I periodically see a meme floating around the internet jokingly mimicking those who praise musicians with phrases like “Wow, how did you get such great talent?” and “How do you play so beautifully?” The musician responds every time: “Practice.”
This meme expresses the truth of every great artist. Certainly, some possess a certain knack for particular arts and we hear about prodigies every once in a while, but the truth is that those who succeed in any area, whether music or otherwise, succeed because they put in the hard work of learning to do something well.
Tedious Habits Become Wonderful Skills
Learning how to do something well relies a great deal on a person’s grit, determination, patience, perseverance, and use of time. Learning to play an instrument well does not usually come naturally to a person. The musician must listen to music performed on the instrument in order to internalize what the performances should sound like. He or she must learn fingerings and rhythms and notes, things that are learned not through inspiration and revelation but through countless hours of memorization, application, and practice. Skillful musicianship does not simply spring upon a person spontaneously; rather, he or she must put in hard work to reap the rewards of seemingly effortless performances.
As church musicians, we know this well. Our Sunday morning work can be joyful, but it is usually prefaced by a week of tedious planning, preparation, and practice. This, in turn, has been prepped by years of schooling in which we learned to read and write, to use a calendar and a computer, and to play an instrument.
Anyone who composes also knows the truth of this. Frankly, the romantic idea of a composer struck with inspiration and sitting down to pen the next great piece of music, emerging triumphantly hours later with magnum opus in hand, is unrealistic. Although composers are sometimes struck with inspiration, in reality, their written music is produced through great effort. It is not the work of a moment but the work of hours upon hours of writing, rewriting, scrapping ideas, and, ultimately, hesitantly presenting a work of art. It is often tedious and frustrating work. This work, though, leads to the glorious volume of music we have today.
Likewise, we train our bodies in good health not by spontaneously running a marathon but by developing healthy habits day by day. We eat our fruits and veggies and get our workouts in where and when we can. These habits are not easily adopted; instead, we must work to accomplish these things day after day, very often failing and succeeding only with great effort. The small, tedious habits we eventually learn to follow lead to a strong and healthy body.
Leading a Life of Faith through Daily Habits
Our life of faith follows the same trajectory. Certainly, our hard work doesn’t save us; Jesus Christ—His life of obedience, His suffering and death, and His glorious resurrection—saves us. Instead, through the grace of God, our persevering habits of body and soul affect how we live our lives. We expect to face the hardships in the life of a Christian more confidently when our daily habits prepare us for such things. Much like how we take care of our bodies not by running and winning marathons but by daily eating well and getting exercise, so many of us live faithful lives of service to God, not always by something drastic like dying for the faith, but by bringing a meal to a grieving family or by helping out at the next church work day. We learn to love and serve only by loving and serving. And very often, these things are not what we naturally desire to do.
Instead, we pray for the strength to do such things, and by the grace of God, we fight against our sinful human nature in order to do things we do not always feel like doing. And God gives us the strength to do this through His Word and Sacraments. It can be hard to focus on receiving God’s good gifts in worship when we are preparing ourselves for what we have to play next, or running through that tough line of the next hymn during the reading or sermon, but with practice we can get better at it. (And make sure to join a Bible study outside of worship whenever we can.)
And through our paltry and often tedious efforts of playing the organ or loving and serving our neighbors, God deigns to work for the good of His Church. He who entered our world, not as a great and glorious earthly king but as a lowly servant, did not fail in His daily, tedious work of healing the sick and teaching the crowds. Instead, He persevered to the end so that He might grant us eternal life with Him.
Keep in the habit of tracking your Sunday service music and giving yourself time to prepare with the Worship Planning Book.