The great American author Kurt Vonnegut once said in a commencement speech, “If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.”
I can still remember the first time music affected me in a profound way; it was sitting in third grade music class. I loved music class, but judging by the moans and groans that accompanied Miss Swift’s third graders on the way to the music room, I think I may have been the only one. On this particular day, Mr. Lidicky wanted to introduce us to a composer named Johanne Sebastian Bach. While the boys fidgeted and picked their noses, and the girls giggled and gossiped, Mr. Lidicky popped in a cassette tape and pushed play. Then out of the speakers, over the din of adolescent chatter, washed the most beautiful melody I had ever heard. A simple but elegant melodic line that lifted you up into heaven for a glimpse of glory before descending gently back into the atmosphere played masterfully on a pipe organ, it was “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” If you do not know the piece of music, you need to Google it right now. I had no idea music could carry you to another place, another frame of mind. For me, what that song did was make me look up. Make me look beyond that music room, beyond the drama of trying to fit in amongst my peers, to something more beautiful, more meaningful, and more powerful than anything I had ever known.
As a worship leader I am often asked why we sing in church, and in a day where school music programs are being defunded, there are few places left where we sing together in our culture. I believe there are many reasons why singing is an integral part of our worship as Christians.
- Connection with The Holy Spirit
Paul in Ephesians 5:18, 19 tells us, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”
If we are drunk, we are controlled by the things of this world and are out of the control of the Holy Spirit. By participating in musical worship with each other, we allow the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and guide our words and actions.
- Internalizing the Word of God
Paul says similarly in Colossians 3:16, ”Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Paul says that the Word of Christ needs to dwell in us. The Scripture needs to not only live in our hearts but also be at home there. The two ways this happens according to Colossians 3 is through teaching and singing. The teaching is for understanding, but the singing is what internalizes the Word. Many do not know that most of the lyrics we sing on Sunday are from the Bible for this very reason. I can struggle to memorize a verse, but if it is put to music, it burrows down deep in my soul. There are Bible songs that I learned in Sunday school 30 years ago that I could sing to you at the drop of a hat. Those Scriptures have shaped my whole life. I thank God for those Sunday school teachers who taught me the Word of God in song.
- Expressing Gratitude
The default attitude of every believer should be one of gratitude. We who were once dead in our transgressions and sins have been made alive in Christ! We have been adopted as sons and daughters into His family, and our inheritance is eternal life and fellowship with the creator of the universe. We have been saved by grace; we did not deserve it. There is only one response to such love: gratitude. How is it that we are to sing? According to Paul, it is with thankfulness in our hearts. I can think of no better way to say thank you to Christ but in song.
Music can lift us out of the monotony of our daily grind. Music rooted in the Word of God can move us toward Jesus.
I am convinced that it was listening to Bach in that 3rd-grade music class that first turned my gaze toward God. I believe God calls to us through music that He is beckoning us to experience Him in the moment. I believe that who God is can be known in the mysterious complexity and simplistic beauty that is music. When we come together as His people each weekend, my prayer is that through music our hearts would experience something transcendent and cause our eyes to look up and see the face of God.