His Baton or Yours?
James C. Denison
In the battle of Jericho, Joshua had the priests blow “seven trumpets of rams’ horns” and march around the fortified citadel (Joshua 6:8). I’m a “priest” (as it were), and I play the trumpet (or at least I used to). I’ve often wondered what they played. Perhaps “Taps” for the inhabitants? “Reveille” for the Israelites? It’s actually a trick question. I played a “rams’ horn” in Israel–it made only two notes (and sounded like a dying cow). Their part was easy.
Ours is harder. Our instruments have valves and scales and options. How can you be sure that you’re playing what God wants? What’s the relationship between your hard work and practice, and his direction and plan? I’ve struggled with that question for much of my Christian life. My hard work cannot save a single soul or change a single life. And yet God has given me gifts and abilities, and you as well. What is the relationship between his will and our work?
Recently in my journal I recorded a metaphor which helped me greatly: God is the conductor and I’m in the orchestra.
He alone has the score for the entire orchestra–in fact, he wrote it. I can see only my part. Sitting in the orchestra, I can hear only those playing right around me. I cannot hear the oboe player in Brazil or the cellist from 600 years ago whose contribution is part of this concert of the ages.
I can play my part as I want, ignoring the conductor, but I’ll most likely play out of time and he won’t be able to use my part in the eternal CD he’s recording. Or I can watch his baton, his downbeat, playing as he directs. Then he will use my abilities and hard work as part of something far greater than anything I can play by myself. And best of all, as I focus on the Conductor’s baton, I get to know the Conductor.
Where do you need his direction today? What question, issue, challenge have you come up against with your instrument? How can your life know and follow the Conductor of the universe this year, starting today?
Prepare to play for the Conductor (vs. 1-13)
Every musician knows that a concert consists of two parts: practice and performance. For every hour you hear played on the stage, there are hundreds of hours of preparations you don’t hear. It’s the same with the orchestra and plan of God. Here’s how to prepare for the concert he intends for your life this year.
First, trust in his direction (vs. 3-4). Know that the Conductor is with you, whether you can see and feel him today or not. And know that his direction is always best for you as you play in his orchestra.
The “ark” was the most sacred possession of the people. Overlaid with gold, it was constructed with a golden angel at either end. Only four feet long by 2.5 feet wide and 2.5 feet deep, it was so sacred that it was carried on poles attached permanently to its sides because no human was allowed to touch it. It contained the Ten Commandments, as well as a jar of manna from the wilderness (Exodus 16:33-34) and a copy of the book of Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 31:24-26). It was the most significant symbol of the Jewish nation, much more than a flag to us, for it represented the throne and presence of Almighty God himself. When the ark preceded the people, they would know that the Lord was present with them, marching at their front, leading them into the river and the land beyond.
Today the ark is no more. Lost or destroyed in the Babylonian captivity, its fate has never been determined with certainty. Some Jewish archaeologists believe that it was stored by the rabbis in tunnels beneath the Temple Mount when the Babylonians were approaching, and awaits discovery at a time when the Muslim authorities permit such excavation. Others think it was taken with Jeremiah in exile to Egypt or on to Babylon, or hidden on Mt. Nebo in the country of Jordan today. And some think the Jews destroyed it lest it fall into pagan hands. But no one is certain.
Nor is it needed now. After Pentecost, God’s people are God’s temple, with God’s Spirit living in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). His word is no longer kept in a box, but is alive in our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).
Our Conductor is just as present in our lives as he was with their ark. And his will is best for us, as it was for them. As we step into the water of obedience, we can trust his presence and plan. As we play our instrument in his orchestra, he will direct all our notes to be their very best.
Second, practice for your performance (v. 5) In preparing to see the power of God, the people must first believe that his presence would lead and protect them. Next, they must be ready spiritually to walk in that holy presence: “Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you'” (v. 5).
How do we “consecrate ourselves” today? We ask the Holy Spirit to show us anything which is wrong between us and God, any notes we have played out of tune or rhythm, and write down what comes to mind. We then confess these sins specifically, humbly, and honestly to God, claiming the forgiveness he offers by grace (1 John 1:8-10). We throw away the paper in gratitude, and submit our wills and ambitions to his perfect purpose. We crown him our Lord anew, placing him on the throne of our hearts. We draw close to him, knowing that he will draw close to us.
If you were a musician with a concert at the Meyerson coming up, you would practice your part. Think back to a job interview, and the attention you gave to every detail of the day. If you are married, remember all the months of work invested in 30 minutes of wedding ceremony. Does our Father deserve less? If we are not experiencing the power of God in our lives and ministries, perhaps this is an issue worth examining. When we humble ourselves and pray, seek his face and turn from our sins, then our God can hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).