When I was seven years old, I wanted to take ukulele lessons.
A man had come to my Grade 2 class one day and played the ukulele for us. I was in love! I wanted to play the ukulele just like him, so I asked my father after supper to buy me a ukulele so I could take ukulele lessons.
My parents were not wealthy, but we were certainly comfortable. Along with a loving mother and an indulgent father, I had two doting grandmothers, one doting grandfather (the other had died a few years earlier), and an older sister who fought my battles behind the scenes (as I found out years later). I had been reasonably blessed in the brains and looks department as well, so with these natural gifts plus a bit of spoiling on the home front, I expected that my request to my father to buy me a ukulele would go as all my other requests had gone thus far in my life – just a simple “ask, and ye shall receive”.
But not this time.
Immediately after I’d put in what I’d assumed was a routine request to get what I wanted, my father fixed me with a stern look and said: “I’ll buy you a ukulele if you learn three songs on your harmonica by Friday”. A few weeks earlier, the Easter Bunny had brought me a harmonica, but other than for taking it out of its packaging and reading through the song sheet it had come wrapped in, I hadn’t bothered with it at all.
I was stunned by my father’s demand and also a little confused. What did learning three songs on the harmonica have to do with learning how to play the ukulele? This was the first time in my life I hadn’t gotten what I wanted just by asking for it. For seven years, all I had to do was make my wishes known, and I almost always got what I wanted, whether a toy or a treat or to stay up late to watch a movie. I’d never been told that I had to do something else first. This was entirely foreign territory to me.
I remember going to my room and fuming a bit, but I really did want to take ukulele lessons, so I dug out the harmonica from the bottom of my toy box and dutifully learned three songs over the next few days. I don’t remember what those songs were but I do remember playing them rather badly (music, sadly, not being one of my gifts). My father, however, was sufficiently convinced that I did in fact want what I said I wanted, and by Monday, as per his promise, I had my ukulele.
It’s been years since I’ve thought about the harmonica test. It came to mind today when I heard a pastor preaching about peace. He was telling people all they had to do is ask God for peace, and he’d give it to them. That’s when I heard my father telling me I’d have to learn three songs on the harmonica before I could get my ukulele.
Jesus is very clear that God wants to give us good things. He wants to do that for no other reason than that he loves us. He is always wanting to help us and bless us and show us the way home, and if we won’t let him do it (because we’re mad at him or don’t believe in him), he’ll find a way to get someone else to help us, bless us, and show us the way home. But when it comes to getting inner peace from God, there is a very definite formula that must be followed, and it’s not simply putting our hands together and saying “gimme”. That might have worked wonders when we were one year old and could only point and grunt, but it doesn’t work anymore. If we want that spiritual ukulele from God, we’re going to have to learn three songs on our spiritual harmonica.
Jesus tells us that God forgives us when we first forgive others and that God won’t forgive us if we don’t forgive others. He also reminds us that when we go to lay our gifts and requests at the altar, we first need to make our peace with whomever we have a disagreement, and then we can go to God, lay our offerings before him, and make our requests (in this case, for peace).
I’m not sure why the pastor I heard today skipped over the part about having to learn three songs first before getting our ukulele. He should know better. It’s a spiritual principle that we are to forgive others and make our peace before approaching God with our gifts and requests. We can talk to God anytime we want, but if we want his gift of peace, we had better be prepared to learn three songs on the harmonica first. Otherwise, we’re going to be left with no ukulele and a feeling that is far from peaceful as we wonder why God isn’t answering our prayers.
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any: that your Father also which is in Heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in Heaven forgive your trespasses.