~ by Jay Rouse.
Years ago, I had a minister of music who always told us, “Sing from your story.” That always resonated with me, but if I’m honest, I didn’t fully understand it. In fact, I’m still trying to figure it out, because to sing from my story, I’ve got to own my story. Some days that’s really tough. Those are the days when it becomes more than just a catchphrase, it becomes a mission statement — and hopefully a way of life.
The singing part is pretty easy for me. Not that I’m a great singer or anything, but music has been a big part of my life since I can remember. I grew up singing and playing for church choirs, youth group, high school swing choir, concert choir — you get the picture. I have always loved music, but as I grew up, I had to figure out what music really meant in my life. It helped define me and gave me a place to fit in, but I always knew there had to be more. When my music minister said, “Sing from your story,” I thought, that makes sense—but what is my story?
I was headed to Memphis, Tennessee. I planned to attend a workshop where they were premiering a new Easter musical that I had a part in creating. I was really looking forward to working with the choir and leading worship the next night. It was January in Indiana and snow was in the forecast. My plane was scheduled to leave first thing in the morning, so I got up early. I looked out the window and there was snow everywhere! Now, Indiana is used to dealing with snow, so I just got in my car and headed to the Indianapolis.
When I got to the ticket counter, the agent told me that my flight had been canceled. Then he said that my best bet was to drive to Dayton, Ohio (about an hour and a half east of Indy) and catch a plane there. Though it wasn’t ideal, it would allow me to be in Memphis by late afternoon. I would still be able to be a part of the premiere that night. I got in my car and drove to Dayton.
When I arrived in Dayton, I checked my baggage, boarded my plane, and we headed to Detroit. Yes, Detroit. I know and agree; how do you get from Ohio to Tennessee via Michigan? It makes no sense — unless you’re an airline. Anyway, I got to Detroit and because of the weather, I was a little bit late, so I ran directly to my connecting gate. I immediately noticed there was nobody sitting in the waiting area and the boarding door had been closed. Not a good sign!
I went up to the gate agent and began to plead my case. I tried to explain how “important” I was, how vital it was that I be in Memphis that evening, but she was not impressed, and it quickly became obvious that there was no way I was getting on that plane. I would have to take a later flight. So, I found a Starbucks, got a Frappuccino, and found a comfortable chair.
When I finally made it to Memphis, it was late in the evening, and I was starved. I checked into my hotel and headed to a Joe’s Crab Shack, which was just beside the hotel. It was so late that I couldn’t eat in the dining room. I had to get my food at the bar.
A few minutes later, a man sitting just across the bar from me moved closer and started a conversation. I’m a card-carrying introvert and would choose just about anything over talking with a stranger, let alone a stranger in a bar. But here I was, so we began to talk.
He had very colorful language and used extremely descriptive adjectives when describing one of the waitresses working there that night. I smiled awkwardly and occasionally added an “Mmm” or “Oh, really?” Then he asked me what I knew he was going to ask, “So, what do you do?”
I thought for a moment, sifting through several possible responses and eventually landed on, “I’m a musician.” He lit up and said, “I am too!” This allowed us some easy conversation about music and its history there in Memphis. He then asked what I expected him to ask next, “What are you doing in Memphis?”
I paused for a moment and then experienced one of those moments when you hear your own voice talking but can’t figure out why you’re saying what you’re saying. I just laid it out. I told him about the music conference, all the worship leaders that were there, the musical that I was supposed to be leading that night, and even heard myself inviting him to the conference the next day.
He was completely silent. He was looking down at his drink and after a minute or two he looked up at me and said, “I used to be a pastor.”
I wasn’t expecting that.
We talked for a while. He had many questions. He was seminary-trained and very familiar with the Bible. He had been hurt by the church and was still working through his pain. I don’t know that I was a ton of help to him. Many of his questions were not things I could answer, but it became evident to me that he knew all about Christ but didn’t know Him personally.
After a while, my food came, and we said goodbye. My prayer that night was that somehow my story would influence his story, and I was the face of Christ to him. My hope was that something I said or the way I said it might encourage him.
I would have much preferred to be at the piano that night, leading worship, and being in the center of it all, but it was obvious that God wanted me at the bar in Joe’s Crab Shack sharing my story.
I think that’s what my worship minister meant when he said, “Sing from your story.” He could have just as easily said, “Live from your story.” That’s the call on our lives as disciples and as fellow travelers. God does not mean for our story to be shelved in favor of a more refined or a less messy story. He is right in the middle of all our toughest stuff, and He’s saying, “It’s all good. I’ve got you. Sing from your story!”
About the author: Jay Rouse is the Vice President of Publishing at PraiseGathering Music Group and has composed top-selling choral anthems and seasonal musicals. He has also a keyboard artist and has toured and traveled with Sandi Patty as a Music Director and accompanist, as well as working with various other Christian artists. Jay and his wife live in Anderson, Indiana and have two children, Thatcher and Londyn.