Billy Joel Taught Me How To Pray

A few years ago with the blurry eyes of an early morning I sat down in front of my television with a bowl of cereal in my hand. It was just another day for me and I was just about to go to work. I didn’t expect to have a spiritual revelation but I guess you could say that I was pretty hungry spiritually. By that I mean, I was feeling a little stale in my life and was keeping my antenna up, hoping to find something fresh in my spiritual walk.

Now I am not the world’s biggest Billy Joel fan. I mean, sure, who doesn’t like a little ‘Piano Man’ or ‘Uptown Girl’ on occasion but I certainly would not consider myself an expert on the man or his music. However, as I was surfing the channels that early morning, Billy Joel sitting at a piano being interviewed by James Lipton (the real one, not Will Ferrell) caught my eye. Lipton asked Joel about his songwriting practices. Did he have a routine? Did certain songs just come to him? Did he write the music first or the lyrics first?

Billy Joel’s reply was transformative for me. He said that every day when he wakes up he goes down to his studio and for one hour will sit at his piano. He begins the hour by playing scales, familiar tunes, anything that pops into his head really. Sometimes the hour at the piano seems like 6 hours as inspiration just will not come and it’s all he can do to make himself sit there rehashing old ideas. At other times however something will happen while he waits before his instrument of choice. Inspiration hits and ideas begin to flow, musical ideas that he didn’t even know were there begin to pour out of him. Some days that early hour of drudgery will turn into 3 or 4 hours of the most amazing musical delight and the hours will pass like minutes.

Now this is what he said that changed me. He said, “and if I hadn’t been there I would have missed it”.

Those words grabbed my heart and it was as if a gentle inaudible voice spoke to me and said, “that’s prayer”. How many times have I missed the good and delightful gifts of a gracious God because I didn’t show up? How many times have I missed it because I wasn’t there? There are days that prayer, waiting for God, seems like such a worn out drudgery. It’s hard work to wait. It’s difficult to sit in silence and do nothing except listen. However, I believe most of us are missing it daily. I include myself in that category. In my own life, spiritually, to some extent I have felt the staleness enter back in. I have felt it in my church. I feel it in my friends. I feel it in me.

Bilbo Baggin’s says it best in Tolkien’s ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’: “I know I don’t look it, but I’m beginning to feel it in my heart. I feel… thin. Sort of stretched, like… butter scraped over too much bread.”

If you are like me then it’s time to show up again. It’s time to call the staleness what it is and begin the hard task of waiting in the presence of One higher than I. What Billy Joel said about songwriting is also true of the narrow path of prayer, “and if I hadn’t been there I would have missed it”. I’d like to thank Billy Joel someday, a faithful Athiest, for teaching me how to find God. So the question of the day is this… “Are you going to be there or are you going to miss it?”

Published by

Rick Lee James

Rick Lee James worship leader, a singer and songwriter, preacher, author, and Podcast host with over 15 years of experience in ministry. As host of the Voices In My Head Podcast Rick has worked with Jason Gray, Andrew Peterson, Sara Groves, Paul Baloche, All Sons and Daughters, Michael Card, Brian Zahnd, Tripp York, Brett Mccracken, Ian Morgan Cron, Michael Card, Walter Brueggemann and many more. In 2013 Rick released his first Live album of original songs called, Basement Psalms Live. In 2014 Rick released a book to accompany the album called, Out of the Depths: A Songwriter’s Journey Through the Psalms. The book has since been used as a textbook by National Praise and Worship Institute’s Psalms survey course at Trevecca Nazarene University. Rick also was a contributing writer for the book, Renovating Holiness, edited by Jay Thomas Jay Oord and Joshua Broward. Rick has also been a contributing writer for Worship Leader Magazine and has had a number of songs published by Lifeway Worship. Rick’s new album, ‘Hymns, Prayers, and Invitations’ will release on March 17th, 2016 (St. Patrick’s Day). All songs on the record are being published through Lifeway Worship and are written, co-written, or arranged by Rick.