Look, I know music isn’t the only way to worship God or anything. Worship is simply ascribing worth. Spending all day waxing your car, chilling your spouse, playing on Pinterest, that’s a form of worship. The same applies to God. However, Christians particularly like setting time aside for musical worship, which is AWESOME…well, it CAN be, at least.
See, we’re getting wise to the act. When a church gets a smoke machine, industrial-size lasers, and confetti guns, it’s become way too much of a show. However, I’m worried that we’re swinging too far the opposite way: the land of musical degradation. It’s like churches say “Only play these few chords. Anything else is for attention whores.” Sometimes, I swear some worship bands don’t even practice. It’s like they’re so scared of being showy that they deliberately take the quality out of the music.
And they think God is pleased. Bull. Ony. Music is the ultimate companion to worship and should not be devalued.
Music has the power to strike the spirit like little else can. I’m not talking about emotionalism; that’s when certain sounds or lyrics make you happy/sad/angry. I’m talking about base power that resonates far beyond feelings.
If certain guitar chords play, I stop everything I’m doing and listen. It’s not what the guitar is playing, it’s the sound itself. A burly man’s deep basso profundo can make me shiver, even if he’s just singing “Happy Birthday.” This is why a woman’s crystal clear trill can make a grown man cry, even if the song isn’t sad.
What is it for you? A strong beat that makes you want to dance? An instrument that sounds like satin in your ears? A type of voice that makes you melt? Tell me in the comments. Then come back; I’m not done.
Why does music do this? Because like all art, music fills our need for beauty. God is an artist who created beauty and gave us a yearning for that same beauty. I’m not talking a superficial, face-value beauty, but that deep, soul resonance you feel when the key changes. Music stirs our hearts, and I think that makes it an invaluable companion to worship. It helps us glimpse something that can’t be held or measured, only witnessed and enjoyed. Guys…that’s EXACTLY what happens when we experience God.
Why not take these soul stirrings and direct them upward? It’s like playing a movie on your TV instead of your phone. That’s what it was MADE for! Yes, music can be separated from God. Yes, it can and has even been used in horrible ways. But that doesn’t mean we abandon the beauty. No, we must use it and align it with God, so people can see what music was really made for, opening our eyes to the things unseen. And when mixed with worship, we see and we praise.
We’ve established that music is good, so let me leave you with a few brief ways to make music work for your worship.
Lyrics: Good lyrics slowly unfold and reveal something. Take the famous “In Christ Alone.” The first verse shows Jesus as an infant (“fullness of God in helpless babe.”) The second shows his death (“On that cross as Jesus died”). The third, his resurrection (“Up from the grave he rose again”). And the fourth is a victory proclamation (“No guilt in life, no fear in death”.) See? The best songs unfold a story, a person, or an idea piece by piece. Hymns were great at this.
Now, lyrics don’t have to be grand and scholarly. “Jesus loves me” is one of the greatest songs ever written and two-year-olds can sing it. But simple or grand, good lyrics aren’t cheap repetitions or bludgeons of the obvious. They’re an art.
Melody. Melody can emphasize or ruin a mood. You don’t play “I Need You” in bouncing, jubilant tones and you don’t play “Joy to the World” like a funeral dirge. Different melodies strike different moods; make sure the mood is appropriate. I’ve been a church that played “Great I Am” during prayer time. That song gets HUGE at the bridge, triumphant and powerful. But it was prayer time, so they played it quietly, like they weren’t confident where God was the Great I Am or not. Cater to the mood of the song and the church setting.
Rhythm. This is the skeleton of music, the backbone that keeps the wild melody in order. Without it, the song becomes chaos and confuses even the most devout. If you don’t have rhythm, you probably shouldn’t be on stage. An off-key note can make you cringe. But losing rhythm? It’s like pulling the last piece in Jenga.
Creativity. It’s art, remember? Plus, creativity shakes off monotony. I had a pastor play worship with bluegrass instruments now and then. Sometimes, he would stop the music altogether and just have voices. Other times, he’d bring in unique instruments to get a special sound, like blaring trumpets for a high-energy praise song or a violin for a sweet serenade. Dull worship isn’t holier than over-the-top worship. Neither glorifies God, but at least the latter is exciting.
The Holy Spirit. Above all else, let the Holy Spirit move. He can change direction at any moment and when he does, it’s more beautiful than anything we could have planned.
You need not have an all-star musical lineup and many churches must make do with what little they have. But remember, Jesus spoke highly of the woman who only gave two coins to the church (Mark 12:42-44). Why? Because she gave everything she had for God’s glory. This is why abandoning the artistic side of music is no glory for God. Remember Cain? He only gave his leftovers, too. (Genesis 4) Give it your all.
Music is not the enemy of worship; it’s worship’s best friend. Don’t make it all about he music, but don’t neglect it, either. Wave them together like peanut butter and jelly, and make something truly delicious.