“[A] gracious heart is like a musical instrument, which though it be exactly tuned, a small matter brings it out of tune again; yea, hand it aside but a little, and it will need setting again before another lesson can be played upon it.”
John Flavel, Keeping the Heart
“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
My friend Hannah and I are reading a 350 year-old book together. It’s called Keeping the Heart and it’s by a Puritan pastor named John Flavel. As we sat recently, musing and quoting our starred, favorite lines, Hannah made a very resonant connection.
“You should write that up,” I said. The rest of this post is what she wrote, only slightly fine-tuned.
“[A] gracious heart is like a musical instrument, which though it be exactly tuned, a small matter brings it out of tune again; yea, hand it aside but a little, and it will need setting again before another lesson can be played upon it. If gracious hearts are in a desirable frame in one duty, yet how dull, dead, and disordered when they come to another!”
Being an orchestra teacher, Flavel’s analogy instantly struck a chord.
Every day, every class begins with tuning. Some days it is a quick and easy process to tune an instrument. Other days it takes half a class period. And some days we tune at the beginning of the class period, only for someone’s instrument to slip out of tune at a few minutes into rehearsal.
The comparison is obvious: Simply put, my heart- mind, will, and emotions- need to be brought into correct alignment with God’s will and ways.
My heart needs to be in tune with His Word, His ways, His character – with the truth. But my heart is affected by matters both great and small, within myself and around me, that bring me out of alignment.
My heart, like my students’ instruments, must be constantly realigned and adjusted and reset.
Upon my first reading of Flavel’s analogy, that was as far as the connection went. But when I read it again, I thought about the time period in which Flavel lived. Suddenly his analogy ran deeper and truer.
You see John Flavel lived in the mid to late 1600s. In that time, strings on instruments were made of animal gut, typically from a sheep. These strings were very temperamental and prone to going out of tune (and breaking). Once tuned, as Flavel wrote, “a small matter brings it out of tune again.”
The slightest change in temperature, humidity, or any other change in environment would undo the tuning. A musician could play a Stradivari or Guarneri violin- which are still considered among the finest crafted stringed instruments in history-but their strings were gut strings.
Though capable of producing sweet-sounding music, gut strings were hard to manage, moody and in constant need of care and retuning.
Oh how my heart resembles a gut string!
Temperamental, prone to going out of tune, and in constant need of adjustment. Yes, I am an instrument made beautifully by the Master Craftsman, but the strings on which I play, have been affected by the Fall.
This means I need tuning not just once in a while, and not just in one context of life or one time of the day, but in every context, every day.
Come And Be Tuned
Now back to the orchestra room for a minute. I think of my students who struggle to get their instruments to stay in tune. Some come to me immediately upon it going out of tune. Others look up at me and make this face.
It’s a face that I’ve come to know as the “oh-no-my-string-is-out-of-tune” face. And they sit there, making that face, as if the looking at me like that will somehow tune the instrument.
I used to respond to this face they make with annoyance, wondering, “Why don’t they just come to me? I could easily help, and I’m a only a few steps away.” That’s what I used to think, as my students would sit and look up at me, out of tune.
But I’ve come to respond to this face with a smile, and sometimes a chuckle, and say, “It’s out of tune, yes? Come to me so I can tune it.” Someday they may come to me right away, but for now they need the observant eyes and ears of a teacher and an invitation to come and be tuned.
I can say this to my passive, sitting out-of-tune students now because I realize how like them I am as I relate to God.
Go To The Master Tuner
I cannot tune my own heart. Try as I may, it just never stays tuned!
As it says in Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Deceitful – twisted, untrustworthy, misleading. Desperately wicked – incurably sick.
What does one do with an incurable sickness? Take it to the master doctor. He also happens to be the Master Heart Tuner.
Like my students when their instruments fall out of tune and need my help, so I must bring my heart to the God, the Master Heart Tuner. Thankfully, He is not far off. And He knows just the right way to approach the instrument and the perfect way to tune it.
Sometimes the Master Tuner sets the instrument back into tune with great facility. But sometimes it takes a bit more wrestling with the instrument and strings to bring it into tune.
Eventually the “instrument” cooperates, though, and it is perfectly tuned. But honestly, like those old gut strings, it only stays tuned for a minute or maybe a few before the slightest upset brings me out of focus or alignment with God.
But that’s when Christ calls me to come to him. Like my students, I must to go back to God and be retuned. And He invites me to himself and gladly tunes me again and again and again. We come. He tunes.
And all the glory for any sweet tune we produce goes to the Master Tuner.
Tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
mount of God’s redeeming love.