The tenth and final lesson that J.S. Bach taught me was to be devoted to God.
He not only had the conviction that his music should be used in the service of the Church, but also deeply held the belief that (in his own words), “Music’s only purpose should be for the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.” He was not only employed by the community of the local church, but believed that anything and everything he would do in his life as a musician would be done to glorify God.
Before he would create, he would write on the music “In Jesus’ Name” or “Jesus help me”. Then, once he had finished a piece, he would write “To God be the glory”. I don’t believe he was trying to be seen as a religious fanatic in doing this, but that he really meant these statements. It had nothing to do with trying to impress the church leaders or his congregation with how ‘spiritual’ he was. This was part of his personal devotional life. His life of creativity was intertwined with his worship, his dialogue with the Creator of all things.
In his own Bible, on the pages of 2 Chronicles 5:13, he wrote a comment to himself, “Where there is devotional music, God is always at hand with his gracious presence.” He knew the Presence of God in his own life, whether in the service of the local church or privately. He had a relationship with God that went deeper than his occupation as a Music Minister or as a member of a church.
As I’ve shown in previous blogs, his interaction with the people of his community and congregation (who also considered themselves to be Christians) was at times tenuous, fraught with misunderstandings and disappointments. If he had relied upon this situation to bring him spiritual and emotional strength, apart from his own personal devotional life, he most likely would have had reason to give up. His conviction to serve God, whether or not his community ever accepted him, gave him reason to serve that community. His strength to serve was not derived from that community, but from God Himself.
His involvement with the spiritual went beyond that of natural human organization. He lived and served in the local church community, but he spiritually lived to serve something beyond that, something more eternal. “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.” (Heb. 11:13-16)
Here, on this earth, as wonderful as the community of the local church can be, we are yet human, with human hang-ups and differing viewpoints. There is no perfect church, and no perfect music minister. In the end, the only glue that holds the Church together is forgiveness.
For those who are seeking a place that is above the natural failings of humanity (even in the Church), there can be a place of satisfaction, but it exists in a different place than the natural realm, it’s the place of the spirit. Bach lived in this place. He dialogued in this place, and derived strength from a divine relationship he had there with God Himself.
I have no doubt that he could have done well as a musician in any other occupational choice than that of a music minister, and that he could have given the world great music by the inspiration of God in a secular venue. But he chose to identify himself with the One he served and had relationship with, by serving the local church community. He was not ashamed to be identified with Jesus. “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mk. 8:38)
Bach chose to be identified with the Gospel of Christ and to serve the Church community from the power of his own personal spiritual interaction with God. It was a life-commitment that had far-reaching ramifications throughout history. Not knowing about the massive impact he would wield on human artistic and spiritual history, unknown to most of his contemporary world, he dictated a final work from his bed: the chorale, “Before Thy Throne I Come”.
Application: Never serve out of duty or obligation, trying to impress through good deeds a community that can never satisfy your deepest yearnings for success, appreciation and fame. The only way true life-satisfaction and lasting creativity can be achieved is through a dynamic relationship with your Creator, found (as Bach did) through the grace of Jesus Christ.