We often have a tricky relationship with music.
You may be aware that when hymns first came in they were seen for many years as heretical because they were basically too musical for a community used to chanting.
Today, one tradition seeks to possibly over-utilize the emotional power of music in their worship out of a reaction to another tradition’s dull and unsmiling worship. Meanwhile other traditions, so terrified of falling into over over-emotive and over-produced concerts; views anyone with a particularly high level of talent….or enjoyment with suspicion.
It’s an emotional thing. But it is at the end of the day….a thing, in the bible. It’s there, it’s part of the story, woven into the fabric of worship over the ages. Yes, we don’t have the tunes to Psalms preserved like we have their words, But within those very words are often instructions to their immediate audience as to what tune is prescribed for that psalm.
To: ‘the lily of the valley’ anyone?
It leads me to wonder, what does God think of music? Why did he create it? Is it simply a by-product of creation, what happens when you cross sound with a mathematical algorithm? Why then is it such a massively important part of the biblical worship tradition? No other faith on this planet utilizes music to anywhere near the extent that Christianity does as Nabeel Qureshi noticed in his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.
Music itself, is as much a part of God’s creation as the human heart, this morning’s sunrise and the air we breathe. There are things that can only be communicated in certain ways in and through music.
- The small and the big interact
Psalm 68:19-20 says:
praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.20 Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.
There is something about songs that allow the small and the big to sit next to each other in equal significance. Verse 19 recounts the experience of what it means to walk with God in the daily grind of life.
But straight away, these quiet blessings are smooshed up against the cataclysmic cosmic truth of God’s gospel plan. He saves us from death, not merely physical but eternal. These two sides to the journey of faith are so important, because if the enemy cannot get God’s people to ignore the grand salvation history, then he’ll get them to forget ‘their own.’ In other words, what’s true personally has to be true cosmically, and the one gives new depths of insight and joy to the other.
If you want to be deeply gospel centered, you must see it’s power in the big and the small side by side. I can also guarantee that some of the most powerful songs you know, do this. Take for example; it is well. Intensely personal song, related to a experience; but how does it end? “The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, even so it is well with my soul.” Big stuff.
But someone says: “they be words, not notes.” Yeah, but I’ll bet you remember it because it’s a song. Music is the transportation device that has brought those words off the page of a diary and into the worship traditions of the Church. The song provides the air for those themes to fly in without bumping into each other and causing each other to crash.
Music is one of the most effective tools God grants us to perceive how the big resonates and flavors the small.
- The filters are removed.
You can say some pretty graphic things in a song:
Psalm 68:21-22: Surely God will crush the heads of his enemies, the hairy crowns of those who go on in their sins. 22 The Lord says, “I will bring them from Bashan; I will bring them from the depths of the sea,23 that your feet may wade in the blood of your foes, while the tongues of your dogs have their share.”
Music has a way of removing the filters. Here we have the Psalmist, filters off. The reality is that judgment and vindication are two sides of the same coin. For God to vindicate one people is for him to judge another. If there’s no such thing as judgment, there’s no vindication for anyone.
I was recently chatting with a person, craving vindication. I was only able to comfort them with the reality of God and his justice and encouraged them, to engage with that through praying through songs…..I mean, the Psalms. They went away with something to do. They went away with a plan. They went away with some assurances.
Where do we put such anger?
There’s a lot of music out there that encourages people to engage with their feelings but never gets beyond that. What if God gave us music so that we could engage with our feeling in his presence? With some assurance s of a resolution? I believe that God challenges us to take the filters off because until we do, we’ll never be Christlike in the fact that we’ll never be angry enough…..to do something about it.
- Aides us in receiving a/the vision.
Psalm 68:24 says:
24 Your procession, God, has come into view, the procession of my God and King into the sanctuary.
I am astonished at the power of music to make us receptive to new visions, or more often, remind us of the one we’re meant to be living out of. To settle the mind and renew its focus.
Music in worship, helps us move past what we were thinking 5 minutes ago and transport us to the place where the lyrics are emanating from. I wonder if that is why the last thing that Jesus did before he walked into the garden of gethsemane, knowing what he was about to face; sensing the cross cloud the vision of eternal intimacy with the father…was sing?
Have you been reminded of a vision amidst a song? Have you chosen to enlist the God created tool of music to remind yourself of what will be, or what is? God does. (Zeph 3:17) says God rejoices over us with…..singing.
- Order matters. Arrangement is
Music implies a sort of order, it is after all basically maths you can hear.
Psalm 68:25 25 In front are the singers, after them the musicians; with them are the young women playing the timbrels.
If we think about it deeply enough, God created music partially to teach us a little bit about life. In fact, life with him. Respect the order of things, do it right from the start and save yourself some serious issues later. Everything about music denotes order. As mentioned before, it is sounds arranged into discernible patterns. Why would we ever be surprised that something with such a created order would also be extremely ordered in its performance.
Songs are arranged around musical theme. Arrange your life around God as the central theme and watch the music flow.
- The great equaliser.
Moving on to verse 26,27:
26 Praise God in the great congregation; praise the Lord in the assembly of Israel. 27 There is the little tribe of Benjamin, leading them, there the great throng of Judah’s princes, and there the princes of Zebulun and of Naphtali.
Benjamin was the most talked-down tribe in Israel. It was the little guy. In fact in 1 Sam 9:21 Saul, (back when he was legit) attempts to use the fact that he’s a Benjaminite as a reason why he shouldn’t be king. But it doesn’t matter in the great assembly of God’s people. Because in a grand choir of voices, you’re no longer a Benjaminite, or Judean, or Black, or White, or Western, or Eastern, or rich, or poor, disabled or enabled, big or small you are simply….God’s. And even the smallest person can lead and influence others in the song.
Rev 14:1-3 Then I saw the Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with him were 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of mighty ocean waves or the rolling of loud thunder. It was like the sound of many harpists playing together. 3 This great choir sang a wonderful new song in front of the throne of God and before the four living beings and the twenty-four elders. No one could learn this song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.
All the redeemed from all nations of the earth, equal, singing a song. Maybe God invented music for eternity?
Music is not equatable with worship, but I’m going to go ahead and say that worship isn’t biblical without some thought given to music like a painting isn’t beautiful without some thought given to colors.
Everyone is a musician.