Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why a Compliment From an Inspired Man Taught Me a Lesson

The privilege of hearing the Lord’s inspired servants at General Conference each April and October often brings to my mind some of the blessed occasions I have had to meet some of these inspired men. Today I remembered an opportunity to meet a General Authority 13 years ago who gave me a great compliment and taught me a lesson at the same time. His words have guided my approach to sharing music ever since.

Elder Kenneth Johnson
taught me the difference
between performing
and praising.
Elder Kenneth Johnson is a former President of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in February 1999 he visited the Colorado Denver South Mission where I was serving. I was asked a couple of days before his visit to prepare a musical number on the piano that would be shared in front of a group of fellow full-time missionaries. For those who are not familiar with Mormon missions, we devote our entire two years to sharing the gospel. We don’t date, watch TV / movies, play video games, listen to the radio, surf the Web, attend school or see our families during that time. Our schedules are focused and filled. As a result, I had no time to prepare a musical number. More importantly, I didn't have a piano on which to practice. I prayed and asked for guidance that I could contribute a meaningful spirit to the meeting.

The night before his visit, my companion and I were at a church building in Colorado Springs setting up chairs for the meeting. We had a few minutes after finishing before heading back to our apartment. I sat down on the piano bench in the room and started playing through one of my favorite hymns, "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief." I shortly realized that it was in the same key and meter as a song I had written called "Snow Angels." Within minutes, I was able to connect the two songs in a new arrangement. I felt it was the best I could do, and we returned home.

The next day, we met as a group of around 40-50 missionaries. Elder Johnson delivered a powerful talk. As he concluded, I prayed silently that the Lord would allow me to invite the Spirit even more strongly. I felt at peace as I sat at the bench and began to play. Despite only arranging it the previous night, the song came freely and powerfully. The notes felt surprisingly familiar. After I finished and stood up to walk back to my seat, Elder Johnson walked up to me and gave me a hug. In front of the whole room, he looked at me and shared a poignant compliment:

“There’s a difference between performing and praising. You praised. When you perform, the center is you. When you praise, the center is God. Thank you.”

His words captured the feeling in my heart at that time — I wanted to praise the Lord and give the glory to Him, not myself. Those words have stuck with me, and I think about them every time I am asked to share a song in a sacred setting such as a church service or fireside. May we remember the difference between performing and praising not only in music, but in everything we do. And may we focus as much as we are able this weekend on the similarly inspired messages of modern-day apostles and prophets at General Conference.

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