I understand now why it didn't work.
In all honesty, my blues version of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" was a poor choice for an offertory meditation.
And since I was just 13 years old, my keyboard chops were - to put it kindly - a little rough.
Neither of these things concerned me, though; I was buoyed by a youthful confidence that registered somewhere around invincible.
The pastor had asked me to play, so my church debut seemed almost like a heavenly command performance. I'd prepped hard on this edgy arrangement of "What a Friend;" it gleamed with a coolness that nearly required sunglasses. There were lots of little bluesy slurs and behold, my left hand did groove greatly.
That morning, I looked up from the keys just once, and that was to see the offering plate crowd-surfing the room. Surely these people - undoubtedly amazed by my skill - would be moved to acts of deep generosity.
My meditation closed with a glissando slide down the keys and a bit of hammering on the low octaves. The sanctuary was enveloped by a stunned silence too intense to be spoiled by applause. I quietly left the piano and took my usual seat next to Mike, who - along with me - formed our entire youth group.
"Wow, that was cool!" he whispered. Having just set a new high watermark for church music, I nodded knowingly.
After the service, I arose to accept my accolades. These, however, only came from our churches' youth group, and both of us had already weighed in.
No one else was seeking me out for high-fives. In fact, instead they were looking past me and around me. I began to wonder if I'd done something wrong; that suspicion was about to be confirmed.
As I entered the foyer, I heard George and Dora busily chewing out the pastor. "That kind of music," Dora hissed as she waved her Bible, "doesn't belong in church!"
Dora saw me out of the corner of her eye, and spun around on her heels. She glared down at me and finished her rant with, "and you, young man! You should be ashamed of yourself!" George and Dora got into their big beige Oldsmobile and drove away. The pastor told me not to worry and assured me I'd done a fine job, but in that sad moment, the blues went from an abstract idea to something a little more concrete. An experience like this takes a few decades to dissect, and I think I'm just about done now. There's a handful of truths buried in my Blues Debut.
First, I'm encouraged that God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick. As a young, undiscipled musician, I was wrong about a lot of things: I knew nothing about worship, and lacked even basic discernment about the needs of a congregation. My motives? They may have been messier than my chops.
Even with all that baggage, I was still a born-again young man who was not ashamed to publicly declare Jesus as the answer. I did so using an authentic musical language that my peers understood. Okay, my peer. And I responded to the request of a spiritual authority. Truth told, I was a mixed bag of good stuff and bad stuff. After all these years, Saint, when I take honest inventory of my heart, I'm still a mixed bag. Maybe that describes you, too. We can be thankful God doesn't call us to be finished and flawless; He just calls us to be faithful, available and teachable (2 Tim. 2:15, Eph. 2:10). Second, never "despise the day of small beginnings." It's hard to know what God is actually up to. (Zech 4:10 NLT) As it turned out, within a decade, the Lord called Mike to skillfully pastor that very church, and later called me to join him as its first Worship Pastor. God brought a great renewal; in the season that followed, the church grew from 30 people to over 500. Youth ministry blossomed exponentially; my soft spot for young musicians grew into a passion for building the next generation. To this day, I can trace much fruitful work to an early moment that wasn't particularly promising or encouraging.
Finally, disappointment reminds us "what a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear." If you've got the blues and need a friendly smile, look for it upon the face of Your Master; that's where it counts. People may despise you and drive away in their beige Oldsmobile, but the Lord will never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
We have it on good authority: When that Faithful Friend does leave, He'll take you along with Him to a place where nobody sings the blues.