In a former life, I managed a Christian radio station with a musical format ranging from Ralph Carmichael to Michael Card. This agitated some saints who occasionally would send me laboriously handwritten letters, detailing the evils of any beat foreign to John Philip Sousa.
Yet most found harmony in the center of our format — a series of Scripture-song albums by Maranatha Music under the name of Praise (vocal) and Praise Strings (instrumental). These were so popular with our listeners that when we heard the Praise Strings Orchestra was on tour, we jumped at the opportunity for a local benefit concert.
Following a flood of on-air promotions and door-to-door flyers around the community, the big night came. The auditorium was packed as everyone waited to hear their favorite songs by their favorite Christian orchestra.
Backstage, though, our stomachs were in knots. The Praise Strings Orchestra was not what we had naively expected, not the musicians of our beloved albums. Those pulling out their violins and cellos, flutes and trombones, were amateurs: moms and dads, grandpas and grandmas, and a sprinkling of high-school-age novices. Our audience was in for a let-down, and we were in for an embarrassment.
Our apprehension was confirmed once the music began. These plucky players performed the familiar songs from the Praise Strings albums but added their own unique flavor — a nagging affinity for off-key tonality, punctuated by an occasional squawk or wheeze. We were slipping further down into our seats of mortification … when something remarkable happened.
During a blessed break in the music, one of the orchestra members stepped to the microphone and shared a simple testimony. He told of his marriage, which had been ready to crash-and-burn but had been saved with his own divinely renewed focus for family. He challenged each of those in the audience to think again about their own commitments, their own priorities. You could've heard a proverbial pin drop.
Not only did this heartfelt story divert our minds from the music for a few moments, but it started a chain reaction I learned about a few days later.
Unbeknownst to us, one of our radio listeners had just left his wife and run off with his female assistant. He was sitting in the audience that night with his new fling. That soft, gentle testimony hit him with the full weight of conviction. Walking out of the hall that evening he had turned to his companion and said, "We can't do this anymore. I need to re-engage with my wife."
And thus, the letter he wrote me a week later — a letter that reminded me that the Christian journey is more, much more, than just music.
I sat back and re-evaluated my benchmarks for success. A heartfelt, personal story nearly always trumps the finest performance. Even the imperfect efforts we put forth can make a difference when the Spirit intervenes. Moses with halting speech led a nation to freedom. Sarah with barren womb became the mother of God's chosen people. Saul with misplaced passion became Paul, beloved apostle.
Our finest plans are best when offered first to the Master, who may have something entirely different and delightfully far better in mind.