Friday, October 1, 2010

The Purpose of Music

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Last weekend I was invited to give a reflection on music at a teen and youth retreat from church.  I thought I would share the text with you in the hopes it benefits you and your music ministry.


I was recently asked to speak about my views on music.  I immediately thought, "Wow!  What an easy topic! There is so much to say!"  But then I thought, "Wow!  There is so much to say!"  How do I keep this to a reasonable time?  So I'll keep this focused to just the main point.  What is the main point?  

Of course, music is universal.  Each culture has a unique and distinct flavor.  It is an amazing array extending across the globe.  Within this vast spectrum is yet another spectrum of occasions and emotions each yielding to the variety.  It is an amazingly diverse and beautiful myriad of melodies continually streaming from humanity.  And yet within all of these varied tunes and multiple motivations for music,  


There is no higher purpose for music than for prayer.


Music conveys emotion, feelings, power, and beauty.  It can change how we feel.  It can pick us up from a dreary day.  It helps us celebrate grand occasions. Celebrate birthdays, beautify weddings, formalize graduations, and what is a party without music?  What else can do so much?


It envelops us.  It is words and melody.  Meaning and feeling.  Cerebral and emotional.  It is a full expression of us as humans.


There is no higher purpose for music than for prayer. 


When I was in high school and college, I used to listen to all the stations on the radio.  After a while all the songs started feeling empty to me.  I couldn’t put my finger on why.  I still listened.  Then Christian songs starting finding their way back to the airwaves.  Then I heard songs inspired, written, and sung from the heart for Him.  These songs had meaning.  Not empty, but brimming with the fullness of life!  That was the day I switched.  That was the day when LOVE came to town!


There is no higher purpose for music than for prayer.


I now fully believe that the reason God gave us music is to praise Him.  Yes, music also has other fun roles to uniquely express emotion.  But, Music in its ultimate form, in its purest form lies in prayer.  It joins our souls closer to His.


There is no higher purpose for music than for prayer.


Music is no stranger to God.  As a form of prayer it goes back very far in the bible.  It is filled with them! 
  • In one of the first books of the bible, Exodus, Moses sings a prayer to the Lord, “I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant!”
  • The 150 Psalms were composed as song prayers.  The definition of “psalm” is scared song.  My favorite one to sing and pray is Psalm 40:4 “He put a song into my mouth, a hymn unto our God.”
  • David’s song of victory  in 2 Samuel 22“O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer!”
  • The Song of Songs sings symbolically of the love of Christ for His church.
  • Mary’s song of praise “ My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!” Luke 1.
  • The early church (Philppians 2) sings “So that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: Jesus Christ is Lord!”  
    Such powerful words would feel naked and powerless without the vessel of musical song! 

There is no higher purpose for music than for prayer.


Here are a few beautiful phrases I found in some of our Church's documents on music in worship.  "Among the many signs and symbols used by the Church to celebrate its faith, music is of preeminent importance.  As sacred song unit to words it forms a Necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy…The quality of joy and enthusiasm which music adds to community worship cannot be gained in any other way.”



We see in the book of Revelation the worship of our Church itself is a union of earth and heaven where we join with the ever praising and proclaiming angels and saints!  


There is no higher purpose for music than for prayer.


Have you heard the commercials for one of those high tech phones "There's an app for that"?  My Dad has a variation on this theme.  Now retired he is quick to respond to any request requiring this least bit of exertion.  "Dear, the yard needs mowing."  There's a nap for that!  "Honey, the dogs need to be walked."  There's a nap for that.  I even have heard that the dusty garage floor is worthy of a satifying snooze.


In a similar fashion, I have found that for all the varieties, styles, and themes of prayer, there is a song for that.  This will be merely a hint of the possibilities.

  • Prayer is a form of communication.  Communication is a two way street, so listening is a form of prayer.  There is a song for that.  I'm sure, like me, you can think of several songs on this theme.
  • On the other side of listening is speaking.  I like to form the speaking part of my prayers with this simple structure: Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. 
    • Adoration.  Adoration means worship.  Begin your time of prayer by adoring and praising God.  Praise Him for who He is and for all that He has done for you.  God delights in your praises!  There is a song for that.
    • Contrition.  Contrition is agreeing with God about the things that you have done wrong.  There is a song for that.
    • Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving means being thankful to God.  This is my favorite part of prayer next to listening.  I'll spend most of my prayer time here counting the countless ways I am cared for and blest.  There is a song for that.
    • Supplication.  Supplication should be the last part of your prayer.  This is praying for your needs and for the needs of others.  There is a song for that.
  • Some of you might be saying, "Wow, that's a lot to fit into a prayer."  And what if you don’t have time to pray?  We always have time.  Even if only a second.  I tell my kids the shortest, most beautiful prayer is “I love you, Lord”.  And wouldn't you know, there’s at least a zillion songs for that.

There is no higher purpose for music than for prayer.


The early Christian theologian St. Augustine once argued that to sing is to pray twice. I take him to have meant by that that to sing is to communicate with God twice as fully.


For music enables us to worship God and to express our love for God with more of ourselves—with our heart and soul and strength as well as our mind.


Music is a gift from God that leads to fuller communion with God. For music has the power to unloose and emancipate energies from deep within us so that we may soar into the realm of transcendence where earthly sorrow and grief are transfigured.


Music is a gift to us of joy and delight, a gift with which God graces creation from the beginning of time to its ending.

There is no higher purpose for music than for prayer.


I invite you to experience with me a simple example of the power and grace of music.  Here is for me one of the most beautiful biblical passages.  John 3:16.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but may have eternal life.”


I will ask this surprising looking, highly capable, but above all willing volunteer to read the following passage for me.  As it is read I will grab my guitar and not play a note.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but may have eternal life.”


Now we’ll read it with a gloomy background tune from my guitar. (Something in a minor key.)  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but may have eternal life.”


Notice a difference?  Did the meaning of the passage change?  Did something different feel emphasized to you?  Now we’ll ready it with a beautiful background melody.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but may have eternal life.”


What did you feel that time?  See how music can awaken deeper meaning in a simple text example?


There is no higher purpose for music than for prayer.


Let us conclude this brief reflection together in prayer:
O God, we thank you for the gift of music, the gift of song, the gift of worship itself, and the gift of musical prayer.  May we sing to You not only with mouth, and voice, and heart. May we sing to you as well with our whole life. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.

Related Posts:
May God Bless the Leaders of Song!
Prayerful Song: The Gift of Confidence
Prayerful Song: Refocus
Music Ministry Tips: Part I of Seventy Times Seven

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