The other night, I was in Nashville and had some free time, and it worked out for me to grab dinner with David Hamilton. For those of you who haven’t had the privilege of knowing him, David is a world-class producer, arranger, songwriter, musician extraordinaire who has spent the last twenty years creating some of the most beautiful music ever written, working with artists such as Amy Grant, Vince Gill, Michael W. Smith, Sandi Patty, Steve Green, just to name a few, and oh yeah, traveling frequently to Abbey Road Studios in London to record orchestra music for Disney World and all kinds of other projects and world-renown artists. I met David at church when I was in college. Shortly after I graduated college, bright-eyed and clueless about the music industry, David for some reason decided to hire me to be his personal assistant, and I spent the next two years managing all aspects of his music world. Talk about being thrown into the deep end of the pool. Without floaties. I learned more about the music business in that first month working for David than I did during my four years at Belmont University.
David naturally became a dear friend and valuable mentor, and even though I don’t work for him anymore, it’s always great to catch up whenever we have the opportunity.
As we sat at Cracker Barrell visiting on a rainy music-city night, he said something that hit me between the eyes, and I have not stopped thinking about it since:
“God doesn’t need your music; He just wants you.”
BAM. I’ll be chewing on that for a while. And by a while, I mean years. Perhaps the rest of my life.
Here’s the thing about music world. People hire you, book you, buy your products, listen to your music, or come to your concerts all based on whether or not they like what you do. Never mind who you are; you are valued – or not valued – based on what you do. If people don’t like what you do, you have no career in music. Your success in the music industry is based entirely on how people feel about what you do.
And while that is certainly logical – because who in their right mind would hire someone who delivers bad work? – it is the root of a serious epidemic among us musical, artsy, creative types. Here’s why:
It doesn’t take long for the line between who I am and what I do to become blurry. If I’m not careful, I begin to find my value in what I do and in whether or not people like what I do. And if they don’t like what I do, then based on this line of logic, I can take it so far as to think I have no value. If I don’t have a certain number of Twitter followers or Facebook likes or YouTube views, then that must mean I’m not important. God can’t use me. I have no purpose in life. I can contribute nothing to His Kingdom.
That is how the world seems to view things.
But, what if, when I stand before Jesus one day, I realize He never cared about the numbers? What if I discover He never cared about what I did for Him, but rather who I was while I did it? What if all He cares about is that I was faithful with whatever He gave me? What if He’s most concerned with the quality of person I am becoming on this journey of life, and whether or not I am striving to be more like Him? What if there is one person in the world I am supposed to show kindness to, and that is all that matters? Forget the songs. Forget the music. Forget what I do for a living. What if none of that really matters at all?
I’m not saying there’s no value in numbers. And yes, I believe God cares about the work of our hands, and He desires to use the work of our hands for His glory. But the breakdown happens when we become driven by and consumed by the numbers.
David’s publishing company is called “Gratia Music”. The word “gratia” is a Latin word meaning “thankfulness”. When something is done “ex gratia”, it means it is “done voluntarily out of kindness or gratitude”. David chose that name because he wanted all of his musical endeavors to be done out of pure gratitude and nothing else.
Ever since he told me that many years ago, I have carried it with me. It changes everything.
I want to love God and enjoy Him forever. I want to be faithful to steward the gifts He’s given me and enjoy every bit of it, because I believe that’s when He is most pleased. Or as John Piper so beautifully stated it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”. I want to be driven by gratitude, not by numbers or hype or status.
Because after all, a lifetime of singing and writing songs and recording albums and touring and leading people in worship is just not enough to adequately say “Thank You” to Jesus for all He’s done for me, and more importantly, who He’s been to me.
Sure, I work hard and have great ambition and take the work of my hands very seriously, but if I’m not careful, that ambition can lead to a nasty drive and turn me into a nasty person in the process. And should I “gain the whole world” but fail to become the person God desires me to be, then I don’t think He will be pleased. I can’t help but echo the lyric of one of my favorite songs, “Give me Jesus, give me Jesus, You can have all this world, but give me Jesus”. Oh, how I long to hear Him say someday, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”……
It is freeing to know that God will do what He wants with the work of my hands – my job is just to enjoy Him through it all.
God doesn’t need my music; He just wants me.