By Grant Norsworthy
I call what I do for my job “word & song”. I’m a speaker and a musician. From time to time I’m given opportunities to be in front of groups of people – as the focus of attention – to tell stories, paint word pictures, interpret bits of The Bible and sing songs. When I speak and sing, the subject matter is never far from Jesus as the Christ. Every song and message I present is my best effort, at that time, to encourage people to swim more deeply into the mystery of relationship with God and to respond to Him more fully.
I love my job. I love seeing the audience connect with what I offer. It’s wonderful to see people in the crowd respond with a smile, a nod, applause or laughter (at the right times), a look of intense listening and thought, and sometimes, some people might even shed a tear. Seeing those things contributes to my sense that I’m doing something good – important even – something bigger than myself. Something that has significance in the building of God’s Kingdom.
I like it when people want to tell me how they’ve been impacted by my message. When people begin a child sponsorship after I’ve made a Compassion invitation. When they buy my merchandise. I think it’s good when I’m paid well to speak or sing. The more the better! I even like flying to gigs, partly because I get this weird sense of importance from it. Unconsciously, I might be saying to myself, “Yes, ‘they’ need me to travel across the country to be at their event because no-one closer can do exactly what I do.” I make a special effort to collect favorable testimonials from pastors and event organizers after my visits. Maybe too much effort.
Here’s the problem: The more horizontal validation I collect from people, the easier it is for me to ignore my desperate need for God’s vertical validation. It’s terribly easy – far easier than I consciously realize – for me to fall in love with what I do for God (and the affirmation of people) and not notice my heart growing cold and unmoved toward God Himself.
C.S. Lewis, famous author and theologian, warns me about this in his book The Great Divorce:
“Every poet and musician and artist, but for grace,
is drawn away from the love of the thing he tells,
to the love of the telling till, down in deep hell,
they cannot be interested in God at all but only in what they say about Him.”
If you think that’s a tough quote to read, yet you realize (like I do) that you need to hear it, try restating it in the first person “I” using your own vocabulary. I tried that and I instantly felt the influence of the statement go even deeper.
Here’s my best effort:
“I, Grant Norsworthy, the musician and speaker, apart from the Grace of God, can so easily be deceived. I can comfortably fall in love with my singing, playing and speaking about God – become only interested in what I do for God – as I fall out of love with God Himself. And I am the least qualified to know that it’s happening. This is a sure path to hell.”
Now the statement is not about “every poet, musician and artist” but it’s about me. Please let me encourage you to make this statement about you. Re-write it in your own words and in the first person. Seriously. Do it! (Yes, a blogpost with a task!) The effort will be well worth it, I assure you. You might start like this:
“I, [write your name], …
the [write the thing(s) that you do for God that are noticed by other people], …
but for grace, [and continue] ….”
And if you would be so brave as to write your own C.S.Lewis personal paraphrase, share it with those who are closest to you in your ministry work. And please put it in the comments section under this blogpost.
I mentioned in a recent vlog that this is my least favorite C.S. Lewis quote. It’s my least favorite, but I need to know this more than I need a good response from an audience. To be honest, I really don’t want to know the danger that C.S.Lewis is describing. It’d be far easier to live in ignorant bliss – allowing people’s good feedback to give me a sense of worth – but I need to allow people’s responses to be what they are and, instead, be moving consistently into deeper intimacy and oneness with God – the only place where I can find my true worth.
As a musician and speaker, I’m aware that C.S.Lewis is delivering a serious warning to me and to all of us who sometimes find ourselves in the limelight – allowing ourselves to be placed on something of a pedestal (of any size) as we sing or speak about God. Am I willing to take this warning to heart? It’s tough to do! Sure, we must be aware of people’s reaction to what we do. We must be able to receive horizontal encouragement and even a rebuke when it is necessary. But the horizontal must not be allowed to rule me – to define who I am and guide what I do. I must allow the vertical – God – to define who I am and guide what I do.
Can I do that? No, I can’t. It’s impossible.
“…but for grace…”
Thank you C.S, Lewis for those three words!
Apart from the amazing grace of God, it’s impossible for me to be defined by Him alone and not my audience. My only hope is God’s grace! The only thing that can save me is a loving, gracious God who best demonstrates His love and grace by The Cross of Jesus. The Cross shows my true worth. My audience does not.
[Please note that I don’t use the word ‘vertical’ in reference to God’s love and grace to suggest that he is somehow hovering above us only. In a sense God is distant – some vertical distance away, if you will – but I believe He is also with us and in us through His Holy Spirit. And His vertical grace and love can reach us through the horizontal path of other people and circumstances too!]
I must submit to my gracious and almighty God. I must allow His Holy Spirit to remind me that every message I speak, every song I sing must first minister to me. For the sake and well-being of my own eternal soul. I ought not think that my audience needs to hear this message or this song more than I need to hear it.
I need to remember that singing and speaking for God is an awesome responsibility that can easily trip me up “but for grace.”
Oneness with the perfect will of God MUST ALWAYS be the focus of what we are doing – connecting ourselves to God, connecting other people to God and to each other. We need to remember that singing and speaking about God is NOT the destination. GOD HIMSELF is the destination in whatever we do. HE needs to be the purpose.
I need to be reminded of this every time I step up to a microphone or strap on a guitar.
“If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides,
so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 4:11
Watch my short vlog that summarizes this blogpost HERE.