Tag Archive for church music

God of All Music

During forty years in church music publishing, I’ve seen how easily we confuse our biblical beliefs with our cultural preferences. Usually we don’t even realize that these are two different things, much less are we able to distinguish the two. A glance at church history down through the ages proves that the problem is ever with us.

This is certainly true in music. Our personal tastes are deeply, fiercely held, and they seem so “right” to us.

We like to think of ourselves as rational and biblically literate. Whatever our tastes, we learn to support them by scripture and reason. But let’s be honest: with all of us, the head tends to bend to the will of the heart. I am no exception. In the current tension between hymns and praise songs, I have my preferences, and I can support them with logic and chapter and verse.

But God continues to show me that He is the Source and Sovereign of all. He alone is all-knowing. He alone is holy. Thus His purposes and His perspective are so much broader and deeper than I can imagine. His concerns are all-encompassing. They take in every need of every being of every race, nation, age, culture, and personality.

This God of all is the God of all music. From Him and through Him and to Him are all things (Romans 11:36, NASB). Rationally, can I really believe that this all-encompassing Spirit-being limits His creative voice to one particular musical style or set of styles? Hardly! Read His written Word. He speaks through prophets, children, kings, and fools, donkeys, sunsets, wind, and fire, laws, stories, love poems, and songs. Do we really think that such a God speaks only through our narrow range of preferred musical styles?

Read 1 Corinthians12:3:

No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (NASB)

That seems to apply to sung as well as spoken word. All music that proclaims Jesus as Lord is, in some sense, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It flows from Him, through Him, and to Him, for the glory of God. The same passage goes on to say:

There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. (1 Corinthians 12:4-5, NASB)

I can give strong, logical reasons why musical styles I don’t prefer are seriously flawed. But every style is seriously flawed, my own included. Every human effort is partial and imperfect. Our music is imperfect. Our praise is imperfect. Even our love is imperfect.

Each of our perspectives is childishly limited. Our motives are uneven. We are more small-minded and self-centered that we ever imagine. But God uses all who trust Him, no matter how stumbling our faith might be. Read the Bible. Consider Noah, Abraham, Hagar, Moses, Samson, Gideon, David, and more.

If Paul made himself all things to all people that he might win some (1 Corinthians 9:19-23), how much more will the Father of All, in His unquenchable love, use all the tools at His disposal that He might reach everyone.

The Bible warns us repeatedly and in the strongest terms not to judge one another. Shouldn’t that include one another’s music as well? I’m not referring to constructive criticism or comparative study done in a Christ-like spirit. Such objective evaluation can be mutually beneficial. But we dare not condemn a style as being unworthy of being offered to God for His glory.

Let’s humble ourselves before our Father and before our brothers and sisters. Let’s admit our smallness, narrowness, and ignorance. Let’s support the Spirit’s work, even when we are unable to fully appreciate it.

Listen and sing:
Hymn: God of All People
Printed Music & Lyrics

Broaden Your Appreciation

I had been in church music publishing for years and had learned to appreciate a wide variety of styles and songs. But there were some songs I just didn’t respect, to the point that I hesitated to include them in publications. For example, I read the words to Mosie Lister’s “Where No One Stands Alone” and the Gaithers’ “There’s Something About That Name” and found nothing substantial. Yes, there was emotion, but what were the songs saying? All I saw was sentimental drivel.

Then one day I realized that when I examined a song in that way, I was only experiencing half of it.  I wasn’t hearing the praise that arises from the hearts of believers for whom these songs are poignant expressions of faith. I wasn’t hearing the genuine worship these songs release when sung from a heart of worship. In the mouths of many God-fearing, Bible-believing brothers and sisters in Christ, these simple, sentimental words become powerful expressions of faith and praise to the Living God.

“Where No One Stands Alone” becomes a profound and moving statement of our loneliness without God and our deep, inexpressible hunger for Him. (It also helps to know that the song was inspired by Psalm 51.)

“There’s Something About That Name” verbalizes that indefinable attraction we feel for the man Jesus Christ.

A song is just marks on a paper or a sequence of sounds until some believer brings it to life and lifts it as an offering to God. Then it becomes a prayer or praise. Only part of it can be read on paper or heard on a recording. God often uses very humble means to speak to people and do His work. He often chooses lowly expressions of childlike faith to glorify Himself. Almighty God continues to confound the wise and to break out of whatever boxes we put Him in.

As a young person starting in music publishing, I was very negative about southern gospel music. I watched its performers. I was annoyed that so many of its songs harped on a very few emotional themes, like heaven. They made the whole style seem shallow and artificial. But working with gospel songwriter Mosie Lister, I began to appreciate southern gospel as true folk music. Its strength was its simplicity and natural exuberance. I learned to look beyond the seeming shallowness of some of its practitioners and see its tremendous potential for ministry.

On the other hand, some evangelicals hear more liturgical styles and write them off as cold, boring, and emotionless. What they don’t realize is that these believers want to hear God and exalt Him just as much as evangelicals. But they seek truth that is deeper than emotion. They long for thoughtfulness in worship. They want to taste the mystery of God. For many, quietness brings God nearer than does wild emotion.

As a hymn-lover and hymn-leader, beware of pride and narrow-mindedness, no matter what your educational level or musical style. Remember, God calls all His servants to minister with humility and compassion, to be people-centered and people-sensitive in all they do. Like Paul, we must be willing to be all things to all people so that we might reach as many as possible with the love of Jesus Christ, which crosses every boundary.

A Musician’s Prayer

“Speak, for Your servant is listening.”
(1 Samuel 3:10, NASB)

Father, when I am asked to serve,
I will be willing.
When I am not asked,
I will accept it joyfully
as Your decision, my Lord.

You are always good,
and I am simply Your servant.
I will not crave a place of service
You have given to another.

Thank you for Your generous and wise love.