Tim Fall submitted this article to me in a very timely fashion, as I have been drowning in my kid’s sports schedule. All-Star softball is no joke! And my oldest, going into the 8th grade, gets to try out for the high school freshman volleyball team. So thank you, Tim, for this lovely article about making a joyful noise.
Evensong at Canterbury
I was an atheist.
Raised in a liturgical church, by the time I finished up college in California and went overseas to study in England, I was an atheist. Still, I sang a lot of hymns along the way and had even sung in the choir back home for a while. I enjoyed those hymns even after deciding God didn’t exist. Maybe that’s why I wanted to attend the Evensong service at Canterbury Cathedral.
I was traveling around England on Christmas break with a couple of young women from California that I had recently met. They happened to be Christians. They talked a lot about Jesus. I talked a lot about atheism. They wanted to go to the Evensong service. I wanted to hang out with a couple of cute girls. So off we went.
This place is a cathedral, so it’s huge. Only a few people showed up, though, and the folks running the show had us all sit in the choir loft. The three of us Americans made up about 25% of the attendees.
Evensong has lots of singing, as you probably guessed for the name of the service. I was looking forward to that part. As we went from one hymn to another, I sang out, even taking a harmony here or there; since I’d sung in a church choir, I figured I was qualified. I may not have always been on the melody but I felt sure I was contributing to the richness of the songs.
Behind us and to the left was an older man who also wasn’t staying on the melodies. He wasn’t hitting any of the harmonies either. He was loudly and tone-deafly blaring out the words to the hymns, but without regard to any of the hymn writers’ original intentions for the tunes. The man had gusto, but that was about it.
I left that night thinking I had done more to contribute to the service than he.
I was wrong.
The Faithless Noisy Gong
God gave lots of abilities to lots of people in this world. It’s all part of that common grace thing Jesus was talking about when he pointed out that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45.) Being able to do something well doesn’t mean that it’s guaranteed to please God, though. Here’s why:
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6.)
Unless you have faith, pleasing God is impossible. And what was I at the time of that Canterbury Evensong service? Without faith! I no more pleased God with my singing than I pleased him with my atheism.
So what was I really doing at that service? I was a noisemaker:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1.)
That was me, a faithless noisy gong.
The Loving, Approving Father
I got the impression that the older gentleman in the cathedral’s choir loft that night had faith in Jesus, the love of Jesus, a belief in the truth that God exists. What did I have? Nothing.
So to God, his voice that night sounded infinitely better than mine.
If you feel reluctant to sing in church, fearing you can’t sing well enough, remember that God loves his children. He thinks they sound wonderful, whether they hit the right notes or not. Just as it is impossible for those without faith to please God, it is impossible for those with faith to come under his disapproval. (Romans 8:10.)
He thinks you – and your singing – are beautiful.
[Biography: Tim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 24 years with two kids (one in college; one just graduated, woo-hoo!) his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California.]