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DEVOTIONAL: Don’t Let Others Define You

The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.  -I Samuel 16:7b

Referring to one of his students in Munich, Germany, a teacher wrote: “He will never amount to anything.” In Port Huron, Michigan, a teacher belittled one of his seven-year-old students as “addled.” A teacher in England wrote a report labeling one of his students as “a naughty child.”

The student in Germany? Albert Einstein.

The lad in Michigan? Thomas Edison.

The boy in England? Winston Churchill.

The St. Thomas Boys’ Choir of Leipzig, Germany, was founded in 1212, almost 400 years before the English established their first permanent colony in America at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. The position of Thomascantor – director of the choir – has existed since 1518.  Amazingly, in 2012, the choir celebrated its 800th anniversary.

The sixteenth cantor had died in the summer of 1722. However, the city’s leaders were selective and wanted a native of Leipzig for the post. By 1722, the choir already had a 500-plus year history, so it was a high-profile position and honor. Therefore, the hiring team thought they could be picky.

They originally sought out Georg Philipp Telemann, but could not entice him to leave his post as music director in Hamburg. The Leipzig city council sought out a second candidate, but he turned them down too. Disappointed but realizing they had to hire somebody, they decided to settle for their third choice.

“Since we cannot get the best, then we will have to settle for average,” concluded councilman Abraham Christoph Plaz.

And who was that “mediocre” musician the town leaders reluctantly hired? Johann Sebastian Bach. It was as Thomascantor that Bach’s productivity and career really took off. He could produce a new cantata almost every week, and wrote about 100 such pieces in his first two years on the job. Today, Bach is known as one of the greatest composers in world history.

To show his devotion to God and complete reliance on divine power to create music, Bach would often begin his compositions with the letters JJ (Jesu juva; Latin for “Jesus, help”) or JH (Jesus Hilfe, German of the same phrase). He would then sign his initials, JSB, at the end of his works followed by other initials, SDG, for soli Deo gloria in Latin—for God’s glory alone.

If others have saddled you with negative labels such as “you’ll never amount to anything,” “befuddled,” “naughty,” or “mediocre,” realize you are in good company with the likes of Einstein, Edison, Churchill, or Bach. Today’s verse encourages us to remember: people look at outward appearances, but God sees the heart. He knows who you are, the real you. Like Bach, you can cry out “Jesus, help” and do all you can soli Deo gloria…for God’s glory alone. Following God’s guidance and filled with His power and direction, you will be amazed what will happen.

Go deeper/Hear the 5-Minute Podcast on Bach’s amazing life and work here.

More about Bach as cantor at St. Thomas Church here.


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