January 19, 2014 by

Feeling the Smile of God


Categories: moments of truth

The film Chariots of Fire is one of those movies it seemed everyone wanted to see when it came out, but nowadays no one wants to admit it. 🙂 Not because it’s a bad movie (it won four Oscars, after all), but because it feels so slow and dated. Same with the synthesized soundtrack by Vangelis. It sold like a bazillion copies when it first came out, but now it carries a stigma not unlike when disco first went out of vogue.

Nevertheless, beyond the fact that Christians liked the film for its faith underpinnings, there are truths in Chariots of Fire that are timeless. Like what Eric Liddel says in this clip (yes, I actually found a CLIP):

Within this clip is my favorite line in the whole film, a line I still remember even though I haven’t seen the film since I was in my early teens. Eric Liddell is explaining why he’s putting off a missions trip to China to run in the Olympics:

“I believe God made me for a purpose…but He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”

Liddell goes on to say something even more , “To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt.” What an insightful statement.

I think the reason I remember this is that it sowed a seed in my heart that was not watered until many years later, when my own religious framework was being deconstructed.  For many years, I had the mindset that I was in the army of God, subject to His command, my will yielded to His. Certainly Biblical analogies–except they also came with the assumption that what He asked of me would somehow be contrary to what I actually wanted to do with my life. In other words, our dreams were somehow automatically contrary to God’s dreams for us. This came to me from many admonitions within the church when they found out I was musically gifted: “Don’t sell out to the world–give your gifts to God.” I would never have verbalized it this way in those days, but it was almost like making music in church was a bargain with God: He would let me use my musical gifts, and consequently bless those gifts, only if I used them for whatever we called “ministry.”

That mentality began to shift for me when I read John Eldredge’s book Wild At Heart, because within that book was a different viewpoint–the idea that God actually places those dreams in our hearts as a compass to steer our purpose. I didn’t make the connection back then, but that idea really resonates with Liddell’s statement in the film: “When I run, I feel His pleasure.”

This sparked many conversations with my family over the next couple of years as we began to shift our thinking. As I found myself further and further disenfranchised from institutional church (and all the platforms for music that naturally came with it), I found myself in an identity crisis: how do I use my gifts for God if I am alienated from the only platform where I know how to use those gifts? Indeed, how do we all use our gifts for God outside the bubble?

This led to a critical conversation (and it was The Director who actually said it) where we realized we had been been trying to fit our gifts into a box we called “ministry” instead of letting our gifts be the ministry. This insight truly set us on a new path which we are still walking to this day, where we are exploring our creative gifts and letting them help define where and how we minister.

Why am I saying all this? Because even with all the creative stuff I’d done in church through the years; even though I believed, preached and taught that creativity in church brought honor to our Creator; even though I understood religion to be an enemy to creativity and fought so hard against it; it was still a revelation to me that God actually likes it when I create music, even if I’m not doing it in the walls of the institutional church. His pleasure was not tied to the fact that I was doing music for the church–it was tied to the fact that I was doing music, period.

That’s not to say that I was wrong to exercise my gifts within the church, or that others are wrong for doing so. Not at all. It’s to say I was misguided in where God’s pleasure lay. It’s to say God doesn’t just delight in us when we do all the things that we naturally tie to mission and ministry; He delights in us when we are using our gifts well, whatever those gifts may be. And furthermore–it’s okay for us to take delight in the gifts, too.

Having said all that…let me tell you what I did this week. I spent much of this week in my newly improved studio, working on an extremely challenging one-minute-long music composition to pitch for use in an advertising campaign. I struggled to come up with the concept. I second-guessed it all the way. And I loved. Every. Minute.

Once I had the concept down, I started recording it. My idea called for a mandolin, so I was able to contact a local player from a popular band whom I’d built relationship with over the past several years, and bring him into my studio to record mandolin and guitar. Then I was able to take him to lunch and talk music with him. Since his band broke up, he’s been trying to balance making a living while staying connected to music, and I was able to offer some practical advice and encouragement.  When lunch was over, I went back to my room alone and spent the next two days finishing and mixing the piece.

And all through of it–I felt His pleasure.

I felt the smile of God through the whole thing.

I felt Him blessing the gift. And guess what? Without my even trying, the gift became the ministry. From making music alone in my room to fellowshipping with my friend at lunch. I felt God’s smile. And I loved. Every. Minute.

It really begs the question: how many times do we rob ourselves of feeling the pleasure of God by feeling guilt over our God-given gifts, passions and desires, somehow believing these run contrary to His will, when He’s likely the One who put them there in the first place? What if we were to get over our preconceived ideas of what we think God demands of us, and realize that these gifts and passions are an invitation to a holy dance? What if we started letting those deepest desires of our heart become the compass to direct us to His will, and gave ourselves permission to delight in the process? I can’t believe that any ministry that comes from that place could be anything less than joy.

I still have a heart for mission and ministry, and it still informs many of my choices. But my picture of ministry has radically changed. I am beginning to understand that I actually have permission to delight in the creative process. I am beginning to feel His pleasure.

I still want to please God, to do His will. But even more–I want to make Him smile.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

2 Responses to Feeling the Smile of God

  1. chris

    Great post. I was running track in college when Chariots came out. My coach played the music for us as we boarded the bus for a meet one time. I always sensed that my running glorified God much in the same way that a deer running through the fields did. I believe that most of my best runs were unwitnessed and untimed, much to my frustration as a competitor! I had to accept that, perhaps, He received more glory by my running alone on a hilltop than at some prestigious event.

    Be blessed in your journey and may you always know His sufficient grace.

  2. chris

    A very talented brother wrote a song entitled, Bring a smile to the face of God. Wish I could send it to you. I only have a lyric sheet and chords.

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