Music and Worship: What's the connection?
When we were grafted into the family of God as new creatures, adopted into the living vine of Jesus, God put a new song in our hearts. This is a song of thankfulness and praise—a song of deliverance and freedom—a song that cannot be silenced. As children of the living God, we've learned a new melody. We live by the soundtrack of God's purpose and not our own. Once we marched to the beat of pride and selfishness, but now we dance to the rhythm of his love.
“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”—Psalm 40:3
Oftentimes, when we think of the word “worship,” we think about singing together with the church. We refer to singing as “worship,” and we call our church songs “worship music.” There are more than four hundred references to singing in the Bible, many of which are direct commands. But God did not command us to sing without also giving us a reason to sing. There is a connection between worship and singing, but what is it? What exactly is the role of music when it comes to worship?
A Language of the Heart
The God of the universe who formed planets, stars, mountains, and canyons is the same God who created the sounds of thunder, stampedes, ocean waves, and chirping crickets. The rhythm of trees clapping their hands and the melodies of birds singing their songs express the unparalleled musicianship of the greatest composer of all time—God himself.
God is a musical being. He does not just enjoy music; he created it. He established the science of sound waves and audio frequencies, and he crafted all the raw materials used to make the musical instruments we enjoy. The God who created music formed us in his image, and he has woven music and singing into the fiber of our being. This musical God, who created us in his likeness, sings over us like a father singing over his children to calm us and rejoice over us (Zephaniah 3:17). Musicians who make music with their voice or some other instrument mirror the very image of their Creator every time they create.
Though not all people are good at singing, most can sing, because it is the way we were made. Scientists have found that music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function. Music moves us. When the sound of music reaches the ear, it literally vibrates our eardrums and moves us. It causes us to feel deeply. Music has a unique way of touching us both physically and spiritually. So, why did God give music such an important part of human design?
The relationship that God wishes to have with us is not one devoid of emotion, but one of love, passion, and desire. God wants more than your mind and your obedience; he wants your heart. He wants all of you. He wants you to love and desire him more than anything else. And music is the language of the heart. It can penetrate the heart in ways that nothing else can. This is why the act of singing songs to God is often referred to as worship.
Singing and worship are both expressions of the heart; however, not all singing is worship and not all worship is singing. If we are merely singing songs to God while serving another master, we are no different from a man who tells his wife he loves her while sleeping with another woman. This kind of singing is not worshiping at all. To God, this kind of heartless singing is nothing more than a noise he wishes to silence (Amos 5:23). It would not be accurate to use "singing" and "worship" interchangeably for this very reason. Though it is possible to sing without worshiping, it is impossible to worship without singing. Worship includes willful obedience, and we are commanded to sing. Therefore, true worship will always be accompanied by a song. The heart drives our passions and emotions; so, it is no wonder that the God who desires our heart tells us to sing.
Music is a language that transcends all languages. Even if people of different languages cannot communicate with each other through words, they can understand the language of music. Music is like a delivery service that sends messages of emotion to and from the heart. It serves as a way of expressing the emotions that we feel, and there is a soundtrack to every human emotion. You could listen to a cartoon with your eyes closed and make an educated guess as to what was happening simply by listening to the soundtrack. The music would suggest if the scene was expressing happy, sad, suspenseful, or inspirational emotions. This same soundtrack could also have the power to create these emotions for the listener if they were not present already. For example, a minor chord may evoke mystery or suspense while a major chord might resolve tension. Music has a unique way of affecting our emotions and causing us to feel one way or another, and emotions have more power in our lives than we might even know.
In 1 Samuel 16:14-23, King Saul was tormented by an evil spirit. He requested for a skilled musician, David, to come and play a stringed instrument similar to a harp so that he would feel better. Whenever David played music, it would calm Saul's spirit and do exactly what he had hoped. Music has the power to greatly influence the way we feel, and the way we feel impacts the way we act.
A Harvard study observing the components of human decision-making concluded that emotions constitute powerful and predictable drivers of decision-making. In other words, you may credit logic and deductive reasoning for most of the decisions you make in your life, but studies show that in many cases it's our emotions that drive us to the decisions we make. It can be difficult to deny that "gut feeling" or "pit in your stomach." Though we may not be able to articulate or substantiate why we feel a particular way, that doesn't always discredit those feelings. We might be inclined to turn down an offer on something because we didn’t “have a peace about it.” Many people give more weight to their feelings than to the facts that they have.
But emotions alone are not reliable for discerning what is true; because other things are contributing to our emotions, as well, such as hormones or false presuppositions. Unbalanced chemicals in the body can impact the way you feel, and these are not always in line with what is true. Just because you feel like you are good at something doesn't mean that you are actually good at it. And just because you feel well doesn't necessarily mean that there is not some underlying illness. So, it makes sense that emotions that are aligned with the truth are good, but emotions that oppose the truth need to be rooted out.
"Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through music.”—Martin Luther
Music is a powerful tool for centering the heart because it has direct access to the heart's vault. The songs we sing help to form our worldview and shape the way we think of and interact with God. They catechize us. Songs are like sermons that get stuck in your head.
"So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding."—1 Corinthians 14:15
This is why it is so important that the theology of our songs is biblically sound. When you are sad and down because of the shame from your past sin, you can sing the songs of redemption to remember that Jesus paid it all. When you are fearful of life's circumstances, songs of God's greatness remind us that he is bigger than our fears. These melodies can drown out the whispers of the accuser and change the way we feel. Songs can call out to our drifting emotions and anchor them back to what is true. The Word, coupled with music, stirs affection and hides truths in our hearts. Singing unites our hearts, minds, and bodies together. This is why we are instructed to enter the Lord's gates with singing (Psalm 100:4); because he doesn't just want our minds, he wants all of us—totally fixed on him. An Instrument of Harmony
In Exodus 15, after God delivered his people from Pharaoh and his army, the first thing they did together was sang a song of praise to God. They sang of his greatness, majesty, and power; and recounted their victory with shouts of joy. The exodus was a foretelling of a greater salvation to come—our salvation. When we gather as a church in the name of Jesus—the one who conquered death with death to bring us life—we have a greater song to sing than they did back then. Our rescue is one that is eternal. Though the greatest version of our song will be at the final return of Jesus when people of every tribe, tongue, and nation sing "Worthy is the Lamb," we demonstrate a picture of heaven every time we gather with other believers to sing praises.
The act of singing has implications of unity that are unparalleled to any other human action. Singing demands unity of the heart, mind, and body; and when people sing together, their souls are unified with one another in this holistic way. Singing together makes us vulnerable and often makes us feel uncomfortable, but maybe that's the point. The church of Jesus is a body of believers that has been called into unity (1 Corinthians 12:27). Each member makes up a part of the body, and for the body to function properly it must be unified and fully aligned in Christ. When the church comes together to sing songs to Jesus, it is recharged and re-unified to be a healthy, functional body. When we come together to sing, we grow in our bond of unity with Jesus and one another. We are united in thankfulness, passion, and mission.
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,"—Hebrews 12:28
As we sing together, we are reminded that we belong to something bigger; that living for his kingdom is so much better than living for our own kingdoms. We are reminded that we are not alone on this journey. As a worship leader, one of the greatest joys of singing from the stage is looking out and seeing the faces of people I know and love, knowing that we are all in this together. I have my struggles and so does everyone else in the room. I have my burdens and so does everyone else. But there is one who is greater than all of our struggles and burdens combined. People of every age, ethnicity, and background gather with one thing in common: we are all sinners saved by the grace of God. Some were saved from lifestyles of reckless addiction, while others were saved from self-righteous piety. Yet, all of us, collectively, are united in thankfulness to God when we sing. We sing to remember who God is, what he has done for us, and what is yet to come. This leads us to thankfulness. This leads us to joyful praise and celebration. Thankfulness for what he has done and the promise of what is yet to come is what leads us to acceptable worship (Hebrews 12:28, Romans 12:1).
Acceptable and reasonable worship is nothing less than giving over your entire being to God as a sacrifice of praise in response to what he has done for you. Your body was born from the seed of sinful Adam, but if you have accepted the gift of Christ, then your spirit was born from the seed of Jesus. Therefore, you must choose one by sacrificing the other. This might sound confusing and may cause you to question where you stand in the sight of God, but if you struggle with this battle, then that is a good sign. For if there were no battle between the spirit and the flesh at all, then there would be no evidence of the Spirit's presence; because, by nature, you were born of the flesh. What does this have to do with singing? We are fighting a spiritual battle. Singing is a deeply profound spiritual weapon against the powers of fear and idolatry. Singing is an act of repentance and recommittal to God.
"Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."—Hebrews 13:15-16
As we sing together to the one who laid down his life for us, we are joyfully committing to laying down our own lives for our neighbors as an offering of praise to him. Our odious sins of selfishness and greed are laid on the altar. Our hearts sing. Our lips sing. And the fruit of our singing lips ripens into acts of love, kindness, and generosity towards others. When we sing, we stir our affections and emotions towards God and reset our worship back to its rightful place; considering ways to spur each other on in love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). As the physical act of individuals’ singing unites hearts and actions together, the body of Christ sings to unite the heart of loving Jesus with the action of loving others. Let us not underestimate the power of singing praises to God with each other.
From Chapter 6 of "You Are What You Worship"