I work at a Christian School with incredible, faithful teachers. Notably, the high school art teacher is a man of great faith and reverence for our Creator, and unapologetically wears it on his sleeve. He is quick to see God’s beauty in a day, feel God’s presence in a room, and give God credit for the work of his hands. It is so apparent that the work he does is deeply meaningful and humbling. So it is no surprise that this particular teacher signs off all of his artwork with the latin phrase, “Soli Deo gloria”, which means, “glory to God alone”, or “to God be the glory”. His work adorns many of our school’s stained glass windows, hallways, and even publications. It’s a phrase I see quite often.
This phrase was also used by artists such as Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel to signify that the work they produced was for the sake of praising God. As a matter of fact, it was used on every composition by Johann Sebastian Bach. He affixed the initials “SDG” at the bottom of each manuscript as a reminder that it was God who was to receive the glory for the wonders of His work of creation and of redemption.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
– 1 Corinthians 10:31
My favorite place used to be on stage, singing and performing classical arias, many Biblically inspired, by the likes of composers such as Bach and Handel. However, I was so caught up in the technique and performance, rarely did I think about what the words truly meant as I sang these sacred musical compositions. I lost count of how many times I participated in singing masterpieces such as Vivaldi’s Gloria, Handel’s Messiah, Schubert’s Ave Maria, how many times “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” (Glory in the highest to God) departed my lips, how many times I belted “and He shall reign forever and ever…” and “glory to God in the highest” at Christmas concerts… And I’m not sure I once internalized what those words meant to me as a Christian. For each of these pieces, year after year, it was all about the performance. Did I/we draw the audience in? Did I breathe properly? Was my tone clear? Am I blending well with those around me? Reflecting back, I am quite confident that I did not appreciate the songs for what they truly were – worship songs. And I certainly did not punctuate my performances with Soli Deo gloria. A missed opportunity.
Prior to finishing college and my minor in Vocal Performance, I suffered severe damage to my vocal chords. I was recently explaining this ‘personal tragedy’ with a colleague of mine. As I attend Christmas performances this time each year, I often find myself in the audience yearning to be back on that stage. While sharing this with my colleague, God struck me with some hard truth. You see at the time in my life when I was regularly performing (and seemingly worshiping), I was not walking hand-in-hand with God. And my voice? Well, that was MY gift, made great by MY hard work and perseverance, deserving of praise to ME. Singing was not a spiritual act for me at all. Reflecting back, I’m not sure I even once praised God for the gift He gave me and the opportunities I had because of it. (Of course, when it was stripped away, I was very quick to inquire with my Heavenly Father, “Why?” “Why would you allow this to happen?” “Now what?”)
Another missed opportunity.
As God gives, God can take away (Job 1:21).
As that vocal gift was stripped away, early on I sought to find my next “thing”. As a matter of fact, I found several “things”. All with which to wrap my identity in. And looking back, those things were all stripped away, one by one, at one point or another. But as my faith walk matured, I came to realize that my identity was not those “things”. My identity was as a daughter of Christ, and I was created for His glory, to do His work. And in some seasons of my life that may have been to glorify Him by blessing others with one certain gift, and in other seasons, another. And from that realization, my life made a drastic shift towards freedom.
In his Desiring God message, “God Created us for His Glory”, John Piper states, “Man was created from the beginning in God’s image that he might image forth God’s glory. He was to multiply and fill the earth so that the knowledge of the glory of God would cover the sea.” So as we seek to find names for ourselves, we need to remember that God created us for His glory. (Isaiah 43:7) We have each been uniquely designed and hand-knit by God to bring glory to Him. How awesome is that???
We as believers are called to give glory to God in all that we say and do. We reveal the glory of God to the world through how we live our lives, by our words, actions, and behaviors.
As believers, we can give glory to our Heavenly Father in several ways:
- Submission. We can submit to God’s will in all things, knowing His plans for us are greater than ours (Job 22:21-30, Proverbs 3:6).
- Contentment. God tells us to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11) and not to worry, knowing He is in control and will care for us (Matthew 6:25-34, Philippians 4:19).
- Trust. We can rely on God for our needs instead of relying on ourselves (Philippians 4:13).
- Service. We can serve others with selflessness and humility (Philippians 2:3-4).
- Love. We can show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in how we live our lives (Galatians 5:22-23).
- Faith. With faith in Jesus Christ, God grants His righteousness to us. (Romans 3:22-23, Hebrews 11:1, Romans 10:17)
- Discipleship. We are called to disciple others as it is at the heart of who we are as children of God; and it is the heart of Jesus for all of us (Matthew 28: 19-20).
- Praise and Adoration. Praise elevates us into God’s presence and power. Worship is an expression of love and awe to the God who gives us more than we deserve.(Psalm 96:9,Psalm 96:2, Romans 12:1-2)
I often wonder what I might be doing today if I still had my singing voice. Those missed opportunities have been noted and repented. I’d like to think I’d be a part of a praise and worship band, or I’d be singing this Christmas with a local choir, Vivaldi’s Gloria, Handel’s Messiah, and Schubert’s Ave Maria with an entirely different posture. I admire my sons’ music teachers at our school. They get it. Their performances are very much Soli Deo gloria. While there are times I deeply miss this gift that used to be such a big part of my life, I wouldn’t trade that stage I was performing on back then with the stage I am serving on now. And I have peace and freedom knowing that was exactly God’s plan for me.
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3:18
Please pray this Psalm with me:
Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his[a] holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.”
The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness. – Psalm 96