Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
-Romans 12:16 (NLT)
Today I’m thinking about harmony. For those that need the definition, harmony is most often used as a musical term where notes are played/sung that are different from the melody of a song. But rather than creating dissonance, they resonate with each other to create a fuller, richer sound.
I miss harmony. When I sing with others, I always choose the harmony lines, because I love creating that full sound- different notes, but moving together. We’re currently being cautious in our church gatherings, so even though we do offer spaced out in-person meetings in a large auditorium, we aren’t doing any singing there yet. We sing a few songs outside beforehand, which I am happy to be able to do, but we’re spread out so we can’t really hear the harmonies very well. One day those things will return, I am absolutely sure! But for now, harmony is rather rare.
So it is in life. Living in harmony with others seems increasingly rare, but it’s one of those challenging callings that is central for brothers and sisters in Christ as we follow Jesus. Most of the time when Paul was writing, he was writing to people inside the church, not outside. Once they learned to treat each other really well, then they’d be equipped to love the rest of the world too. So his simple instructions in the book of Romans to "live in harmony” here are specifically directed to God’s church.
Harmony in Paul's sort of way might be understood as “different types of individuals making space for each other and working toward the same ultimate goal.”
Our prophetic voice of critique has a place in the world. So does the Christian voice that freely notices what is good, beautiful, and valuable. Acknowledging how others add their unique contributions to God’s world is more important than ever. Like Paul said, we’ve got to be careful we don’t start thinking that we know it all!
Here’s one of my dirty little secrets. I have the ability to be pretty critical of people. It’s a real gift of mine, though I hide it well. And equally unsettling, if people know me at all, it’s not hard to notice and name my faults and deficiencies (to use a biblical reference, you might call them Legion, for they are many! Matt. 5:9). But when we look at each other in this moment of history when everyone's default is critique and comparison… the ability to live in harmony is tragically lost.
One of my practices lately has been to see and name the beauty that someone adds to the world. The way that they do that may be really different from me. But I am convinced that people following Jesus are indeed seeking to love God and love others as best they can. And sometimes, when we allow ourselves to look for that and name it, we find that there is newfound joy, partnership, and peace in our relationships. We don’t need to be the same in every way. We don’t need to have all the same specific priorities. But we can still recognize and work together toward the kingdom that Jesus invites us into. The more that I notice the beautiful notes that those around me add to the music, the more inspired I am to add my own.
Even the Church can be seen as a healthy model of unison and harmony. When we gather together (digitally or in person), we think about the same subject, share the same prayers, reflect on the same passages of scripture. But then we head out, breaking from unison and each using our unique gifts and skills to add beauty to the world, work for justice and compassion, pray boldly, and love our families and neighbors. We’ll each do it differently. Rather than seeing that as chaos, we can start to listen for the harmonies of God's people using their gifts in millions of unique ways to express God’s kingdom.
Of course, we shouldn’t expect perfect harmony. That is a fine goal, but the reality is that we’re all a little “pitchy” sometimes and we need to understand that. We all have days where the notes coming out of our mouths are a bit judgy. Our pride makes us less gracious with others, we are prone to complaining, or we just don't feel like singing at all. And sometimes, we'll just disagree and need to allow for that.
But Jesus will always be working in the midst of that, if we slow down enough to hear his voice and not push away. He’ll remind us, as Paul did, that we don’t know it all, and we are fortunate to have a community of different minds loving the same Jesus, practicing unity without demanding uniformity.
Harmony is beautiful. Everyone has something to offer to our world. Notice it and let it inspire you to keep composing alongside them.
Jesus, help me today to be more complimentary than critical as I look around. May it remind me of how broad and beautiful your kingdom is.