Several years ago I took up the accordion. Since then, I’ve considered whether this was a good idea. I acquired the very old two-reed Hohner for $25 from an older gentleman from Germany who wanted to encourage me in my curiosity about the instrument. (Yes, that’s it on the right.) I had no lessons, no familiarity with the machine, and didn’t know buttons from keys or leathers from reeds. I had no clue that those buttons were arranged in fifths, no idea that the three switches in the front were supposed to modify the tone, and I had absolutely no understanding of accordion lingo. I didn’t even know how to hold it!
Over the course of several months, as I slowly moved from absolute ignorance and incompetence to adequate awareness and limited skill, I began to notice intriguing parallels between my poor, junky accordion and the Christian life—or at least my Christian life.
You see, some musical instruments run by air (trumpets, flutes), others by percussion (drums, tambourines), others by vibrating strings (violins, cellos). However, I’m convinced that my antique accordion runs on grace. Unlike well-cared-for and finely-tuned instruments, my accordion operates less on the unalterable principles of music theory and more on the unpredictable and flexible principles of mercy. When I pick up the accordion and pump out a tune, the result is far, far less than mediocre—and even this negative phrasing is itself a grossly optimistic appraisal. Even if I push all the right keys and buttons at the right times, the accordion does only what it can do, leaving a large portion of the performance to the imagination.
Yet somehow that’s okay. My mind is able to envision some dusty decade long ago when that machine would have stunned listeners even in my novice hands . . . or I sometimes look forward to a day when I can afford the extreme makeover the poor thing deserves: repairing its leathers, replacing its reeds, and renewing its bellows. Until that day, it will continue to squawk its first note, moo and caw its belabored melodies, and growl to a halt. Yet amazingly, people continue to call it “music” even though I know it’s really more of an ordered pattern of tones which, given a slightly modified rhythm, order, and pace, might be mistaken for a traffic jam on Broadway.
As I reflect on the profound spiritual significance of that shabby apparatus running on grace, I can’t help but think of myself as a beat-up, quasi-functional accordion in the Savior’s hands. I’m fallen, damaged, dented, tarnished, and broken. I often fail to function as designed and need frequent invasive internal work to get me back to “barely tolerable.” I’m in desperate need of repair, restoration, and renewal. Yet for some reason the Great Musician continues to pick me up, breath fresh air through me, and manage a melody or two that inexplicably stirs His audience. By sheer grace and mercy I am what I am and I do what I do: “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit”
(2 Cor. 3:5–6, ESV).