Dad, Tony, Fred and Me
The Call to Worship Is a Call to Joy
Music, Joy, and Strength
Is there anything as debilitating as weakness?
- The heart has a deep desire to do something great but the mind and body simply cannot follow through.
- A need goes unmet.
- An opportunity is lost.
- A once-in-a-lifetime moment passes never to return.
- Depression adds its weight to heaviness in the arms as the body reels on trembling knees.
- With the sense of balance gone, the vision is doubled and useless.
Human weakness is no source of joy.
Learning from an Excellent Team of Worship Reformers
The book of Nehemiah tells the story of worship reforms when Israel returned from Babylonian Captivity. The list of godly leaders who were determined to recover the spirituality of their covenant with Jehovah included famous men:
- Zerubbabel, the king, rebuilt the Temple.
- Nehemiah, the governor, rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem.
- Ezra, the priest, restored the Word of God to the people.
The walls were rebuilt on site and the Temple was rebuilt according to the ancient instructions. The plan for the reformation of worship also came from Law, given at Mt. Sinai.
Pagan worship had always surrounded the nation of Israel, a constant assault from all sides on the holiness of the worship of the One True and Holy God. Their Covenant with Jehovah demanded pure worship from the whole nation, pure in ceremony, pure in motivation and method and pure in the spirituality of the sanctified life as a witness to the world.
However, there was no power supply to assist the Old Covenant worship in achieving this purity. This power demanded the atonement of Jesus and the abiding Spirit of God in a New Covenant which were still to come. There was forgiveness and restoration for the worshiper who failed God but the perfection demanded by God remained out of reach. A cycle of sin and repentance, apostasy and reform, repeated itself from generation to generation.
Nehemiah’s account of the reforms of his day tells of a particular season of renewal, reformation, and revival, all springing from the reading of the Law.
Nehemiah 8:7-12 NIV
The Levites…read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read. Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks,
and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord.
Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
The Power of the Word Read Aloud
The public reading of the Word of God brought waves of sorrow and repentance. The truth of the words pierced their hearts, arrested their minds, and shook their souls. But this grief was a passageway not a destination, a dark trail of tears each worshiper had to walk to get to the light. Their leaders let grief and repentance do the necessary work. But soon, enough was enough.
“Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve!” Why?
- Jehovah-Jireh had provided truth.
- Jehovah-Rapha had healed them.
- Jehovah-Nissi had seen them through to victory.
- Jehovah-Roi had corrected and comforted them.
- Jehovah-Mekeddish had claimed Israel again as the nation set apart for His purposes.
- Jehovah-Tsidkenu had shared His goodness with them.
- Jehovah-Shammah, was present with them, measuring their humility, hearing their cries for mercy, and counting their tears.
- Jehovah-Shalom, was ready to lead them in a celebration of their restored peace with God.
- Jehovah-Saboath was surrounding them with His Mighty Hosts.
It was time to celebrate.
The same leaders who had solemnly read the Law, called for a feast. The same leaders who had wept and repented with the people, proclaimed a party. This was not a party rooted in low behavior brought about by drunkenness or the sudden lifting of moral restraint. This was a righteous party, rooted in true freedom and divine destiny.
Yet, there was a hangover.
It was not the weakness of a blinding headache, or stomachs filled to overflowing, or deeds to be regretted if they were ever remembered. The result of this godly joy was strength. When rooted in a relationship with God and expressed in ways consistent with the Laws of Grace, joy is strength.
Dad, Tony, Fred and Me
I have long observed that music needs joy. Even sad music: the dirge, the lament, the blues, is an attempt to regain joy that has been lost. By itself, music binds people together in a common experience of joy or at least the hope of joy’s return someday. That is why it is impossible to think of entertainment without music.
Along the way, three outstanding teachers provided me with an example of the strength of joy:
- My father, J.D. Phifer is the first of them—songwriter, singer, rhythm guitarist, leader, the most creative man I have ever known.
- Tony Bennett came next–master interpreter of the Great American Songbook.
- Fred Astaire came to me much later as I learned to appreciate the legacy of classic films. He was a joyful craftsman and the master of narrative dance—the story didn’t stop for the dance; the dance told the story.
I became a fan of Tony Bennett’s music at age 15 when I bought a stereo that came with a set of record albums, two of which featured Tony. He is unmatched in the interpretation of the feeling of the meaning of the lyrics he sings. His recordings always feature the best players and arrangers who assist him in his interpretations of the songs. His recordings are a primary source of my love of orchestration.
Dad and Me
It was all so natural for me then, but looking back on it, my father must have taken tremendous joy in our relationship.
- We “wrote a song” together when I was in third grade.
- The family sang together at home where I learned to sing harmony listening to Mom.
- When I took up clarinet we made music together every week. (See My Genesis Moment StevePhifer.com.)
One memory of the joy of music stands out. Years before I bought that stereo, my father and I were watching one of the many variety shows that filled the 1950’s and 1960’s airways. Tony Bennett was singing, and he was so glad to be singing! His joy was so obvious and overflowing that Dad and I looked at each other when he was done and expressed our mutual joy. I had no idea as a young boy with my father watching TV that Tony’s diligent, joyful artistry would inspire me for the rest of my life.
In my 50’s as I started my collection of classic films, Fred came into my life . I invite you to watch the opening sequence of “The Band Wagon.” (MGM, 1953, dir. Vincente Minnelli) Fred begins with a sad song, By Myself, but quickly exchanges his lament for a joyful song about getting his shoes shined. This amazing solo dance by Fred demonstrates his joy. You will see joy personified in motion.
Check the Inventory
Even “secular” music produces joy and the strength that accompanies it. I have seen this week after week in the community bands in which I have played. If this is true, imagine when the Spirit of God is at work in music filled with the Word of God. The joy goes to deeper level—the level of the spirit. When the Worship music we lead is a celebration of joy, strength grows in the spirits of the worshipers as it flows from heart to heart. Every worship leader keeps an inventory of the music of worship. Let us be sure that our supply of joyful songs is fresh and plentiful. Not only do joyful songs bring strength, they are the gateway to the Lord’s Presence!
Psalm 100:1-2 NIV
Shout for joy to the Lord , all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Is there anything as enabling as strength?
- The heart has a deep desire to do something great and the mind and body rise to the occasion.
- A need is met.
- An opportunity is seized.
- A once-in-a-lifetime moment is enjoyed to the full.
- Joy lightens the arms and steadies the legs.
- Balance is sure and vision is clear.
- Joy is the source of strength.
“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved