The evening was unusually warm for early April. Large fans hummed to the right and left of the communion table. We could see them oscillating in unison, but their breeze never made it to the choir loft where we rehearsed Mozart’s Requiem for First Presbyterian Church’s annual spring concert. The large double doors at the entrance were propped open, inviting night air to enter the sanctuary like a beautiful spring bride, ready to make her way down the aisle.
Throughout my four years at W&J College, I went home nearly every weekend, so I was an infrequent face in the congregation of this church. However, the pastor and I built a strong friendship, and my music professor often spoke of the high-quality choral performances at First Presbyterian, encouraging students to participate. That’s how I found myself in a choir loft on an April evening, working to perfect the alto line of one of the most beautiful pieces of choral music in the world.
A choir rehearsal—especially of an intricate, complex piece—can be a frustrating exercise in Red Light, Green Light. Sometimes, only a bar or two passes before the conductor stops everyone for a series of corrections. Off we go again before coming to a full stop once more, only inches down the score. But from time to time, especially in the final weeks before a performance—as we were that night—the music is allowed to stretch and soar. Notes follow notes until the choir hears what all its diligence has finally created.
As our voices rose and fell and blended into one instrument, our sound escaped the loft, burst from the church, and spilled onto the street. Apparently, our music circulated outside, for soon a group of passers-by entered the double doors, compelled by the beautiful sound. The young people, perhaps in their early twenties, elbowed and nudged one another, teasing as they entered a place they didn’t expect to be. They looked out of place in their t-shirts, tank tops, and baggy shorts. One removed a ball cap. Another ran his fingers through his hair. They settled in the last pew, their laughter and jabs turning to silence and stillness as Mozart worked his charms.
Compelled. Sometimes we are drawn forward without our express permission. We simply cannot help ourselves. We are compelled to take steps we had not planned, to stop when we intended to go, to wait when we were eager to proceed, to speak when we would normally have remained silent, to reach out when our personality would typically tell us to withdraw, or–like those young folks on the street—to enter when we would have walked right by on any other evening. God compels us, his chosen children. Far bigger and mightier than Mozart, the God of all the universe calls us by name to come to him. By his Holy Spirit, he reaches into our hearts and tugs us toward Christ—a beckoning we simply cannot resist. Christ reminds us in John 6:37 and 44, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out…No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And “I will raise him up on the last day.”
Oh, I praise God for drawing me, a sinner, close to himself! The very inertia of my corrupt humanity would have naturally kept me dead in my sin. I could never please God in my regular old human self (Romans 8:7-8). I needed him to pull me away and interrupt what I would surely have been.
I think of a long-ingrained habit, like putting on my seatbelt. I do it without thinking or planning. Something out of the ordinary must occur to stop the automatic urge to reach over and pull the belt across before driving away from the curb. Sometimes one of my children calls out for help with his car seat, or someone requests that I insert a CD in the stereo or roll down a window. I am compelled to step outside of my routine, and for a moment, I’m pulled out of autopilot. When I snap back to my task, I feel surprised to find myself unbuckled. Thank God that he has the power to interrupt the automatic path of sin, compelling me and sinners throughout time to draw close and walk beside him toward holiness when our nature would have wallowed in the dark for eternity. We may look at ourselves—post conversion—in grateful awe, knowing that we would never have reached salvation without his irresistible grace.
The impromptu audience in the last row of First Presbyterian may have walked past the pretty church on many warm evenings. They likely lived nearby and socialized in the neighborhood, simply enjoying the night with friends. Perhaps they were heading to meet up with other people or to catch a ride elsewhere. But on that evening, the sweet strains of the Requiem stopped them in their tracks, compelling them to postpone their plans for something far sweeter.
May our Lord always compel us to the sweet beauty of his embrace, a call we cannot resist. As we walk through lives that are complex and often fast paced, are we waiting in the stillness for his voice? Listen, my friends. Allow yourself to hear and know his undeniable voice.