This question triggers a lot in my mind when I read it last 2 years ago. And it forever changed my heart and the way I play.
I’m not a protégé. I wasn’t born with the gift of playing the piano at my fingertips. But because I have Godly parents, influenced by a God-led missionary, they enrolled my sister and me to piano lessons which we had to attend every week, whether we like it or not. Consistent – my parents were. After two years of attending weekly lessons, I wanted to give up. I asked – no – I begged my parents not to let me continue taking piano lessons. But they didn’t give in.
And then the missionary pastor who influenced my family began to train my older sister to play for the church. And life was good. I was just the younger sister of the church pianist. No responsibility or obligations. Until the missionary left the Philippines. And for some crazy unknown reasons, my sister began to train me to play for the church. My sister would give me a list of songs that I have to learn within a week and when service comes, the list would be handed to the song leader and I would play. I was always dragged to the piano chair, kicking and screaming, every service. I hated it. I hated making mistakes, which was really often since it was so hard to read and press the correct notes all at the same time, not to mention the tempo that I had to follow which the song leader would implement. I dreaded every church service. I would sometimes hide and wait for the singing to start before quietly slipping at the back of the church. But most often than not, my sister would drag me to the piano chair. And play, I did play, willing or not willing. Training. God used my sister and parents to train me.
Fast-forward 10 years later, where I can play a little bit better, I now understand all those consistency, training, and hardships that happened in my life. Just like sowing and reaping. I’m now reaping the good harvest, all because of the people that God put in my life have made the effort and time to invest in me and to encourage me not to give up.
I now love, literally, L-O-V-E playing the piano. I love pressing the keys. I love creating music with them. I love having it as an outlet of what’s inside me. Through my years of playing the piano, I realized that it’s more than pressing the correct key or note, or being in the right tempo, or pressing the next harmonious chord. It’s so much bigger than that. There comes a time in my music life that I have to question myself: Why do I play? Was it because my sister has dragged me, kicking and screaming, to the piano chair? Is it because I love to play the piano? Or is it because I love attention? Do I simply love being in front of people? Do I play because I want to prove that I can simply play? Am I that shallow, that that is my reason for playing the piano? I prayed to God. I battled with God. I begged God to show me a bigger and more valuable reason why I play the piano for the congregation in my church. He didn’t answer it immediately but He answered it while I continue to play, while I continue to do what I know He wants me to do. It was through those 10 years that He slowly molded me, showed me the reasons and made me understand why I’m playing the piano.
I have to play with my heart. A God-prepared heart. So that I can play to prepare other hearts.
It took me a long while to fully understand this: I don’t have to be super-duper professional to play for the church. There came a time in my life where I wanted to be so good at playing the piano that I practiced every day for 3-4 hours. Come congregational singing on Sunday, and though I pressed the correct key, though I didn’t make mistakes, though I was on the right tempo, my music was dry. I grew frustrated; I would bang on the keys on the effort of making the music more lively, more alive. But my effort was in vain. I grew disappointed, to the point that I didn’t practice anymore. But God showed me that it was my heart that was the problem. He first showed me that I still have to practice, because He gave me this talent, and if I don’t work it out, it would rust and be un-useful. Then He showed me that in order to play for His people, I have to play with my heart. A God-prepared heart. Not only do I have to practice to play but I also have to practice His righteousness every day. I fully understood it when I learned a very complicated piece. I played it flawlessly. No mistakes. Everything was perfect, right tempo and right dynamics. But something was missing. There was no life. It was dry. It was like a beautiful girl but with a shallow mind.
I began to slowly learn (and still learning) how to play with my heart (Eph 5: 19). It was hard. I have to open my heart and be vulnerable. And it’s very exhausting. Every time I successfully do it, I would be sweating and very exhausted. But why complain? I’m just an instrument that God is using for congregational singing where the people of God can prepare their hearts to listen to the Word of God.
Music is a very powerful tool. But God’s music (hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs) can do wonders in people’s lives, whether they like it or not. I should not just simply play. I should not only think that I’m just an accompaniment. I should not think that the responsibility of preparing the hearts of the congregation is fully on the song leader’s shoulder. I also have a responsibility. I produce melody, harmony, and rhythm, all at the same time. If I play a song on minor, the song leader would sing on minor and the congregation would sing on a minor note producing a lamentable song that can lead to a heavy heart. But if I play with my heart, if I play lively music, the song leader would automatically lead the congregation to a lively rhythm, which may lead to people shouting for joy. Music affects people.
I would like to share something I have read.
Music is a picture of God’s saving grace. We don’t become fine pianists by thinking of our fingers first; we become excellent instrumentalists when we begin by thinking of the song in our hearts. Likewise, we cannot merit Heaven or God’s righteousness by doing good works; but when we are saved, the indwelling of the Holy Ghost begins a process in our hearts that enables us to do many good works.
Thus, every service, my heart should be always prepared. In doing so, I’m helping the Holy Spirit prepare the hearts of every member to listen to the Word of God. Because let’s admit it, not all Christian who attend our worship service came with a fully prepared heart to worship the Lord. Sometimes, someone will come with a troubled heart, someone who needs encouraging or someone just seeking God. You might be just the person the Holy Spirit need to help that person.
I have to play to encourage the pastor/preacher.
Talking in front of crowds is nerve-wracking. But preaching in front of God’s people with the responsibility of their spiritual growth in your shoulder is a big-big scary thing. I believe that God puts congregational singing before the preaching in order to, not only prepare the hearts of His people but to encourage and be a blessing to God’s messenger. And in order to encourage the pastor, I have to lay aside my preferences likes and dislikes in music and let God take over on how I play. I have to let my heart be sensitive to the Holy Spirit on what song should I play that would be a blessing to the pastor.
Of course, all of what I learned would be in vain if I don’t do all of them to bring praise to the Most Holy God.
Even if I play with my heart, even if I successfully helped to prepare the hearts of God’s people, even if I have encouraged the pastor, if I don’t worship and give back all the glory to my God, everything would be of no use. I’m not perfect. I’m not going to deny that for the last 10 years I sometimes play with the intention of making people know that I’m a good pianist or bringing the focus in me. But God made me realize that, no, playing the piano is not about me. He gave me this talent for His glory, for Him to use and to please and glorify Him. Even if I practice every single day of my life, if God would not allow me to grow, I wouldn’t. I could do every effort I can, but God is still and always in control in my whole life.
Though piano playing doesn’t have lyrics that people can quickly identify if it is worldly or Godly, it has melody, rhythm, and harmony that should all be aligned in the music that God wants in order to please Him. It’s a lot harder than singing. I have to have the Godly mind and heart that can easily differentiate the fine line between Godly and worldly music and to keep in mind these lessons that I have learned so far.
Now, back to the present day, even if my fingers are itching to play, I first have to check my heart if it is ready to bring praise and to worship my God. Because every musician should always focus on the song in his heart, making sure that the melody there, is pleasing to the Most Holy Lord.
“Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymn and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord. Eph 5:19