One Sunday morning a few years ago, our band met backstage just before the worship service to pray. As we ended the prayer, I walked out on stage with the rest of our team, strapped on my guitar, and looked out into the audience.
On this particular Sunday, as I casually scanned the audience, one face stood out to me. I recognized him immediately, and there was no mistaking who he was. It was Ed Roland, from the rock band, Collective Soul.
Immediately, my distracted mind began racing. It flashed back to Collective Soul music videos I’d seen on MTV and to the Collective Soul albums I’ve owned. Then, I thought to myself, “As many times as Ed has made music for me, now I’m about to make music for him.”
I wish I could say that I immediately caught my errant thinking, but I didn’t realize how I’d lost perspective until later. The rest of the set, I just tried to focus on not playing any wrong chords or hitting any wrong notes. Heaven forbid I should miss a note while Ed Roland was watching.
After the service was over, I kind of hoped to see him in the crowd and maybe shake his hand or have him validate me somehow by saying something like, “Cool! Nice job, man!” (Because all rock stars say “cool” and “man”), but as soon as the service let out, he was gone. It was for the best because I’m sure I would have said something dumb anyway.
Now, lest you think my struggle with this way of thinking is relegated to my past, I should also mention another incident that happened just this weekend. Saturday night, I was at the home of an active Major League Baseball player for a mutual friend’s engagement shower. Julia and I were talking with him and learned that he goes to our church.
As we chatted, we mentioned that we play on the worship team, and that I would be leading in one of the venues the next morning. He replied, “Oh yeah? I’ll be sure to come in there, then!” We finished chatting, and as Julia and I left the party, I caught myself feeling a bit the way I did when I had seen Ed several years before. But this time, I caught myself. I repented.
When I say that I caught myself and repented, here is what I mean.
Keeping Things in Perspective
When Thomas Edison invented the first commercially practical light bulb in 1879, it changed everything. Soon, light bulbs would dot landscapes and light homes worldwide. Eventually, astronauts would be able to see entire cities lit up at night as they orbited the earth hundreds of miles above in space. The lightbulb is an amazing invention that’s hard to imagine living without.
I like to think of fame in this way: imagine Thomas Edison standing in front of a room full of people. I am standing beside him. From the audience, you ask both of us who we are and what we’ve done.
Thomas Edison straightens his tie, looks to the floor and back to you and humbly says, “Well, I invented the first commercial lightbulb and helped make it practical for everyone to use. Then, I started an electric company to begin distributing electricity to the people of New York. It kinda took off from there, I guess.” He finishes with a smile and tip of this hat.
Then you look to me and say, “And what about you?”
I step forward, and in grandiose––almost comical––fashion, announce to the room, “I flipped a switch on the wall at my house, and thereby turned on a light bulb!”
Upon hearing that, everyone in the room bursts into applause, pulls out their camera phone, and begins taking pictures––of me. The crowd swarms in, asking for my autograph and wanting pictures with me. Mr. Edison makes his way to a quiet corner of the room, watching the scene unfold, somewhat amazed.
Giving Credit Where Credit is Due
Athletes, musicians, supermodels, and anyone else––famous or not––are all just using the talents or skills God has given them, whether they recognize it or not. So a rock star plays music. God invented music. So the great athlete plays sports. God designed the athletic human body. Praising the wrong thing there is a lot like rushing past Thomas Edison to applaud me for turning on his light bulb.
Now, don’t think, “Oh, poor Jesus. We forgot about Him!” Let me be clear: Jesus doesn’t need your applause. But if you give your praise to the things He’s made and not to him, that just makes no sense.
Performing for an Audience of One
So when I take the stage to help lead people in worship as I did yesterday, I have to remember that I am there to perform for an audience of One. No matter how many people are in the room or what their names are or what they’ve done in life, we are all there for one purpose: to make a big deal out of Jesus and what He did for us.
Not only do I perform for an audience of a One, but that One did more than just make a cool album or a game-winning catch. He made stuff like…oh, you know…supernovas, nebulae, mitochondria, cute little babies, lightning, and the double-helix DNA molecule. Minor things you may have heard of, to name a few.
Having thought about this, it was incredible to take the stage yesterday with that perspective. It’s also incredibly humbling to know that anywhere I am and anytime I want to, I can talk to Him and meet with Him right there. I don’t have to get dressed in a suit and tie. I don’t have to use fancy language. I don’t even have to be politically correct.
It would be a privilege to serve anyone with humility and open availability like that, but that is all the more true when that person is Jesus, who not only made Himself available to me, He made Himself nothing for me. That’s why Philippians 2:7-8 says:
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
And what happened as the result of His unbelievable, improbable humility? Verses 9-11 give the answer.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
I still like Collective Soul, and my new baseball playing friend is a neat guy, but these experiences were gut-checks for me. My prayer is that when I take the stage, and even when I’m off it, that I will always remember I do what I do for an Audience of One.