Lyrics express the poet’s message. Music is the vehicle for taking the message into the heart and soul.
Emotions like love, mourning, despair, joy, sadness, and melancholy find expression in music that reflects them. Upbeat, major keys strike a chord of happiness. Minor keys and slower tempos speak of sorrow or loneliness, even without lyrics. Loud, heavy metal speaks of anger. Rap often resonates with a grinding monotony that may speak to boredom or hopelessness. Peace accompanies certain melodies, and soft refrains. Creativity and exploration come with musical surprises, often in the form of jazz.
Steve Martin once sang a funny song about the music of atheism: “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.” People of faith have always used music. The Psalms were mostly written 3000 years ago by a shepherd king named David. Some songs are even found in Exodus. And new songs are written every day about the same God who delivered the Hebrew slaves.
Christian hymns have long been a means to greater, deeper understanding of our faith. It has been said that the Bible is God’s Word to us, and the Hymnal is our response to God. Great hymn writers like Charles Wesley gave us poetry to fit our faith in words like these: ‘Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see! Hail the incarnate deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!” Or like the song of invitation, “Just as I am, without one plea, …” Or the evangelical testimony of “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love.” “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!”
Contemporary songs often cut to the core of relationship. “Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that you’re my God.” “I could sing of your love forever.” “He’ll break open the skies to save the one who cries out his name. The one the wind and waves obey is strong enough to save you.”
Whether we need to be reassured of God’s love for us, or convinced of his power to heal and help, songs and hymns can open a space in our hearts for these deep convictions. Whether we are thankful for blessings or perplexed over tragedy, songs can connect us to God. Whether we are tired of striving and persecution and pain or suddenly freed from the weight of sin, there are psalms and songs to sing through the tears.
Using music in Bible study has great potential, especially with teens. Peter Rock Star from Galilee uses contemporary songs and a few hymns in playlists at the start of each chapter. The themes in the selections match the study and discussion topics of the week.
Music reaches deeper into our hearts than words alone. Music is a vehicle for praise and thanksgiving. I hope there is a song in your heart today.
Paul writes of joy in a letter to the Philippian church while he is imprisoned. He mentions joy or some form of the word 15 times. Paul, perhaps more than any other Bible character, understands joy. Joy is deeper than happiness; it is far more than feeling good; it brings a smile to your face and a sense of peace. When asked recently what is my favorite emotion, I answered: joy.
Music transcends the physical. I love jazz, blues, praise music, classical music, piano music. I notice that when a tune is playing over and over in my head, I am generally happier. Music crowds out other noises and thoughts. No wonder so many teenagers keep their earplugs in and iPods turned up. Singing adds another dimension of joy, no matter how untrained your voice. So turn on some music or get out the instrument you used to play. Sing along to the radio.
When Paul was in the Philippian jail in Acts 16, he and Silas were singing and praising God. Singing through pain proved to be a tremendous witness to the rest of the prisoners and staff.
I have invested time in leading small groups of teens in Bible study. Getting to know middle school kids is easy and rewarding. They are full of energy and they are willing to share their ideas, some of which are pretty wild. They are eager to understand human relationships and there is no better source for good material than the Bible. This is joy: walking into church on Sunday only to be surrounded in a group hug by a bunch of smiling middle schoolers. True joy.
Paul loved his church plant in Philippi. He no doubt remembered the parties at the home of the jailer (Acts 16:34) and the hospitality of Lydia (Acts 16:40) He loved those people. So while jotting his letter to them, he couldn’t help talking about rejoicing. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4: 4)
Joy is found in thanksgiving. Literally. The Greek word for joy is smack in the middle of the Greek word for thanksgiving. Chara. Eucharistia. It is so very true. No blessing should be taken for granted. This morning I was thankful as I washed my hair in a clean hot shower, probably using more than the American average of 17 gallons. As I sit here writing in my New Orleans cottage, I am thankful for the way the sun falls through our trees, and for the birdsong before dawn. I slept well last night partly because my son called yesterday. I love to hear from our children. Find ordinary things that make you smile. Write them down. Counting your blessings can be a wonderful joy-building exercise.
Paul expressed his thanks to the Philippians for their generous monetary support. He also talked about being thankful that people were talking about Jesus Christ, whether or not their motives were selfless. He was thankful for the service of Epaphoroditus, who came from Philippi, but fell ill. He also bragged on Timothy and his work in sharing the gospel. Paul was content no matter the circumstances; he had learned how to be thankful in the little things. (Phil 4:11-13)
Big things like knowing Jesus. There is always more to learn about God and his love for us. But I KNOW whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him until the end of time. Big things like knowing my life is eternal and that I will see my mother again in heaven. It makes me smile to know that God works all things together for good. It is a settled feeling of joy. This assurance of God’s love and power and grace produces joy that cannot be shaken, even amid frightening circumstances. If you are not certain of your salvation, talk with someone. Ask questions.
Paul had this kind of assurance. Philippians 1:21 says, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” And Philippians 3: 20-21 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” When your eternal fate is secure, why not be joyful?
Laughter is good for the soul. I have a group of friends who met on the tennis courts. We play less tennis these days as our knees and hips scream at us insistently. We have supported one another through cancer and illnesses of our children and deaths of parents. But we really know how to laugh. Smiles make life’s drudgery much more pleasant. Sharing your music, your love, your thankfulness, your assurance is a way of making more joy. Tell someone. Post your smiling pictures on facebook, call a friend or family member, write someone a letter or email.
Paul knew how to share his joy. He wrote about it in his many letters. He praised and thanked others for their prayers and gifts. He sang. He laughed. He ended all his letters similarly: Grace and Peace. What makes you joyful? Please share in a comment.