May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19.14)
He Knows What’s Up
The past few days, Walt’s endured relentless replay of “Work on Me,” by Tonex (pronounced “Tow-Nay”) & The Peculiar People—so-named for 1 Peter 2.9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (KJV) Before getting into the song, it’s useful to provide some background on Tonex (born Anthony Charles Williams II), as his life speaks to his music. After growing up as a Pentecostal pastor’s son and church musician, he burst on the scene with no qualms about pushing gospel’s boundaries, bypassing convention to reach new audiences, and defying stereotypes about how gospel singers look and behave. For the first time, the genre had an authentic “bad boy.” Some questioned his methods, but none disputed his calling or commitment. People everywhere testified that his music changed their lives. He sold millions of CD’s and was honored with every conceivable award. Then, in 2009, on a nationally televised Christian talk show, he came out. The crowds fled. The awards stopped. Preachers labeled him an unholy disgrace.
Tonex secluded himself, sparking rumors of what’s to become of him. We who’ve dealt with similar rejection know what’s next will be even more amazing. To date, he’s the only high-profile male gospel star to embrace his same-sex orientation—though (trust me) the field overflows with men who would follow suit if they had his courage. Still, faith that God has extraordinary plans for Tonex rises less from his bravery than his music. The chorus of “Work on Me” is a prime indicator of where his head’s at and his heart lies. As one listens to it, the music—an inspired restyling of classic call-and-response gospel set to a pop-friendly stride—merges with the spirit in its lyrics: “You know what’s up. So fix me up. Please Lord, just work on me. You know my faults, my secret thoughts. Please Lord, just work on me.” This is worthy of David at his finest, a profoundly personal prayer in psalm. The lyric’s conscious craving coupled with the composition’s driving desire reveal sincere longing to honor God without compromise. Since He knows what’s up, He can fix us up. And nothing less than His pleasure with us will satisfy. As the first verse says, “Lord work on my life, so I’ll be pleasing in Your sight. You know what’s up.” The same message and emotions pierce Psalm 19.14: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Two Distinct Channels
Words and meditation mirror lyrics and music in how they work. They’re two distinct channels that converge in unified expression. Like lyrics and music, words from our lips have no power unless they’re tightly anchored to meditation in our hearts. Fully grasping this requires a little homework to dig out the roots of “meditation,” because modern concepts of its meaning deviate significantly from its origins. Meditation is more than inwardly articulated thought or attentive silence. At best, these notions focus on meditation’s means without remotely defining its ends. Conscious inner thinking is cogitation—knowing thought—while silence in search of God is contemplation, which literally means “to make space for the divine.” Both are valuable, but neither focuses on meditation’s purpose. If meditation is something other than cogitation and contemplation, then what is it? The family resemblance to “medication” and “mediation” provides our best clue. “To meditate” in the truest original sense means “to avail oneself to a healer.”
We seek God’s help with our outbound words and inbound meditation because one can’t succeed absent the other. Without conscious effort to please Him in what we say, our hearts can’t instinctively welcome His healing. On the other side, until we give God free rein to work on us, His power can’t work through us. Awareness we’re being healed even as we speak changes our conversation. Peace, confidence, and love gained in meditation emerge in words of peace, confidence, and love. In this way, talking and knowing become very much like lyrics and music. What can’t be put in words is felt in our composition. This is what David strives for—to be like the rest of the Nature, which automatically yields to the Creator’s touch and rejoices for His pleasure. He announces this right away: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.” (v1-3) Healing that transpires in word and meditation transcends spoken language and articulate logic.
Contemporary translations of 1 Peter 2.9 hang very closely to the King James Version except for one phrase—“peculiar people.” Obviously scurrying from an adjective with unflattering connotations, they opt for “a people belonging to God” (NIV), “a people for God’s own possession” (NASB), “His own special people” (NKJV), etc., which suggests we’re His particular people. While the scholars get A’s for accuracy, I still think they fail by implying we’re some kind of in-crowd of spiritual elites. If anything, we’re outsiders. Mindful effort and heartfelt craving to please God in word and meditation make us peculiar. Knowing they converge as the Great Physician works on us enables us to speak, love, and live freely. And freedom so great is very peculiar.
Concerns about what we can’t understand or why we’re not understood hold no value for us. They invite us to speak defensively or timidly, neither of which pleases God, and they crowd our hearts with emotions that impede our healing. As peculiar people, we sing David’s song: “Let my lips and heart please You, my Rock and my Redeemer.” We sing Tonex’s song: “You know what’s up. So fix me up.” When we do this, we make good on the charge Peter affixes to our peculiarity: “That you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (NIV) Darkness to light—healing meditation. Declaring praise—healing words. It pleases God to work on us so He can work through us.
As we speak healing words, meditation opens our hearts to God’s healing. As meditation yields to God’s healing, we speak healing words. It pleases Him to work on us so He can work through us.
Postscript: Work on Me
Some of you may have caught this yesterday, when I posted it on Facebook. If you missed it—or if, like me, you can’t get enough of this song—here’s Tonex & The Peculiar People: “Work on Me.”