As we wake up every morning, as we drive to and from work, as we work out at the gym, and as we go throughout our days, what do we often hear? Each Sunday as we come together to worship the Lord, what frames our services? You guessed it: music.
Music serves some distinct purposes in our lives and especially within our Christian tradition. Let’s examine a few.
1. Music teaches us the gospel.
Hymns and spiritual songs take our faith and compact it. In fact, the melody and phrasing of the music makes our faith memorable. Before we hear a word of scripture read or preached in the service, we’ve already taken in page after page through our singing. Hymns and other forms of music instruct us in the Good News, touching our hearts as well as our minds.
2. Music connects us to God in unique ways.
The purpose of music goes beyond mere instruction, however. In many ways, it allows for a direct connection with God in ways sermons can’t or don’t. Singing allows a part of our hearts to speak to God in a way that doesn’t happen as we hear the spoken word.
Have you ever noticed? Something incredible happens when we sing. You can feel it when you sing alone, but most especially when you sing as part of a community, a congregation in worship. Something awakens not only in the heart of each person but also in the collective heart of the body of Christ, connecting us to each other and to God in the deepest part of who we are.
Singing as a part of Christian worship is so much more than mere mental exercise. God created us to communicate with the very depths of our spirit, and singing is a way we can accomplish this in a profound and meaningful way.
3. Music allows us to express our love to God with our whole being.
Scripture commands us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5 NRSV). This verse emphasizes the entire body, not through outward actions but devotion and love.
In the New Testament, Jesus responds to a lawyer who asked him about the greatest commandment by pointing back to this same passage, saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37 NRSV).
Singing is one of the ways in which we express our love towards God with our whole being. We engage every part of our being in worship to God.
Worshiping through music changes and transforms us. It inclines our hearts to God in ways other forms can’t accomplish. Worship strengthens us, convicts us, builds us up, and even restores us. In other words, when we sing and devote our whole selves to God, something godly happens within us.
4. Music as worship fulfills God’s command.
Throughout scripture, we’re commanded to sing. Within the Psalms (prayers set to music, the hymnal of the Old Testament) we read, “I… go around your altar, O Lord, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud,” (Psalm 26:6-7 ESV); “Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!” (Psalm 98:5 ESV); and “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” (Psalm 100:2 ESV).
God calls us to sing praise to the Lord and to sing in his presence. The New Testament affirms this call. Paul urged the Ephesians (and us) to “be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”(Eph. 5:18-20 ESV).
From the Heart
Singing is an important part of who we are and who God created us to be. We’re all wired uniquely. We have different gifts, strengths, and favorite styles of music. Scripture encourages us to find the music that allows our hearts to sing and connect to God. What touches us may be music from Kings College Cambridge, Kirk Franklin’s gospel prayers, jazz settings of the Eucharist, or any of a wide range of genres.
Music that honors God will cause our hearts to sing. And when our hearts sing, worship happens. We’re transformed on the inside as we’re filled with the Spirit and devote everything we are to worship, praise, and thanksgiving to our heavenly Father.
Has God used music in worship to touch your heart and life in a special way? I’d love to hear about it!
(This post is an adaptation of Bishop Brewer’s sermon on Sunday, October 4, 2015 at St. Mark’s Haines City, Commemoration of 125th Anniversary and Hymn Festival.)