Expressing Grace

My Music Should Be an Expression of God’s Grace In My Life

I think I’ve written about this already, somewhere else on this site, but this story helps support what I’m saying here too. After doing a live radio broadcast with Phil Blackmon on KTSU, Phil hired me to play trumpet on his next CD project titled “Yours Truly”. When I finished the recording session, his producer approached me to compliment my playing. He said that my improvisation was modern but that it didn’t repulse. I took it as a great compliment because that was part of what I have always wanted to accomplish as a jazz player.

I do enjoy, both in my compositions and my improvisation, the more modern methods and techniques. I do not believe modern music must sound repulsive. I think what it comes down to is what you desire to express WITH those techniques. I never desired to express chaos……I never wanted my music to sound like traffic noise. Nor have I ever had the desire to express the “carnal nature of man”. None of that “primal scream” stuff appeals to me at all. Those things are expressions of the flesh, not of the spirit.

God’s Grace

In the context of “An Expression of Grace”, what I learned to express was God’s grace in my life. Let’s look at the formula again:

I am not perfect!

I live each day in God’s grace!

My music should be an honest expression of who I am!

Therefore – My music should express God’s grace in my life!

How can we express God’s grace in our music?

It has to do with the way we deal with imperfection in our musical performance. We are imperfect people living imperfect lives. In our daily lives we are only able to move forward because of God’s grace and our music should be an artistic representation of that life of grace.

Remember that this story is all about dealing with stage fright.

Look at every mistake you make in a performance as an opportunity for God to show how good He is. No, we are not perfect performers, but through His grace, we don’t need to be perfect…not even in our music. If you crack a note or miss an entrance, don’t let it effect your performance. Stand tall and continue the performance in confidence. Praise our heavenly Father for the opportunity to share His grace with so many people in this way. Each time you continue to perform with confidence, AFTER a mistake, you are expressing God’s grace in your life.

This attitude towards performance will transform you from a nervous wreck into a confident performer. When we get nervous, it’s because we condemn ourselves and our performances. The more we care about the performance, the more nervous we become. This is the reason why stage fright is so difficult to overcome. To DO anything to fix it often times leads to even worse stage fright symptoms because of our desire to become better performers.

Real Life

As Christians, we move forward in our walk with Jesus in spite of the fact that we continue to sin. No one is without sin. (Romans 3:9-12) It is only through His grace and the price that was paid for our sins that we are able to stand in confidence.

And yet, we do stand. In His strength, we stand to face the world and do what must be done.

In His strength.

Is it any different in music? SHOULD it be any different in music?

I think not. I don’t know when, where or why I started thinking about music as something separate from everyday life. I don’t know what caused me to think that the rules for life didn’t apply to music. But I was wrong and if you also think music is something separate from everyday life, separate from your life as a Christian, you are just as wrong as I was.

Being a Christian is not about being better than other people. We have long been accused of hypocrisy because that’s how it often looks on the surface. We seem to non-Christians as a people who hold others to a standard we don’t uphold ourselves. However, when you look deeper into what it means to be a Christian, you see that it has nothing to do with us and how good we are. It has ONLY to do with God’s goodness within us. History has proven, time and time again, that we are incapable of holiness and upright living. Our physical bodies are incapable of it. The parable of the house with the seven spirits (Luke 11:24-26) ends with “and the last state of that person is worse than the first” (amp).  The harder we try to “clean” ourselves up, the dirtier we get.

In every day life, when we stand tall to face the challenges of this world, it is an expression of God’s grace in our lives. He gives us the strength. He alone is our source of wisdom. He alone invests into us the talents we use each day. Standing tall expresses our confidence in God in all things. If we lack faith in Him, we cannot posses TRUE confidence.

It is the same way with our music. For as long as we stand tall in our own accomplishments, we will fail. The parable of the seven spirits is just as true for musical life as it is for day to day living. The harder we try to perfect our performances, the farther we get from perfection. And this is not just me saying so. Almost every book, essay or workshop I’ve read or attended has said precisely the same thing. The harder you try, the worse your performances become.

When we rely on God for our “perfection” in performance, when we place our confidence in Him instead of ourselves, then our performance becomes and expression of His grace.

Practice vs. Performance

Many people, after having read this, will scoff at the idea of placing our confidence in God when we perform. They will assume I am saying that we should never need to practice if all we need is God’s grace. It is important to understand that there is a distinct difference between performing and practicing.

Practicing is to the musician what repentance should be to all Christians. The time to be critical about our mistakes is at home, in the practice room. If you screw up in every day life, outside of music, you are called to repent for what you have done. Repentance has been described as “turning your back and walking away from your sinful ways”. Repentance is not just a feeling of being sorry for what you’ve done. When you repent, truly repent, you do what you can to stop living that way. Likewise, practice becomes a series of choices which should lead us away from our musical imperfections.

It is extremely important that you understand that the musical expression of God’s grace is no more a celebration of mistakes than Christian living is a celebration of sin. As Christians, we are forgiven for our sins and we walk confidently in God’s grace. HOWEVER, this does not mean that the sins we commit are good. Once again, it is the forgiveness of our sins that we celebrate as we stand tall each day. Likewise, it is God’s grace in our lives that we celebrate when we stand tall on the stage to perform our music. Our goal of musical excellence remains, but the time to achieve that excellence is in the practice room, not on stage.

Other Related Scriptures

Titus 3:3-7
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Summary

This concludes the in-depth summary of the four parts of the Expression of Grace “formula”. As Christians, our music should be an expression of who we are in Christ. He died on the cross for our sins. Paid the price for our imperfections and we have cause to stand proud and share that forgiveness with the rest of the world. We stand as an example of forgiveness by showing our confidence in God in our performances.


Questions for you to consider:

1) When you perform, do you react negatively to your mistakes? Do you get nervous? Are you a performer who does alright until the first mistake – and then everything falls apart?

2) Do you accept the fact that God’s grace covers all of our imperfections, including our musical mistakes?

3) Do you stand confidently in God’s grace in your every day life? Do you live in Grace or are you still pinned down by your sins?

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Dealing with performance anxiety as a Christian musician.