What Piano Lessons Taught Me about Righteous Living

I had the gift of studying under a brilliant piano teacher during my childhood. She approached her teaching as if every one of her students might become a world-renowned pianist one day. She required perfect posture and had us practice bowing before and after every lesson along with the actual piano playing details. She didn’t put up with slacking, but she was abundant with her praise for students’ hard work. She not only required excellence, she inspired it too. 

As I look back now, one of the most valuable lessons she taught us is one that might easily be brushed aside: she taught us how to make mistakes. Or rather, how to recover from them. Although we were to work toward and aim for perfect performances, she knew mistakes were inevitable. She wisely understood that accomplished pianists learn when a mistake is made to recover and continue until the end without getting totally derailed—sometimes without anyone even noticing. 

Recently I’ve been pondering how this concept parallels our spiritual lives. From the moment we repent of our sin and believe in Christ, our hearts are made new and the Spirit begins the process of sanctification in us. However, just like pianists, we start at the beginning. We begin practicing righteousness rather than wickedness, becoming more and more skilled in obedience through the power of the Spirit. But we still fight against the sin that is a reality in our fallen bodies (or “the flesh” as it’s referred to in passages like Romans 8). 

Even though our lives should show evidence that we are not walking and living in sin as our normal and accepted pattern, we will still commit sins, or as one meaning of sin expresses, we’ll “miss the mark.” For this reason, confessing our sin and repenting of it should be a regular part of our lives until we reach the finish line of this life, though hopefully to a less significant degree as we grow in godly maturity. So we have to learn how to handle these sins, just like my teacher equipped her students to handle the fumbles we made in the midst of our pursuit of excellence at the keyboard.

Memorize the Word

My piano teacher had us memorize nearly every piece we learned, so that when we performed we not only had the music in front of our eyes, but inside us as well. This contributed to our ability to jump right back into our spot if we happened to miss a key or play a faulty chord. 

So it is with God’s Word in our ability to prepare to quickly turn away from sin. Psalm 119:11 says, “I have treasured your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you.” When we are faithful (albeit imperfectly) to tuck Scripture away in our hearts, God will be abundantly faithful to bring it to mind at the moment we need it. 

I can’t count the number of times the Lord has convicted me in the midst of a snappy word or a bitter thought with Scripture which I’d memorized in the past. Yes, we should be faithful to have it in front of our eyes every day, but we should also take the extra step to commit it to memory every chance we get. It is “living and effective” (Heb. 4:12), able to protect and to bring us to the safety of repentance when we’ve missed the mark.

Keep in Step with the Spirit

From the moment I first touched the piano keys, my teacher required me to count out loud. When I reached particularly tricky sections of music, we would go painfully slow through them, counting out every single beat. She had me get used to using a metronome, increasing the speed only after I’d mastered the slower, steady tempo. Because the timing was so ingrained in me, by the time I learned the piece I was able to pick up quickly if I got lost and had to find my place again. This was especially helpful if I was playing a duet to avoid throwing the other person off. I simply found where they were on the sheet music and fell back in sync. 

Similarly, in our battle against sin, we have to become excellent in keeping in step—in tempo, if you will—with God’s Spirit. Galatians 5:24–25 says, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.” We have the choice to conform the notes of our lives to His beautiful rhythm or to wander off and pick our own tempo (which never goes very well, does it?). When we humble our hearts to His pattern, remembering that our fleshly passions and desires have been crucified with Christ, He will draw us back into step as part of His glorious symphony.

Fight Lies with Truth

Sometimes when playing in front of an audience, heightened nerves make a pianist prone to mistakes. As a child, the slightest slip could send me into a mental spiral, derailing me from my place and rendering me unable to recover.My teacher knew it was essential for her students to be able to stay calm and remind ourselves of what was true: I know the music.One mistake doesn’t mean I can’t finish well. I can just find a spot and start playing again. These truths helped keep other internal messages at bay and grew my ability to get back on track. Even if the mistake was due to lack of practice, learning to speak truthfully helped us learn from those mistakes rather than throwing it all out and quitting in despondence and shame. 

When it comes to our spiritual lives, the enemy of our souls would like nothing better than for us to spiral into discouragement and despair when we commit a sin. He feeds us lies that might sound like this:

You’ll never have victory over this. 
Real Christians don’t sin anymore—you’re a fake. 
Who are you to think you can encourage others when you have so many flaws? 
You committed that sin once; there’s no use trying to overcome temptation the next time. 

The tricky thing about the lies the enemy feeds us is that there’s often just enough truth mixed in to make them believable. Remember, he’s brilliant at twisting God’s Word (Gen. 3; Matt. 4:1–11). It’s true: we often really do know better. In our own strength we don’t have the ability to overcome the flesh. There isn’t ever a valid excuse for sin. Disobeying God should cause a correct kind of shame. That is why it’s critical that we learn how to spot and reject the lies about how to handle our sin and turn instead to what God actually says. 

As the hymn says, there is “grace that is greater than all my sin.” We aren’t left on our own—we’ve been clothed in the righteousness of Christ and given His Spirit to enable our obedience. The shame we feel when we sin can now be used by God to lead us back to the hope we have in Christ and into greater communion with Him. Although sin comes with consequences, we’re never without the hope of renewal and God’s ability to use us as a testimony of His grace.

Press On in Pursuit of Christ

Proverbs 24:16 says,

Though the righteous person falls seven times, 
he will get up,
but the wicked will stumble into ruin.

Regardless of how many times we fail and fall, through Christ we have the ability to get back up and press on in our pursuit of Him. 

1 John 2:1 is the perfect note (no pun intended) to end on: “My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one.”

Jesus Christ. Our Advocate and our Righteousness. Because of Him, the Father sees us as He sees His Son. We’ve been made new, and Jesus stands ever-ready to forgive and cleanse us of every sin as we confess, repent, and press on toward Him.

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About the Author

Heather Cofer

Heather Cofer

Heather Cofer is a wife and mother of six living in northern Colorado with a passion for encouraging women to love Jesus. She is the author of Expectant: Cultivating a Vision for Christ-Centered Pregnancy, and has also written for Set … read more …

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