As much as I've yakked about my new barbershop "hobby," I often find it hard to fully convey just exactly what it's like to sing in a magnificent chorus like the Vocal Majority. It's more, much more, than just making a pretty sound and being happy about it. As I've told my wife, there is a spiritual component, too. Singing with the VM pushes me to my limits, and when I am using whatever gifts God gave me to the fullest in that way, I am fully convinced that it brings Him glory.
The closest I can compare is to draw on the words of Olympic runner and later Christian missionary Eric Liddell (of Chariots of Fire fame), who once wrote his sister that "I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure." Running a footrace is not exactly a spiritual endeavor, yet it became so to Liddle because he was using his God-given abilities to the fullest to honor Him.
My musical talents are far from Olympic-quality, yet whatever I have is a gift from the Lord. And when I am using that talent as best I can, as VM makes me do, the harmonies that result are glorious, and I feel God's pleasure. And not just on gospel or inspirational songs, though our repertoire includes quite a few of those -- I feel it as much performing "Luck Be a Lady" as when singing "God Be with You." It's an incredible thing.
(I think too often we are too limited in our view of what brings God pleasure anyway. I can't imagine He smiles only when we do "church stuff," any more than my boys only please me by what they do in Sunday School! If we are abiding in Christ and living abundantly as He intended, we are bringing Him glory no matter what the activity.)
I'd been mulling these thoughts for months, trying to decide how to best express them here, and then a longtime and accomplished barbershopper has come along and put these concepts into words better than I could. Dr. Jim Henry gave the July 29 keynote address at Harmony University and the full text of his speech has been posted here. Dr. Henry argues that this is much more than a "hobby": "It doesn’t just fill your leisure time. It feeds your spirit. It changes your life and the lives of everyone for whom you sing." He goes on to cite the many ways God has used his singing and that of others to effect the lives of people around the world. Dr. Henry no longer calls music his hobby -- it is a ministry.
This was driven home even more for me yesterday, when I was able to join VM at the memorial service for a former member of the chorus. It was very emotional to sing "I'll Walk with God," "You Raise Me Up," and "The Lord's Prayer" for those assembled, and a definite honor to be able to minister in a time of loss. And yet, I found myself ministered to even more, as friends and family spoke of their loved one as a man who was at once a rugged outdoorsman, a loving husband and father, a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, and a man unafraid to express himself in song. What an amazing combination.
The ability to make harmony on Earth is, I am convinced, a loving gift of God straight from the gates of heaven. It has power to impact the heart of both the musician and the hearer. I know that the tremendous joy I feel singing with VM pales in comparison to the joy I'll have singing to my Father in His presence... but then, I'm singing to Him now. Maybe that's why it feels like heaven.