When I was converted to Christ through the Jesus People movement, there were no praise bands. (A “praise band”, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a band with electric guitars and drums that plays “contemporary Christian music” at the front of evangelical churches.) In those happy and innocent days, young Christians would meet together in a variety of venues such as the beach, a hall, or someone’s home, and pray and sing to the Lord, often using musical compositions or choruses written by themselves. It was all very informal and spontaneous. There was then no “Christian music industry”—enthusiastic young believers just played the guitar out of joy and sang to God. In those post-hippie days, such singing often resulted in a crowd gathering to listen, and the one singing would then share the Gospel with them. The contemporary praise band evolved from such early and unsophisticated spontaneity.
My involvement in this movement centred on a meeting of young people in Toronto, the so-called “Toronto Catacombs,” led by Merv and Merla Watson. Like many in the Jesus Movement, some of the young people would bring their guitars to the meeting as well as their Bibles, and would play them as everyone sang choruses. The group of players up front grew, and came to include some people playing the flute and the accordion. And—this is important—one young man playing a single bell. Yes, a bell. At certain times he would strike the bell, producing a sweet note. Of course with people playing guitars, flutes, and an accordion, to say nothing of the many voices singing loudly with spiritual gusto, he was utterly drowned out. You could see him striking the occasional note, but could never hear him. One time, someone asked him about this. Why did he continue to strike the bell and sound notes that no one else could hear? “I’m not playing for you,” was his reply. “I’m playing for the Lord. He can hear me. And that’s all that matters.”
I have never forgotten this reply, and it has become more and more important to me throughout the years, especially when I am tempted to become discouraged with my own poor attempts at prayer. Saint Seraphim praying with power on a rock for a thousand days, or St. Mary of Egypt levitating a foot off the ground in her communion with God are all very impressive, but at times these things leave me feeling very keenly the inadequacy and poverty of my own prayer life. I cannot pray for a thousand days non-stop. And never mind about levitating—most of the time it’s all I can do to keep my mind from wandering. Why bother? What do I have to offer? I can picture the angels looking down from heaven at me and saying to each other, “What does he think he’s doing? You call that praying?”
It is then that I remember the insignificant sound of the bell. It might have been insignificant in the estimation of others, but not to God. Let others play the guitar or the flute or sing as melodiously as they could. My friend with the bell would offer what he had to offer, even if it were but the single sweet sound of an almost inaudible note. He was playing for the Lord, and he refused to compare his contribution to that of others. It is the same with us. In heaven, a deafening thunder of praise, a continual cataract of doxology, pours forth from the angels, from the vast army of cherubim and seraphim, “the voice of a great multitude and the sound of many waters, and of mighty peals of thunder, saying, ‘Allelulia!’” (Revelations 19:6). We are privileged to add our few and little notes to this vast chorus. It might not sound impressive. It might be as nothing to the prayers of the saints and the praises of the angelic powers. It might be all but lost in that thunderous swell—an almost inaudible sound, a single note added to theirs. But to the Lord our note is not lost among the others, nor is it insignificant. God delights in our prayers, when we offer them to Him with a heart of love. As my nameless brother said long ago, we are singing for the Lord. He can hear us. And that’s all that matters.