Sharing Grace

I wish I could say that the Expression of Grace formula was the end of my story. I wish I could say that I learned how to express God’s grace through my music and that was the end of all my performance related troubles. It wasn’t the end. I didn’t understand at first that being able to express God’s grace was conditional…

After I began seeing my performances as an expression of God’s grace in my life, my performances did get better. About ninety percent of the performances were instantly better. What bothered me was the other ten percent. If a message is truly from God, it should be true one-hundred percent of the time. Do you agree?

Grace and Forgiveness

It is important, at this point, to clarify that “grace” is basically another word for forgiveness. I do believe there is more to grace than just forgiveness, but what is true about forgiveness is also true for grace. This is important because there are things the Bible says about forgiveness that prove to be just as true for expressing God’s grace through our music.

We know from reading the Bible that our own forgiveness is conditional. If we do not meet those specific conditions, then we are not forgiven and we are therefore not walking in grace. If we are not walking in grace, then to “express” grace in that context is to tell a lie.

In the heading of every page of this website is the following verse:

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged.
Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Luke 6:37 (NIV)

This and other verses in the Bible establish a conditional forgiveness. Jesus explains this condition in several of the parables. If we do not share this grace with others in our lives, we are denied grace from God. If we judge and condemn others and live in unforgiveness, then we essentially turn our backs on the grace of God. We deny it. We refuse it.  If we refuse it, we cannot express it.

Several of the parables that Jesus told were on this topic. One of my favorites is about the man who is forgiven of his debts but refuses to forgive those who owe him money:

Mathew 18:23-33

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything. The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back. But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

This is the way grace works. It is conditional. If you do not share God’s grace with other people in your life, just as it was with the servant in the parable above, you will not be on the receiving end of grace for long. And that’s what was happening to the other ten percent of my performances.

Back to My Story

Most of the time (this was in the late 1990’s) this Expression of Grace “thing” worked for me. My performances were getting better. My nervousness was gone. But the times when it didn’t work bothered me enough to put some more research into it. I spent time analyzing those performances to see what was different about them.  It took me a while to figure it out, but I finally realized that the performances that went poorly were also performances that had something about them that made me angry and/or unforgiving.

I remember one performance that didn’t go so well. The leader had hired someone who had wronged me in the past. The anxiety I felt on that gig, having to sit in such close proximity with someone who had hurt me, prevented me from performing at my best. In fact, I was so consumed with unforgiveness that I spent the entire gig thinking about what I would say when I had the chance to “give this guy a piece of my mind”.

The result was typical. I was missing entrances. I was very uncreative in my improvisation. My sound became forced. Is that what expressing God’s grace should sound like? Of course not. I had removed myself from God’s grace when I withheld it from the guy who had done me wrong.

Another great example of unforgiveness in some of my performances was when the stage volumes of certain gigs grew beyond what was comfortable for me as a player. The volume levels on stage have a direct relationship to the quality levels of a trumpet player’s performance. The louder the stage volume gets, the worst we sound. I won’t go into the details about why this is true, but trust me. Trumpet players ALWAYS play worse when the volume gets louder. To me, being the perfectionist that I am, there is little that can be as offensive as this. I cannot stand to have my performance quality levels diminished because of someone else.

These loud gigs used to make me stew in my unforgiveness. My anxiety levels went up and I would eventually be useless as a player. This initiated a cyclic pattern and my performance level was far worse at the end of the gig than it was at the beginning (for me, on normal gigs, it is usually the other way around….I usually sound better at the end of a gig).

How often do we do this in our daily lives? We live in God’s grace and celebrate how blessed we are to be one of His children. But then we harbor grudges, get angry or exercise revenge for things that people do to us. On the surface it seems we are justified in doing so. But we can only see the justification of it if we exclude ourselves from the context of God’s grace in our lives. We who receive what we do not deserve have no justification for withholding those things from others. We are no more deserving of God’s grace than the people in our lives are deserving of ours.

This was a realization that came two years after I had begun expressing God’s grace in my performances. That’s how long it took for me to truly understand this Biblical principal from this very real, “hands on” perspective. I can only enjoy the better performances that come from expressing God’s grace through my music when I am sharing His grace with others by forgiving those who have wronged me. It is impossible to express His grace when I am denying it to others.

A Direct Relationship

One of my observations during that two years was that the relationship between our unforgiveness and the lack of grace in our lives is a direct one. What I mean is that we are often denied grace on specific things when we  fail to forgive others for those specific things. The Bible talks about this when it says, with whatever measure we use to judge people, that “measurement” will be used to judge us. Luke 6:38

Think about how this works in the context of stage fright or performance anxiety. I have seen very clearly the source of some performers’ anxieties. Those people who have the worst stage fright tend to also be those who are most critical of other people’s performances (not only their own). The relationship between their criticism and their own performance issues is a direct spiritual link. They set their own performance issues into motion because of their own criticism of other performers.

This was happening to me as well. It took me a while to figure it out, but this clearly explains why the Expression of Grace “approach” wasn’t working 100% of the time. I finally understood that it would never be 100% until I was able to share God’s grace with others 100% of the time.

Forgiveness is not such an easy thing to practice. It’s one thing to just say the words, “I forgive you”. It’s another thing all together to actually mean it. That is the subject of the next page of this story; how to forgive.

Other Related Scriptures

Psalm 32:1-2
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.

Matthew 6:14
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Matthew 7:1-2
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Matthew 18:23-33
Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything. The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back. But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?

Mark 11:25
And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.

Luke 6:37
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

John 20:23
Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Romans 2:1
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

Summary

If you wish to make your performances an expression of God’s grace in your life, it is mandatory that you share that grace with others in your life. Forgive those who have wronged you. Let go of the hurt they have caused in your life so that you can live in the freedom of His loving mercy.


Questions for you to consider:

1) Do you sometimes wonder why the things in the Bible don’t seem to apply to you? Are you walking in grace or have you turned your back on it by walking in unforgiveness instead?

2) Who do you need to forgive that doesn’t deserve your forgiveness?  Who do you blame for your problems and your troubles? Will you share that which God has given you and which you never deserved? Will you share His grace with others in your life by forgiving them?

3) How has unforgiveness affected your music career? Do you harbor professional grudges against those who have held you back? Do you criticize those who have criticized you? Are you one of those who practices just to get good enough to “show them they are wrong” about you?

To read the last page of this story, please click here. >>

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Dealing with performance anxiety as a Christian musician.