Thousands of people poured out of the Word Alive marquee, buzzing after an hour and a half of singing worship, hearing about ministry around the world, and listening to an instructive talk on 2 Peter. I meandered across to the UCCF tent, grabbed a cup of tea, and sat down at a table with some fellow music students, ready to discuss what we had just been learning from the morning’s talk, which had focused on God’s good and precious promises to us. As we took turns to share I was struck by one student who, with a disenthused shrug, said there was ‘nothing really new’, that the speaker had merely repeated truths he already knew very well.
I would be lying if I said I haven’t had that same feeling on many occasions, coming away from a devotional, talk, or time of worship feeling a little disheartened at the apparent lack of new revelation. That morning at Word Alive, however, it struck me as odd. Here was a group of music students, a group who literally spend thousands of hours repeating the same long notes, scales, and exercises on their instruments to hone their craft without the bat of an eyelid. Yet the notion of hearing a core Christian truth without receiving fresh content was at best boring and at worst a waste of time. Is there something we can learn as musicians, I wondered, from our disciplined practice that could feed into our spiritual training?
Repeat and reinforce
The Apostle Peter wrote in his second letter:
So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.
Peter was fully aware that the early Christians to whom he was speaking were well versed when it came to the core gospel truths he was preaching to them. More significantly still, they were living these truths out as active participants in the early church, fervently pursuing God’s Kingdom in their lives. Nevertheless, Peter deemed it crucial in his brief writings to repeat and reinforce the core message of Christ’s sufficiency and precious promises. ‘I think it is right’, Peter continues, ‘to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body’, so that ‘you will always be able to remember these things.’ (2 Peter 1:13-15)
Peter longed for the believers not to fall into the same trap as the Old Testament Israelites who ‘forgot the God who saved them’ (Psalm 106:21), or the church in Ephesus who would go on to forsake ‘the love they had at first’ (Revelation 2:4). History shows us that one of Satan’s greatest weapons against believers is making us forget what we already know about who God is and what he has done. This is chillingly expressed by the demon in C.S.Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters who writes:
It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping them out.
Clearly the repetition of the core truths of our faith is essential to our perseverance in Christ.
We are not helped by the current cultural climate we live in, where repeating the basics is not a hugely popular or celebrated discipline. The rise of the digital age has enabled information to be at our disposal within seconds, relegating the importance of memorising and ingraining necessary-but-googleable information. Concurrent to this is a culture that has become increasingly impatient: YouTube shorts, TikTok posts, and copious adverts for ‘how to learn ‘x’ in six easy steps’ are symptoms of our desire for fast-turnover, snappy, fresh content. Amid the whirlwind of media fighting for our attention it takes real discipline to return to familiar territory to repeat and reinforce.
The regular practice of fundamentals
Anyone who has taken up a musical instrument with any seriousness, however, knows that imperative to both maintaining and improving technique is the regular practice of fundamentals. The American violinist Jascha Heifetz put it like this:
If I don't practise one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.
Arpeggios, long-notes, exercises and studies are the daily bread of a functioning musician and will enable the player to perform their art far more fluently than if they had skipped straight onto their repertoire. And while there may not be the same spark of excitement when practising these fundamentals as when faced with a new piece, they provide a deep familiarity and connection with the instrument. As they practise, the musician recalls in their mind and muscles the intimate nuances that create the most controlled sounds, adopting a slightly different focus as they approach a familiar exercise, be it an aspect of their tone, attack, phrasing, breathing, or fingering.
In a similar way, we must constantly be reminded of what is fundamental to our faith, and use the discipline we have built up as musicians to our advantage. If we are to take our training in Christ seriously, we must treat our practice of the Gospel with as much sincerity as we do our music. As we are reminded again of core Gospel truths as we listen to talks, read the Bible, chat to each other, worship and pray, we are reminding our full selves of the central truths of our Gospel-lived life.
We practise and rehearse these fundamentals so that they do not get forgotten, so that they fuel us for a gospel-led life, and so that our love for Jesus is constantly rekindled.
What I am not saying is that there is no place for imagination, creativity, and digging deeper as we explore our faith. These are of such high importance. But they go hand-in-hand with a humble embracing of those truths that we hold so familiar and dear on a daily basis.
So be encouraged the next time you are hearing, reading, or singing about a Gospel message you know better than a C major scale, for you are taking part in practice of the highest importance and productivity. Take delight in rehearsing in your mind, body, and soul those great and precious promises that God has made to us.