A Bit of Advice, from a Desperate Cur

By

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 he leap into full-time music and was asking me for some advice on the matter.

navigation.jpgI’m not the best person to ask, methinks, because from my point of view everything good that’s happened in my career has been a result of what seems to me now like divine intervention. It might just be all that Calvinism I hear from the Presbyterian church we attend, but I get the sneaking suspicion that God has guided me, opened certain doors for me, allowed both the windfalls of success and droughts of financial struggle; the seeming meandering nature of the path was, in hindsight, a carefully navigated journey that led me to clean water and safe lodging at just the right turns. But I grew up in a Restoration Movement Christian Church, which means that all that Sovereignty doctrine is always duking it out with a healthy dose of Free Will, which makes for the kind of holy paradox that Chesterton just loved. I love it too.

I digress.

You see, I don’t know what kind of practical career advice I would 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 deeply frightened that I had to choose between her and the songs, and 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 a show his heartbroken ex-wife told me through tears that he finally left her because he thought their marriage 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. 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 youth 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 on earth that happened.

So do you wait tables? Uh, 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.

Allelu, alleluuuuuyah.

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, 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, but is 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.

Allelu, alleluuuuuuuuuuuuyah.

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.


13 Comments

  1. John Michalak

    Good reminder. I don’t recommend too much John Lennon, but I like his oft-used quote: “Life is what happens to you while you’re making other plans.” I do wish I had a “Gabe” in my life though (pine…pine… 🙂

  2. Tyler Brooks

    Hey AP, This is the big guy you met in Richmond that wants you to speak at RBC’s Baccalaureate service. If you were struggling with what to say, if you do speak, just read this because this is absolutely 100% what I knew you would bring to this opportunity, and if you don’t for some reason get to speak at it, well, I will just read this entry and it will suffice! Great job. It was awesome getting to talk to you and meet you. Thanks for your encouragement.

  3. Matt Conner

    Andrew, I believe this to be the pivotal piece before us – this seeking the kingdom of God above all things. And your focus on the daily aspect of it is vital. I can only do that which is right in front of me to do and most of the time I can’t even do that. But then again, the power of Christ finds its completion in our weakness. Good post man…

  4. Drew

    I’m in a tough spot right now. My fiance and I both took jobs we don’t really feel fit us, but we believe that Holy wind brought us here. We both have wrestled with God wondering why He would bring us to a place that offers nothing to fill us. We spent tonight dreaming together about our future but realized that even though we want to live in those dreams, we need to be right where God has us now. Thank you for the reminder that no matter what occupation we have on this earth, seeking Him is what He has called us to.

  5. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    AP,

    That’s real career advice. Love God and do as you please.

    The life we imagine is nothing compared to the life God imagines for us. All we have to do to have what comes from his imagination is be receptive to it. Submissive. “Work your will in my life no matter what the cost.”

    From my point of view, in worldly terms somewhat “successful” in music (in a good band, making a living, providing for my family) I can tell anyone that happiness through “success” is a total chimera. Not that I fail to be thankful, but what I was looking for in “playing really good music with a great bunch of people and making a living at it” was “Do I have what it takes?” Once I got in the band, my subconscious quest for identity turned sour, because as always it is based on unbelief, and the question turned to a statement: “I don’t have what it takes.” This false identity, hidden since childhood, surfaced in the mid-1990s and completely crashed me, and through it I learned the truth that begins real success in Christ: I can do nothing of myself; Christ in me does the works; there is none good but God, and I am just a cup.

    God’s idea of success is completely opposite to that of the world. Live by dying. Lay down your life, give it up, and find Real Life. Become a true leader by being a Christ-follower.

    The only cure for the insanity of seeking world-success is to seek the Source of it. When we do that, and live in that reliant trust, the next step becomes clearer.

  6. Micah Pick

    I always welcome a reminder that I need to seek God’s kingdom first, and then everything else will fall into place. Lewis put it best when he said, “If we put first things first, the second will fal into place, but when second things are put first, not only first things but second things too are lost.”

  7. Chad

    Thanks, AP and RB, for your humility in communicating such truth in regards to such a popular “dilemma” right now. I agree with you, so much, in that our ultimate goal should be Christ Himself, righteusness, His Glory. Everything else is merely a bi-product of the obedience to His Word.

    I appreciate your comments on the COST of following Christ and this whole discussion has reminded me of John Piper’s book, “Don’t Waste Your Life”. I have recommended this book for MANY people! It came across my path at just the right time. In a nutshell, a little over year ago, I made the choice to leave my WELL- paying Worship Leading job, (seemingly a dream job @ the time), and had nothing on the horizon, other than the fact that I knew I should leave that job. I had a huge mortgage, a girl that I loved and no worldly security. The Lord has provided for absolutely EVERY possible need and BEYOND. I’m somehow still in my house, I married the girl and the opportunities for ministry, leading worship included (although now I make NO money doing it!), have exponentially increased since the “big decision”. Most of all, the Lord has taught my wife and I MORE about HIS faithfulness, HIS love, His grace…He is making us (little by little) more like HIM. It is HARD, but worth it all, Costly, but Priceless. And this is all from a guy who never wanted to play music, never wanted to work in a church and never really understood biblical Christ Following….(and I’ll probably never fully understand)!

    RB, I echo your words. AP, thanks for the post, I needed to be reminded this week of where I’ve been the past year! Our “gifts” are GIFTS and need to be given back to the Giver! Remember the Goal!

    All to HIS Glory!
    CS

  8. David Van Buskirk

    A good reminder for me personally is this… God is not a means to success in my life. This life and all that is in it exist as a means to know God.

    Even if our idea of success is knowing God, God does not exist to grant that to us. So many ideas of success are built unknowingly on the premise of self-sufficiency. Knowing God apart from complete dependence on Him, is not simply arrogance, but evidence that one does not know God as He truly is. Ron is dead on. Grace is scandal and life is only in Christ.
    I think this is why Paul can say that he delights in weaknesses, and that to live is Christ and to die is gain. And James considers it pure joy to face trials. Because these men were not interested in being sufficient (successful) in themselves. But in seeing Christ as glorious. And every trial and shortcoming of their own permitted them another glimpse of another facet of Christ’s perfection.

  9. Doug

    A.P. I enjoyed what I just read from the standpoint that it encompasses so much more of life than simply chasing dreams – It talks of a way of life. It includes advise for the soul, and not just the imagination. When your writing eye is in this kind of zone, when your ear is clearly upon the still small voice inside of you, you become a great visionary, as well as advisor, and for this I am grateful!

    “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.”

    And the Body says; Amen!!!!

  10. kristopher moore

    wow.

    At every turn you amaze me. i must admit that the guy who called you could have been me. i DO work at Starbucks. I just finished my first cd and was thinking of calling you to ask similar things. (divine intervention strikes again!)

    well, I married the girl and love begat greater love and two more chairs at the dinner table. my wife endured two years of my painful searching and introspection – wondering if I would ever accomplish my dreams and finally yielding to the idea of yielding to the Father’s will. 6 years of wedded bliss later…It was only after I got content with this that the doors began to open and have opened in big ways. much like you, i don’t know what i would say to someone if asked that question. I can’t really take credit for anything that has happened or for much at all except finally surrendering and one even has to wonder at the credit I could take for that. (i mean really, it’s like a lone, unarmed soldier saying to the enemy army amassed at his doorstep, “yeah, ok, i’ll let you win this time…but your lucky i didn’t feel like fighting!” seriously. i wonder now why I wrestled so long. i tend to get angry with myself over it thinking I could be so much further along right now if I hadn’t fought so long. but that’s like saying the fight was for nothing which I think is wrong…i learned from my fight. God touched jacob’s hip and blessed him. i was going for the same thing i guess but instead he touched my heart, and it still hurts…

    just read this by Frost:
    “The heart can think of no devotion
    Greater than being shore to the ocean —
    Holding the curve of one position,
    Counting an endless repitition.”

    how great His devotion to let us continue to crash against Him and catching us all the while…

    thank you, andrew, for being the truest one since rich.

    thank you.

  11. Kara

    Great, now I’m crying. Why does that wild and holy wind so often accompany tears?! Does anyone have a Kleenex? Thanks.

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