A Restless Evil

By

Boy, that title sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? Like the title to a P.D. James murder mystery or something. It’s easy to imagine that title being about Satan, or about Terrorism, or about Greed, or any number of shadowy, forked-tongue devils that creep in the corners of our lives.

Today, I had an encounter with a Restless Evil, and it happened right here in Nashville. On Music Row, no less. Was it a record label executive, you ask? (That was a cheap shot.) Nope. Was it Lust? Was I tempted by the siren call of one of the many strip clubs and adult bookstores that litter the downtown area? Not today.

Here’s what happened:

I had a radio interview. It was for a show called “The Word in Worship” or something like that. I’m not familiar with it, but it seems like a quality show. The interviewer asked some really good questions, and they seem to know what they’re doing.

I have a confession to make. Every time I do a radio or television interview I’m scared stiff.

If the folks at home could look into the landscape of my brain in the minutes before an interview starts they’d see an epic battle being waged–one part of me is boastful about the fact that anyone cares what I think, the other ashamed of myself for presuming to answer questions as if I know what I’m talking about; meanwhile another part of my psyche is cowering beneath the table sucking his thumb for fear of being found out for the charlatan that he is, that I must be. I start to organize the opinions I’ve bandied in the car with the Captains Courageous, choosing some for potential answer-fodder and discarding others.

Sometimes I remember to pray, and when I do it’s the sanest part of me asking God to shut up the parts that are displeasing to him; sometimes I pray, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable unto you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Sometimes I mean it.

When the pendulum swings from my arrogance to my shame I then start to belittle myself and curse the way that God made me–why can’t I be well-spoken and smart as a fox? Why can’t I call to mind quotes from books I’ve read, or wow the audience with a too-perfect analogy? Why oh why am I me? If I were walking down some cobbled street and saw myself I’d be tempted to spit. Just who do I think I am? I have no business answering any question about anything, let alone questions about God and worship on a syndicated radio show. I have nothing to offer. God couldn’t possibly speak through a fool like me.

The pendulum swings again and I’m congratulating myself for this or that accomplishment as if I had anything to do with it.

Like I said, a battle rages. All that in the time it takes to shake the interviewer’s hand and introduce myself.

He told me that we’d be talking about the current worship movement and at first I got excited. This is something I have Opinions about. Then I remembered Jason Gray’s post about Sara Groves’s new album, and I wanted to quote the verse from Isaiah that he referenced. I reasoned that if I fumbled too much with figuring out what I wanted to say I could always resort to reading some Scripture. This would be a fine example of the cart being placed firmly before the horse. But I couldn’t find the verse Jason referred to, and his cell phone was off. I was on my own.

So the guy asked me a lot of questions. I gave him a lot of answers. I’m certain that about half of what I told him was off-the-cuff, ad libbed, specious and lame. I opined about the state of Worship Music. I stated that it’s a fad, and that I’ll be glad when it runs its course so that people will remember that it’s okay to listen to a song that’s just a song again. But then I realized that that’s a cocky declaration at best. Just because I don’t like a lot of what we call Worship Music doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable, doesn’t meant that throngs of people aren’t blessed by it. So I backpedaled, trying to lessen the blow I had laid on my own jaw.

What was that Bible verse again? Oh, that’s right, I don’t know it.

I had my shot at answering a question about the Christian music biz, and once again, I blew it. I could’ve answered graciously, with humor, without guile, could’ve said something instructive or wise, but I couldn’t manage it. I told him something that was so meaningless that right now I have no recollection of what I said. When I tried to dig myself out of the first answer, I hemmed and hawed and said basically–nothing.

The interview ended about five minutes before I realized that the Restless Evil had gotten the better of me again.

James 3 says, “The tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

I know, I know. I’m being too hard on myself. The interview will be spliced and diced and made into something they can hopefully use, and when it’s all said and done it may be that the opinions I shoveled out weren’t so far off the mark. But I know I was walking a tightrope. It is a precarious business peddling words, and the more you sell them the greater your chance of exposing yourself as a con-artist.

As soon as the elevator doors closed and I descended to the parking garage, my spirit descended into a cloud of repentance. If I didn’t have a good answer, I should have said so. If my words came from a place of arrogance, I should have never said them. Lord, let me be the kind of man who is brave enough to be silent when he ought. When you don’t know what you’re talking about, to speak out can be the easiest thing of all; it is shutting up that takes work.

AP

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


9 Comments

  1. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    AP,

    After interviews I always ask them, “Can you edit this and make me seem intelligent?”

    When I have done an interview well, or taught well, it’s just like playing music. There’s a place of rest that happens when we are totally taken up with the Thing itself – with the music, or in an interview, or even just in a one-on-one conversation. Our mind is on the subject in a relaxed awareness. When I play a guitar or banjo solo in that state, afterwards I know it was good but I don’t remember what I played.

    The thing the Fall created was Self-Consciousness. I don’t mean being aware that we exist – I mean the over-focus on ourselves as selves. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is a world of comparison, competition, fear, defeat, where any success is only temporary at best. The devil is interested in pushing this false lifeline, and he’s got a lot of mankind in his trap: just watch television for an hour and it’s obvious what is going on. Fear. Climbing the mountain of success. I’m not as good as the next guy. I’m better than Joe down the street. I just bought the latest greatest laptop. Look, my new iPhone. You don’t have one yet? I drive a Lexus. Gotta go, I’ve got phone calls to make; gotta keep movin’ in this ol’ world and grab all you can. Nice talking to you, I’ve gotta go wait in the lobby. Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. I, I, I, I, I, I, I this and I that. Self-consciousness. Competition. Fear of failure. Drive to succeed. I wasn’t good enough and I feel bad. I was great and I feel on top of the world.

    That stinkin’ Tree is really a roller coaster; it’s always the source of our fluctuating sense of identity. That’s where all the fear comes in, when we’re playing on the roller coaster. I did a similar thing to your interview, except it was a bunch of high school kids. I was supposed to speak to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but all the kids came from that small school. I didn’t feel prepared for that, and in the rush of figuring out what songs we were going to play and tuning up I didn’t take any time to breathe – to breathe quietly in a corner and push back all that noise that comes from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that noise that barrages us day and night from televisions, radios, computer screens, cds, cassettes, iPods, cell phones. It is damnably relentless, insidious, and purposeful. It is designed to knock us off balance.

    So, as believers, we’ve got the devil on our tail. We’ve jumped in our co-death and resurrection with Christ to the Tree of Life, where we are to rest and push back the Kingdom of Noise and “let that other, quieter life flow in.” But the devil won’t let it rest. He’ll do his best to keep us thinking we’re still part of that Kingdom of Noise (“We will make the entire universe a noise in the end!” said Screwtape).

    We’re not part of that kingdom any longer. But we don’t buy it. Instead, we continually buy into false light – all that competition, fear, failure, success, elation – the heroin-like, dreamy lie of self-effort, “I’m just a self, by myself, for myself, having to cope with life on my own.” That’s what we lived in as unbelievers. And when we become Christians, we just tack “With God’s help” onto that lie. But it’s still a foundational lie that drives us, drives our behavior, drives our collapse on the stage of history when we do interviews or play at high schools.

    The believer is not a separated self living with God’s help. He is an indwelt self, powered by the Holy Spirit and operated by the Son in the service of the Father. I told my wife the other day that all I am is a switch-thrower: Lights on – trust God in Christ to live through me. The devil comes and turns the lights off, throws the switch to “I must trust myself to cope with life and be a good parent and have a career and be like Christ and exert effort and try hard and..and…and…” Back to the Lie. It’s my job right then to throw it back to “on”: I’m an indwelt temple, owned and operated by God himself. I have no needs, because I have everything I need for life and godliness. Norman Grubb used to sing “I have Thee every hour, most gracious Lord.” He said, “You need what you haven’t got; you have what you have got.” That’s where we all want to live, and as we do, we see Spirit soak into our music and husbanding and fathering and friendships. Occasionally we slip back into that old mindset, but the way out is always reliance on the indwelling power of God and trusting his transcendent sovereign power to use even our stumbling, self-effort infected public speaking to bring others to know him.

    “No condemnation” brings us back out of the Romans 7 deathtrap of self-effort “trying to be something for Jesus”, the hellish Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and back into Romans 8 where we rely on the indwelling Spirit and then on into Romans 9 where we lay down our lives for others.

  2. TOny

    Thanks for such well-thought out written essays on all of our struggles. I am extremely jealous of both of your’s musical talents and yet you both face the same struggles that I do – just in different areas. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well as your self-perceived doubts.

  3. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony,

    The problem is we think we are our own enemy. We’re not. A soldier in battle would be thought out of his mind if he was hitting himself with his fists instead of engaging the enemy – I wonder if the angels sometimes roll their eyes. The devil most definitely laughs when we’re in the try-sin-repent-try-sin-repent cycle. I stepped off the constancy of that hamster wheel in most areas a long time ago, but of course occasionally go on a picnic lunch into Romans 7 – not nearly so often anymore, because know I recognize the source of self-consciousness: Not abiding. I just read this morning where John says, “He that abideth in Him sinneth not.” If we abide in Christ, we won’t sin, and all that self-consciousness is the sin of unbelief: “I am a self, by myself, having to do this interview or speak to a group of high school kids.” That’s not the case if we see things rightly; we are indwelt selves under the power of the Spirit – the Father and Son are actually living their lives through us by the Holy Spirit if we trust him to do so.

    I was asked to lead a Bible study a few weeks back, and on the way there I began to pray, “Lord, use me tonight and speak through me,” etc. But the still, small Voice in my heart said, “Say what will happen.” So I did; I began to pray, “Lord, thank you that you are going to speak through me and change the way people think about themselves. Thank you that you are my life, that you are prompting my words, that you are living through me, as me.” That’s abiding. When I got to the Bible study there was almost no faltering. I did the same thing teaching at my mom’s church; I had momentary falters as my faith flagged a bit; the devil was trying to knock me off balance. I soon pulled the switch in my mind and moved back into faith. A branch cannot produce fruit if it does not remain in the vine; our “remaining” is simply faith in the power, love, acceptance, purity, peace, patience, gentleness, humility of the Vine to flow through us, the branches, and produce his fruit. That way he gets all of the credit and we get to experience the abundant life he promised, life “to the full.”

    God is pushing me into certain work like that now because I know, experientially, that in and of myself I’m the least qualified; I’ve never liked standing in front of the class giving a report; I’ve never liked being the focal point of a group of people (I know my job as a musician makes it seem so, but there I’m not a constant focal point for the audience). God uses the weak things of this world, the foolish things to confound the wise. When we know we are totally weak and helpless, we no longer engage in self-effort; that’s what dying to self really is – it’s dying to the inner error that “I can do it if I just try harder.” Having been a major try-er for much of my life it took radical measures for God to teach me to enter his Rest. The Romans 7 experience and the continual self-condemnation that it engenders is what bars us from experiencing the life God desires for us, the life of cups filled to overflowing with him – and overflowing from us to the people in our world. And once we learn we can’t “be like Christ”, that we were never created for trying but for be-ing, we can always step out of Romans 7 into Romans 8 and 9 in an instant by faith (our feelings lining up with faith are another matter; they usually change gradually as we make the continual committal of faith).

    I’m working on reprogramming my hands while playing with this concept of rest, making sure when I practice that they have no tension, playing more softly. I used to practice at a volume level of 7 on a scale of 1-10. Now I’m playing at 3 or 4, and it’s much different. My parenting – the same thing is happening. Less stress, less effort, more trust in the Father living within me. “He that abideth in Him sinneth not.” Inner reliance on the indwelling God in Christ, who is the Source and Ground of our new identity as born-again people.

  4. euphrony

    Andrew, thanks for your honesty with this. If I may say, it is hard today to talk honestly about one’s feelings on worship music without seeming to take sides and be controversial – so by being asked you were put into a something of a trap. Hard to have a dialog about that these days. In my own field, I fall into the same traps of talking and giving answers when I should be saying “I don’t know” or even just be shutting up. I’m full of myself at times.

    Ron, I appreciate your comments. Like I said, I’m full of myself at times. And most definitely I get driven by the fear of failure and the deep-seated doubt that I’m really good enough as I am. I am a proud, and at times arrogant, man (my wife will attest to that). Rather than self-confidence, I need to live in confidence of Christ. When we have God abiding in us, then we have confidence that we may do all things; that we may resist temptation; that we may shine in His glory. It’s hard to remember at times, especially when my eyes are so full of me, but it is obvious when I live my life in this Christ-centered confidence.

    By the way, I’m looking forward to seeing Behold the Lamb of God when you’re in Houston on the 30th.

  5. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    An email I just got:

    Hi Andrew,
    I just read your recent blog. Man, does that sound like me every day. Some one sent me this picture. The caption was:
    “When you find yourself in deep “stuff”, Look straight ahead, keep your mouth shut, and say nothing.
    I only wish I could do that!

  6. Tom Bubb

    Andrew and Ron I greatly appreciate your honesty and the faith the drives it! Andrew I have to echo euphrony- I am incredibly excited about seeing the Behold the Lamb of God tour in Austin on December 3rd! That’s a stinking cool picture in your latest comment by the way- Tom likee. 🙂

    In Christ,
    Tom

  7. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    euphrony,

    The question we have to ask ourselves is “Who is ‘I’? What is my “self”? The Bible says that our old self died in Christ – that we are dead and buried with Christ. That old self-conscious, self-efforting “I” is dead. The devil continually tries to masquerade as this old “I”, tries to nail us in our thought life; he gives us prideful thoughts, or fearful thoughts, or whatever. Here’s what I’ve found.

    Thought comes in. Anxious thoughts.. Inappropriate sexual thoughts. Self-conscious thoughts. Right there is our choice-point.

    Is this thought my thought? Who am I? God says I’m dead, that old I that thought such thoughts. The old “I” that was darkness, sin, vessel of wrath, son of the devil, slave of sin. That “I” was a union of me with the spirit of Eph 2:2.

    But God says that old “I” is dead, cut off from the living. That’s what circumcision symbolizes in the OT, and now in the NT we have baptism – the burial of the dead. Jesus died, and so we were put in him, died in him. Old spirit goes out at death. Holy Spirit reanimates the dead body of Jesus, and now we are the new “I”, a resurrected “Me” that is now really a union with Christ expressing himself by me.

    The hinge point for a holy life is right there at the time when the thoughts come in. Is that my thought? Well, God says I’m holy, one spirit with him. He says I’m righteous. Is it a righteous thought? If it isn’t, then I deny it entrance into my consciousness and take it captive to the obedience of Christ.

    Problem is, we in the church don’t know who we are. We are wandering in the wilderness, but don’t go into the Land of Promise because of our unbelief. “I’m no good. I’m a sinner. I’m not holy, just look at me. I’m not an asset to God – only an ass (I can use that word because it is KJV-sanctioned).” We sound like the ten spies. “We are not able to overcome.” Only Caleb says, “Let us go in and possess the land, for we are well able to overcome it.” That’s the kind of man or woman God is looking for; people who are spiritually minded and seeing through circumstance to Promise.

    God promises we’re holy, righteous, kings, reigning overcomers. We call him a liar and say, “Well, positionally, yes.” Of course, if someone told me I won a 45 million dollar lottery “positionally” it probably wouldn’t mean much to me. The righteousness of Christ in us is not merely positional: it’s actual. That’s why John can say, “He that abideth in Him sinneth not.” It is actual, literal, here-and-now righteousness and power available to us at all times – but faith is the power cable that plugs these earthen vessels into the outlet.

    At the hinge point, when the thoughts come in, that’s when we choose. Am I what God says, or are these thoughts “Me”? If they are me, God is a liar. But if I believe they are me, then Satan manifests his life through me, as me, by my faith in his dark word. I’ve chosen to believe the thoughts are me, and so, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so IS he.” That’s what I manifest. He that fails to abide through faith sins. He that abides sinneth not. Those are unalterable facts.

  8. Jason Smyth

    One thing that keeps popping into my mind as I read the initial post and subsequent responses is that the strategy which the enemy tends to use most often in my life, and apparently in general if Revelations 12:10 is any indication, is simply the very accusitory condemnation, that is… the guilt that you feel… multiple layers of it even, guilt for feeling guilty, how pathetic is that? Thing is that there is no temptation, be it to pride, or even guilt for things Jesus has already paid for, there is no temptation except that which is common to man, and even in that God is faithful to provide us with a way of escape. And you know, going back to Revelations 12:10, where is says that Satan spends his time accusing us before God, despite that we have a perfect High Priest, who is also before God, but he is always making intercession before Him on our behalf. Mr. Block is right, this is FAR bigger than just you and I, and I think that’s why this thread struck a chord with me, that battle is something common to the christian condition -and while it is not one that will be going away any time soon, it’s surely one that He is more than faithful to support you in.

  9. matt

    hey andrew… so you want that perfect Bible verse, huh? How about this little bit from Luke 21 – “you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

    I happened to preach on that this morning, so that’s, like, cheating. But, anyway, say what is on your heart (even if it might not be “exactly” what you were hoping to say – I think I understand exactly what you meant about worship music actually) and people will hear you as God intended. Basically, don’t beat yourself up. Don’t worry about saying what you are “supposed” to say… say what you say and be okay with it. God will sort things out in the end. Remember – you might not think you are quick on your feet… but there are a whole lot of folks who would trade that for your gift with the written word. Different gifts for different folks, man.

    You rock… you might not know it (maybe you do), but you are consistently inspiring and touching a whole lot more people than perhaps you even knew. Take it easy … matt

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