Are you playing notes or playing music?



I was an unusual kid (in some ways). For one, I liked classical music. Blame it on Looney Tunes, I guess. Bugs Bunny as The Barber of Seville is a classic! Whether or not that was the genesis of my interest in classical music, I did develop an amateur appreciation for classical music. Granted, I never learned to play an instrument, so I am missing out on some of the finer points of refined listening. I may not fully understand the technical complexities of music, but I do know what I like and I know if it sounds good or not.

Over time, I have discovered the difference between playing notes and playing music. Playing notes is the foundation of music but it does not necessarily equal playing music. I can finger the notes perfectly on an instrument but it may lack “flow.” Flow is what makes music beautiful. Flow is when the musician effortlessly plays each note and creates a beautiful experience. He is one with the instrument – in fact, the instrument is just an extension of his being, a different voice with which he speaks and sings. Flow is when the musician loves his art and tenderly expresses himself in his wonderful, melodic language. Love of music drives the musician and his love is passion, understanding, and expression rolled into one.

When I listen to music, I don’t hear notes; instead, I hear weeping and joy. I experience the music instead of just listening to it and this transcends the passivity of being in the audience; I am brought into the moment with the musician. Although I cannot feel what he is feeling, I can at least understand what he is feeling and I am made richer for the experience.

Everyone plays music of one sort of another. In the symphony of life, we have many things to do. Of course, we can get through life, punching the clock, doing what is required, doing what is expected. But that is only doing the minimum; it is the difference between “have to” and “want to.” I suppose “have to” can be satisfying, in a way, but it does not satisfy the soul. We can do our work and make busy, or we can perform our work and make meaning. It is the difference between getting the job done and doing the job well.

Our calling, whatever it may be, is our music. Don’t be satisfied with just playing the notes.

Plan for tomorrow’s foundation, not tomorrow’s results

Credit: Florence Lilly,

Credit: Florence Lilly,

Usually, we tend to think in concrete terms. For example, if I want to go to Niagara Falls next summer on vacation, I will make plans. I will decide which days I want to go and will then work to arrange those days off. Next, I will estimate what it will cost and will start saving money (no, don’t put it on the credit card!). I have a precise destination in mind and I’ll make sure it happens.

However, with so many things in life we can’t determine a precise destination, but we are still better off making plans. When I graduated high school, I had no idea that in the distant future I would be a college professor living in Florida. To me, Florida was only a place where my family once took a vacation; it was certainly not my destination over three decades in the future. Likewise, I do not know precisely where I will be in the coming years, but I do know with certainty that I will be “somewhere.”

So, if we cannot plan our exact destination, is it worthless to plan? If we don’t know where our exact location will be then why make plans to get there? And that brings me to my point. Even though we don’t know exactly where we will be, we know that we will be somewhere; therefore, the question is which direction do I want to take and how will I get there?

Last year I heard a young preacher and his wife who are on deputation for domestic missions. The preacher did a great job presenting his work and preaching a heartfelt sermon. After the service, I remarked to his father-in-law about what a fine young man he is and that I knew he was proud of both his son-in-law and his daughter and of their decision to be missionaries. Then, the father made a very profound observation. He said, my daughter decided to marry a fine young man and serve as a missionary not because of what we did as parents but because of the choices she made. All they did, according to her father, was to instill the right values in her by modelling that in the home and at church. She had to take it from there.

There was no way they could foresee what she would be doing with her life, but they planned and prepared with a direction in mind. The direction was to serve God with a glad heart and they made plans to bring that about. They raised her in a godly home, they took her to a church with a commitment to missions, they demonstrated service through their own missionary work, and they taught her how to be a godly woman. It’s no surprise that she followed that direction (e.g. train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it).

No, they did not know her exact destination, but through diligent planning and preparation, she was able to arrive at a good destination. God only knows where she will be in 10, 20, or 30 years, but she can rest assured that it will be a good destination if she continues to plan and set her sights in the right direction. Planning and purpose are more important than place.