Musicians often fall into two categories. There are the conservatory-trained musicians who perform with sheet music in front of them and then there are those who rely more on musical memory and improvisation and a simple lead sheet with cues to guide them.

Playing by ear means you rely more on what you hear happening with other players and fit in with what sounds good. Playing by ear requires great attentiveness to the other and a willingness to stretch what you know into new expressions.

Following Jesus is more like being a jazz player feeling their way and creating in the moment rather than sticking strictly to a script that includes every note and an expectation that you will not vary.

When the apostle Paul was mentoring Timothy in his ministry, he had these words of wisdom.

2 Timothy 4:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction...
But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

In other words, get ready. Prepare yourself for planned and unplanned encounters. You have a ministry and need to maximize each opportunity to let God reach others through you. This is not a job that you go to and leave at quitting time. This is an on-call vocation where you will always be ready to do what you’ve been made for.

Part of your life as a follower of Jesus will include times of improv. Jesus sent out disciples to be messengers of the Kingdom and told them to travel light. They were not to bring an extra coat or purse. They simply were told to take the message and go improvise in the towns they would visit.

If they would end up in trouble, Jesus had simple instructions.

Luke 12:
11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

Like a prompter feeding lines to an actor, the Holy Spirit wants to teach us how to improvise by listening to cues and then responding.