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Music for Your Heart
Reflections from Your Favorite Songs
By Ace Collins
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2013 Ace Collins
All rights reserved.
If You're Happy and You Know It
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Although you've never seen him, you love him. Even though you don't see him now, you trust him and so rejoice with a glorious joy that is too much for words. —1 Peter 1:8
"If You're Happy and You Know It" is one of the first children's songs many kids learn in elementary school. The tune, which may have originated as a Latvian folk song, likely goes back almost two centuries. The melody is upbeat, incredibly catchy, and easy to learn. The song's lyrics, written in the first part of the twentieth century, were surely penned with children in mind. The repetitive words are a call to action requiring everything from the clapping of hands to the stomping of feet. To hear the tune almost always brings a smile, and when sung, "If You're Happy and You Know It" is a complete mood changer.
A recent poll found that a majority of young adults find Christians to be judgmental and unhappy. Being an unaccepting sourpuss is a great way to drive people away from anything. Few folks gravitate to someone whose face wears a frown or a scowl and who is always pointing fingers. Yet those who smile and laugh while parading through life with energy and expression usually lead a parade of people who want to catch what they have.
Countless times in the Scripture, we are told that believers are to be happy and worry-free. So why is that so hard for many in the church body to embrace? Perhaps it is because their hearts and minds are in the wrong place. They are dwelling on things they can't change rather than looking for ways to make an impact.
Dr. Albert Schweitzer chose to make an impact. He picked one of the toughest callings in the world. His life as a missionary in Africa was never easy. He had to win the trust of people who wondered if he was just like all the other Europeans who had exploited them in the past. Even when he cleared that hurdle, he lived without creature comforts for a half-century, spent years as a prisoner of war, had to rebuild his facilities several times, and had to make long treks through the jungle just to reach those he was trying to save. In spite of these hardships, Schweitzer always wore a huge smile on his face. When people asked how he could be so happy in the midst of such a tough, unforgiving life, he shared a very simple formula: "I don't know what your destiny will be, but I do know the only ones among you who will truly be happy are those who have sought and found how to serve."
If you are not drawing folks to the Lord, if you don't have others wanting to know what you have that they don't, then it might be time to look at two things. The first is your face in the mirror. Is there is a smile there? Does that image reflect happiness and joy? And second, where is your heart? Did you accept Christ as your Savior and just stop there? Maybe it is time you take a doctor's advice and get involved in serving others. Then perhaps your happiness will really show!CHAPTER 2
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A person's steps are made secure by the Lord when they delight in his way. —Psalm 37:23
In 1840, James S. Pierpont was asked to pen an original song for a community Thanksgiving program to be held at a church in Medford, Massachusetts. He was trying to pick out a tune on the only piano in town when he was interrupted by the happy cries of teens racing their horse-drawn sleds in the streets outside his window. Suffering from writer's block, the young man put on his coat and ducked out into the brisk November weather to observe the activities in the street. The twenty minutes he spent watching the carefree young people gave him an idea that soon became a song. Just a few weeks later, a children's choir performed Pierpont's "Jingle Bells" for the very first time. While he could sense his fun little number had made quite an impression on those lining the pews in the packed church, the amateur composer had no idea he was about to forever alter the world's viewpoint on a much-beloved holiday.
A well-known saying goes, "You make plans, and then life gets in the way." While we might have our own ideas as to where we are going and what we want to do, we never know where God is going to take us unless we listen and follow what He tells us.
Consider Saul of Tarsus. He had a mission, and he was determined to see that mission through. Saul never could have guessed that pushing down a path to destroy all of Christianity would take him to a destination where, with a new name—Paul—he would be the guiding force behind the growth of the Christian faith. Life got in the way.
When she was in college, well-known countrymusic entertainer Reba McEntire had her life planned out as well. She was going to be a school teacher and hoped to coach high school basketball. Then she sang a song, and everything changed. Life got in the way.
James Pierpont wrote a song for the Thanksgiving season. That song's debut was deemed such a great success that the choir performed it again during the church's Christmas celebration. Visitors from New York and Boston, having not heard the song some weeks before, thought it had been written for Christmas, and they took it back to the cities with that in mind. Within a decade, the images Pierpont captured in his lyrics were being used on Christmas cards and holiday paintings. And snow, a one-horse open sleigh, and all the rural imagery that went with those scenes came to define Christmas all over the world.
God has a plan for your life. Are you listening for His call? Are you allowing Him to override your personal plans to open the door for something far greater? Or are you fighting Him every step of the way? Today is the time to listen to God and see if He is directing you to a place where your talents can change not just your life for the better but other lives too. No one could have predicted what would happen with Saul, Reba, or "Jingle Bells," and no one can predict where you will end up if you let God lead the way.CHAPTER 3
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Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:7
The dictionary defines peace as "a state of quiet or tranquility." In our modern world, few of us ever can get away from the noise that seemingly consumes our lives. So we have very few outwardly tranquil moments. As there are wars going on each second of every day, and battles being fought at work and home over often-trivial matters that tear at the very fabric of our hearts and minds, where can we really find peace?
In 1941, Irving Berlin penned a complete musical score for Bing Crosby's feature film Holiday Inn. Berlin thought most of his efforts for this project were pretty solid, but he believed his Christmas number to be weak. He brought it to Crosby with some hesitation and warned the singer the song was likely not up to the standards needed for use in the film. Bing listened to Berlin sing "White Christmas" and smiled. While the composer may have not realized it, the singer knew this number had "hit" written all over it.
A few weeks later on Christmas Eve, Crosby's mood had changed. Like millions of other unsure Americans, he was dealing with his country suddenly immersed in World War II. As peace was now nothing more than a memory, Crosby opted to debut a song embracing all the hopes and wishes for peace on his national radio show. That number would become the largest seller in recording history.
Those who first heard "White Christmas" on that radio broadcast yearned for all the things that defined Christmas, from snow to decorations to greeting cards. Yet, most of all, listeners wanted once more to experience peace on earth and good will toward men.
Irving Berlin thought he had failed when he wrote "White Christmas," but Bing Crosby's acceptance and enthusiasm for the song assured the composer he had succeeded. That success brought Berlin a sense of temporary peace, but a lasting peace can only be realized when we get past the nature of man. The peace that exceeds all understanding comes not in just accepting Christ as our Savior but in embracing the lessons He taught us in Scripture. Maybe the best place to begin to gain this kind of trust and knowledge is in studying each of Jesus' parables. In those lessons, the master teacher shows us what is important and what is not. Knowing what makes a difference in God's world opens up a chance to find peace in our world.
In many cases, we can't experience the magic of a white Christmas without moving to a different location. It also takes moving toward God to experience real peace in life. The essence of peace is found in knowing that God is in control and trusting Him to handle the issues that are too big for us. If we can take this step, no matter the situation around us, then we will experience warmth, security, and hope beyond even our wildest dreams.CHAPTER 4
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We have the same faithful spirit as what is written in scripture: I had faith, and so I spoke. We also have faith, and so we also speak. —2 Corinthians 4:13
In 1748, John Newton was one of the most unsavory characters in the world. He was a harddrinking, often-violent sailor who served on the lowest of all vessels—a slave ship. Coming home to England from a voyage that delivered enslaved human cargo to North America, the English sailor and his shipmates found themselves at the mercy of an Atlantic hurricane. Suddenly facing what they believed was a horrible death, the ship's crew turned to Newton and begged him to pray. Remembering the example of his mother, the rough, vulgar sailor bowed his head. As the storm violently rocked the ship, Newton asked for mercy. Within moments, the tempest calmed, and the man who never had put much stock in prayer found himself with something to think about as the ship continued its journey.
Many turn to prayer only during a crisis. Communication with God, therefore, often feels strained and unnatural. Surely it was just that for John Newton more than two hundred fifty years ago as he pleaded for his life in the midst of a storm. When that calamity ended, there can be little doubt that his next prayer, one of thankfulness, came much easier. Yet, in spite of his deliverance, the coarse man did not immediately turn his life around. He continued his sinful ways for several more years before fully understanding and accepting the grace that had been shown to him during his moment of greatest tragedy.
Many of us are like John Newton on that stormy day. We acknowledge God when we are in trouble and then dismiss Him when we are sailing on calm seas. Thus our relationship with God is distant, and our full potential can never be realized.
Today we remember John Newton not for the infamous exploits of his sinful life but for his words spoken from a pulpit. More than three decades after his first prayer, Newton shared his testimony with his congregation. Those words became a hymn that likely has led to more people coming to know the Lord than any sermon ever given. When the old sailor penned "Amazing Grace," he was writing from the heart. He knew that even the most despicable life could be turned around through the miracle of faith. After all, there was no one who had been any worse than Newton himself.
Prayer is for more than times of great need; it is the conduit we can and should use each day in order to chart a course through storms and into safe waters. As John Newton proved, there is no life that is so far gone it can't be saved, and the testimony of even the once-vilest sinner can be used for something incredible. In fact, it would be Newton, the former slave trader turned Anglican pastor, who would help start a movement that would free millions from the bonds of slavery. John Newton knew amazing grace and shared it. You can too. Who knows what incredible things you can accomplish? And it all could begin with a prayer.CHAPTER 5
I Will Always Love You
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As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. —John 15:9
Over the course of the last thirty-five years, "I Will Always Love You" has become one of the most-recognized ballads in music history. Yet when Dolly Parton penned this much-beloved song, it was not intended to be a hit single. It was written as a thank you for a man who had noted her talent when no one else would even give her the time of day. The tall, thin singer from West Plains, Missouri, Porter Wagoner, gave the diminutive blonde singer from east Tennessee her first break by featuring her on his syndicated TV program, The Porter Wagoner Show. He then took her into the recording studio, where they teamed for several hit duets. Thanks to this exposure, Parton slowly emerged as a solo force on the country music charts. In 1974, Parton sensed it was time to move on and fly solo. Realizing that Wagoner might be hurt by her move toward independence, she penned "I Will Always Love You" as way of showing her appreciation for all her mentor had done for her. Without meaning to do so, Dolly wrote one of the most famous thank you notes in history. Not only would it top the charts for Parton but also for pop star Whitney Houston.
From the moment the nails were hammered into Christ's hands, there was no doubt that He would always love us and that His love was not limited by time or earthly bounds. That love is freely given to us when we accept Jesus as our Savior and will continue to pour into our souls long after we have left this world. In her signature song, Dolly Parton wrote about the dynamic force that is human love, but the love Christ showed when He died on the cross goes so much deeper than any of us can fathom. Even though it may not be about godly love, there is a powerful lesson in Parton's composition that Christians should embrace as they meet the challenges of everyday life.
"I Will Always Love You" was written as a musical thank you. Maybe you can't write a song or a poem, but there are probably people all around you who have provided you with guidance, inspiration, love, and assurance. They have given to you with their heart and bodies. They have sacrificed so you could achieve. They believed in your potential even as you fought with your own doubts. They deserve to know and hear your thanks.
Today is the perfect time to jot down a thank you of your own composition to someone who has been there for you. Spell out what their gifts meant to you. Tell them how your life was changed due to something they did. Prove to them that investing in you was something you noticed and appreciated.
After you mail that thank you to the person who paved the way for you to achieve spiritual or physical growth, then it is time to bow your head and acknowledge the Lord who has vowed to always love you. Through your words and your actions, you can show that you not only accept His gift of love but also share it with all those you meet.CHAPTER 6
You Are My Sunshine
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God said, "Let there be light." And so light appeared. God saw how good the light was. God separated the light from the darkness. God named the light Day and the darkness Night. —Genesis 1:3-5
"You Are My Sunshine" possesses a near-perfect combination of an infectious melody coupled with simple lyrics; therefore, it is almost impossible to forget. In the more than seven decades since it was penned by Paul Rice, it has become an American musical standard, and it has been recorded hundreds of times and tallied millions of dollars in royalties. It was Louisianan Jimmy Davis who first made "Sunshine" a huge hit, and since 1940, a long list of other artists has also recorded this country classic. Yet when he died, the song's composer had little to show for his greatest work. Just before Davis recorded it, Rice sold all rights to "Sunshine" for $17.50.
Humans often are shortsighted when it comes to their choices in life. We often sacrifice the future in return for the immediate rewards in the present. In Paul Rice's case, he sold all his rights to "You Are My Sunshine" for literally "a song" in order to fuel his addiction to alcohol. Countless others have done the same thing. We are a people who desire to experience the moment rather than plan for a lifetime. The Bible is filled with such folks.
There is light in this world so that we can make the best decisions. Light allows us to clearly see the solid ground, the best pathway, and right from wrong, and our choices in those areas define us. God didn't create the light just for the world; He created light for our souls as well. And when there is light in your life, you not only make the wiser decisions but also become a beacon for others who are struggling like Paul Rice.
When we allow the light of the Lord to shine in our world, it allows us to see the blessings around us as well as illuminate the very things that are holding us back from having that happiness each moment of each day. As you sing "You Are My Sunshine," as those easy-to-recall lyrics run through your mind, take stock of your life. What is holding you back? Do you have an addiction that is causing you to be shortsighted? Are you selling the promise of bright tomorrows for the immediate pleasures of today? Are you investing everything you have in the moment or in the future? As you look at your answers, you might come to realize what is taking your sunshine away.
Excerpted from Music for Your Heart by Ace Collins. Copyright © 2013 Ace Collins. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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