There is only one way to become a great musician: get an undergraduate degree in performance or education; earn a Master’s and Doctorate; move to Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles; debut at Carnegie Hall; tour around the world.
Certainly, there is nothing wrong with getting a Doctorate or playing in luxurious halls. And to those of us currently working toward these goals, let me add my congratulations on a noble pursuit!
This article speaks to those casually considering music, those currently auditioning for the London Symphony Orchestra, and all Christian professionals. Regardless of our caste in the kingdom of musical endeavors, we must never lose sight of a greater picture when pursuing any career.
That bigger picture is the Gospel. I realize that sounds like an archaic statement. Nonetheless, as Christians we are called to surrender our lives to its cause. God certainly has our careers in mind, for He Himself created the arts and gave us our gifts, but He sees them in light of redeemed lives. As important as our careers (temporal pursuits) are, they should serve the Gospel (a message of eternal weight) to be of lasting worth.
God may choose to bless some of us with the “American Dream,” but His great and wondrous plan cannot stop at us having nice jobs, nice homes, and popularity. Our lives would be so empty and meaningless otherwise, and we would find ourselves following the countless stars and CEOs who have ended their lives because of hopelessness.
The Traveler Who Honors God
The blessings that come from honoring God first are richly enumerated throughout the Scriptures. Consider the career of Solomon, the wisest and richest ruler in Israel’s existence and a symbol of success among even unbelievers. Before his rise to greatness, he asked for wisdom—something of eternal value—and God added wealth and fame to him. In this Solomon fulfilled a New Testament principle: “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).” God tremendously blessed Solomon’s reign, and it was only when Solomon forgot God and pursued the fruits of earthly success that his kingdom was divided.
While honoring God’s plan is not guaranteed to secure happy careers, it does allow God to direct us toward the ends that will satisfy our souls as well as our dreams.
The Road that Winds
Many of us take our cue from the vast percentage of performers who have made their careers without the guiding hand of God, and in imitative form we build our own professional lives—forgetting that we have an undiscovered dimension of travel as adopted sons of God. Surely we have a sincere longing to live God’s purpose for our lives, but we follow the world’s prescribed routes to attain God’s destination. Can such highways lead to God’s best?
Moses is an example of how God directs the steps of those who seek His will. Though adopted into the ruling family of Egypt, “…[he] refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward (Hebrews 11:24–26).” Why did Moses not stay and grow in influence over Pharaoh in order to free his kinsmen? In fact, the classic film The Ten Commandments cites this alluring route:
Nefretiri: Oh, Moses, the gods have fashioned you for greatness. The splendor of your name will last beyond the pyramids. When you are Pharaoh, you can free your people…
But Scripture says that “[by] faith he left Egypt (Hebrews 11:27a),” trusting the unusual path God had ordained. Through winding roads God made him a leader. Could Moses have eventually freed the Hebrews by remaining in Pharaoh’s household? Perhaps, but through his excursion to Midian, God revealed His nature to Moses and taught him lessons that he would not have learned in the glamour of Egypt’s palaces. If Moses had not trusted God’s plan, who can reckon how different Old Testament history would have been? Perhaps God would have chosen someone else to deliver His people.
Perhaps David could have been born into Saul’s royal family (though even Saul was called out of humble circumstances), but God chose instead to cultivate his leadership skills as a shepherd, with a league of witless sheep for his kingdom. Yet who in the Scriptures is best remembered, not only for his influence in Hebrew history, but his testimony as “a man after [God’s] own heart (Acts 13:22)?” A career left to God does not exclude our gifts and dreams; rather it ushers them into the jurisdiction of eternity. This translation requires that His routes not be bound to where roads are paved.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:8–9).”
The word ways is the Greek derek, which translates “a way, road, distance, journey, or manner,” and can also refer to conduct or action. God dictates our journey as well as our destination, and from the example of Scripture He often matures us for the destination through the hard roads.
Solomon wisely penned the proverb, “The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps (Proverbs 16:9).” The four words plan, way, direct, and steps provide a fascinating study. When the Greek meaning is examined, the verse better reads “the mind of man plans (calculates, imagines) his ways (derek), but the Lord directs (firmly establishes, confirms, prepares) his steps (steps, pace, stride).” Notice that God’s planned route does not remove our responsibility to explore or pursue our options, yet He is the one Who makes our paths sure to the exact step and pace of our travel.
Make your plans, go to college, audition for orchestras—but do not play tug-of-war with God and His unfathomable designs.
A Destination that Fulfills
If it is true that God must guide the journey to our career, it is equally true that He must dictate our final career. God’s highest intent is for our livelihoods to honor Him, and if we let Him lead our journey to begin with it is easier to find the career that honors Him. We cannot hope to honor Him at the destination if we did not honor him on the road; we may even find ourselves in the wrong profession!
Many of us have obvious gifts, so we find it easy to fantasize our professional venue. Sometimes God has similar plans, and other times He has a seemingly unrelated life in mind. In the past He has often tasked His children in areas where natural ability lacked, so that through their weaknesses His power would be clearly seen. He raised a gang of dirty fishermen to expose the hypocrisy of the learned scribes and Pharisees, and yet called a learned Hebrew scholar to preach a simple message to unclean Gentiles.
Christian moviegoers will no doubt recognize the name “Sherwood Pictures”—now “Kendrick Brothers Productions”—the independent Christian film company operated by brothers Alex, Stephen, and Shannon Kendrick. Their story continues to inspire me. From youth all three brothers showed promise in filmmaking, and I wager that most film professionals would have them sent to Hollywood to develop their talents (as if Hollywood is the only way to become a good filmmaker). At God’s leading however, Alex and Stephen went into ministry and Shannon joined IBM. Through their church they were able to fund their first full-length movie Flywheel, which became so popular it sold out multiple times in theater and was later picked up by Blockbuster and Christian bookstores to offset the demand.
The Kendricks are now working on their fifth film after enjoying enormous success nationwide from three other movies: Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous. Fireproof became the highest grossing independent film of 2008; Courageous was shown in over 1,000 theaters and later released to 20 countries. These movies now represent the best of Christian films, bringing the Gospel to viewers around the world. Their story has become a real-life “Parable of the Talents” and an incredible lesson of how God can use our gifts to make Him famous!
A Dream that Lasts
Am I suggesting that we should forsake our pursuit of degrees and diplomas, or that climbing the professional ladder is evil? Absolutely not! But if we think our only option for a fulfilling career is to go to such-and-such a school, move to a certain city, or play in a world-famous orchestra, then we risk missing God’s ultimate purpose for us. What if our life is more special—supernatural—than we thought, or what if God’s plan for us is so unique that not even a career as concertmaster of the Berlin Philharmonic could compare? He makes His ways unrepeatable and His paths unsearchable by our brightest minds and in doing so perpetually eludes the world. Let us trust our Heavenly Trail Blazer to guide our professional lives en route and à l’arrivée.
The Ten Commandments. Dir. Cecile B. DeMille. Paramount Pictures, 1956. Film. ↩︎