The Staple Singers are one of my favorite groups.
They hit it big in the late 60’s at Stax Records and recorded several of their songs at the historic Muscle Shoals studios. Roebuck “Pops” Staples began singing with the family at his brother’s church in Chicago. He kept their singing tight and professional. They sang for a long time before they hit it big. The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section were with them on their most popular recordings. Two of their covers- Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” and The Band’s “The Weight” have been very popular.
I know you’re thinking “what does Clay know about music?” Truthfully very little. Jason Waggoner, a Seminary Music Adjunct Professor, is one of my favorite musicians. My favorites are The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Allman Brothers, etc. as you well might expect from a person who was a teenager at the beginning of the 60’s. I do love Rock and Roll and yet I do love Jazz, especially New Orleans Jazz.
I’ve listened to Mavis Staples sing “I’ll Take You There” maybe a thousand times. I love that song. It really will take you there. There are several things I want to tell you about that song.
I NEVER NOTICED that she called on each one of the musicians in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section to play individually. I missed it. It’s about 1/3’ of the way thru the song and I think by that time I’m so overwhelmed at the wonderful opening and Mavis’ reverie. In reading an article about the song I actually went to my I-Tunes and played the song, listening to it because I couldn’t believe the author was right. How could that be? How could I have missed something as obvious as that?
APPLICATION: You may have thought this was simply about The Staple Singers. It isn’t and although I love their music the Lord began working on me. I wish that I was a better learner. I want to be a better learner. Here goes:
1. We minister in obscurity most of our life. The Staple Singers (their last name is actually Staples) were relatively unknown until the late 60’s but they had already been singing nearly 20 years when their 15 minutes of fame came along. They didn’t sing to get famous-although I’m sure they thought about. I’m sure they sang on stage with very famous people. The Rolling Stones loved their music and just about everything about Muscle Shoals Studios. They sang because that is what they did. They were good at it, they knew and they kept doing it.
2. We are called men and women of God. They sang because that’s who they were. You and I minister because that is what God-GOD!- called us to do. When you face uncertain days and hard times REMEMBER your calling-look at your HOLE CARD. Why are you doing this? Certainly not to make people happy-we are doing this because as Paul noted we must tell everyone about Jesus. If you are doing what you are doing without a call and Jesus isn’t the focus of your life-ministry is going to be a hard slog.
3. Check how you think about the Gospel. Some after preaching to others for 20, 30, 40 years don’t listen to their preaching. It become perfunctory, old hat, easy and they forget that when they stand to preach, when they go to minister, they are standing together with the Lord being HIS hands and feet and voice. Ministry is a sacred thing and that includes feeding the hungry, preaching to the masses, clothing the homeless, and helping the helpless. Oh it also includes loving the unlovely. Oh yes you might say that I’ve not been called, I’m just a layperson. If you are part of the Body of Christ you have been called. Jesus brought you to the ministry. I’ve pastored homeless missions, prisons, current co-pastor a drug rehab church ministry here in New Orleans and I’ve been doing this since 1976. I have been called as a preacher to the masses and as best as I can-often times failing-I’ve done my best everywhere I speak. I’m not erudite, I don’t have the best speaking voice and generally I dress poorly and have to be reminded to speak up. That reminds me of one of Dr Landrum Leavell’s sayings: STAND UP, SPEAK UP, SIT DOWN! But you and I must tenaciously wrest everyone we meet from the darkness. It’s is an awful thing for a person to die not knowing Jesus.
4. Don’t be surprised when you discover a new truth. Just like me listening to I’ll Take You There all those times and never noticed what turned out to be a big thing on the recording. Yes I knew the song and in my mind could catch Mavis’ tune and it would take me there-relax, let go, don’t worry, etc. You nor I know everything, even when we have committed it to memory and worked with a Bible Book for 20 and more years we don’t know it all. Only the Trinity is eternal. Jesus knows everything and is God’s everything. My thinking is that I look for every opportunity for the Lord to teach me, especially when I am preaching or teaching. The Holy Spirit will convict us of new truth that we have missed all of our life. Jesus loves us and will use us as much as we will let Him.
5. Don’t quit-keep moving forward. Yes each one of us get discouraged by our sin. We certainly are sinful creatures. If you feel you are without sin dear brother or sister, get with Jesus and ask HIM over the next 7 days to point out your sin. If you last 24 hours without going to your knees I would be surprised. The Staple Singers were never an “A-List” group and yet they made a very significant contribution in Rock Music. They were there right at the beginning. They influenced a whole generation of British singers some of whom are still “A-List”. Mavis today is one of the significant Gospel Music voices and her collaboration with the Band in the 70’s is legendary. This side of heaven few will know what you and I are doing and I assure you that is okay because the Lord knows. I can’t remember all of the churches I’ve preached in where one or two deacons or a couple of ladies have been the strength in that Body of Christ. My word to you no matter how bad it gets or how bad it is don’t quit. Always keep short accounts with Jesus about your sin. Now is always the right time to repent.
I meant to write a lot more than this and may revisit this one day but for now I think I’ve gotten everything I was thinking about the Staple Singers out. Jesus is Lord. We need each other. Don’t hold in your hurt, find someone to talk about it with. Jesus loves you.