V is for …

copyright Kathryn Finter
image copyright Kathryn Finter

 

The first time I ever played the piano in public was during the offertory at a Sunday night church service.  I am completely convinced the church pianist must have greased those keys with butter just before I took the bench.  My fingers slipped up one way and slid down the other. Despite all the weeks of practice, I am not sure if I correctly played a single note of my solo.  To this day, I wonder if anyone in that sanctuary recognized I was playing the old spiritual Brethren We Have Met To Worship.

Believe it or not, my parents paid for a decade’s worth of piano lessons.  The result? I can play most of the songs out of the Baptist Hymnal, but only as the notes are written and without any embellishments whatsoever. Though I am not a talented musician, I can play the piano decently.

Correction: I can play well just as long as no one but the Lord is listening.

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The summer I was in the 7th grade, our church got a new youth pastor. I think he must have volunteered to take the youth to the local nursing home to lead a worship service. To this day, I am not sure how he knew I played the piano, but he asked me if I would play the piano for the service. Ever the people pleaser, I was unable to say no.

There were three hymns for me to play:  Victory in Jesus, Onward Christian Soldiers, and Just As I Am. I don’t remember particularly enjoying being a part of the service, or feeling as if I had done anything to share God with those lonely, hurting people in the nursing home. I do remember being somewhat astonished people could sing to the music coming out of the piano as I played the hymns. And I remember the deep sigh of relief that came out of my mouth as the last note was played.

Not long after that, Mrs. Ellen, a lady from our church, approached me about playing piano on a regular basis for her Tuesday afternoon nursing home devotional.  Still a profound people pleaser, I found myself agreeing to join her even though it was the last thing on earth that I wanted to do.

That’s how I came to be the nursing home pianist.

The “congregation” was about ten or twelve patients, most of whom were suffering from some sort of dementia or Alzheimer’s, though a blind man who played trumpet often came to the services and joined me in making music for others as they sang along. It was a rather odd sound, I’m sure. I continued to fumble my way around the keyboard on that old, out-of-tune piano. No one had a very good singing voice. And the motley crew of worshipers had about 5 songs on the regular playlist … the favorite of which was Victory in Jesus.

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downloaded from fotosearch.com

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For four years, my entire high school career, I faithfully showed up at the nursing home every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 pm. I never once wanted to go. I would have quit in a heartbeat if I could have found the courage to just tell someone I wasn’t coming. But I didn’t. Instead, I continued to come and play. I didn’t feel called to the job or talented enough to be the one sitting before the piano bringing forth music. But, you know, I did feel wanted, and somehow I felt needed because I was doing something no one else was willing to do.

To this day, I can play Victory In Jesus without the hymnal to guide my fingers. Every time I hear those notes, I think back to the old nursing home in my tiny hometown and to the Tuesday afternoons I spent there playing the piano. My attitude wasn’t great. My piano skills weren’t any better than my attitude. And yet, God took that experience and blessed me for it.

I believe God loves it when His children voluntarily serve others. There are plenty of scriptures to back this point, beginning with “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Matthew) and “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). But there are so many other places in the Bible with words encouraging the followers of Christ to be first in service to others.

 

This saying is trustworthy. I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed God might be careful to devote themselves to good works. These are good and profitable for everyone.   ~Titus 3:8

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  ~Galations 5:13

 Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  ~1 John 3:18

V is for Victory in Jesus …

which reminds me to volunteer in service to others, even if I don’t feel talented, called, or have a desire to do the job which needs to be done.

And The Walls Came Tumbling Down!

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It’s a story told often, how the walls of Jericho fell. In Sunday School classes, tiny children are taught to sing the song, retelling how Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho by simply marching round the city walls and blowing on trumpets.  

While the account of those tumbling walls of Jericho definitely make for a memorable Bible story, the life lessons contained within should be nothing less than inspiring for a Christian facing what seems to be a formidable problem.  As I study this story, I find not only encouragement for battles in my life, but also a very particular battle plan that is a key to breaking down strongholds in my life.

You find the recount of Joshua and the Battle of Jericho in the book of Joshua, chapter 6. The very first verse says this:

Now Jericho was strongly fortified … ~Joshua 6:1

Joshua had literally just led the Israelite nation into their Promised Land. Now they were going to have to drive out all those who lived there, and Jericho was the first city on the list of many. Archaeologists and historians have noted that Jericho’s walls actually consisted of 3 walls:  a retaining wall about 15 feet high with a 25 foot high mud-brick wall on top of the retaining wall.  Between the first two walls and the third wall was a steep embankment.  At the top of the embankment stood the third wall, which was also about 25 feet high, though the base of this third wall was about 45 feet higher than the top of the second wall. To Joshua and the Israelites, Jericho was formidable. There was no hope of a battle victory here.  And yet, Joshua’s instructions were to drive out all those who lived in the Promise Land. It must have seemed like a monumental task.

As the Biblical account reads, God lets Joshua know that He has already handed over the entire city of Jericho, as well as its king and fighting men, to Joshua. All Joshua must do is have his army of men march around the city once a day for six days. On the seventh day, the priests were to blow the trumpets while the men march around the city seven times. Then at the sound of the long trumpet blast, the men were to give a mighty shout and the walls would collapse.  I have often wondered, as have many Bible preachers and teachers, how Joshua felt upon hearing God’s battle plan. After all, it wasn’t exactly the typical method of defeating an overwhelming foe. Yet, God promised Joshua the outcome wasn’t in question. Victory was assured … as long as Joshua followed God’s battle plan, as crazy as it seemed.  The first key to overcoming strongholds in life is obedience to God. Obedience is doing things 100% God’s way, even if it seems illogical or crazy to our human brains.

Joshua had enough faith in God to obey, to trust that God would bring about the impossible. Joshua also knew that faith often requires an element of discipline. In Joshua 10:6 we see Joshua command his troops:

Do not shout or let your voice be heard. Don’t let one word come out of your mouth until I say, “Shout!”

Then you are to shout.

How often do I ask for God’s help and receive His action plan for victory, only to not have enough discipline to carry it out?  Faith may begin in the heart, but it is carried out in our deeds. True belief is followed by actions which are the proof of what is in our hearts.

Along with discipline, faith requires endurance. Joshua and his army didn’t just march around the city of Jericho once.  They didn’t march sporadically either. They marched once a day for six days straight, and then on the seventh day they marched seven times around those walls. Historians tell us that the walls of Jericho surrounded an area that was approximately 1,500 feet in length and a little over 500 feet in width.  While it was certainly doable for Joshua’s vast army to march around the city seven times in one day, it would have been a long walk. And yet, because of their willingness to endure and push through, God’s victory was given to Joshua and the Israelites.

More than anything, when I face problems in my life, especially the kind that are rooted deeply, I feel overwhelmed and hopeless to make positive changes.  Currently, I’m working to change a lifetime of poor eating choices.  After 40 years of eating more than I should and not making the healthiest of food choices, it feels like a daunting change.  When I consider the aspect of having PCOS and genetics, both of which predispose me to having a struggle with my weight, I realize that this foe is formidable, and to attempt to defeat it feels like a losing battle before I ever get started. Yet, deep down in my soul, I think God will be delighted to give me victory in this area, if only I am willing to follow Him in obedience, with discipline and endurance, trusting that His battle plan will bring me the victory. 

What overwhelming problem do you face in your life? Have you given it to God for the victory?  If you do, you can trust your faith in God, along with obedience, discipline and endurance, will be part of the battle plan God gives you in order to overcome even the strongest foes.