Many of you know that I am a musician. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 11 and started playing on church worship teams when I was 12. Over the past few years I have been playing guitar at LifePoint Church and my direction in life since I started doing that has been radically twisted as my passion and calling for music have taken over so much of my attention. It might be surprising for someone to hear that I never delved into the rationale behind worship music or what it is. I know how it feels, and I speak the language of music very well, but I always took this for granted, and in the past year some conversations have finally prompted me to investigate this further. What I found was not what I expected to find and the whole of this topic cannot be well covered in such a short space, but I will attempt to construct my findings cohesively.
When you ask someone at church why we sing songs in church, you will hear a couple different answers, but they will largely convey the same concept; music is a way we express our love for God. Because we are called to worship God, we believe singing is a way in which we can fulfill that calling. Music is a good way to lead people into the presence of God.
In certain more radical views, which are increasingly popular, it is believed that music is a supplement of true worship, unneeded and too often distracting for our culture. This view has gained momentum because it genuinely pursues a deeper and more spiritual connection with God through worship.
Because worship is, as we say, a lifestyle, worship can be achieved just by living a life of worship and we could lose all music and still worship God with just as much strength and conviction and focus. The modern church culture, which is predominantly consumerist, provides music for people to enjoy in order to attract people to their church. One who is serious about their faith cannot help but be drawn to this perspective for either of desire to pursue God on a deeper level or fear of getting grouped in as a “consumerist Christian.”
This is the dichotomy I am most exposed to.
I have also been confronted with a question of the degree of connection people feel to God via music versus other forms of worship. Because people were designed for different things, music has been categorized as just another talent which can be used to worship God the same as any other. For that reason, people can feel alienated by the music-focused church culture we are in and disconnected from worship music in general. Does that mean music is non-integral to spiritual life? Should the church be pursuing less music and more variety?
My reflexive reaction to these issues is sadness. I don’t like to think that what I experience through music is not shared by everyone. I don’t want to hear that the thing I am so passionate about and called to isn’t needed.
But I recognize these conflicts and they have given me reason to delve into the unexplored depths of my passion from a biblical perspective.
What I found is that the word music is found approximately 80 times in the Bible and the word singing is found over 20 times. The book of Psalms is devoted completely to music (well, lyrics, that is) and it is by far the largest book in the Bible. Music, if I need to say it, is important.
I ran across a wonderful quote while I was doing my research.
The most foundational reason we sing is because God sings – Bob Kaufin
This is based off of Zephaniah 3:17 where God says He will rejoice over his people with singing. I never knew God sang until I found this verse. I hadn’t even thought about it. But that thought is exhilarating to me. The God of the UNIVERSE who INVENTED music SINGS! So then, His Spirit, which lives inside us, sings over our souls!
If we were made in God’s image, and God sings to us, and we have the ability to sing, then we were designed to sing to and for the Songmaster of the universe. (Some of you are thinking, “I was NOT designed to sing, trust me.” I’ll get to that.)
In Ephesians 5:18-19, a passage so often quoted for why we shouldn’t drink is the beginning of what we should do when filled with the Holy Spirit. The first thing Paul tells us is to sing, both for God and one another.
This is so significant to me because I so often hear of how music is distracting us from the focus on God, or how we are too focused on how things sound, or how music is disposable and only a supplement to true worship, and this verse tells me that we sing for each other as well as God and it is something that should happen when we are filled with the Holy Spirit. If music is for each other as well as God, then it should be evaluated! Its also significant to me because people often wait for the music to tell them how to feel, when we should be making music because we are filled with Gods Spirit.
Interestingly enough, “worship music” is not mentioned in the Bible at all, except when King Nebuchadnezzar decreed that when certain music is played, all his subjects must bow to the image he made. So music being a cue for worship is not a biblical doctrine in worshiping God.
Worship is a lifestyle. Our lives should be a living sacrifice, constantly worshiping God in everything we do. So music has to be a form of worship. But make no mistake, music is an integral part of spirituality. We were designed to sing. We are compelled to sing if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are called to sing both to God and each other. The Tabernacle in Israel was the chief school of music in a nation which had 4000 official musicians, all ministering through music. Music, for the believer, is a powerful language designed for the human soul.
“The beauty of the music consisted altogether in the melody; the whole of antiquity is full of the praises of this music. By its means battles were won, cities conquered, mutinies quelled, diseases cured.”
Music is irreplaceable for believers. We worship God when we sing for God and for each other. God sings to us. God shows His heart and love for the passion and dedication to music ministry the Israelites had.
Am I saying you have to love music and sing to God?
Am I saying that everyone connects to music in the same way or that the majority of music and music ministry is right for everyone?
I am saying that a believer filled with the Spirit should want to sing praises to God. I am saying that music ministry is an integral and irreplaceable part of spirituality. Even if you don’t like to hear music and don’t like to sing praises, and you are a believer, then you are missing out on some seriously awesome stuff. (I realize not everyone can make good sounds, no matter how hard they try, but that is why we join together as a whole of believers, so that when sung as a people, as many Psalms were, your music is a part of that wonderful sound.)
Singing praise to God is NEVER a distraction from Him. Getting caught up in how it feels to sing to Jesus is NOT losing focus on Him. Because by its very nature, singing to God is worshipful and spiritual. So is singing praise for one another. So my hope for the church body is that we hold a right view of music and pursue the wonderful side of God that is musical, so we can know Him more fully.