I bought my Santa Cruz acoustic guitar a few years ago at a used music shop in Tennessee. As I pulled it down, the sunny Adirondack spruce face smiled back at me. It is sturdy and well made, crafted by hand.
A close look at the grain of the wood of my guitar reveals a catalog of past experiences. Similar to a Steinway piano or an heirloom violin, the instrument’s smoothed surface is a visual timeline, tiny stripes shaped by years of rain and drought. An instrument’s sound tells us something of its origin, whether it is made from new or old or sunken or recycled wood.
Some luthiers and others still construct instruments the old-fashioned way. Ben Niles’s 2007 documentary Note by Note follows the making of a single Steinway concert piano from the Alaskan forest to the concert hall. Technicians from New Jersey describe their work on concert grand No. L1037, which, at one stage of the manufacturing process, rests on its side for 12 patient months as the wood of its frame conforms into a piano-shaped curve.
In the film, we appreciate that wood from a forest is beginning a new chapter, being refined in form and function. But in real life, transition can foster impatience, like wearing braces or anticipating a wedding after a proposal. During the slow work, we may wonder who we are as we wait for what’s yet to be revealed in us.
But there is a grain written in our design, and we have a skillful designer who first made us and is now forming us into who we are meant to be. During our gradual transformation, we become acquainted with God, who personally and graciously tends to us. He is both the creator and luthier, shaping instruments of his glory. “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
Sometimes the unfamiliar scenes we pass through cause us to doubt who we are becoming, but there is meaning and mystery to it all. “God has chosen to make known...the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
When I patch or hide my own imperfections, I often make things worse. Magical thinking will not fix a warp or a fracture. But God measures just how much bend is required to bring about his finished work, and he gives us a simple part to play: patient effort. “Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Heb. 12:12–13, ESV).
It took patience in the years I practiced for my piano lessons. It took years before I could play Chopin or accompany our high school choir. Repetition and memory have been woven together to create the chords and melodies that make up my life’s work.
I’ve made mistakes and forgotten lyrics. I’ve sung for all the wrong reasons and missed cues. But through discomfort and discipline, God has made something of my failures and my half-hearted affections. A song of praise has emerged from those broken places. The brokenness within and around me is still evident, but all the more is God’s blessing.
Our pastor, Billy Barnes, says that “the love of God is not meant to make us a storehouse but a distribution center.” God has poured his love into our hearts so that we will resonate like instruments of praise (Rom. 5:5). God resounds his purposes. We have been shaped with great intention, made to one day resonate his glory in perfect wholeness.
If, decades ago, we had been there in the forest where my Santa Cruz guitar began, if we had witnessed a tiny Adirondack spruce seed sprouting, vulnerable to every storm and footstep, we would surely doubt that the guitar I now hold in my hands could ever be made. Yet here it is, slowly formed and beautiful. And this gives me hope.
God will one day cause us to resonate his love like a well-tuned instrument—not on the merits of our performance but through God’s own hands, skillfully activating within us the melody of heaven.
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