I have a good friend who is a cellist. As a trumpet player, I find the idea of someone who actually likes string instruments baffling, and he often moans at me for being too loud and drowning him out all the time. But the point of real contention in our friendship came a few years back when I told him how much I enjoyed Pachelbel’s Canon as a piece of music (hear it here) He vehemently disagreed, informing me that it was one of the dullest pieces in the world. Then he showed me this video and I began to understand.
For a cellist, you see, all you play in Pachelbel’s Canon is eight repeating notes. Over and over for six and a half minutes, it never stops. Over the top is the beautiful melody played by the violins, with varying notes and extravagant embellishments. Nobody really pays attention to the hard slog of the cellos, down on the bass line. But without them, the whole piece would fall apart.
I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
I guess sometimes life is a little bit like that. Our emotions – happiness, sadness, anger, disappointment, excitement, anticipation and so many variations of these are the exciting embellishments that you pay the most attention to on a day to day basis. And yet there’s always a bass line. There has to be an underpinning to the melody of our lives, something that just keeps going, no matter the pitch, speed or intensity of what goes on around us. Bass lines can take many forms, but as Christians, we’re asked to have one particular bass line – contentment.
Contentment is a strange bass line to have, because it’s so often confused with happiness. But happiness is transient; happiness is the changeable melody dependent on circumstances. But contentment, we learn in Philippians, is unchangeable in every circumstance: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13).
It’s really difficult to master the bass line of contentment, and it’s something that – realistically – can only be done with the help of God. But when it is learnt, it is beautiful. And contentment is something that you can see in the lives of many persecuted Christians across the world.
Take Helen Berhane, for example. She was locked inside a shipping container in Eritrea for two and a half years for refusing to recant her faith in Jesus Christ. Boiling hot by day and freezing cold by night, the conditions were unimaginable. But still she praised God, singing: ‘thank you for the cold nights, thank you for the hot days, thank you for the hunger, for the sickness, for the bugs that bite my body. Thank you Lord. Thank you.’
What an incredible testimony! Think how dark and dreary the container in which she dwelt with 18 other people must have been – how the overarching melody of her life must have felt hopeless, lost and drab. And yet the bass line, the underpinning note of her life was that of contentment. Not resentment, not bitterness, but contentment; pure and simple peace in the love and provision of God, no matter what.
And so, stop, think for a minute, and listen to the bass line of your life. Strain your ears past the melody of your day to day emotions, and listen to what underpins all that you do. If the melody were to change, or to stop completely, would the bass line still be music to your ears? Would you still want to listen to the song of your life, even if the embellishments quieted and the excitement stopped? If your bass line springs from the One who brings peace and fulfilment to all who know Him, then it will continue even when any other music fades. And that is true contentment.
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imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.