearly fell off the podium laughing. The audience was roaring, the musicians just continued playing “Jaws,” and Richard was in hysterics. As a member of the cello section at the time I must confess to being somewhat complicit in the prank. Fortunately, Richard was very good natured about the incident and we all had a good laugh together after the concert was over. The orchestra finally did get around to Mozart but I’m quite sure the impromptu program change was far more memorable to the audience. It has also become one of the fondest memories of my eighteen seasons with the Phoenix Symphony.
Have you ever been in Richard’s place? The program for your life was all planned. The details were set firmly in your mind years ago—a prestigious career with lucrative financial rewards, a perfect marriage with no hints of friction, a wonderful family with loving, obedient children perpetually on their school’s honor roll, and a spacious ranch house in the suburbs. You gave the downbeat but suddenly some sinister prankster changed the program. Instead of Mozart you got mayhem; instead of classics you ended up with “no class.” Your favorite career has been “pink-slipped” off the program. The perfect spouse you married has begun singing a different tune. Your loving children are refusing to follow your baton, and your ranch house in the suburbs has been modulated into a crowded apartment next to the freeway. Somehow life has conspired to play a dirty trick on you and while you fall off the podium in shock, the whole world seems to be laughing.
If this is you then take heart and take heed, my friend, because you certainly aren’t alone in your confusion and disappointment. Like most of us guest musicians on this planet you may be consulting the wrong musical score and playing to the wrong audience. The author of the book of Hebrews invites us to be the guest conductor before an audience of celestial importance. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us…run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” – Hebrews 12:1-2. King David, the psalmist, certainly knew the correct score to follow. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” – Psalm 119:105. “Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge.” – Psalm 119:54.
We have an audience in heaven, most notably our Savior and Lord, who is absolutely crazy about us, who gives us a standing ovation just for appearing on the stage of Christianity, who cheers when we mount the podium of faith, and whose adoration absolves us of any miscues. And we have an infallible score which has been proven reliable for thousands of years. When the expected program suddenly changes without your permission, just keep the beat going and remain focused on the true music. Our real audience is never surprised. In fact, our heavenly Maestro has even orchestrated most of our program changes. “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” – Proverbs 19:21.
So go ahead and enjoy the concert; laugh along with the world. Just be certain you are paying attention to the right music and playing to the right audience. If you do, you may just find the changes more memorable, more stimulating, more faith-building, and more fulfilling than what you had planned.
In case the above message seems vaguely familiar to some of you, let me confess. It was published in our newsletter over six years ago. I came across it recently as I was searching through my archives attempting to make sure I didn’t accidentally plagiarize something I had previously written. Given what has transpired in my life and ministry over the last few years the message appears to be remarkably prophetic.
Six years ago we were still valiantly struggling to plant a traditional church here in Dublin. Since the above words were written God has dramatically, unexpectedly changed the program. Rather than meeting in a church facility we are holding our gatherings in homes, restaurants, coffee shops, and parks. Rather than striving to grow our congregation larger and larger we are content to have it small, enjoying the intimate fellowship while encouraging our people to go out and plant their own churches. Rather than attempting to attract the world to come to our church we are searching for ways to take our church to the world. Rather than being a clergy-directed institution we are all learning to listen to the Lord and doing our best to obey what we hear. Rather than allowing one individual to dominate the teaching in a sermon format we are all sitting in a circle with each one sharing what he or she believes the Lord desires to teach us. Rather than promoting a complicated system of church structure and polity we are doing our best to keep it simple enough that practically anyone could reproduce it. In the process we are reaching more people and seeing more lives transformed into the likeness of Christ.
Earlier in my life I had transitioned from being a symphony musician to being a pastor. In the last few years I have slowly returned to receiving most of my income from music, teaching private music lessons, which has led me out into the world where I am able to influence more people for the Lord. This also allows me the privilege of “giving away” my ministry to others. Clearly, none of this was on the program of my pastoral career when it was originally envisioned. However, as I look back on it now, it seems obvious that the Master Conductor has been orchestrating all of these program changes. These days He has me playing a piece for which my instrument seems to be perfectly tuned. I am reaching a larger audience and seeing more lives transformed than I thought would be possible just a few years ago. Rather than falling off the podium in shock and confusion I am learning to keep the music playing and enjoying the concert.
A glance at the score tells me I am far from being alone in having my program change unexpectedly. David gave the downbeat on a simple obscure career tending his family’s sheep, but found himself in the limelight playing the part of the king of Israel. Jonah began playing a piece called “World Traveler,” but ended up performing for his most feared enemies after a serious interlude in the belly of a great fish. And who could forget Saul who started out his career conducting a war against Christianity but ended up as perhaps the Church’s greatest missionary playing for audiences throughout the known world.
Unless I miss my guess, I believe most of you reading this have experienced a few program changes in your life. I believe this may be especially true for those of you who are called to some form of professional ministry. Our heavenly Maestro has been radically re-orchestrating part of His church in order to reach a growing number of individuals who simply won’t dance to our traditional music, who refuse to set foot in our institutional churches. If the program appears to be changing on the stage where you are currently playing, don’t be too shocked. It likely has nothing to do with your calling, but may, in fact, have everything to do with a different form of music the Maestro is asking you to perform and teach to others. If you think this might be true in your case I’d love to hear from you.
For everyone, I recommend you joyfully accept whatever program changes the Lord places before you, laugh at life’s unexpected turns, and enjoy the concert. Just remain focused on the right score and be sure to acknowledge our true audience. After six years this advice rings truer than ever. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” – Colossians 3:23-24.
Bill, a child of God, even in the midst of a program change