Don’t Quit Keep Playing

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Don’t Quit Keep Playing

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A tale is told of a mother taking her young son to a renowned pianist’s concert to inspire the boy regarding his piano lessons. Arriving early, the mother went to speak with nearby friends, leaving her son at their seats. The boy grew restless and wandered off to explore the concert hall. Soon the lights dimmed. The mother returned to discover her son missing right when the curtains parted. The spotlights focused on the magnificent Steinway piano and, to her horror, her son seated at it. He began an elementary, two-fingered pluck of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

The audience jeered, but the boy tinkered away. Before she could act, the great master appeared from behind the curtain and walked briskly to the keyboard. The crowd fell silent, anticipating a stern admonition. Instead, he leaned over the child’s small frame and was heard whispering, “Don’t quit, keep playing.” His left hand reached down and accompanied on the bass. His right arm wrapped around the boy, and he added a running obbligato. Together, the great master and young novice mesmerized the crowd with their music.

Consider that however rudimentary we may feel at times in our spiritual pursuit, this anecdote is a poignant reminder of our Great Master’s arms wrapped around each of us. He does not call the equipped, but He does equip the called, augmenting and supplementing to create a masterpiece within those He calls His own. Scripture relates how God personally engages in our development and success.

There have been times in my life when I denied myself the blessing of recognizing the Great Master working by my side. Instead of focusing on Him when difficulties fogged my view, I agonized over nuances and uncertainties over which I had no control, resulting in little more than anxiety and a floundering, murky perspective. On reflection, the search for equilibrium and clarity has brought several reorienting principles to the forefront.

Find your strength in God

Following God never “just happens.” Being a disciple takes deliberate intention to give up our own will, pick up our cross and follow no matter the cost. There may be times in our discipleship when emotional or physical pain consumes us with such sorrow that it feels as though our innermost parts are unraveling. Or as Job experienced, loneliness, hurt and disappointment run deep when human encouragements seemingly evaporate. For some, pain from the past may linger into the present, or our own thoughts may hold us captive.

The truth is, our enemy has great power. But let us label him for what he ultimately is—a defeated foe. So why do we listen to the thoughts he puts in our head? Our Great Master is greater, and our strength must come from Him.

We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can be assured God does not randomly allow trials in our lives just to make us fearful. Nor are our lives simply an exercise in futile anxiety. He does not play with or experiment on our faith. When we love God and have His Spirit dwelling in us, He works to prepare us for His coming Kingdom. Everything we experience is to transform us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, and nothing is wasted.

Faith tells us that wherever we’re going, He is already there—so we can find strength and hope by seeing that which is unseen. As His plan for us unfolds, we can trust that He is in control and that He will never leave us. Take time to see the unseen. Make a list of the ways God has actively worked in your life, and thank Him.

Read 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18, and identify the profoundly personal relationship God has with each of us. From these passages we can draw this hope:

When I am anxious, He is my Rock.
When I am defenseless, He is my Fortress.
When I am distressed, He is my Deliverer.
When I am weary, He is my Strength.
When I am encircled with evil, He is my Shield.
When I am vulnerable, He is my Refuge.
When I am in despair, He is my Support.
When I am lost, He is my Lamp.

Isaiah puts it this way: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31, New International Version).

Ask yourself: Have I ever been disappointed with someone for not being as supportive as I felt I needed? If so, have I contemplated that perhaps God wants me to find my strength in Him and not from reliance on others? Would I be willing to forgive those I believe failed me and consider what God really wants from me?

Understand the perspective of God’s priorities

Significant difficulties leave us with significant questions. Before the long haul of troubles invaded our lives, perhaps we were content with our understanding of God’s sovereignty and the way He works. However, when the issues are not just theoretical but very real, solace isn’t found in religious platitudes. We want answers as we try to make sense of our infirmities and uncertainties. Sometimes there are no easy answers. Questioning God’s whereabouts when we feel abandoned is a very human response, showing how desperately we need His mercy and grace.

Often the eternal reasons for our suffering are masked, and the truth is only discoverable as His Spirit illuminates our understanding to see that His utmost desire is for us to grow into the likeness of His Son. There will always be trials unique to us, because they are a part of our preparation. Only when this understanding becomes ingrained in our thinking will we find the peace that transcends, releasing us from anger, disappointment or bitterness toward God.

In Matthew 6:8-10 Jesus shows us how to pray: “For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

We are told our Father already knows exactly what we need even before we ask. So there must be more to prayer than simply presenting our needs. For if He already knows them, then why ask? The prayer begins by recognizing God as our Father and us as His children. Then we are to honor Him and anticipate and welcome His Kingdom on earth, longing for the day when He reigns over the nations and seeking to be aligned with His will. Why? Because to pray in this way allows our mindset to transcend the physical.

Reflect on this: By praying in this prescribed way, I change how I think. It helps me recognize God’s priorities, keep focused on the higher purpose and modify my outlook to be more aligned with His.

Irritation is a teacher

Consider the only gem produced by the stress and irritation of an undesired intrusion, the pearl. When an outsider intrudes into the home of an oyster, its defensive response is to secrete a blend of minerals creating nacre, encasing the irritant and keeping the oyster safe and comfortable. Nacre has extraordinary strength and resilience, being lighter yet stronger than concrete and as durable as silicone. Layer by layer over time, a gem of great beauty is produced through stress and irritation, without which there would be no pearl.

A helpful sermon I listened to made this point: “If we love God and are called according to His purpose, everything we experience, good and bad, helps to transform us into the likeness of Jesus Christ. When you are a child of God, nothing is wasted. Even painful events and experiences are part of a grand purpose.”

God’s method of producing spiritual growth involves irritants intruding into our lives. These can include disappointments, relationship difficulties, anxiety, illness or other issues arising from our own imperfections. How we respond to these determines our closeness to God and development of spiritual maturity. Faith tells us God is working something out in our lives. This perspective is crucial to avoiding resentment and becoming disciples with mature character. When we respond to trials in faith, we build resilient endurance (Romans 5:3-4; James 1:2-4).

Faith does not mean we are kept from trials but that we recognize they serve a spiritual purpose. Whenever I struggle to maintain this outlook, it’s helpful to say aloud to myself, “God’s plan for me is right on schedule.” If we find ourselves losing this perspective, we should, as James 1:5 tells us, ask God in faith for wisdom, and it will be given to us. Stop and ask Him to grant the wisdom and perspective we need to forge ahead.

Famed Christian author C.S. Lewis borrowed an analogy from author George MacDonald in writing: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense.

“What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” (Mere Christianity, 1952, p. 205).

Consider: There will be heartaches, frustrations, regrets, physical and emotional obstacles that may succeed in sapping our resolve—but a hopeless response to suffering can become an impediment to our faith. So ask yourself: Will I tell my story from the perspective of a victim or as a hero, from despair or hope, woundedness or survival, fear or courage, emotional resentment or forgiveness, a physical mindset or a spiritual mindset?

Accepting the challenges God will not remove

A difficult aspect of the human struggle has been in reconciling a loving God who has the ability to eliminate sufferings, injustices and atrocities but chooses not to. How can we believe He shares in our sorrows, cares for us and loves us when He hears our cries yet allows us to endure hardship?

In this context, Hebrews 5:7-8 is a helpful meditation passage. We see a glimpse into the very personal struggle the human Jesus Christ felt in anticipation of His intense suffering and torturous execution. Three times He petitioned with anxious cries and tears of blood to the One who could deliver Him from what was to unfold. He beseeched God to remove it and perhaps find another way. He wrestled in emotional and mental anguish (Luke 22:42; Matthew 26:38). But then, He showed His faithful acceptance and reverent submission to the perfect plan when it was not removed from before Him.

Hebrews 12:2-3 says He endured it all “for the joy that was set before Him,” meaning He kept His eyes on the higher purpose. His trial was temporary, but His reward was everlasting. It uniquely qualified Him to be our Advocate. His death bears truth to the fact that our pain, suffering and tears are never dismissed. He understands what it’s like to agonize and wrestle with looming challenges. He understands the sting of injustice, the depths of emotional and physical travail, and when it feels as though our pinnacle of human suffering has climaxed. He understands when we wrestle with God’s plan for our lives as we seek to submit ourselves to it.

In the midst of Christ’s prayer an angel appeared and attended to Him, providing strength to endure what was to come (Luke 22:43). Likewise, when we lay our fears and anxieties before the throne of God, our petitions enter His ears. He will provide the strength we need to bear what lies ahead. In the words of 2 Samuel 22:7, “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry entered His ears.”

Some last thoughts to reflect on: Christ’s crucifixion is simultaneously the worst and best of all historical events. That empty tomb bore witness to the most amazing love story of all time. Knowing what awaited all humanity on the other side was a reason for Him to endure. Now we, too, have a reason to endure, knowing what lies ahead. He may not take our distresses away, but He knows our pain must be attended to. He will commune with us in our suffering as we are formed into holy people who depend on Him, knowing who we are and to whom we belong.

Remember the story of the great master and the young boy and “don’t quit, keep playing.” What we do in this life echoes forward into eternity. Let us keep our eyes on the higher purpose, knowing our Great Master is always with us.