“All music is created equal.” I remember my piano teacher telling me this after I informed her the piece she’d just assigned was “too hard” for me to sight read. She sat there, took a sip of her coffee and bounced her baby on the knee before continuing, “You know how to read music, Madelyn. Just play the notes that come next.” In all honesty, I was a bit frustrated with her instructions, but I knew arguing with her wouldn’t change a thing. I sucked in a deep breath, scrutinized the piece of music in front of me, and plunked a set of keys.
Very slowly, and with an unattractive choppy style, I played through the entire piece. When I had finished, I sat back and looked at her, surprised to see pleasure on her face. “You just proved there’s no such thing as ‘too hard music.’ Some music might just take a little longer and require a little more effort on your part. But, it’s not too hard.“
Fast forward a few years and I was sitting in a booth at a very crowded Chick-fi-la (is there even such a thing as a non-crowded Chick-fi-la?) across from one of my deacon’s wives. I had reached a situation in life that felt a bit like that piece of music: too hard. I’d asked if I could meet with her so we could talk about it, and maybe, she’d have an easy answer to guide me down the right path. As I poured my heart out to her over waffle fries and lemonade, she listened quietly. When I’d finally finished, she very gently said, “I think you already know what to do, Madelyn. I just don’t think you want to do it.”
I didn’t like it, not in the least, but she was right. It wasn’t that the music was too hard to figure out, and it wasn’t that the situation was really all that hard to know how to handle. The truth in both situations was that I didn’t want to give all that it would require of me. Apparently walking in obedience to Christ is quite a bit like playing the piano.
How often is our delayed obedience to the Lord a matter of simply refusing to give up what He requires? How often to we look at Him and say, “Lord, this piece is too hard” waiting for Him to change His mind and give us an easier one? It’s not “too hard” to follow Him, but it is costly. It can take longer than we’d like and require more than we want to give.
In fact, it requires our entire lives.
In the morning when we get out of bed, it isn’t “too hard” to read our Bibles, but it might very well cost us an extra hour of sleep. When we’re at work, it’s not “too hard” to love our co-workers as ourselves, but it might cost us some of our preferences. When a fellow believer is living in sin, it’s not “too hard” to confront them, but it might cost us their approval and friendship. When our peers pressure us to join them in sin, it’s not “too hard” to refrain, but it might cost us momentary pleasure and comradery.
These are small sacrifices in the grand scheme of things. Others have given far more in comparison. Some gave their freedom. Some gave their health. Some gave their homes. Some gave their very heartbeat. People like Jim Elliot, who was martyred by the very people he longed to see presented with the Gospel, or his wife Betty Elliot, who moved into the village of the men who had taken her husband’s life just to tell them of Jesus. People like Betsy ten Boom who spent the last months of her life serving other inmates in a concentration camp. People like Scott and Betty Stamm, the Oxford martyrs, and so many more.
These saints from history have left legacies telling us it is not “too hard” to follow Him, but it is costly.
When I look back on every time obedience to Christ has cost me something, whether it be sleep, fleeting pleasure, a relationship, or even my dearest dreams, I see that the result was far more beautiful than any of the things I had to give up. Each time I “played the next note” and obeyed, I gained nearness to Him. I gained purity of conscience that let me sleep with joy. I gained a deeper love for His sustaining grace. I gained a growing hunger for heaven. I gained more and more of Him. What greater compensation is there?
During the weeks it took me to master that challenging piece of music, my teacher sat in her chair beside me through every measure, helping me. She didn’t leave me alone with the music and shout “good luck” on her way out the door. She stayed, right beside me, until the end. When I needed help, she gave it. When I needed encouragement, she gave it. When I needed correction, she gave it. I wasn’t left on my own. The same is true of obedience.
John 15: 1-5 reads, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Let us not be frightened or disheartened when the thing set before us seems impossible. Let us abide in our Savior, let us draw from His treasure troves of mercy and grace, let us trust that He prunes because He loves, and He enables because He has required. He sustains us, He guides us, and He never leaves us.
There is no such thing as “too hard” music. Neither is there such a thing as “too hard” obedience. Costly obedience, most definitely, sometimes unimaginably so. But in the words of Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” I am convinced that when we stand in glory and see the Savior’s face, we will not consider any cost to have been too great.
Dear saint, let us both look at the music, and play the next note, whatever the cost. One day soon we shall hear the glorious song.