It’s Never Enough Until Your Heart Stops Beating


If you don’t already know, I play drums. Four weeks ago, I got lost in the moment during worship at church and misunderstood a gesture by one of the other worship team members as the signal end a song. Not remembering how far along we were into that song, I complied and the whole thing ground to a quick halt. This left the lead guitarist unprepared for the next song, as he was lost in the moment, too.

Oops. As someone who attempts to be professional in his playing, I don’t make an enormous number of boneheaded mistakes like that.

Later, I was told by someone that my mistake resulted in the quenching of the Spirit. I know in my heart that this isn’t true because the Holy Spirit isn’t so timid that a missed cue sends Him flying away. This isn’t an incantation, folks.

Still, a nagging doubt of my skills remained.

The next Sunday—Easter—rolled around and a packed church greeted us as I sat down on my drummer’s throne. Our set had a number of songs we’d not practiced fully, so I was on pins and needles considering the previous week.

What happened next could best be described in my view as “a disaster.” Because we sometimes extend songs if the mood hits, endings get dictated by whomever leads the song. I play along until I get a cue to end. Easter Sunday, yours truly, my cue radar on hypersensitive, proceeded to take three slight gestures by song leaders as “let’s end this”—only to end the songs prematurely. This happened on each of the last three songs we played, each ending worse than the one before.

The people in the seats didn’t know any better. The vast majority didn’t catch the mistakes. But I could barely get off the stage. I didn’t hear the message. I don’t think I heard anything anyone said. The afternoon stunk. The evening followed in kind. The Monday after resembled the dark-hued one that New Order (or Fats Domino, for all you oldsters) sang about.

New Order also sang the following:

That’s the way – shellshock.
Hold on! It’s never enough,
It’s never enough until your heart stops beating.

I talk to people and it never ceases to amaze me how many live in perpetual shellshock. No matter what they do, it’s never enough. Never enough until their hearts stop beating.

I look at what we’re doing to ourselves and wonder if the cost to keep up with the Joneses, to never let our guard down for one moment lest we stumble and the herd of stampeding elephants behind us run us over, is worth it.

I dare any married couple with children to arrange a get-together with five other similar couples. How far does the calendar spool out before a mutually open date shows up—if at all? Then the pressure mounts.

When our culture only likes a winner, everyone fights to win. But what of the losers? And if there’s only one winner, aren’t most of us losers?natlamp.jpg

When our culture praises a life set awhirling, how do we turn off the spin cycle?

The iconic magazine cover at right summarizes our dilemma. Are we the dog? Or are we the consumer? Don’t we lose in either case?

I think too many of us feel like we have a gun pointed at our heads and that at any second someone or something may squeeze the trigger. We rationalize that if we only do this better or that more quickly, the gun will magically disappear.

Or we feel the pressure to conform to the voices yelling at us through our culture. Sadly, we may feel as if our churches scream the same message as the culture. They tell us what we should be doing, but give us no tools or assistance to make that command possible. In some ways, we’re left attempting what they say for fear of worse consequences, even if we can’t make what they say work.

It’s never enough. And the heart beats on, though more anxiously.

I used to think that frenzy and performance stood as distinct traits, but now I’m beginning to see they feed off each other. They combine like nitro and glycerine to explode in our lives, leaving us shellshocked.

Yesterday afternoon, my family attended a wildflower walk hosted by the Audubon Society. Jack in the Pulpit, Spring Beauty, Blue Phlox, Trillium, Yellow Ragwort. Flowers. In the woods. For hours.

Driving home, I wondered how many people would consider that time ill-spent because the dividends don’t leap out. Or how many have so scheduled their lives they can’t possible find the time to stop and consider a fragile flower not even a quarter inch across.

I’ve got to believe that a culture that hurtles here and there loses its soul. If we’re living our lives under the mantra that it’s never enough until our hearts stop beating, then perhaps we’re already dead.

Someone has to stand up and oppose this performance-oriented frenzy of activity. And more than just one of us. We can’t do this alone or else we simply won’t generate the inertia to change our culture.

Yes, it’s a matter of prayer. But more than that, it’s Christians playing the counterculture card and doing so with their very lives.

We want to see Christ lifted up, to win the world for Him, yet we’re either stuck in the spin cycle or sidelined by shellshock.

Something’s gotta give.

{Image: One of the most recognized magazine covers of all-time, National Lampoon, January 1973, ASME‘s #7 cover of the period 1965-2005.}

24 thoughts on “It’s Never Enough Until Your Heart Stops Beating

  1. Dan,

    Just dropped by, and this particular post caught my eye. I’m not sure whether to applaud your ‘wakeup call’; admire your persistence; empathise with your ‘blue moods’, remonstrate your self-questioning or simply question: “Why you are still part of the institutionalised religious order”? Perhaps all of the above?

    As a former Senior Pastor, now involved in ‘unlearning’ the stuff of the IC, [in order to appreciate what the Lord is requiring of His Bride] I am deeply sorrowed by the often blatant use of the performance-based evalution of an individual’s worth. In my opinion, this alone has led to a great many souls leaving the church, and many of them in varying states of ‘burnout’. I particularly shuddered at the thought that our culture has lost it’s soul!

    You are correct, my friend, someone needs to shout it from the roof tops!


    • John,

      I think that unrealistic expectations cause more damage in the Body of Christ than anything. We have this total inability to simply relax and let others be. Some days, they’ll be exciting, while other days will see them dragging.

      We especially roast our pastoral staff over that spit of expectations. I know that my pastor has wonderful messages most of the time. But I’m not going to start doubting him the second he preaches a message that doesn’t hit me. The fact it doesn’t hit me says more about me than it does him, but so often we use that unreliable “I am the measure of all things” gauge as a test of excellence. And I despise that.

      Instead, we should be thanking God that we even have a church…or a pastor…or a community of believers to fellowship with. Our unrealistic expectations uncover a core of ingratitude that lurks in each of us, especially in a consumeristic environment like the US.

  2. Yesterday after our morning service, parts of our church body engaged in a dialog with our three elders. What was meant as a general discussion regarding the direction our church was taking turned quickly into a specific debate that has polarized, and paralysed, our body for years: Contemporary vs. Traditional.

    As I listened to the heartfelt discussion, I thought of Cain and Abel, David and Michal, Peter and Paul, and how this discussion is really nothing new. We all have the chance to become victims of “what others think.” It’s important to remember that the only impression that matters is the one we make on God. The only way we can know we are making the right impression (note I do not say we should be “impressing God”) is to know God. If we seek to please someone we love, the best way is to know what pleases them, right? So, know God.

    But we get stuck in this endless spin-cycle of seeking to impress everyone around us (and I do mean “impressing others” in this case). We seek to show our godliness, our righteousness, our “spiritual gifts”…And we define our sense of well-being by the praise (or lack of it) we get from others.

    It’s sad really. Life would be so much easier if we sought only to do those things that please the one Person who matters. There is a little discussed description of Jesus in the gospel of Luke: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

    That word “favor” is interesting. It means grace.

    • David,

      I hate that debate. Good is good. Style doesn’t matter.

      As a musician, I love all musical styles, finding what’s excellent no matter the source or culture. Sure, I have favorites, but my favorites DON”T PRECLUDE all other music.

      Sometimes we’re so stuck on ourselves that we can’t be open to anything new, no matter how excellent that new thing might be.

      Favor – My long-time prayer has been that God would show my family His favor. I think that’s about the best any of us can ask for.

  3. Thanks for the Lampoon cover. Believe it or not, I’ve never seen it before and made me LOL. Love the dog’s expression, and I bet you probably had a similar one after the drumming faus pas [es?]. Those wouldn’t have quenched the Spirit if the rest of the team would have flowed around it and covered for you. Our lack of attention (ours not yours, i.e. it’s about the body not the individual) can stifle the Holy Spirit, not a musical error. Sounds like you guys could work on your signals however.
    You are on a nugget with
    ” But we get stuck in this endless spin-cycle of seeking to impress everyone around us (and I do mean “impressing others in this case). We seek to show our godliness, our righteousness, our “spiritual gifts…And we define our sense of well-being by the praise (or lack of it) we get from others.”
    People are impossible to please. They don’t know what they want, if they get what they thought they wanted it doesn’t safisfy, or they move the target. We could all be dogs chasing our tails if we lived under that tyranny! But God’s easy to please, He doesn’t change, and He knows how to say “Well done.”
    Anyhow, enjoyed the post, thank you.

  4. francisco

    Need grace? Just remember this: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. That verse has been one of a handful that have made a deep impact in my life last year (and still does it)


    • Francisco,

      What’s troubling for a lot of Americans is that the grace God gives doesn’t necessarily line up with The American Dream. That causes all sorts of craziness in the way we live out our Christian walk.

  5. Dee

    Today’s post laid a finger on the pulse that is my life at present: fearful that any move might be a mis-step. Like your experience, this is due to a series of events and (hopefully, unlike you) I have become totally paranoid!

    If that well-meaning lady at church hadn’t been so zealous in attempting to set me straight on a few things… and if I hadn’t experienced so much trauma and disappointment in rearing my oldest child that I am scared to death of what might happen with the other two… Some days, these fears are downright paralyzing.

    In “The Sound of Music” as Maria is traveling to her first job as a governess, she is singing “I have confidence in confidence alone”. While that is a nice sentiment, it is unrealistic. Instead, Paul teaches that I must press on “being confindent of this, that HE who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Pastor reminded us of this in yesterday’s sermon: that it is God who began the work, and it is He who will perfect it. This is my hope when I have lost self-confidence.

    Be encouraged, Dan. It’s God’s work, not yours, and He is still working on and in and through you. Paul continues in the next verse: “It is right for me to feel this way about you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, you share in God’s grace with me.” Paul is confident enough in the Lord to encourage the brethren from a jail cell. Now that’s confidence!

    Thanks for the reminder of that sermon. I really needed it today considering the major change about to take place in my life.


    • Dee,

      I think one of my weaknesses comes from a gradual erosion of personal confidence and an inability to fall back on confidence of the Lord. It’s a faith issue. I think men struggle with this more than women, though. We’re told—especially by Christian parachurch ministries—that we men have to be just like the poster boy for Christian manhood, but then no one measures up to that standard. And if we vary too much from that standard, we’re judged quite harshly.

      I’ve been commenting over at Doug McHone’s blog Coffeeswirls about this issue.

      • Dee

        I understand what you are saying, but I don’t believe this issue is a problem only for men. In our home I seem to struggle with it more than my husband does. As I see it, we have been brought up to drum up confidence within ourselves. And in recent years we have been educated about self-help, self-confidence, self esteem, self-respect, …and the list goes on.

        I am in my forties and I am trying to unlearn all that stuff and to realize that it is not about me. As a result I am having to relearn how to read and understand the Bible.

  6. Hi Dan:

    I stumbled on your blog today via Joe Carter at EO, and I’ve had a tremendous time exploring. (Plus, it helps that today is Clean The House Monday. The blogosphere is my favorite coping mechanism.)

    This post, in particular, reminded me of a fascinating and poignant article in the WaPo a few weeks back called “Pearls Before Breakfast.” It’s a lengthy piece but completely engrossing. Personally, I can’t stop thinking about it and all the things it says about our society — and even how we, as Christians, live our lives in 21st century America.

    You’ve supplied my brain with much material to think about as I scrub toilets and make beds today, and for that, I thank you. I’ll definitely be back.


  7. Helen

    Your quote “What’s troubling for a lot of Americans is that the grace God gives doesn’t necessarily line up with The American Dream,” is so on the mark. I have found that the things God has for me almost always goes against our cultural “wisdom.”

    I read on Robin Lee Hatcher’s website a short while back that her word for 2007 was simplicity. That gives me hope that God does indeed have our culture in His hands. I finally had my cable turned off today and it makes me feel like a weight has been taken off.

    Either our culture will turn around or burn out on its own. I have noticed that more and more people are speaking out against this culture, but we have a long way to go and I wonder if someday we will all say enough is enough and take real action through prayer and/or boycott, which is where the simplicity word really come into play.

    I went to many many churches in my town and was never allowed to just worship the Lord, so I quit them all. I joined a webchurch and have been happy every since. My kids get a sermon better than most other places we went and I don’t have to deal with the inevitable junk food they serve at children’s church, which I have found is most of the time forced on them.

    I see your blog as a blog of hope and when I read it I don’t feel so alone. Keep up the good work, Dan.

    • Helen,

      Thanks for writing and telling your story. I pray that you do find a church locally because a church is a blessed way for us to learn humility and how to esteem others better than ourselves. Christ founded a community and the Church always works best when we use our gifts within a local body.

    • Rich,

      Thank you. When I finished it, I thought it to be a disjointed mess, full of passion, but artless. I read your comment and it’s forced me to reconsider.


  8. You’re lucky that you don’t live in the Bible Belt south. If you told someone you did this, you would have gotten a speech about if you could go look at flowers, why couldn’t you go march and save babies at the next abortion march next October.

    I’m glad you had a great time with your family admiring the flowers.

    • Michelle,

      I only wish we were more grace-filled about it. We take ourselves too seriously and then everyone’s noses get out of joint. We need to know more about humility in this country. Perhaps if persecution comes…

  9. Brother Dan,

    I know the feeling of letting the air out of the tires during worship. A few years back, while still living outside Chicago, our church had a Christmas in July service. Our praise band was prepared, four weeks prepared, but for whatever reason, every song we played that day was a disaster. I am still living with all those mistakes I (and the rest of the group) made that day. And, I still “what if” myself. I know and understand that there was a reason and purpose for that day, and God has showed my why, but I still struggle with the toughts of “what if I’d played better?” Performance isn’t always everything.

    On the other side of that coin . . . a couple years after that, same praise group, we played the song The Potters Hand. Again, I played some really duff notes, our drummer missed a fill and threw off the vocalist. After that service someone approached me, telling me that the song had a deep impact on them that morning. My performance did not matter, only my heart for God. We loose ourselves from time to time, in worship, and that is what matters to God – not the notes, not the performance. And for those in the pews, worship isn’t a spectator sport. Worship has One spectator, One sitting in the audience; and believe me, His grading scale is on a really large sliding rule.

    • Aaron,

      I throw off flubs fairly easily. Plus, I feel like I’m back in the groove playing-wise, so everything is natural and easy again. (As opposed to the early days you remember me from, when I’d gotten back on the throne after a few years off.) The “quenching the Spirit” comment, wasn’t as easy to throw off, though.

      It’s not just about drumming, though. I think too many of us in America live under the Damocles sword of performance. This entire country is geared around being better than the guy next door. That trickles down into the Church here and is hard to root out. Pair that performance with the maddening hustle and bustle we’ve turned our lives into, and it’s a potent and crippling force.

      Thanks for the personal story. I think we all have those moments that live on.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *