Every week at the start of my violin lesson, I listen to my teacher play an 'A' on the keyboard while I draw my bow across my corresponding string, turning the tuning peg this way and that until the notes match. Then 'D', then 'G', then 'E', finally playing them all together and nodding in satisfaction when they all sound together in harmony. It's a small, very simple act, but I do it every week before lesson, every day before I practice. Why? The rest of the time I spend playing would be a waste if I did not.
Because of temperature and moisture changes in the air, the wood of my instruments expands or shrinks a little bit depending on the environment. I'd have to stop breathing and keep away from anyone else who did to keep my violin from doing this. With every slight expansion or shrinking, the strings are pulled out of their correct tuning, and it is my job to re-right them.
What would happen if I didn't? Anyone with a decent ear would be in pain, including myself, if I failed to make sure my strings are in tune. I could play a scale and all my fingers would be in the correct places, but since the string isn't tuned to the right note, none of my fingers will yield the right notes either. I could try and correct my fingers to the untuned string, but that would be even more labor intensive, groping my way up and down the strings, hunting for the right notes, with no logical pattern or method at all. The intervals would be all wrong.
I could play an originally beautiful sonata without a note being in place. What should sound like singing would sound like a sick and dying animal.
I could do everything else I know to do, but if my strings aren't tuned, it's all in vain. What should be music is a disaster.
For followers of Christ, reading our Bibles and prayer is our daily tuning. We could have a fruitful devotional time on Monday and be in a great place, but if we neglect it on Tuesday and Wednesday, we get to Thursday wondering why our words are the painful, ungentle scraping sounds of complaining or accusation or unkindness. We may not stop and take the time to worship the Lord and then wonder why certain tasks in the day that used to be easy feel so overwhelming and impossible. We meditate on things other than God's Word and His promises and then try to bless others: in vain, it becomes apparent, eventually.
If I can't expect to make beautiful music without first tuning my violin to the correct notes, why do we think we can go about our days and do the Lord's work without first tuning ourselves to Him? Re-aligning our hearts, readjusting our perspective.
We are each a player in the symphony that God is conducting. It would be silly if musicians insisted on trying to play their parts without playing attention to the conductor, or without fixing their strings. They understand that to be in harmony they must continually go back and tune, go back and re-tune, go back and re-tune again. So must we, and it is not a bad thing.
Getting out of tune is nothing to feel guilty about! My instrument exists in a world where heat and cold and moisture tug and pull at it. Should it or I beat ourselves up for getting out of tune? No. I simply ask for the correct note and make it right. Likewise, we are souls in a world where sin still exists and the things of this world are constantly yanking at us and trying to pull us down. We grow weary, we lose perspective, we get off track. It's not the end of the world -- you just have to get back in tune.
Such a little thing, yet so crucial. I may know all the right notes, but if I haven't changed the tone of my string, that knowledge doesn't do a thing. Just because you've read that verse before or you've heard that story or lesson a thousand times doesn't mean it's not useful to you.
You and I are earthen vessels that must make themselves ready for the service of our Maker. Musicians in a vast piece that only the Great Conductor understand in totality, this side of heaven. So don't neglect meeting God in a quiet place daily; reading His Word, praising His name, being reminded of heaven and of the work God is doing. Don't frustrate yourself by trying to play in this spiritual symphony with an untuned soul. Don't overestimate your instrument and and assume you can keep going and going without the strings pulling out of place. And don't be discouraged when you know you're out of tune -- just crack open your Bible and find the right notes to sing again.
It is the little, faithful actions that set the foundation for beautiful sounds that minister and bless us, those around us, and He who sits on the throne.