At the bottom of many of his musical manuscripts, the great organist and composer Johann Sebastian Bach often wrote the letters “INDNJC.” Those letters stood for “In Nomine Domini Nostri Jesu Christi” — in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.1
INDNJC. They did not appear on Bach’s manuscripts by accident or without purpose. Johann Sebastian Bach put those letters there for a reason. Considered a genius in the field of music, Bach recognized the one true Genius. Known for his extraordinary talent, Bach realized the source of all human talent. Praised for his musical gifts, Bach was aware of the primary giver of all gifts. He could affirm with the New Testament writer James that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.”2 So at the bottom of his manuscripts he wrote INDNJC.
Most of us will never compose a Bach-like musical manuscript (or any type of musical manuscript for that matter). But each day of our lives we do compose “living” manuscripts of sorts. Each day we have opportunities to use God-given time, talents, skills, and gifts as we write the notes which collectively compose the songs that others “hear” when they listen to us.
Each day we make music with our lives — composing and performing the measures, verses, and stanzas which combine to form a “living symphony” of who we are and what we are about.
Colossians 3:12-17 is one of several scriptural passages which reminds us of the importance of praising God through music. I especially like verse 16 which declares: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly — and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Did you notice the musical emphasis? “Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Here is biblical evidence that from early on the church was a singing church, singing hymns and songs of praise and thanksgiving to God with their voices. Thanking God with their singing and voices was not the only way members of the early church were instructed to worship and praise God. Christians were also taught to worship and praise God with their entire lives. As the next verse (Colossians 3:17) proclaims: “And whatever you do — in word or deed — do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus — giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
We might paraphrase Colossians 3:16-17 as follows:
Worship and give thanks to God through the singing of hymns and songs with your voices — yes! But don’t stop there — go on and worship God through the living of your lives. Don’t just make music for God with your songs and voices. Dare to make some music for God with your whole life as well. Whatever you do — in word, deed, or attitude — do everything INDNJC. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Whatever you do — wherever you are — remember that you are composing a “life manuscript,” a living symphony of sorts. And remember as you compose each note and play or sing each verse, that God calls upon us to do it INDNJC. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are to make music with our lives. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are to live and give thanks.
All of us are called upon by God to make the kind of music with our lives that will make a difference in our world.
We are composers and performers of the music called life, you and I. What kind of music are we composing and performing? What messages are our “symphonies of life” conveying? Are we able — at the end of each day’s life manuscript — to write INDNJC?
Robert Fulghum tells a story about making music with your life:
The big deal of my summer was a week in Weiser, Idaho. Maybe that’s hard to believe. Because if you’ve ever looked at an Idaho map, you know Weiser is nowhere. But if you play the fiddle, Weiser, Idaho is the center of the universe. The Grand National Old Time Fiddlers’ contest is there the last week in June. And since I’ve fiddled around some in my time, I went.
Four thousand people live there in normal times. Five thousand more come out of the bushes and trees and hills for the contest. The town stays open around the clock with fiddling in the streets, dancing at the VFW hall, fried chicken in the Elks Lodge, and free camping at the rodeo grounds.
People from all over show up — fiddlers from Pottsboro, Texas; Sepulpa, Oklahoma; Thief River Falls, Minnesota; Caldwell, Kansas; Three Forks, Montana; and just about every other little crossroads town you care to mention. And even Japan!
It used to be that the festival was populated by country folks — pretty straight types — short hair, church on Sunday, women in their place, and all that. Then the long-haired hippie freaks began to show up. The trouble was that the freaks could fiddle to beat [the band]. And that’s all there was to it.
So, the town turned over the junior high school and its grounds to the freaks. The contest judges were put in an isolated room where they could only hear the music. Couldn’t see what people looked like or what their names were — just the fiddling. As one old gentleman put it, “Son, I don’t care if you’re stark nekkid and wear a bone in your nose. If you kin fiddle, you’re all right with me. It’s the music we make that counts.”3
I like the story which Fulghum tells because of the universal truth it conveys: “It’s the music we make that counts.”
Whether we are talented composers or bonafide musicians; Bach-like organists or Weiser, Idaho fiddlers; whether we be teachers, preachers, or homemakers; business women, business men, or college students; whether we be in school, out of school or just hoping to get through school; whether we be young or old, rich or poor, or somewhere in between these chronological and financial polarities; whoever we are — whatever we are — even whenever we are: “It’s the music we make that counts!”
We really are composers and performers of the music called life, you and I. For just a few moments, consider with me several principles of composition which we need to remember if the music we make with our lives is to bring honor and glory to God. Consider with me some composition principles which — if followed — would make it more likely that at the bottom of each of our “life’s manuscripts” we could write INDNJC.
The first principle I would mention is this: remember the Audience for whom you are ultimately composing and performing. Sure, you compose “life songs” for the sake of your family. Certainly, you produce certain melodies and notes from your friends. No doubt some of the music you make with your life is composed and performed for your job, your school, your community, your church. But ultimately (with the life you live) you are composing and performing a series of “living symphonies” for God.
God is your ultimate Audience. As your Creator, He is the One who gives you talent. He is the One who gives you life. Shouldn’t He be the One we ultimately “keep in mind” and “perform for” as we compose and make music with our lives?
What kind of music are you currently making with your life? To what audiences are you “playing” and devoting most of your time? What crowds are you trying to please? Whose applause are you attempting to obtain? Is God the Divine Audience on your concert tour as you journey from stage to stage? How often do you dedicate one of your life songs or one of your performances to God?
Remember the Audience for Whom you are ultimately composing and performing — that’s one principle of composition to keep in mind as you engage in the process of making music with your life.
Consider a second principle of composition: Never forget the basics.
Johann Sebastian Bach composed and played some very involved, very complex music works. Regardless of how complex Bach made his masterful, beautiful compositions, he — like other master composers — never forgot the importance of some basics: basics like pitch and tempo, dynamics and harmony.
Even in the most sophisticated musical compositions, paying attention to basics is still important. As you compose and make music with your life, do you remember the basics?
Do you recognize, for instance, the importance of pitch? A musician sometimes uses a little instrument called a “pitch pipe” to assist in singing or playing in the right key. When our choir sings an anthem a cappella — without instrumental accompaniment — our minister of music sometimes blows a single note on a pitch pipe so that the choir will start singing in the right key. Good conductors and good choirs know the importance of pitch.
When my wife was a member of the A Cappella Choir at Georgetown College, there was a young man in that choir who had “perfect pitch.” He did not need a pitch pipe. The conductor could say “sing a B flat” and he could sing a perfectly pitched B flat. The conductor could say “sing an F sharp” and he could sing an F sharp. As long as that young man was in the choir, the conductor did not need a pitch pipe — he had a “perfectly pitched human pitch pipe” right in his tenor section.
Most of us are not that gifted or fortunate, either in making music or in living life. Most of us do not have perfect pitch. We do tend to get “off key” at times. We are prone to get a little sharp (with others) every now and then. We do (because of weariness, laziness, or both) fail to give our best efforts and consequently go a bit flat every once in a while.
As composers and performers in the symphonies of life, we must continually seek to adhere to the basic principle of pitch. We must constantly try to make music that is “on key.” We must keep going back to the basic of “staying in tune” with our world, with our families and friends, with ourselves, and with God.
Pitch is important as we make music with our lives. But there are some other basics to remember as well: tempo, for instance.
At what speed will you perform the music you make with your life? Master musical composers know that tempo can “make or break” the performance of a musical work. If certain songs are played or sung too allegro or too presto (too fast), then the song will lose its desired effect. If certain compositions are performed too largo, too slowly, then the meaning of the music will be lost.
Good musical composers know that some songs or movements should be fast-paced and up-tempo while other compositions are intended to be performed at a calmer, slower pace.
Good composers of living symphonies — those people who make quality music with their lives — know the same thing. Sometimes fast-paced “give-it-all-you’ve-got-for-this-moment” tempos are appropriate and called for. But sometimes slower-paced tempos are needed too. Balance seems to be an important key as far as determining the tempo of the music we make with our lives.
What about the tempo of the music which you are making with your life at present? Is your tempo so fast that you are missing a lot of “what’s really important in life” as you rush through life? Are you so laid-back and slow-paced about things that much of the music which you have in you will never be played and expressed?
As you think about being able to write INDNJC on the bottom of your life manuscripts, think about the basics of tempo, time, and pace. It just might make a difference in the music you make with your life.
A third basic has to do with dynamics: whether the music is loud, soft, or somewhere in between.
Good composers and musicians often vary the dynamics in a song or symphony for effect. Some sections of musical scores call for loud, forte playing. Other sections of the same score may require performance at a quiet, pianissimo level. A balance of loudness and softness — a contrast in volume and dynamics — is an important basic factor in the composition and performance of good music.
So it it also in the composition and performance of the symphonies of human life. There are those occasions when a forte or even a double forte is called for: times for loud cheering and boisterous laughter; times for shouting and screaming.
Yet there are also those occasions in life when quieter moments are needed. Pianissimo times. More peaceful, “be-still-for-a-moment” times. Times when we think, reflect, listen, and pray.
And wise is the person who knows when to turn down or turn up the volume in his or her life. Being able to adjust the “dynamics” level goes a long way in determining what kind of music we will make.
There is one other “basic” that we need to always keep in mind regarding the composition and performance of good music: the importance of harmony. How dull and blase even the music of the most gifted composers would be without harmony! Indeed, the genius of many of the great composers was their ability to use harmony — to blend several different pitches or sounds together simultaneously to produce a new sound.
Can you imagine how much less most of us would enjoy music if there were no harmony? What if every singer in every choir was exactly alike and always sang the same note? What if every key on a piano always played the same pitch? What if every key or pedal on an organ always produced the same sound?
You don’t have to be very musically inclined to realize the importance of harmony in the composition and performance of good music. I like to think of harmony like this: “Harmony is when two or more different sounds combine to produce something pleasing together that they could not produce apart.”
God the Master-Composer not only calls upon us humans to make music with our lives as individuals. The “Master-Composer-God” also calls upon us humans to make music by harmonizing with the lives of others. Indeed, God often calls upon two or more persons to combine their individual resources and talents to produce and perform something good together which they could never produce or perform apart.
That’s harmony. That’s recognizing the worth of and our need for other people. That’s realizing that even the best soloists still do not form the entire orchestra.
“When two or more persons combine their individual resources and talents to produce and perform something good together which they could never produce or perform apart” — yes, that is harmony. That is what the church is called to do and to be. Harmony with others — that is what God had in mind when He called His people to make music with their lives INDNJC style.
Before leaving our consideration of harmony, let me tell you the rest of the story about Robert Fulghum and those Weiser, Idaho fiddlers. You will recall that Fulghum recounted how all those different kinds of people — who would normally not associate with each other — descended upon Weiser for that fiddling contest. And I know you will recall how on that occasion, one old gentleman said to Robert Fulghum: “Son, I don’t care if you’re stark nekkid and wear a bone in your nose. If you kin fiddle, you’re all right with me. It’s the music we make that counts.”
Now hear the rest of Robert Fulghum’s story about that Grand National Old Time Fiddler’s Contest. Listen carefully for it is really a story about harmony. Fulghum writes:
“So I was standing there in the middle of the night in the moonlight in Weiser, Idaho, with about a thousand other people who were picking and singing and fiddling together — some with bald heads, some with hair to their knees … some with beads, some with Archie Bunker T-shirts, some eighteen and some eighty … and the music rising like incense into the night … I was standing there, and this policeman — a real honest-to-[goodness] Weiser policeman who is standing next to me and picking a banjo (really, I swear it) — says to me, ‘Sometimes the world seems like a fine place, don’t it?'”
“Oh, yes, and yet again, yes. Yes indeed. Pick it, brother, let the music roll on….”4
Could it be that you and I who are gathered in church this morning could learn something about harmony from those Weiser, Idaho fiddlers? Could it be that “Weiser-style-harmony” might not be all that different from God’s style of harmony?
It’s the music we make with our lives that counts. Pick and play that music together, brothers and sisters. Let the harmonious music roll on.
Never forget the basics — pitch, tempo, dynamics, and harmony — as we engage in the process of making music with our lives; living symphonies given by us with INDNJC at the end of every performance.
Remember the Audience for Whom you are ultimately composing and performing. And remember some of the basics like pitch, tempo, dynamics, and harmony as you make music with your lives.
There is one other principle needed as we attempt to make music with our lives which will bring honor and glory to God: we need to remember that God is a “Powerful, Master-Composer” Who is always with us.
There are days when the melody of our “life songs” is clear. Days when at least most of the notes we produce are on pitch. Days when our relationships with others (family, friends, business associates, and peers) are blended interactions of harmony.
But there are also days when our “life songs” are off-key. Days when our “living symphonies’ don’t sing with much life. Days when dissonance seems to prevail over harmony. Days when it is difficult for us to hear — much less for us to try to play — the melodies of God, the Master-Composer.
During those days when our “life songs” seem off, we need to remember that God is still with us.
We need to remember that God is a master composer: One who is able to utilize melodies, counter-melodies, and “variations on a theme” to keep the music in our lives playing; One who is capable of bringing harmony and life out of dissonance and dirges; One who promises that — for those who recognize and follow Him as their personal Master Conductor — nothing (dissonance, dirges, off-key or “out of tune” days notwithstanding) can now or ever separate us from His everlasting song of love.
INDNJC. Those are good letters to remember as we compose and perform music. Those are good letters to remember as we think about and live life.
“In Nomine Domini Nostri Jesu Christi.” In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. INDNJC. Amen.
1. B. J. Connor, Daily Guideposts, 1989, ed. (Carmel, NY: Guideposts Associates, Inc., 1988), p. 69.
2. James 1:17.
3. Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts On Common Things (New York: Villard Books, 1989), pp. 156-157. The words in brackets are mine.
4. Ibid., pp. 157-158.

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