It was a French ballad about a disenfranchised lover trapped in a monotonous relationship when Canadian singer Paul Anka first heard it in 1967. The lyrics, he thought, were worthless, but there was something captivating about that melody. Something he could not forget. Something that prompted him to purchase rights to the song and then file it away temporarily.
For a couple of years, Anka debated what to do with the newly acquired tune. That is, until he found himself having dinner with one Frank Sinatra, arguably among the most popular singers of the twentieth century. Over the meal, Sinatra shared that he had grown tired of show business and wanted to get out.
That night Paul went home and pondered Sinatra’s dilemma. Suddenly, he felt inspired to transform his beloved melody into a tribute to his friend’s long and storied career. Grabbing a sheet of paper, he wrote words that he thought would echo Frank’s thoughts.
Knowing Sinatra’s reputation as a bullheaded celebrity who persistently demanded his own way, the words flowed easily from Anka’s pen. Soon after, fans around the country listened enthusiastically as Sinatra crooned the famous words that Anka wrote that evening. After working through the stanzas of the song that contemplated the events of one’s life, Sinatra belted out the final phrase: “I did it my way.”
The song proved to be a smash hit. Anka’s perceptive writing interlaced seamlessly with Sinatra’s heartfelt emotion and smooth voice. Through music, the pop legend announced to the world that in spite of all the pressure of stardom, he had done it his way.
The arrogantly defiant message made for a wildly popular (and lucrative) song, but it introduces an important question. In the end, will we be glad we did it our way?
I’m afraid things don’t always turn out so good when we do it our way. It sure did not for the ancient Israelites when they attempted it.
Their moment of defiance took place when the Philistines captured their beloved Ark of the Covenant. Knowing the importance of this gold-plated box, the Philistines reveled in celebration. However, their festivities terminated abruptly when God afflicted them with a plague. Although many Bible translators discreetly call the results of this plague “tumors,” they were, in fact, hemorrhoids.
The Philistines, as we would expect, quickly lost interest in the stolen treasure. I suspect their lack of interest was due to their inability to sit or stand without wincing in pain. They realized that their discomfort was a result of their possession of the ark, so they wasted no time in sending it back to Israel, where it stayed in Kirjath-jearim for twenty years.
When David became king, he decided to bring the ark to Jerusalem. Although this was a grand idea, he failed miserably. Ignoring God’s instructions for transporting the ark, he did it his way. God had commanded that the Levites carry the ark, but David set it on a cart and commissioned two oxen to pull it. When the oxen stumbled and Uzza helpfully reached out to stabilize the ark, God instantly struck him dead.
David was both frightened and furious. He frantically cried out, “How can I bring the ark of God to me?” (I Chronicles 13:12). Three months later, he answered his own question. Apparently he went home and read his Bible, because he announced that no one except the Levites were to carry the ark. He then organized a massive parade in which the Levites served as the grand marshals, proudly carrying the ark to its new home. This time, David succeeded.
It’s a shame that David neglected to consider God’s instructions the first time. Because of his carelessness, a man died—possibly leaving behind a grieving mother, wife, and young children.
David found out that it does not pay to “do it my way.” It did not work for him and it will not work for us. We are much better off to do it God’s way. If we refuse, well, we will just have to face the consequences. With all due respect to Frank Sinatra, I think I’ll do it God’s way.
This article appeared in the Bremen Enquirer in my column Connections: Relating the Bible to Everyday Life on Thursday, February 4, 2016.