Leonard Bernstein was an American composer, conductor, author, lecturer, and pianist. Longtime director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra his compositions ranged from popular movie scores to symphonies, chamber works, and solo performances. A reporter once asked Mr. Bernstein what actually was the hardest instrument to play in a symphony orchestra. He reckoned if anyone knew the answer to this question Leonard Bernstein would. Without hesitation Mr. Bernstein answered, " “Second fiddle! Without a doubt. I can get any number to play first violin, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm is a real problem. Of course, second French horn or second flute would be similar. And yet, if no one plays second fiddle, we have no harmony.” It was an accurate and honest musical observation. More profoundly, it is descriptive of human nature. Most of us deplore being second.
Self-absorption characterizes our species in many ways. Cut to the chase and know that the ego thing is a consistent trip wire in human relationships. The core of many personal dysfunctions is the natural preference for self that irritates and bruises the others around us. it's sad to admit, but even many professing Christians seem to have skipped over the first step of being Christ's disciples. You know, when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself..." (Luke 9:23, ESV). Self-denial, humility, submission, a preference for others, and the meaning of community have somehow slipped to the edges of what binds us. What is more, a sum phoneo of prayer isn't possible without people being willing to sit in the second seat. What Bernstein said about an orchestra is true about prayer: when we're all trying to occupy the first spot, there's no harmony.
Several realities complicate our praying in sum phoneo. Allow me to vent---
1. There is a center to the universe. None of us is it.
The opening verse of the Bible establishes the one who sits in first chair in all
things. Moses wrote it this way---"In the beginning God..." (Genesis 1:1, ESV).
Our prayers place us before the Throne. He is central. He fearfully and
wonderfully created us, loves us more than we can know, redeemed us in the
atoning death of his Son, and has chosen to live in us. But, we are not central.
He is, in all things. So, when we pray, sum phoneo can only happen when we're
in our rightful place before him. At least the second chair.
2. Others should always be elevated over self in our Christian life.
Most of us won't compete with God in our personal order of things. But, we
will place our own interests above others. Scripture, however, emphasizes the
priority of others in the Christian experience. Paul expressed it clearly when he
wrote, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count
others more significant than yourselves" (Philippians 2:3, ESV). When we pray,
our place may be more the third, fourth, or somewhere down the line seat. This
is a hard one. Our burdens in prayer are difficult to second to the others
around us. But, it is God's expectation that we assume a humble place in the
sum phoneo of prayer.
3. Pridefullness brings dissonance to our prayer experience.
Jesus said it like this, quite clearly: "And when you pray, you must not be like
the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the
street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have
received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door
and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will
reward you." (Matthew 6:5-6, ESV). Getting attention isn't the deal in prayer.
4. Humility in prayer is honored by God.
Jesus told a parable about two men who prayed. Luke recorded it this
way---"“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other
a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank
you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like
this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax
collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat
his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went
down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts
himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted”
(Luke 18:9-14, ESV). God promises to exalt the humble man. Playing second
fiddle is a gateway to sum phoneo praying.
5. Second fiddle is what Jesus expected of his disciples.
Jesus talked to the Twelve and his followers about their place in God's
Kingdom. He often reminded them of the role of servant, and their pursuit of
greatness. in one place Mark recorded, "And he sat down and called the twelve.
And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant
of all" (Mark 9:35, ESV). He was constantly reminding them that first wasn't
their goal or aim. Playing second fiddle, even as a metaphor, was his direction
Right now Christian influence is low and seemingly declining. Is it partially because we've forgotten the grace of sum phoneo praying, being in agreement, praying in sync? Is that because we all have to be right, occupying first chair?
In sync praying can happen when all of us learn to play a little second fiddle.