A number of years ago I went to an Anberlin concert in a dingy club in Pittsburgh. The smell of cigarettes, alcohol, and tattoos permeated the air, and everything felt slightly claustrophobic. Punk rockers with various shards of metal jutting out of their eyelids, lips, and noses huddled together, lighting each other’s cigarettes.
I’ve always liked Anberlin because of their ability to combine shimmering vocals and fantastic guitar licks into a heavy rock song. They are a talented, tight, engaging band, and when you listen to their albums the talent shines through. Even though I’m not a huge metal fan, I’m big on melodies and musically interesting songs, which is why I enjoy listening to Anberlin.
But the concert was awful. Absolutely awful. Apparently the sound man for the night lived by the motto, “Louder is better, a heart attack is best.” The sound was cranked up so unbelieveably loud that I could not separate out the bass from the guitar from the drums from the vocals. It was like being hit by a tsunami of sound, and all of Anberlin’s talent was lost in the giant wave. All of the things that I love about Anberlin were overpowered by the unbelievable loudness. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of loud music. I haven’t reached the age yet where loud things sound like pots and pans banging together, but the concert was unbearable.
This morning I read the following insightful, concvicting quote by Phil Ryken:
No matter how gifted we are, this is what we become if we do not use our gifts in a loving way. No one can hear the gospel from the life of a loveless Christian. People just hear “bong, bong, bong, clang, clang, clang!” (Loving the Way Jesus Loves)
Wow, that hits home. I may be gifted. I may be a decent worship leader, or a good writer, or a funny blogger, or a great children’s ministry teacher, or a great singer, or generous giver, but if my gifts aren’t used in love, they don’t benefit anyone. If my heart isn’t filled with love and affection for others, then all my spiritual gifts are nothing more than an overwhelming noise, like a loud, clashing cymbal, or an amplifier turned up to 11. If my gifts are not guided by the love of Jesus, then they are wasted.
I want to be useful for Jesus. The first step in being useful is being loving. Which means I need to spend a lot more time praying that God would give me a deep, abiding love for him and for others. Instead of focusing on whether or not I’m being used for God, I need to focus on whether or not I’m loving others. God will take care of the being useful part. Ultimately it’s not about how good I am at a particular thing, it’s about how loving I am. And truth be told, I’m often not loving. I’m just a clanging gong.
Lord, do a deep, thorough work in my heart. Change me, sanctify me, cleanse me. Replace my selfishness with love, my me-ness with other-ness. I want to be used by you, for you, to honor you. If that is going to happen, I must be filled with your love. So fill me today with love for you and love for others. Let my spiritual gifts be shaped by love.
+photo by Mario Pleitez