Little Drummer Boy: How Our Imperfect Efforts Please God

It’s now the season that Christmas music has shifted onto the scene.  And I may try to fight the onslaught of Christmas carols, at least for a little bit.  But this morning on my way to work, I played my two favorite versions of the traditional carol “Little Drummer Boy”.  The versions are linked below, as well as my reasoning behind why these particular versions are my favorite, but that’s not the point of my writing today.  

I started listening to the lyrics.  The song literally is 11 simple sentences and 81 words- that is, outside of the multiple “pa rum pa pump um”s.  As I was listening to Jennifer Nettles’ version, I started thinking between the words, and imagining the story unfolding, unfolding in more than 81 words.  I can’t even type a short text….so I never would be able to limit a story that much.

Here is the Kala version of the story!  

I’m going to name him Ben.  It just seems to fit. And I imagine him around ten years old. Picture little Ben outside at dusk, running around with his drum one last time before bed.  It’s his favorite pastime. He’s outside, of course, because his mother couldn’t handle the relentless banging in the house. “Why did I let him pick such a loud instrument?” she asks herself.  She shakes her head, but still smiles. Ben obviously loves playing that drum, and the joy on his face is worth a few extra decibels.

All of the sudden, Ben’s father runs up the road.  He is out of breath, looking frantic. He throws his shepherds hook by the door and yells for Ben.

“Ben! Ben!  Hurry up! Come with me!”

Ben’s mom sticks her head out the door and asks what the ruckus is about.  It is almost bedtime, after all.

“Honey….you’re never going to believe it.  I was just minding my own business, and a huge angel appeared.  He told me and the guys that a baby king was just born nearby. I have to go check this out. If it’s for real, I can’t miss this.  Nothing like this ever happens to me. Come on, Ben. You’re going with me!”

Ben asks if he can take his drum with him, and dad agrees.  He chooses not to pick that fight-something else is more urgent.

As they race down the road, Ben’s growing legs struggle to keep up.  When they catch up to the other shepherds, Ben notices that they are all as excited as his dad.  His interest is piqued.

Soon, they come to a little cave, where animals are normally kept.  Ben is confused. They may be a simple family, but even they have a nicer place to live than this.  A king is being born here? His dad assures him it’s the place.

“See the giant star?  The angel told me to follow it.”

They slowly enter the cave.  Immediately, they sense something bigger than themselves, something bigger than this cave, something bigger than even the giant star outside.  Ben pushes closer, careful not to make noise and wake up the baby. His dad warns him to be gentle.

The shepherds slowly begin to realize the magnitude of what is in front of them.  Maybe not the exact impact, but if a tiny baby has angels announcing His birth and a star to mark his birthplace, surely this is a special baby.

Even Ben, as a mere ten year old, senses something is different.  He very much feels inadequate. He’s just a kid, all he knows how to do is be a kid, but he feels like he needs to at least do something for this special baby.

As he looks at the baby, he remembers that he is good at one thing.  The thing that brings him the most joy. The thing he practices for hours a day.  The thing he showcases to his parents and siblings. He can play his drum.

He approaches Mary.  Dad starts to grab him back, unsure of what is happening; but Mary gestures that it’s OK for Ben to come closer.

“Ma’am.  Can I play my drum for Him?”

Mary, tired from labor, simply nods.

Ben pulls out his sticks, breathes in a nervous breathe, and starts to play.  It’s not that good. Rhythm isn’t perfect. He almost drops the sticks at one point.  Ben is simply nervous. He’s played his drum hundreds of times, but his time it really seems to matter.  This time, for some unknown reason, he wants to impress a baby.

Then something unexpected happens.  The baby opens its little newborn eyes and looks at Ben.  Then he crinkles up his little newborn lips and eyes into an early form of a smile.

Ben returns the smile.  Now emboldened because this special baby seemed to like his playing, he plays some more.  This time with a little more confidence, a little bit louder. He stays on beat this time.  Even the cow next to him got a few hoof stomps in.

As he finishes his cadence, his father pulls him away from baby Jesus, telling him it’s almost time to go home.  Mary smiles and thanks him, thanks them all for coming to honor her little baby king.

As they are sure they are far enough away to not wake up the infant, the shepherds erupt with praise to God for sending a baby King.  They jump and shout and sing. And Ben attempts to keep time to their joyful songs.

Now I realize this is an exaggeration of a simple story, but a simple message still seemed to stand out.  

Have you ever found yourself intimidated by something bigger than yourself?  When life is overwhelming, we have a tendency to say “Man, this is a lot bigger me, I should have been more prepared”  We wish we had practiced more. Prayed more. Planned better. But our own efforts just aren’t quite enough to surmount it.  I think Jesus smiles at us in that moment. Because in that moment we admit, like a child, that we can’t do it ourselves. Then He encourages us to keep on playing our drum, as He walks along beside us helping keep time.

Then there are those times when God does something so utterly amazing, something only possible by His hand.  In awe, we look at what we tried to contribute, and realize it is rubbish. Like erratic beating on a drum. We realize that we contribute like a child, and are just as dependent on Jesus as a child is on his mom.  Both gratitude and inferiority sweep over us. We have to do something, but it just seems so insignificant.

“….all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”  (Isaiah 64:6)

Here also, I believe that Jesus smiles at our offerings, and encourages us to keep on drumming.  He recognizes our feeble attempts at worship as exactly what they are- outpourings of love for our Savior.  

“May the lord bless you and keep you.  May the Lord smile down on you and show you His kindness.  May the Lord answer your prayers and give you peace.”   (Numbers 6:24-26)





For King and Country’s version is one of my favorites because they actually play their drums.  The simple, quiet versions never appealed to me, because I didn’t picture little Ben quietly playing his drum.  I pictured him beating it with all his might, and that is exactly what they do!

This Jennifer Nettles/Idina Menzel duet is another favorite.  First, girl-girl duets are rare, and Jennifer can harmonize beautifully with a brick wall.  Second, this one starts off kind of folksy, but has a drum solo on the big toms in the middle of it.

Your thoughts?