What God Does and What We Must Do
(Author’s Note: Recently, this essay from ten years ago came to mind as I was teaching a minister’s class on the Holy Spirit in which I emphasized the Call of God. I realized I had never published this testimony. As the voice over used to say in each episode of The Lone Ranger, “Let us return to those thrilling days of yesteryear…”)
Psalm 55:22 KJV
Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee:
he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.
John 15:16 KJV
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
Dateline: July 31, 2009
The year was 1975. The month was July. The place was a Sunday school room converted to an office in a church building built in the 1940’s that smelled of old wood and worn carpet. The man who knelt at a discarded couch with a Thompson Chain Reference Bible, King James Version, open before Him, was me, young and trim at 25 years of age. My four year band directing career had just ended and I was in my first fulltime job in the ministry: Youth Pastor and Minister of Music. My wife of one year and one month was at home in the little parsonage the church bought for us. The year and a half ahead of us would be crowned with success at every turn. The church loved us immediately and we loved them. We had the joy of founding their sanctuary choir and their youth choir. Those were the days of Southern Gospel choir songs, seasonal cantatas and youth choir tours where the guys’ shirts were made out of the same material as the girls’ long dresses. We introduced those wonderful people to “state of the art” events like the Bill Gaither-Ronn Huff musical, “Alleluia!” We took Jimmy and Carol Owens’ powerful “Come Together!” on tour with the youth choir. We had to make our own sound track! We did a John W. Peterson style Christmas cantata called “A Song Was Born” that I scored for band. The local band director played trumpet and supplied me with the young musicians. But that all lay ahead, unforeseen by the young man, probably wearing a leisure suit as we did in those tacky 70’s, kneeling in prayer, weeping over his Bible.
Why the tears?
I felt the burden of making my living at the church. The tithes and offerings of those wonderful people who trusted their teens to Freeda and me paid my salary. Who was I to expect such a thing? The answer came in the two passages of Scripture at the beginning of this essay.
“I have chosen you and ordained you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain.”
With all my heart I wanted my work to last. I had seen hotshot band directors build their programs on their own personalities. When they left for a bigger school, the bands fell apart. As a student of music education, I had determined that music itself was the basis for music education, not the personality of the teacher. How did that wisdom translate to my youth choir, my sanctuary choir? I didn’t want to be the proverbial “flash in the pan.” I wanted my work to last. I wanted to build it on something more substantial than my gifts or my charm.
I will never forget the moment when the phrase of John 15 burned into my spirit, “I have chosen you and ordained you.” This wasn’t just ambition on my part; it was a calling from God. Details of that calling flooded my mind as the promise in the words of Jesus pierced my heart, “that you should bear fruit and that your fruit should remain.” Now, thirty-something years later, most of those young people are serving God, many in positions of leadership and that sanctuary choir stills sings every Sunday.
At that same time, the scripture song movement was starting up.
Charles F. Brown produced a series of three albums of these songs. Each album was a different pastel shade. (I wish I could find those recordings today!) These songs showed me the power of singing the Scripture. One of the songs was a setting of verses from Psalm 55. I can still sing it today:
Cast thy burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain thee.
He will never suffer the righteous to be moved.
As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me.
Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud:
and he shall hear my voice.
Since He had chosen me and ordained me to bear fruit that remained, it made sense that He would carry the burden of that calling. As I sang the psalm and read the words of Jesus, tears of assurance flooded the old indoor/outdoor couch in the old Sunday School room turned office in the old church that smelled of old wood and carpet.
Today, July 31, 2009, thirty-something years later, during morning prayer, I prayed Psalm 55 again. My wife of 35 years was sleeping. She teaches school and loves her summer break. Together we can look back over decades of fruit bearing and see the promise fulfilled: fruit that remains. I have gained and lost hundreds of pounds. My 1980’s beard, a sure sign of creativity back then, has now been reduced to a short gray goatee. For years now my dark brown hair has featured a stylish gray streak (totally natural I might add) on the left side of my head. Now the whole head is peppered with gray. We have led hundreds of praise and worship songs, produced hours and hours of Christmas, Easter and Independence Day spectaculars. We have raised two wonderful, creative daughters who have become teachers and who have found amazing husbands to be our sons.
Yet, this morning I felt a burden greater than I could bear.
I was “laboring and was heavy laden” so I answered Jesus’ invitation to come to Him. Again I heard the words of King David as if it were the first time, “Cast your burden upon the Lord and He shall sustain you. He will never suffer the righteous to be moved.” It may seem mystical or super-spiritual but somehow I did that—I cast the burden of my heart upon Jesus.
This isn’t work we do “once and for all.” This is a daily task. I don’t know about you, but I have demonstrated a stubborn desire to carry the burden myself. Soon my hands are hurting, my back is pained, my heart is pounding with fear, my legs are shaking and I realize for the umphteenth time, “I can’t do this!” In prayer I hear the words of Jesus and the song of David. “I have called you.” “Cast your care on Me.” Peace, born of dependence on the Holy Spirit, comes as I take my hands off my ministry and simply walk through the day with Jesus.
When I think of all the changes I have witnessed in the ministry of worship and music since 1975, it is comforting and encouraging to know that the calling and the casting remain.
Today, I cast my burden upon You, Lord.
You will sustain me.
As I stand in the righteousness of Jesus,
You will never permit me, to be shaken,
to slip or to fall.
Therefore I humble myself under Your mighty
hand, O God. Exalt me in due time.
I cast all my care upon You, for You care for me.
Psalm 55:22 NKJV
Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you;
He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.
1 Peter 5:6-7 NKJV
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty
hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,
casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
(First received July, 1975 renewed July 31, 2009)
(Author’s update: Today, March 4, 2019, I find I am still called and that the fruit of my efforts still remains. I also find that each day I must consciously and deliberately cast today’s burdens on the strong shoulders of my King, Jesus.)
© 2019 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved