What Playing Guitar Taught Me about the Spiritual Life

An interest in my stepdad’s guitar at age 15 sparked an interest God has used to guide my life. I’m sure God works in a similar way with you. In fact, I know He does.

What Playing Guitar Taught Me about the Spiritual Life

(Photo: By Pisethinfo. Own work. CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

More than 30 years ago, I started playing songs on the guitar by John Denver, Jim Croce, Don Francisco, Gordon Lightfoot, and Dan Fogelberg.

I was hooked. I lived and breathed with the instrument. In a few years, I had written more than 100 of my own songs. It seemed this is what God wanted me to do with my life. I decided to pursue the dream of becoming a Christian artist.

  • I majored in music (classical guitar) from North Texas State University (now UNT).
  • I attended Dallas Theological Seminary so that I could learn to write theologically sound songs.
  • I had an influential person with connections in Nashville who promised to introduce me to the right people.

I was ready. Cue the lights. Then God uplugged my guitar.

Playing guitar for all these years has taught me more than music. It has taught me these 3 lessons.

What Playing Guitar Taught Me about the Spiritual Life

1. Public success always comes from private success.

I have noticed that most guitar students seemed to have the same attitude spoken by Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:

If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. — Lady Catherine de Bourgh

Everybody wants to play the guitar well, but very few want to practice. It doesn’t work that way. Public performances reveal the quality of your private practicing. If you haven’t prepared well in private, you’ll fold in public. (Ask me how I know.)

Wayne's guitar

(Photo: My guitar at a recent jam session with friends)

In the same way, the spiritual life requires genuine, private devotion. As the apostle John wrote:

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. —1 John 4:20

There’s a direct relationship between how well we love people and how well we love God. If we are failing with people, it points to a problem in our relationship with God.

2. Learning to play well takes time (and patience).

It’s not enough to have a passion and commitment to practice. It takes time to train the brain and hands. It took me practicing guitar two hours a day for three and a half years to play really well. And since that time, it’s use it or lose it.

When we start off in the spiritual life, we may have a passion and commitment. But we’re mere babes in Christ. As Paul wrote:

I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. —1 Corinthians 3:1–2

The author to the book of Hebrews adds a word about practicing:

Solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. —Hebrews 5:14

Are you just getting started in the Christian life? Be patient with yourself. And as you teach others to grow, be patient with them. As with the guitar, it takes time to train the brain and hands (Romans 12:1-2).

my guitar

(Photo: My guitar)

3. God may unplug your instrument for a season.

I mentioned God unplugged my guitar (It’s a long story, part of which is here). In doing so, He redirected and honed my life—giving me an even greater passion. At one time, I often was asked to play guitar. Now, I seldom am—although I still can.

God may ask you to set aside a passion or gift in order to emphasize different gifts. What’s more, sometimes God gives you skills and passions you pursue so that He can open different door to another direction in His will.

There’s a huge difference between a dream failing and following God. (Tweet that.)

Tell me what you think: Do you play an instrument? What has God taught you other than music? To leave a comment, just click here.

Just for fun, here is a recording of me playing the Bach cello suite, arranged for guitar.

I also played for my father’s CD, Flowers Follow Snow. Check out tracks 1, 2, and 7.

For What it’s Worth

My favorite guitarists are Phil Keaggy and (is this okay to admit?) Eddie Van Halen. Incredibly gifted individuals.

I have owned these guitars for 30 years:

  1. Alvarez Yairi 6-String (my favorite)
  2. Alvarez Yairi 12-String
  3. Juan Alvarez Spanish Classical Guitar

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