I’ve been told I can “carry a tune” as the expression goes. When I try to match a note with my voice that someone is singing or playing around me, I think I do an okay job of doing that. There are some notes I would really like to sing, that I just can’t quite pull off. The pure, clear tone that I hear in my head sounds very different when I try to create it with my voice. It comes out of my mouth strained, cracking, and not quite there in pitch; unpleasant was not my intent but it is the result nonetheless. Some people are what we call tone-deaf. The way they hear the note they are singing is not any different to their ear than the note that is being sung or played around them, and what they hear in their head is exactly what they hear when they belt it out loud. The tryout rounds of American Idol provide enough evidence of this. There are people who are convinced that they sing exceptionally well and they boldly stand in front of a panel of music professionals and tell them so. I figure one of three things is happening in their lives. One, they have no true friends who are willing to tell them, “Hey, that business management degree that you gave up so you could pursue a singing career… yeah, you might want to consider reenrolling in that.” Two, they have friends and family who would like to tell them that they really can’t sing, but they don’t want to hurt their feelings or crush their dream. Three, all of their friends and family members suffer from the same condition; they too are tone-deaf.
Last Sunday I ventured into some waters in the message that had some people a bit surprised and others perhaps concerned about what I said. I talked about how too much of a good thing is not necessarily good for us and the one good thing that I feel has gone out of balance is our focus on personal and private devotions. I wanted to follow that up with some additional affirmations on both sides of this matter, and to add back in some of the thoughts that wound up not being communicated because the clock and I are in a weekly, unhappy street brawl.
First let me affirm the practice of daily private devotions. Yes, do that. My encouragement on Sunday was for you to focus this time on prayer and seeking and meditation. All three of those practices are helped and indeed dependent on the inclusion of Scripture, so don’t leave Bible reading out. What I was contending for was a counterweight to the excessive emphasis that is placed on the learning and understanding side of private devotions. This ideal has been reinforced by the personal testimony of spiritual people and an entire division of Christian publications. You can log onto Amazon, Christian Book Distributors or any other number of websites today and purchase a topically themed book, a companion devotional guide, a small group workbook and in some cases a music CD that is provided to aid in your time of reading and meditation.
I identified that the accessibility of personal Bible study materials falls into a not-so-beneficial agreement with a strong cultural bent among American Christians. We are people who passionately crave independence and fight for our rights of individualism. The pursuit of Scriptural learning and understanding primarily in this private, individual fashion disallows the vital practice of getting what we think out into the open. Just like an attempt to sing a particular note that you “hear” in your head, but when it comes out of your mouth it sounds very different, the spiritual ideas and conclusions we reach in private devotions also sound very different when shared outside of the realm of thought and imagination. And for those of us who are a bit truth-deaf; making even the things we say out loud always seem “right on pitch,” the solo pursuit of learning and understanding will leave us without the necessary dissenting voices that can help us evaluate what we cannot discern for ourselves. Some of us just need Keith Urban to say, “Yeah baby, that was not really good at all, sorry.”
The message last week identified three benefits of learning in community that I won’t use this space to restate. Please check out the podcast on the media tab of the City Church website to catch those points or refresh your memory. One important item that I left unsaid on Sunday has to do with thinking about this in terms of a sliding scale. The newer or perhaps a better way to say it would be the more underdeveloped your Biblical understanding is, the more time you should spend learning and wrestling with the implications of the Gospel in community with other believers. In that group you will likely have people who have read more of the Old Testament than you have, or understand the context of things that Paul or James wrote in the New Testament that will really help your reading and understanding of those passages. The more developed and mature your understanding of the Bible is, allows for more private times of reading and study and more benefit from such times. Just be honest in this assessment of your development. Most of us know far less than we imagine and understand even less than we imagine we know.
One of the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the young pastor Timothy was to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). Some might assume that the need to read Scripture in public expired with the common availability of printed Bibles. I believe that this is a wrong assumption to make, especially when taking the Bible “private” disallows for so many of the community-provided benefits that keep our understanding balanced, our “hearing” accurate and our personal application of truth from becoming, well… just weird.
Thanks for reading the thoughts I needed to get out of my head. Perhaps now I can get back to sleep.
Pastor Jack Witt