Last Monday, I had the privilege of traveling to Ennis, Montana to spend the day as the guest conductor of the Southwest Montana Honor Choir. Eleven different schools sent their best choral and instrumental musicians to spend a full day in rehearsal together, practicing music for a joint band/choir concert that evening. I was even allowed to bring a few of my own students, although our school is not part of the district.
It was a hard day. Good, beautiful, and fun, but very grueling. I was very mindful of the fact that I had only one chance to impact the kids in front of me. One day to show them beauty and help them to experience it for themselves. One day to help them catch a glimpse of the face of God. One day to influence them toward a love of music and a devotion to the hard work that it takes to experience that power and the blessings that it channels to us from God. All of this was at the forefront of my mind. This knowledge sustained me through the long hours of rehearsal, the endless conducting, the sore back, the never-ending need for patient and kind responses to particular issues in the choir.
After driving through the night to get my kids home for school on Tuesday morning (they didn't show up, anyway... of course I was there!), I was greeted by my first choir of the day. They sang with such focus, such discipline, such relaxed and pure and effortless tone. It was a far cry from the sound with which I had spent the previous day, and yet my first inclination was to criticize the tiniest details of their performance. Fortunately, I stopped myself. It struck me. My longevity in this choral program has brought with it profound delights as well as very real dangers. It is my sincere delight to hear my kids sing well. They sing with the spirit and the technique that I have taught them for years. The result is usually quite good, and my spirit is uplifted when I hear it. The eyes of my soul are turned away from myself and upward toward God, the source of all beauty. And yet... danger lurks within that very blessing. Can it be that I take for granted what was once rare and precious to me? Can it be that excellence has become so normal that it no longer amazes and blesses me? Can it be that I am so used to standing in front of my students that I no longer keep the quality of their experience at the forefront of my mind as I was so conscientious to do with the Honor Choir in Ennis? Worst of all, can it be that I am actually communicating this indifference to my students?
Can it be? Of course it can be. But it ought not. It should not. It must not be.
Many of you have been active in your ministries for many years. You, too are in the midst of both the delights and dangers of longevity. May I encourage you to revel in the delights? The things for which you once longed and toward which you once strove may now be commonplace. Do not enjoy them any less. Do not praise them any less in your people. Always aim for new heights, but never forget to periodically turn and enjoy the view from the tremendous height you have already attained. Whether in the skills or hearts of your congregation, or the growth of your music team, or the simple joy of seeing true worship in the faces of the people in front of you. Never forget your privilege in being part of that process. Never forget to enjoy the presence of and the beauty of God as he allows us to experience it in music. Never stop worshiping.