[From the archives, in honor of Black Music Month.]
Tenderness, noun: expressing warm, affectionate feelings; being kind and merciful; possessing gentle and delicate qualities; providing care and protectiveness. (Dictionary.com.)
Otis Redding took the word tenderness and turned it on its head. It’s not that he changed the definition. It’s that he blew it up.
When Otis sang that we should try a little tenderness, he showed us the power that true tenderness has. He seemingly finished the song, but then kept retaking the stage over and over to tell us that you’ve got-got-got-got-got-nah-nah-nah-got-to try a little tenderness.
By the time you get to the end of this video, tell me if you’ll ever think of tenderness the same way again.
Did you notice how the host kept moving in to take the microphone from Otis and then had to get out of the way as Otis returned again and again to shout out about tenderness? Otis overwhelmed the stage, blowing up the whole concept of what tenderness really looks like.
This reminds me of God’s tenderness: explosive and overwhelming.
The Power of God’s Tenderness
When Jesus’ cousin John was born, his father Zechariah sang his own song:
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79.)
This is a tenderness that will accomplish much, a tenderness which causes the sun to rise, which overcomes the darkness and delivers us from the shadow of death, a tenderness that brings peace through the knowledge of salvation and forgiveness of sins. This tender mercy of God is not weakness. It is explosive, blowing up the world’s attempts to order things in ungodly ways.
This is a tenderness that also brings the gentle love of God to his people, the Bride of Christ:
“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. … There she will respond as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. In that day,” declares the Lord, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’” (Hosea 2:14-16.)
No longer Master, but Husband. Our God loves us, and he does it tenderly. It’s overwhelming.
What powerful tenderness, explosively overwhelming.
Let’s all try that tenderness.
Bonus tenderness – A lot of people have tried to do a cover version of Otis Redding’s take on the classic ballad, and these two clips are among the best I’ve found online:
Paul Giamatti and Arnold McCuller sang it for the film Duets. (That’s Andre Braugher playing the part opposite Giamatti, but McCuller blended his voice with Braugher’s for the singing parts of the film.)
Jamie Bruce performed it in his blind audition on The Voice UK. Can you see how excited the judges get listening to him nail it? will.i.am didn’t hesitate to vote yes, and Tom Jones might have taken his time but you can see from the look on his face how much he appreciates Jamie.