When Christians get together to worship there’s almost always music. In fact, the very term “worship” often takes a person’s thoughts directly to the musical portion of a church service, or is considered a “genre” of music. There are choruses, psalms, interludes, free-worship, songs, hymns, and spiritual songs that seem to speak right into our heart and soul, and meet us right where we are in any given situation.
Ephesians 5:19-20 even says that we are to sing together! Those verses say,
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
In fact, musical worship is so ubiquitous and feels so “natural” that we need to keep reminding ourselves that worship is more than the congregational singing we do in a church service. So, what is it about our music that makes it so right for worship?
I believe that music, like language, is one of the few universal human cultural activities. It transcends religion, economics, social or economical class, and ethnicity like few other activities can. Think about it… there are very few universal activities! Some sports get close… but in reality they fall far short. Music is found in the most primitive isolated jungle tribes and the most advanced, wealthiest and congested cities. It’s woven into the everyday fabric of life of every human culture throughout history.
Try walking into a shop without hearing some sort of tune playing softly in the background… it is impossible!
Music is popular, but also powerful. Our most important personal, or communal events nearly always employ the power of music. Every wedding, funeral, celebration, or party uses music to evoke certain feelings or actions. Music has and is used in entertainment, sports, war… and in worship.
When I think about it the only thought that comes to my mind is “Why?”
Let’s think about the universality of music, and why music speaks to humans together!
- Music is Emotional
Martin Luther once said,
Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate… what more effective means than music could you find?
It’s true that nothing affects us quite like music does. Music is powerful, and obviously when God created music, He knew its power, He called it good, and He instructed us to use it to worship Him.
First and foremost, music is powerful because it is emotional. This doesn’t mean that music is about emotions, but that it expresses and engages the emotional life. Psychology and neuroscience would agree, with studies showing both creating and listening to music engage the emotional centers of the brain. And it is not that music evokes the emotions it expresses (after all, why would we like sad songs if all they did was make us sad) but that it evokes a heightened emotional state. And as emotional creatures, we like that.
God created us as emotional beings.
In Mark 12:29-30 Jesus says,
The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
After reading the passage out of Mark I would say that part of loving God with our whole heart must include our emotions. Think about it… emotions are the outlet for displaying what the heart feels! We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This is a command to worship God with every human faculty we have, including both our intellect and our emotions! To worship God with our intellect only or our emotions only is to love God with less than all of our faculties. Our intellect and our emotions need to be equally engaged in worship.
Colossians 1:16 says,
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
Music is a gift from God that simultaneously engages our intellect and our emotions. Rich lyrics need to be coupled with rich music. When this happens, our worship songs engage all of us and we sense the delight it is to worship God in song. Next time you’re in a worship service, love the Lord your God by singing with as much thought and passion as you can!
- Music is Physical
In her book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott wrote,
Music is about as physical as it gets: your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound, the breath. We’re walking temples of noise, and when you add tender hearts to this mix, it somehow lets us meet in places we couldn’t get to any other way.
The rhythm of music resonates with the body in spontaneous foot-tapping, finger drumming, clapping and dancing. This reveals a subtle but important link. Music is an auditory experience that the mind seeks to echo and express physically. And it’s not just the rhythm. How many times have you found yourself absolutely shredding a guitar solo on your air guitar or beating your steering wheel to death like a mistreated snare drum? If you are like me then don’t worry about answering!
Music evokes a physical response!
Music can motivate you and make it easier to start moving, walking, dancing, or any other type of exercise that you enjoy. Why do you think everyone jams their favorite songs while at the gym slinging heavy weights around? Music can make exercise feel more like recreation and less like work! Furthermore, music enhances athletic performance.
Musical rhythm has the remarkable ability to move our bodies. Because we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” I believe the physical way that music speaks to and moves us is important to note!
Think about the physical responses that worship evokes… hand raising, clapping, jumping, dancing, etc… We even can look in Scripture and find David dancing in worship before the Lord. Music speaks on many levels!
- Music is Social
Ever wonder why singing is the dominant art form or artistic expression in churches? I believe the answer to that question is simple… singing is social and is the easiest way to unify a large group of people.
People sing together in all kinds of places including church. We sing together in different scenarios and for different purposes… but it always unites a group of people for a sole purpose or with the same words. Singing together binds us together. When we sing corporately it provides a way for numerous people from all races, backgrounds, social and economic classes, and ages to express the same thoughts and passions together.
Music is social!
As powerful and as meaningful as all the other aspects of music are to us individually, they are magnified when shared and experienced with others. Shared melodies, lyrics and rhythms have the power to unify a crowd around a deeply felt cultural moment. Think of the national anthem or football songs that fill a stadium. And when that happens, each one of us brings all of our individual experiences of music, merging them together into a captivating corporate experience.
What is more encouraging than standing amongst your peers, your brothers and sisters in Christ, when you are at your highest high or lowest low and hearing them sing praises to God? James 5:13 says,
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.
Not everyone is in the same spiritual, or emotional place on Sunday mornings when we gather… but yet we still do. It is encouraging to sing, and it is encouraging to hear other’s sing to our God. When Paul and Silas were in prison what did they do? They prayed and sang… that should say something.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.
At a loss for words? Have nothing in common with the person in the pew or seat next to you other than salvation? Good. Sing together.
- Music is Healing
It’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t feel a strong connection to music. Even if you can’t carry a tune or play an instrument, you can probably reel off a list of songs that evoke happy memories and raise your spirits. Surgeons have long played their favorite music to relieve stress in the operating room, and extending music to patients has been linked to improved surgical outcomes. In the past few decades, music therapy has played an increasing role in all facets of healing.
Harvard studies have shown music has healing effects in: easing anxiety and discomfort during procedures, restoring lost speech, restoring memory, reducing side effects of cancer therapy, helping with physical therapy and rehabilitation, aiding in pain relief, and improving quality of life for people with dementia. But those are just the physical healing properties of music. Often in worship we deal with spiritual and emotional healing.
Just yesterday I was speaking to a woman from church about our services on Sunday. She started to explain to me how on Sunday we were singing about the love of God in a semi-spontaneous way, just bouncing around different sections of a song, and how the enemy began to work on her and disrupt her worship with annoyance to the repetition of certain parts and lines. Then suddenly the last time through she had a breakthrough and discovered a whole new meaning or relation to the words we were singing. She was “overwhelmed” with the healing love of Christ that we were singing about.
Music heals. It bandages deep wounds and scars that we have hidden from others. It can uncover and relieve us of baggage from our past. The weight and power of words expressed in song seem to be much heavier and pack a bigger punch than those just spoken.
Allow music to speak to you. Allow it to bring you to the One who can heal you.
- Musical is Intellectual
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to recall the words of songs you haven’t heard for a numerous amount of years? Some would refer to this as the “Mozart Effect.”
In earlier years it was thought that listening to classical music, particularly Mozart, enhanced performance on cognitive tests. However, there are findings that show that listening to any personally enjoyable music has positive effects on cognition. Basically meaning that music improves memory performance! That’s great news for people like me!
The idea that music makes you smarter received considerable attention from scientists and the media. Listening to music or playing an instrument can actually make you learn better. And research confirms this. Studies show that music has the power to enhance some kinds of higher brain function such as, reading and literacy skills, spatial-temporal reasoning, and mathematical abilities.
The power of music to affect memory is quite interesting to me. Mozart and other music from the Baroque period, with a 60 beats per minute beat pattern, activates the left and right parts of the brain. The simultaneous left and right brain action maximizes learning and retention of information. The information being studied activates the left brain, while the music activates the right brain. Also, activities that engage both sides of the brain at the same time, such as playing an instrument or singing, cause the brain to be more capable of processing information.
Listening to music facilitates the recall of information. Researchers have shown that certain types of music are a great “keys” for recalling memories. Information learned while listening to a particular song can often be recalled simply by “playing” the songs mentally.
We remember songs much better than words alone. In Deuteronomy 31:19-22 we see a particular passage in which God uses music to help his people remember his words. In this passage we see Moses commissioned by the Lord to write a song for the people of Israel so that they can easily remember God’s words.
“Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.” So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel.
It is crazy that even in the Word we can see the fact that music has incredible memorization power for humans acknowledged. Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly…singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Therefore, we can see that songs whose lyrics expound on the person, work, and glory of Christ tend to stay with us long after we’ve forgotten the main points of a sermon.
Music speaks because it communicates to our brains in a more holistic way than other sources!
All of this all gives us a clue to the connection between music and worship. As believers, we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And music uniquely has the power to engage the entirety of who I am in that moment of expressing my devotion to God. When I sing in worship I am engaged emotionally, physically and intellectually. It’s like “all of me” is caught up in one single act of appreciation and love.
It’s music that makes this happen.
In song I am holistically engaged, the words I sing are expressions of all that is in my heart to say, but for which mere spoken words seem insufficient.
But music is even more than all of that! In song it’s not just me who is having the experience. The person next to me is too! And our experiences are in unison! The same words, the same rhythm, the same melody, the same emotions, the same truth, the same everything. We are here together, in one voice, around one cause, focusing all of who we are in a holistic outpouring of affection and devotion to the Faher.
Times of corporate worship are one of those moments when “we” can truly become “one.”
And it’s music that makes that happen. Music speaks.