When it comes to worship, we are commanded to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). Why? What’s so great about music? What does music do that a recitation of Scripture doesn’t? That sermons don’t do? That mere quoted lyrics are lacking?
I believe music provides five essential things you can’t get from words alone.
- Music is an aid to memory.
How many songs can you sing along to? Compare that to how many Scripture verses you quote. When was the last time the Sunday sermon got stuck in your head on a loop throughout the week? Simply put, set something to a catchy tune, make it rhyme, and it’s exponentially easier to remember. And when you’re old and grey and have forgotten the names of your own children, you’ll still be able to sing “Amazing Grace” like you knew it as a kid.
2. Music is a shortcut to the emotions.
We are to love the Lord our God with all our mind, yes. With all our strength, absolutely. But also with all our heart (Mark 12:30). Our emotions are to get involved. Our hearts should second what our minds say. What goes in one ear can easily go out the other when it only travels in the mind. But what sinks into the heart begins to affect our decisions, our intentions, our lives. When our hearts get involved in worship, our actions follow suit.
Music gets the heart involved. Lyrics can move you, yes. But when they are set to music that builds and soars or hangs and pauses or runs away with you tapping your foot, you can’t help but be moved. And, by the way, when your emotions come in response to the truth, there is no downside to letting your emotions run away with you. This is the truth setting you free (John 8:32).
3. Music puts everyone on the same page.
God tells us that if we were all preaching or speaking at the same time, talking over one another of the goodness of God, it would be mass confusion, and I wouldn’t benefit from what you’re saying because I couldn’t make out what you’re saying (1 Corinthians 14:26-33). But music is something we can be on the same page about. All at the same time, we can all offer the same worship to the same God over the same great thing He did without stepping on each other’s toes.
As a bonus, when we are on the same page in worship, it tends to get us on the same page about other things, such as prayer and service and purpose (all of which, of course, can also be worship), and what one cannot accomplish alone, a group can.
4. Music focuses my worship toward God.
Whether my heart is bursting with bliss or breaking with despair or anything in between, that is something I can offer to God as worship. Unfortunately, many of us have trouble figuring out what we’re feeling, let alone putting words on it. And while the Holy Spirit is praying for us, with or without words (Romans 8:26), it is beneficial to put words to my worship. “I Surrender All” is easier to offer to God than a vague dissatisfaction at the results of controlling my own life. “Praise You in This Storm” is easier to offer to the Lord than hiccuping sobs and tears dripping off my chin. “Almost Home” is easer to celebrate than a deep homesickness. Yet each takes my worship and helps aim it in God’s direction.
5. Music provides a soundtrack to live by.
When my mom watches a scary movie and it gets to be too much for her, she asks Dad to turn the sound off. After all, what scary movie is scary without the music? Imagine Jaws swimming up on an unsuspecting victim without the music behind him. Not scary at all. What goes on in the background makes all the difference in the world.
Imagine if the soundtrack of my life–what I sing in the shower, what I listen to in my car, what’s coming through my headphones as I type away at my computer–was worship. If I have praise to God continually in the background of my life, soon, it will influence what’s on the forefront of my mind, how I behave and what I aim at and what controls me. When worship of God is behind everything, everything changes.
Contrary to popular assumption, God does not put restrictions on our worship music, only on our worship. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). If my heart wells up in response to the truth of what I’m singing, that is where worship lives. If God doesn’t restrict my worship to a time or place or style, why would I? ‘Cause if I do, I rob Him of my worship every time and place and style that isn’t the one I’ve chosen.
Worship to most people looks like a worship leader and a worship team singing worship songs during the worship portion of a Sunday morning worship service. And while God commands music (so let’s never discount music), let’s remember that worship is not restricted to music either. Worship is an every-moment thing, whether it’s Sunday morning, whether you have a Christian radio station playing, or not. Worship is an every-person thing, whether you can sing with the best of them or can’t carry a tune in a bucket. And whether you can make melody with your voice or not, everyone can make melody in their heart to the Lord. And anyone can turn on a radio.