Joy Is Essential to Artistic Ministry
Music and joy are meant to be companions. One of the most delightful commands of scripture is also one of the most familiar.
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship (serve) the LORD with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs. Ps 100:1-2 NIV
Joy is an absolute essential to artistic ministry. Even when the art we produce must deal with unpleasant themes the eventual joy of the triumph of good over evil provides the music/art we make with a note of hope. According to the Bible the “Joy of the Lord is our strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) What does that mean? Simply this: joy is not an option—the more demanding our job may be, the necessity of joy is that much greater.
With this in mind, here are 7 and a half ways I have found to find, restore, and keep joy in the midst of demanding ministry.
1. Pray about it
There can be no other starting place. Without prayer we are left to our own strength which will quickly be used up. Prayer connects us to the strength of God which is inexhaustible.
• Make a study of prayer—a lifelong study. Prayer is much more than presenting a list of requests to God—How could anyone do that for a hour? My doctoral thesis was on private prayer and have produced a user-friendly little book called “In the Secret Place—Praying like the Apostles.” It is available directly from me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Make a practice of prayer—a life-long practice. Set a time for daily prayer and keep to it. If we only pray when we feel like it, chances are we won’t pray very often. If we only pray when we are in trouble—well, that’s kind of rude—don’t you think? Expand your definition of prayer from petition to praise, worship, Bible reading, and intercession. Prayer is simply time with God.
Joy will be the regular result of regular prayer.
2. Forget about it
As artists, many of us are obsessive by nature—it is hard to put things out of our minds. I had my first bout with obsession in my senior year at college. At issue was my senior recital. My clarinet teacher told me this: “Steve, you have the reputation of being one of the finer music students in this school. When your recital comes, we will all find out if you are faking.” He told me this the year before my senior year!
As December 10, 1970 approached I was about to lose my mind. Every waking moment I thought about that day of reckoning. When I slept I wasn’t resting. I practiced more than I ever have, before or since. I could not get my recital off my mind and it was driving me nuts.
One day a friend and I went to a drugstore. I saw a Revell brand plastic airplane model. It was a Gruman Hellcat fighter from WWII. I had assembled it several times as a boy and could have put it together in less than hour without ever looking at the instructions. On an impulse I bought the model along with the correct military paints and the glue required to do a first class, slow as molasses, inside-out job. I took 8 hours to put the model together and paint it. When I reluctantly finished, I realized that I had forgotten my recital for the whole 8 hours.
What a gift from the Lord! I learned that when something is really, really important to me, it will capture my mind and steal my joy if I let it. I have to find something that demands my whole attention but is absolutely unimportant! My mind, when fully engaged in a hobby, rests from the important work I do the rest of the time.
The demands of the worship ministry are relentless and we need regular breaks from them if we are to retain our joy. For the last 10 years I have collected classic films on DVD. I can lose myself in the great fun and sometimes great artistry of those who invented the art of sound film storytelling!
3. Enjoy the people you work with (and live with)
Also in college, I found that some people in my life annoyed me to no end. I had a friend who was a new Christian. When I would mention some big man on campus that I thought was just an empty-headed frat rat, she would counter with some really neat thing about the guy. This too, was annoying. Then I heard the Lord rebuking me and saying that I should be more like her and find something to love in the people He puts into my life.
Forty-something years later, this remains a challenge. I had a tuba player once who was a smart-mouth. His comments were always negative and he had the ability to steal my joy early in each rehearsal or warm-up. I reacted in kind to his jabs until I realized that wasn’t getting me anywhere with him. I started laughing at his comments instead of being defensive. He loved it!
He became an ally to me. I chose to love him and enjoy his personality rather than let it annoy me. One of the great joys of worship ministry is the people with whom we work. Some take a little more work than others but they are worth it.
4. Establish a routine but don’t be bummed out if it eludes you
Not gifted with organization in any great way, I find myself in a perpetual state of reorganization. I am there again now—I haven’t figured out how to work at home. The thing is, I have to keep trying to get organized! This paragraph would be longer if I had any wisdom to share with you.
One thing I can say–don’t give up! When (if?) a plan fails, put it away and try another. Along the rugged mountain trail of broken organizational schemes, I still plant a tree now and then!
5. Take care of unpleasant tasks ASAP
Warning—Hypocrisy Alert! I know I should do this but it is so difficult. I have heard of the wisdom of handing each thing that comes across your desk only once before filing it or tossing it. (Wait—I know I have that written down somewhere!) Of course in this digital age that means action demanded by emails must be taken upon the first reading.
This principle is even more important when it comes to issues of ministry. When something is wrong—try to make it right as soon as possible. Unhandled things accumulate tension and can become dangerous crises if we let them.
6. Keep work at work (except when you can’t)
I think I have done a pretty good job with this one over the years. I have tried to keep the home as my sanctuary from work. Orchestration projects have been about the only thing that I have taken home—but they are more like a hobby than work. This is probably one reason not having an office to go to is so disorienting now.
7. Make rehearsals fun
You don’t need any rehearsal techniques from me, but consider this: the most precious offering the church receives each week is the time our singers and players give to the church. I believe these times should be fun.
The people we lead need to feel better after the rehearsal than they do before. They spend that time looking at us as well as their music. If we are having a good time, they will too.
There are times when we are under undue pressure to produce. This is unavoidable but we must not pass this pressure on to our singers and players. If we have taught them to do their very best week after week, there is no reason to intensify that demand in times of stress. We must also teach and model a work ethic that allows for fun when the work is done. We have to be like an energy absorbing bumper on a car—we take the hit and never pass negative energy on to the passengers.
7.5 Plan your rest
Good luck with this one!
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