I wonder if there is anything as universal in touching people’s hearts as music. At big sports events, they do not read a national poem to the winner, they play the national anthem. At weddings and funerals, as entertainment and as part of the religious ceremony, there is music.
The birds sing and God gave us the gift to perceive their song as beautiful, and to distinguish it from disturbing noise.Throughout the history of the Church, the use of music and songs has been part of God’s renewal movements. Martin Luther, John Wesley and William Booth used music to involve people. In Billy Graham campaigns, in the Hillsong Church and our corps meetings today, music was and is a central part of supporting the preaching, teaching theology and building fellowship.
There are plenty of examples from the Bible, where God instructs and inspires people to sing and make music for a purpose. King Jehoshaphat obeyed a prophetic message and put singers in front of the army who were going to fight invaders.1 They didn’t sing about their victory but about God’s character, “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever”.
The whole book of Psalms documents how lyrics and music have a multi-functional purpose. Through them, the Jewish people and we learn to pray our way through hardships, to sing as a community in worship to God and to consider the mysteries of life.
In the book of Acts and the New Testament letters, we get some insight into the experience of the young Christian movement. In Philippi Paul and Silas were put into prison.2 They prayed and sang for all to hear. Around midnight, an earthquake shook the building and all the prison doors flew open. Strangely, no one took the chance to escape from that terrible place. I think that their joyful worship made two miracles happen – first, the shaking that unlocked the doors; second, the powerful presence of God that made every prisoner stay, which also saved the life of the prison guard.
It is not just examples of the past that testify to how the power of God is in action through music. I know a person who for years struggled with addiction. One day, she found herself watching a video of a Christian singer on YouTube. She listened. God spoke to her heart. She found every album of that singer and hasn’t stopped listening. God’s presence became real in her soul and he gave her strength to resist temptations through the songs.God doesn’t give his talents just to those who believe in him. There is a lot of good music performed outside the churches as well. Still, it seems to me that the conscious choice of singing and playing with and for God will make a greater impact, because of his presence.
The ability to please God is not dependent on how humans might judge my singing. We are not in a contest with a jury when we sing before the Lord. He just loves to hear his children making a joyful sound. I can even sing with ABBA, “Thank you for the music”, and it will reach him as a song of thanksgiving.
1 2 Chronicles 20:14-23
2 Acts 16:22-34
This text has been published in Die Heilsarmee Magazin #5 2019