Sailing by the Stars

By

I just stumbled upon this post from 2007 and was shocked by what I read. Shocked, because five years ago I seemed a few degrees wiser than I feel today. Jamie and I are inthe middle of some pretty huge, life-altering decisions right now (good things, don’t worry)–decisions so big that I cried myself to sleep last night, my spirit assaulted with worry and fear. The thing about worry is that it exposes how little faith we really have. It’s something I’m discovering over and over lately, though I hate to admit it. God help my unbelief. –AP

I recently had a good, long phone conversation with a singer-songwriter about that grand old subject, Getting Started in the Music Business. He’s recorded an album but hasn’t yet taken the leap into full-time music and was asking me for some advice on the matter.

The problem is, I don’t know what kind of practical career advice to give, because what worked in my case might not (and probably won’t) work for you. I loved a pretty girl in college. I also loved to make music. I was freaking out because I thought I had to choose between her and the songs, until late one night my old friend Adam said, “If God wants you to play music, dummy, you’ll play music whether you’re married or not.” So I married the girl.

On the other hand, I gave similar advice to some guy many years ago and a few months back, after one of my shows, his heartbroken ex-wife told me through tears that he had left her because he thought she was holding back his music career. It’s a good thing I don’t know where he lives, or I’d have a mind to throttle him. “If you marry the girl, dummy, God wants you to stay married, music career be damned,” I’d say.

I tell folks that they don’t need a record contract to serve God with their gifts. You don’t need to move to Nashville. You just need to stay where you are and play wherever you can, and you never know what might happen. One of the most fortuitous meetings in my life (my old buddy Gabe Scott) happened because I said yes to a 3 am, $40 gig at a junior high all-nighter. Gabe was my musical compadré and best friend for five years after that.

But in the end, what did I do? I moved to Nashville. I got a record contract. It wasn’t because I was some wildly successful indie bard, but because one guy named Derek Webb heard my songs and believed in them enough to let me open for his band. What on earth do I know? The doors open, walk through them.

I say the best thing you can do is to keep your nose to the grindstone, to remember that your gift takes a lot of work to hone into something useful, and that you have to learn to enjoy the work—especially the parts you don’t enjoy. Maybe that’s the answer to a successful career. But I know far too many hard-working, gifted singer-songwriters or musicians who work their fingers to the bone and still have to moonlight at Starbucks to make ends meet. Every waiter in Nashville has a demo CD in his back pocket, just in case. Me, I waited tables at the Olive Garden for three months before suddenly finding myself on a tour bus wondering how in the world that happened.

So do you wait tables? Sure. Do you make the demo CD? Maybe, but don’t bother carrying it around. Do you work hard at your craft? Definitely. Do you move? Quit your day job? Marry the girl? Borrow the start-up funds? Sign the deal?

Here’s what I know, in a nutshell: Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.

Early on, I didn’t always seek God’s kingdom first, and Lord knows his righteousness was only on my mind for a minute or two a day, max. Now I’m up to three, maybe four minutes a pop. I’m growing by leaps and bounds. That simple scripture draws into sharp focus the only thing that will satisfy us in our desperate seeking for what it is that we think we want. We may want something harmless, but if it’s out of place, if it comes before the right thing, then what’s benign becomes malignant. We want the wrong thing.

So boil it all down. Chop off the fat. Get rid of the pet monkey you’re feeding, because you can’t afford to take care of it anyway. Wrench your heart away from all the things you think you need for your supposed financial security, your social status; set fire to your expectations, your rights, and even your dreams. When all that is gone, it will be clear that the only thing you ever really had was this wild and holy Spirit that whirls about inside you, urging you to follow where its wind blows.

If you can put aside your worry long enough to feel that wind and to walk with it at your back, it will lead you to a good land. It will remind you that righteousness is more than pious obedience; it’s letting a strong, humble mercy mark your path, even when—especially when—you don’t know where it’s taking you. It may not take you to an easy chair in a Nashville mansion with a Grammy on the mantel; it probably won’t lead you to some head-turning fame, and it probably won’t even lead you to a feeling that you’re a righteous, kingdom-seeking saint–because if that’s what you are you’ll probably feel more like a sinful, desperate cur who can get out of bed each day only because you’ve managed once again to believe that Christ’s mercy is made new every time the sun ascends. You’re a sinful, desperate cur who dances for joy. Your heart is so full it must be poured out. You see the world as a dark place that needs rearranging, and with all that light shooting out of your pores you’re just the person to do it.

See how the questions of career choices and demo CDs and relocating diminish in light of God’s kingdom?

Sail by the stars, not the flotsam.

 

Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

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.


56 Comments

  1. Matthew Benefiel

    It’s funny isn’t it. I’m going through the same thing with writing. I started a book, I started another, and now I’m back on the first. I want to be an author and sometimes I feel it can lead me to finding greater use with this gift (if it is one), then I realize as you, if I’m God wants me to be a writer I will be a writer someday, and I don’t even have to sell one book to do it, and however much that may make me sad, it is not what is important. It still doesn’t make it easy mind you, because God doesn’t always make things drop onto your lap, you have to put forth effort, but I have to be thankful that God has given me a career that I’m currently in and it feeds the family.

    Then of course there is the whole problem of being a despicable person. My father told me last year sometime that it has taken him this much of his life to realize that he cannot live to be a sinless person, but must live as a sinful person completely reliant on God. God wants us to lean on Him completely, I only wish I could get the guy in my head to believe that 24/7, I might be where you were years ago, a few minutes here and there each day. Thanks for the reminder, we all need them…very often.

  2. Matthew Benefiel

    Sorry it’s me again, hijacking this thread. I just wanted to say Andrew that I’m looking forward to the new album and the final Wingfeather book. I was listening to Behold the Lamb of God yesterday and Counting Stars this morning and both are a reminder to me that I’m not what matters, but how I glorify God. Oh, and if you ever make a movie for the Wingfeather books, please make it animated, I think it will make it so much better. I’m thinking Secret of Nihm wiht a blend of Secret of the Kells (lots of secrets there). I will gladly lend my voice (joking).

  3. Lydia

    DITO!! I can NOT wait until the new CD and the new book come out AND I REALLY want the books to be movies also, not so sure about the animated part though…it would feel so much more REAL LIFE if it was like the Narnia movies (my fav movies EVER!)

  4. brian

    A friend here at home would say, “That’ll preach!” Thanks for the encouraging post. My wife and I in the midst of life-altering decisions as well and the Spirit has been showing me where I have tried to make my own way instead of following where His wind is blowing. So, between you, Brennan Manning, and the Psalms this week there is some good wisdom going around. Thanks again.

  5. Kevin

    This really hits home for me. As a filmmaker stumbling around the perimeter of the film industry, words like these cut through my artificial desires and help me see a calling more satisfying than fame or money can afford. They remind me of the words of Albert Einstein:

    “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”

    Sincerest thanks for sharing this.

  6. Jon Morris

    I read this over a year ago while perusing through some archived posts, and it lifted me up again today as it did then.

    Thank you for your honesty and transparency, and may we all aspire to put his Kingdom above any and all of our ambitions.

    Just said a prayer for you and your family.

  7. D.S. Martin

    We all desire success, but what we all need is to give glory to God. If our real priority is the latter, the former may come, but then it will only matter when God is being glorified. If he keeps our influence limit, we must learn what he wants to teach us through that. Often the art becomes better as we struggle for success. As Kingdom artists we must always strive to work in spiritual integrity and artistic integrity. The results are in his hands. Thanks, Andrew.

    Don

  8. Carin Meerdink

    I too am waiting eagerly for the final Wingfeather book, although I wouldn’t complain if it were not the last one. I’ve told my husband that if I had a million dollars, I would try to work a deal with you for the movie rights and bring your wonderful saga to life. Not animated, though–I see it much more as a Lord of the Rings-style epic. Looking forward to your concert tomorrow night and praying for the Lord’s clear leading and sweet peace for you!

  9. Becca

    “So boil it all down. Chop off the fat. Get rid of the pet monkey you’re feeding, because you can’t afford to take care of it anyway. Wrench your heart away from all the things you think you need for your supposed financial security, your social status; set fire to your expectations, your rights, and even your dreams. When all that is gone, it will be clear that the only thing you ever really had was this wild and holy Spirit that whirls about inside you, urging you to follow where its wind blows.”

    If I can find the courage, I’m going to paint this on my wall.

    Praying for your family.

  10. Jen

    Isn’t it fun when you can share wisdom with yourself later? 🙂 This is good. I’m glad you shared it again. Praying for peace for you and Jamie!

  11. April Pickle

    THANK YOU for a good read. I cried because I could empathize, cried because it was honest, cried because I listen to you so much that I feel like I know you and therefore my heart goes out to your family. And now there is a song playing in my head. “And this Salvation Army band is playing this hymn. And your grace rings out so deep, it makes my resistance seem so thin.” Prayers for the Peterson family.

  12. Joy C

    Andrew, Re:

    “Jamie and I are in the middle of some pretty huge, life-altering decisions right now (good things, don’t worry)–decisions so big that I cried myself to sleep last night…”

    … WHAT?
    God be with you as you make your best ‘guess’.

  13. Brad

    Good stuff AP. We’re in that place, many changes, recording demos. I worry way too much and it’s definitely an indicator of my little faith. Don’t know if you recall but my band consists of my four oldest children. I’ve had five months to do music full time and in that time you know the main thing God has stressed to me? Beyond being faithful in the work, beyond honing my songwriting or guitar playing (though all those things are in there), above and beyond all that He’s made it clear to me that I need to be focused on the relationships He has given me. With my wife and children especially. Interestingly, as I’ve done that I’ve become much more comfortable on stage and in the studio and I’ve worried a lot less. I finally realized that I already have all that is important or that I really need and if I don’t do something stupid to damage these relationships then, no matter what happens with the music, we will all be together and go through it all together…whatever happens. To not be afraid to miss out on things that don’t matter so much definitely makes the decision making process easier. Blessings on you and your family during your next “chapter”.

  14. Loren Warnemuende

    It’s encouraging to know my husband and I aren’t the only ones going through a time of wondering what pieces God needs to shift and how our life will change as a result. It’s exciting and absolutely alarming, and I often wish I felt as secure in Christ as I know I am. Heart and head so rarely coincide. Thanks for the encouragement of your words, and I’ll be praying with others for your peace in the midst of change.

  15. Becca

    1. Do artsy, thinky groups of people ever set aside a day of corporate prayer and/or fasting for beloved proprietors who are overwhelmed with major life decisions, or are my evangelical roots showing?

    2. If they do, is tomorrow good for anybody? Or is Friday?

  16. Kris

    This was exactly what I needed to read. Seek first the kingdom…. What a place is seeking and waiting God has me in…. I am most grateful for this tremendous write. Blessings, brother. You know you can trust Him with the big things– 😉

  17. carrie luke

    I’m praying for you and for Jamie, Andrew. Sometimes your songs are the only prayers my heart has to offer, but for now I will lift up my own lyrics for the Peterson family. I will pray for comfort and guidance. Mostly I will ask that His presence will go with you both wherever he is leading. You are a gift, AP. Fears, tears, worries, glories and all.

  18. Jonathan

    Wow, I needed to hear this today! Thanks so much!

    @Becca, Thursday is on! We need more prayer all around!

  19. Becca

    Sweet friends:

    Let’s pick three days (maybe Thursday, Friday, or Saturday?), and if the Lord stirs up a desire to do this in you, you can pick the day that fits you best. Also, fasting is optional, of course. I love symbols, and I think fasting can be a beautiful picture of the dependency that is ours. It also reminds me to pray (nearly) without ceasing. However, there are many ways to set aside our hearts in prayer, and fasting is only one.

    Joining hands with you around the leaders we love,
    Becca

  20. SarahN

    Very timely for me. I’m about to be married, too, and all the things that go with that! Been worrying about being an artist marrying an engineer and wondering what I am kissing goodbye….and the answer is NOTHING that matters to God!

  21. Sally

    Love your last line — “Sail by the stars, not the flotsam.”

    Praying with you and for you.
    Sally

  22. James Witmer

    Andrew,

    I’ll bet that five years ago you felt you had struggled with this until it moved the foundation of your soul. Now you find that the well is deeper than you knew – yet God knew and He pursued you there.

    It seems like I make this same cycle every two weeks. Thank you for reminding us how frail we are, and how good the King and His Kingdom are.

    I too am praying for you.

  23. Marsha Panola

    Becca, I’m in. That’s what this thing is all about.

    Andrew, thanks for this post. Your words and life bless us many times over. I’m praying for you and your family, especially that God’s direction would be so clear to each of you that you will have no doubt about it.

  24. Anissa

    “Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness as the light and your judgment as the noonday.”

    Whenever I realize I’m feeding my stupid little pet monkeys or simply not advancing the kingdom Psalm 37 always challenges and encourages me. Andrew, as far as I can see, you’re cultivating faithfulness (or at least seeking to) and I admire that.

    Thank you for your honesty and much-needed reminders that the Gospel and the Kingdom are all that we should be about. You are in my prayers as well.

  25. Renee

    “You’re a sinful, desperate cur who dances for joy. Your heart is so full it must be poured out. ”

    You have perfectly described the chapter I am in right now!

    God is showing me more and more lately that we as humans are pretty much all the same in our weaknesses and in our need for God. When I allow myself to be vulnerable and am honest about who I really am, it amazes me how many lives God touches. Thank you for your honesty, there is something comforting in knowing that we are not alone in our struggles. Reminds me of 1Peter5:9

    One more thing, my pastor was telling a story last night of a time when he was in Sweden getting ready to preach and an elderly woman came up to him and asked him what he was going to preach about, he hadn’t quite settled on what yet and she said, “Just don’t tell me that I am not going to go through tribulation” and she lifted her arms to show him numbers tatooed on her for arms. He said he was visibly shaken by this encounter, and a few days later had the opportunity to have a cup of coffee with this woman, and so asked her about the numbers on her arms. She explained that she was a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp, and then this is what struck me,
    she said,

    “when Jesus is all you’ve got, it is then that you realize that Jesus is all you ever needed”

    I’m still thinking on this one.

  26. April Pickle

    @Renee. I’d like to recommend pondering that beautiful thought while listening to AP’s Resurrection Letters Vol. 2 and a song called “All You Ever Need.” Enjoy!

  27. Lydia

    Yeah!! @April that is EXACTLY what I thought of when I read Renee’s post!! “When it’s all you’ve got it’s all you’ll ever need.” what a coincidence that came up on AP’s post lol!!

  28. Lydia

    I LOVE that song!! (I actually would say that about ANY AP song…but whatever) 🙂

  29. Lydia

    I am finding this helpful right now, trying to do a writing assignment for German (I take German as my foreign language) and I’m trying to do it on my own. I realized from this that I need to ask God for help.

  30. Africa S

    …but I like my pet monkey… ah well, good advice anyway. 🙂

    No but really this post was everything I needed to hear. Some of it I probably knew deep down, but am not always aware of, and some I never even thought of. Thank you!

  31. Jaclyn

    @Becca: Oh yes – “artsy, thinky groups of people” do pray, or else we get so “thinky” our brains spill out our ears.

    I’m going to join in tomorrow. Thank you for being so sensitive and thoughtful as to suggest a time of corporate worship. What a joy and honor to join you, brothers and sisters, to lift up our shepherds of song.

    @Lydia: Want my Rocky the Geode to join the playgroup? He can roll. Just a warning – he tries to play humble, but the second you give him the spotlight, he’s showing off his sparkle.

    @Witmer: Two years ago I felt like a new person wearing new glasses and new shoes every week. Now it’s just every couple months or so the entire world flips over and inside out. Somehow each time I think I’ve finally REALLY got it. Someday I may finally get that I’m never going to get it; I just “Trust in the Lord, and do good.”

    Thank you so much for all this beautiful encouragement, friends. Thank you especially, Peterson family, for your humble transparency. As I clean my house tomorrow, God and I will be chatting about ya… I know He’ll take beautiful care of you.

  32. Lydia

    @Jaclyn I guess he could, but just remembered (hope I’m not spoiling the second? third? book(s) for anyone) Pete doesn’t exactly look like fun to be around for a monkey…he isn’t exactly part man anymore,..

  33. Renee

    Just wanted to say Thank You!

    I have listened to Resurrection letters: Volume 11 several times now.
    Absorbing the Truth through beautiful melodies. Amen!

    Love Is A Good Thing.

  34. April Pickle

    “Ooohhh, ooohhh, take cover! …Do not fear, do not fear!” (Yeah. I’d say that is a pretty good tune. And a pretty great album.) 🙂

  35. Lydia

    Totally hope I didn’t spoil it Jaclyn!!! But some peeps in my family refuse to read ANY of them until I own the fourth one!!! AP knows how to end a book!! 😉 (AP YOU HAVE TO FINISH IT FAST!!! I AM DYING TO KNOW THE END!!!!)

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