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A Primer on Worship Music

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25)

Right off the heels of a musical season of worship for Christmas, I want to reflect a bit on the importance of keeping that central for 2024.  It is probably a cultural influence that leads men to think that singing isn’t “masculine”.  To that I would point to the “Warrior King” David, who would both play his harp & write musical psalms, and practice his slingshot & kill the lion, the bear, and the giant! (1 Samuel 17:34-57)  I’m not saying that we need all the same skills; I am saying that God delights in that spirit!

Our contemporary culture is not as influenced by the Gospel as in past generations, and I think a partial reason for this is the abdication of courageous spiritual leadership, particularly by men (I also sense that weakness within my own heart).  Of course this is not the full picture, but am I the only one encouraged to hear the Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge men singing praise to God, off-key with all their strength?

What was it about the Gospel that changed such men as Johann Sebastian Bach, Charles Wesley, and John Wesley, to impact generation upon generation with their God-inspired music?  Was it not the same joyous acknowledgment that God mercifully saved them?  As in the case of Acts 16 above, there is hardly an occasion not to sing to God!

Music is found in the very creation of our world:  “On what were its (earth’s) footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” Job 38:6-7 Music is part of the creation finale’!  After Eve is made from Adam’s side, Adam awakes and exclaims, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:23)  Many scholars believe this to be a celebratory song!  

Throughout the biblical texts, music is connected to prophecy and to dealing with evil spirits (2 Kings 3:14-16). The longest book in the Bible, and the one at its center, is the Psalms, which means “songs.”  David’s plans for the Temple included clans of Levites whose primary job was music. Music and musical instruments were prescribed parts of Temple life and practice, such as stringed instruments, horns, bells and cymbals.  An entire class of Psalms, the “Songs of Ascent”, were sung by the people as they traveled to Jerusalem for the annual pilgrimage festivals.  (“That was just for Israel in the Old Testament, right?”)

Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn after the Last Supper, according to two of the Gospels. The Apostle Paul specifically connects singing with being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18-19. Finally, around the throne of God, in John’s Revelation of, there is constant of singing, sometimes accompanied by harps (Revelation 5:8, 15:2)

Christians have all the more reason to sing and celebrate with music. Not only have we inherited a "singing faith" from our Jewish forefathers, but having been given the revelation of this mystery, now found in Christ Jesus, (Ephesians 3:6-12, Colossians 1:25-27) we can direct our Psalm-singing to the One who paid for our own sins with His Own Body!  In fact, we were made to worship Him! (John 4:23-24, Revelation 22:3)  So what has happened to worship music in our nation?  What are we missing?

Rather than letting God’s Word define the Object of our Worship, and for Him to define the reality for which we sin, we have slowly let our lives get defined by society and subjective feelings/experiences.  Rather than preaching and singing to our souls the truths of scripture, we have let the “wind and the waves” push us around.  We have failed to take a stand on the very tenets that have raised up a Luther or John Owen or Charles Wesley, challenging and changing the surrounding culture.

As I just read an Amazon slogan, “Feel Your Best”, it is that type of seductive lie that leads the least of these to succumb to darkness by appealing to your flesh.  The good news, however, is that though the solution be uphill, it is rather simple!  We must discipline ourselves to Read His Word, Sing His Word, Pray His Word, and Congregate around His Word!  Rather than letting how we feel in the moment dictate our daily actions, we let His doctrinal Design define and defeat our doldrums.  Truly meditating on His Word by His Spirit should lead us to sing from our hearts (Ephesians 5:19).

All this is to be done corporately as well. (notice the “one another” in the above verse) Gathering as God’s Church is not only a command of God Himself (Hebrews 10:25), but it is in that very Design that we are strengthened, encouraged, exhorted, and redirected towards the Path that leads to Life!  Whether old songs or new, hymnal, or praise booklet, our songs should be directed towards our loving God, who called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).  The more our lives are defined by True Worship (“In spirit and in Truth”), the more our transformation overflows our daily circumstances and impacts the world around us, from our families, to our neighbors, to the “ends of the earth”. (Acts 1:8)  That’s what worship music is FOR!



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