A few months later this friend told my parents I needed a “real” teacher. Frankly, I think she was just fine as a teacher. I learned the keys, the notes, and how to count in a few short weeks, but she insisted so off we went.
My next teacher had recitals. I still remember that first recital too, and I can still play my first recital piece: “Arab Horsemen” by Hazel Cobb. Those horsemen were a long way from the guy named “CDE” and his boat. Instead of one hand playing three notes, I had both hands running over six octaves on the piano, and a whole page played with my arms crossed!
As I sat in the student row waiting my turn to play I saw other students wringing their hands or wiping sweat off their palms onto their skirts or pants. What was the problem, I wondered? It never dawned on me that they were nervous about playing in front of people. I wasn’t nervous. I knew my piece and could play it flawlessly. What was the big deal?
A few years later we had moved and the new teacher entered me in a talent competition in the County Fair. Once again I was mystified by the nervous entrants around me. I had a great piece and knew it inside and out. I had spent three hours one particular day analyzing every note, every nuance of phrase, and every dynamic marking. I got up and played it, and won a blue ribbon.
The next year I entered another competition. This time the piece was more difficult. It was written only a year or two before by Aaron Copland, a contemporary American composer. It did not make much sense to my classically oriented ear. Going from this note to the next seemed totally at random to me and I had a difficult time memorizing it. But the rules for that category said I had to play it.
For the first time in my life I was not comfortable waiting my turn. Then when I got up to play, it happened--I went totally blank. I could not even start the piece. The judges were kind. They let me look at the first line. Then I walked back to the piano and my daily practice automatically kicked in. I played it perfectly, and aced the Beethoven rondo that followed. In fact, Beethoven felt like an old friend at that point.
Ever since that day I have experienced what everyone else does—performance anxiety. I played a solo professional recital once and was sick to my stomach about five minutes before I walked on. That one time when I forgot what to play has never left me. From then on I knew I was as mortal as anyone and I always wondered when it would happen again. Actually it did happen once in the middle of my senior recital, a requirement for a degree in music education. I was playing a sonata and made up about four bars on the second page of the first movement before Haydn’s music found its way back into my hands. Good thing you get points for covering up a slip when you perform. I still got my A.
Can you imagine how those apostles felt when Jesus, the one they had always counted on to have the right answer at the right time suddenly left them? He knew what would happen and gave them this promise: And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, be not anxious beforehand what you are to say but say whatever is given you to say, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit, Mark 13:11. Can you imagine a more comforting promise? I suppose that is why I have always had difficulties with those who claim that Paul misspoke in Acts 23:3, and that he had to apologize. Don’t they believe that God kept His promise to these brave men? Try reading what Paul said with the same tone Elijah must surely have had when he spoke to the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18. It wouldn’t be the first time that God used sarcasm through the voice of a man. Either that or He broke His promise to Paul; you can’t have it both ways.
Wouldn’t it be great to have that promise today? But wait a minute--in a way we do. Those men did not have the written word. Paul himself promised that one day the gifts that allowed one to prophesy a part and another to prophesy another part would be done away because the entire revelation would be “perfect,” complete in all details (1 Cor 13:8-12. That is what we have—the whole shebang.
So why do we experience performance anxiety when someone asks a question, or when it comes time to speak up in the face of false teaching? Is it because we are just a little anxious about choosing exactly the right way to say it, or is it because we didn’t prepare ourselves with daily practice, analyzing and memorizing? One is understandable, the other is inexcusable. We may not have all the answers on the tips of our tongues as they did, but we have the source of those answers if we will just take the time to look. “I don’t know, but I can find out,” may be a better testimony than acting like we do know it all. It tells our friends, if an ordinary guy like him can find it, so can I.
Those 13 men never knew when they would be called upon to speak up for God. We don’t either. Start practicing what to say; start considering all the possibilities. God has given you what you need, but it’s up to you to make use of it.
I will hope continually and praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. Psalm 71:14-16.