Music to Stir our Hearts
It had been a bad day. A hard day. The sort of day when it felt like nothing was going right, and I should just go back to bed and start again. The details of the day were trivial and now forgotten, but I remember how I felt. I was frustrated by my sin, hurt by the sin of others, weary of the brokenness of this fallen world. But over the noise of my angry thoughts, lyrics from the last hymn from church the previous Sunday rang out in my head:
“Though Satan should buffet, if trials should come, Let this blessed assurance control, That Christ has regarded my helpless estate, And hath shed His own blood for my soul.”
It was still a bad day. But that didn’t negate the truth: it is well with my soul. I found a recording on YouTube on my phone and let the truth ring out loud in the kitchen.
The power of music to stir our emotions
From retailers’ Christmas adverts to nature documentaries (the recent Blue Planet II for just one example), film-makers spend a lot of money to ensure our emotions are stirred by the power of music. It can make us cry, make us buy, and make us sit on the edge of our seats in dramatic anticipation. Try watching them on mute to experience the difference.
Music in the Bible
From the very first gathering of God’s redeemed people by the Red Sea (Exodus 15), until the final, complete gathering of God’s people before His throne (Revelation), God’s people are characterised as people who sing. In the Old Testament, music and musicians were important in the daily life of the temple, and the New Testament church is encouraged to sing together (Ephesians 5:19). Music has a power to lift our spirits, teach us, encourage us, and train our hearts in gratitude to God (Colossians 3:16).
But it wasn’t just the gathered congregation that sung in the Bible. When Mary rejoices in God her Saviour (Luke 1), a song of praise bursts from her heart and her “soul magnifies the Lord”. In contrast, the author of Psalm 42 addresses his downcast and disturbed soul, pouring out his sorrow and pain, and yet also reminding himself of the hope of the same Saviour God. I have found the songs in the Bible to be sources of rich blessing.
Matthew Henry describes the effect music had on the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 3 like this: “To hear God’s praises sweetly sung… would cheer his spirits, and settle his mind, and help to put him into a right frame both to speak to Him and to hear from Him.”
Retune, Remember, Respond and Rejoice
I love music. From the upbeat sing-a-longs in the kitchen at breakfast, to the calm orchestral classics at bedtime, music is always playing in my house, and there is a speaker in every room.
Since I am fully aware of the power that music has to affect me, I choose carefully the music I’m listening to. Like every good gift from God, music can be dangerous; it can stir my heart to desire things that aren’t Jesus. So I’m not slow in retuning radio stations in the car when an unhelpful song plays. I love exploring the material of new Christian artists – recommendations from friends, and streaming sites like YouTube and Spotify are brilliant resources for this. But I then support the ministries of faithful Christian artists by buying their songs.
I use music to help me remember the gospel. Lyrics with a strong rhythm, meter and melody, stick in our memories much more easily than prose (think of a childhood nursery rhyme you haven’t sung for years!). So from my children’s favourite songs (from Awesome Cutlery and Colin Buchanan), to my own favourite sing-a-longs (from Bach to Rend Collective), music has embedded into my memory Bible verses and meditations on God’s character that will last a lifetime.
And I use music to help me respond to the gospel. I allow music to stir my emotions towards God, bringing to life God’s truth when my heart is laid low. Music can cut through the noise of a busy day and quieten my heart and mind, ready for communion with Him. I play music during my quiet time, not to replace the Word of God, but to accompany it, to help the truth ring out in my heart. I turn to the inspired lyrics of fellow saints when it’s too painful to find my own words to pray. I play songs that lead me to the foot of the cross in repentance, and play songs that lead my heart into praise and thankfulness.
And I rejoice in the command in James 5:13 which says, “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.”
This article was published in the Spring 2019 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend.