Summary: God, the Master Musician, has ordained that we praise Him in song, and music is where Heaven touches the Earth.
I’m conducting a funeral and looking out over the congregation while we’re singing a familiar hymn…and noting how many of the people gathered are not singing. I’ll even say, “Let’s honor this person’s memory by singing one of his favorite hymns.” And all I get are mostly blank stares. I realize that some of these are not church people, and I am encouraged to see most of the familiar faces singing. But we’re singing well-known hymns (like “Amazing Grace”), so what’s the problem?
Years ago families would gather for evenings of singing; they would sing together for recreation. In movie theaters there were sing-alongs, as people would “follow the bouncing ball” to catch the lyrics. And then there was “Sing Along With Mitch” on TV. Nowadays, the only public singing is “Take me out to the ballgame,” and I’ve noticed how even at Fenway Park half the fans aren’t singing. Our public schools continue to have music programs, so what’s the problem?
Is this a spiritual problem, I wonder? Do we have little to sing about? Are we so affected by gloom that we remain silent? Singing is an indicator of a positive, healthy spirit, although some people sing the blues! Music can express inner distress. Music can also be therapeutic. When I was a hospital chaplain I played my guitar on the wards and stated I was practicing medicine without a license!
Music reflects the creativity of God and conveys His healing activity. Music is a tool for sanctification and restoration. In the Jewish Temple, musicians were designated from the priestly tribe of Levi to perform ministry through music. I’d go so far as to say that music is proof of God’s existence. Music doesn’t “accompany” worship; music is worship. Composer Igor Stravinsky noted, “Music is better able to praise God than the building of the church and all its decorations; it is the church’s greatest ornament.”
I hear people offer the excuse that they don’t have good singing voices. If Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker, and Willie Nelson can have successful singing careers, we can make an attempt to sing. No one is exempt. This means that everyone in the church is part of our music ministry. We form a collective voice. We make a joyful noise together. A woman who felt she did not have a great singing voice, nonetheless sang out in church. She remarked, “This is the voice God gave me; He wants to hear it.”
I’m convinced that singing has more to do with one’s spirit than one’s “pipes.” I recognize that singers like Pavarotti are born, though even he took voice lessons…by the way, he could not read music. But I think most anyone can sing. I think it is more how one approaches singing, and picking songs that suit one’s voice and interest, that make the difference.
A guy I went to college with visited a synagogue where a large part of the service was sung, and he was expecting some excellent singing, but the people who sang were simply awful. Several sang out of tune, and as the service progressed the singing didn’t improve, but only got worse…and it was then he realized that this was not entertainment. It was a celebration of something deep within the hearts of the people. Worship is not a concert, but an occasion to express our devotion to God. You can pay to hear the Tanglewood Chorus sing Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, or Mozart’s Requiem, but in church we sing from a position of heart-felt devotion. When we worship, we offer our praise to an audience of One.
Singing may not be your “thing”, but can you play an instrument? You should glorify God with your instrumental ability. Psalm 150 lists instruments of all sorts that are employed to glorify God. I’d like to hear more instruments in church, not for entertainment value, but so that we may better express praise to our God, Who is worthy of our efforts.
God is the Master Musician. He is a performing Artist. According to Jewish tradition, God sang Creation into existence. Music is where Heaven touches Earth. It isn’t necessary to be trained in music to appreciate beauty. “Harmony reflects the triumph of creation over chaos, order over disorder, sanity over confusion, beauty over ugliness” (R.C. Sproul).
Peter Kreeft writes about the power of music: “I know three intelligent, sensitive souls who were saved from atheism and despair by the music of Bach. No one can tell me music is mere aesthetic pleasure, bloom or ornament. It is a lifeline, a prophet, a divine haunting. If there is a Bach, there is a God.” J.S. Bach himself observed, “The aim and final reason, as of all music, should be none else but the glory of God and re-creation of the mind.” Bach signed all his compositions, “to the glory of God.” Every Sunday morning one of our Boston FM stations plays a Bach Cantata, and I find it a wonderful way to prepare for worship.