Understanding Gospel Music
~Biblical insights regarding the purpose, power and impact of Gospel Music~
"Praise the Lord; Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise Him with the harp and lyre, praise Him with the tambourine and dancing, praise Him with the strings and flute, praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord" (Psalms 150:1-6, NIV).
Beloved, if you've been in church for any length of time, then you know this one fact for certain: interacting with God involves MUSIC! Whether you are listening to it, singing it, or learning scripture from it, you are surrounded by music. Throughout the Bible, angels, people, even God himself, is singing. Even in the secular world, you cannot spend a single day without being exposed to music. On the radio, the television, in shopping malls, grocery stores, at funerals, marriages, at sports gatherings, music is as much a part of our daily lives as breathing. And whether a little or a lot, your thinking, your memories, your emotions, even your very life, has been influenced by the power of music.
Once you became a believer, however, you made a commitment (hopefully!) to do and see things God's way, to understand His ways and purposes in order that you might grow spiritually. So what is God's purpose regarding music? Let us explore what the Bible says about this subject.
Understanding Praise and Worship...
If we are to understand God's purpose for commanding that music be a part of praise and worship, then we must understand something of praise and worship. When we speak of praising God, we are primarily speaking of celebrating and uplifting the wonderful acts of God: "Praise Him for His mighty acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness" (Ps. 150:2-3). Praise is the way mankind shows appreciation for someone of something, a celebration of acts, achievements and characteristics. When something or someone is being praised, the praised object is lifted up and exalted in the minds and hearts of praiser, and its value and worth is increased to them.
When we speak of worship, the word literally means "to blow kisses to," or "to kiss the foot." It comes from the word worth-ship, and speaks of expressing affection regarding a person's or an object's value and worth to us. When we express our affections to someone or something, the Bible says that we are more or less "worshipping." Praise is energetic, loud, and celebrational; worship is solemn, humble, affectionate, and intimate. One way or another, everyone, saints and sinners alike, express the focus of our hearts, minds and emotions toward SOMETHING.
Purposes of Music...
So where does the music fit in? Well, have you ever wondered why advertisers pay so much for jingles to be written for their product? Why people cry, laugh, or reminisce when certain songs are played? It's because music reverberates in our very soul and spirit, stirring our minds, emotions and hearts, causing us to be more receptive and connected to the message being shared. God designed us to be musically sensitive beings: when the music is sad, we feel sad; when it is happy, we feel joy.
Music also stimulates our memory, leading us to retain the message being shared. Have you ever wondered why many youth can't seem to remember a few Bible verses, but can memorize entire rock or rap albums? Have you ever wondered why certain commercial jingles stick in your head, even though you don't like the product? Or why you can name the songs the choir sang, but can't remember what was preached? Or have you ever heard an old song and instantly remembered, not only the words, but what you were doing when you first heard it, how old you were, and what you were doing at the time? It's because of how your mind, emotions and spirit respond to music. It stirs up memories and feelings, locks in new ones, stirs up old ones, and opens you up to the message in the song. This is one of the main reasons why true gospel music must contain and emphasize the word of the gospel to be worthy of the title!
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, AND as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God" (Col. 3:16, NIV).
Considering the great influence that music has over the human heart, it is no wonder that the Bible regularly documents its use in man's relationship with God. Man's history with God is thoroughly saturated with the use of music: for prophetic utterance, celebration, spiritual outbursts, angelic announcements, deliverance from demons and prison, and even spiritual warfare. Once we get a true revelation of music, our praise and worship will never, ever be the same!
Music and God...
"The priests then withdrew from the Holy Place. All the priests who were there had consecrated themselves... All the Levites who were musicians... stood on the east side of the alter, dressed in fine linen ad playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord; then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God" (2 Chron. 5:11-14, NIV).
The Bible makes this quite clear: God desires the praises and worship of His people, so much so that He appointed a special group of priests to serve as musicians for the worship. God wanted the worship service to be heartfelt, loud, lively, and filled with music!
Beloved, we need to understand something about worship: it was not designed to please the worshippers, but to please God! This is exactly the opposite of the focus of secular music, which seeks to please and entertain the listener first and foremost. Whom you desire to please will determine the quality, purpose and content of your music!
So how can we know when God is pleased with a worship service? The answer is simple: when He shows up in response to it! It must truly be saddening to God when His saints cut off the worship service just when He starts to show up, or when they become satisfied with a worship "performance" that doesn't reach His throne. You see, when we truly worship Him, there is a spiritual reaction in the heavenly realm. It happens something like this:
We come together and begin to worship and praise God. The Bible says that when we praise God, it is like offering a sacrifice to Him with our lips (Heb. 13:15). In the O.T., whenever a sacrifice is offered to God, the Bible says that He smells its fragrance (Gen. 8:21). This tells us that acceptable praise is like a sweet perfume to God. Consider this, saints: whenever a wife wants to appeal to her husband, one of the things she adorns herself with is his favorite perfume, knowing that once he smells it, it will draw him to her. In the same way, we, the bride of Christ, in desiring to attract our God, must put on His favorite fragrance, "Eau de Saints in Praise!" As we can see in 2 Chron. 5:11-14, He will come running to be with us!
In light of this understanding, let us remember this: It is not the music in and of itself that attracts God's attention, but the sweet fragrance of our hearts and spirits being released through the music into the spiritual realm that draws Him. Rest assured that if our hearts are not right, if there is sin in our lives, then God not only rejects our praise offering, He rejects the music that accompanies it as well! When God was angry with Israel because of their sins, He told them:
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts, I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring me choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river" (Amos 5:21-24, NIV).
Many saints believe that just because they praise God regularly they are right with God. Beloved, until we are praising Him with a heart filled with love, justice, mercy, forgiveness and grace, then we are just making religious noise as far as God is concerned! Let us check ourselves before we offer sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving!
God's Reaction to Our Praise...
So what happens when God is pleased with our praise offering? Let's take a look at a few scriptures:
"And you will sing as on the night you celebrate a holy festival; your hearts will rejoice as when people go up with flutes to the mountain of the Lord, the Rock of Israel. The Lord will cause men to hear his majestic voice and will make them see his arm coming down with raging anger and consuming fire with cloudburst, thunderstorm and hail. The voice of the Lord will shatter Assyria; with his scepter he will strike them down. Every stroke the Lord lays on them with his punishing rod will be to the music of tambourines and harps, as he fights them in battle with the blows of his arm" (Isaiah 30:29-32, NIV).
Look closely at what is being said here, saints. When we, the people of God, celebrate Him in praise and worship, God responds by coming down in anger; no, not against us, but against "Assyria," who is the enemy of Israel. God comes to fight for his bride! And notice HOW He is fighting for us: "Every stroke the Lord lays on them with His punishing rod will be to the music of tambourines and harps" As we're praising, God is punishing! For every strike of the tambourine, every strum of the strings, every beat of the drums, God is striking the enemy with a mighty blow of judgment! Praise the Lord! Have you ever been in a service where the atmosphere starts out heavy and everyone is struggling to praise God, but as you praise Him the air begins to get clearer, the praise easier and freer? Many times we sense this "spiritual lightness" just before a prophetic word comes forth. This is the result of God showing up in the worship! As he clears the air of all demonic hindrances, the saints have an easier time releasing their hearts in praise and sensing His presence!
Believe it or not, this is one of the major benefits and purposes of heartfelt praise and worship: spiritual warfare! "May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, to inflict vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron, to carry out the sentence written against them. This is the glory of all his saints" (Psalms 149:6-9, NIV).
Saints, as we sing the gospel of God and fill the air with His written word, He brings judgment on the enemy. This is why in the war with Moab and Ammon, Jehosephat "appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army" (2 Chron. 20:21, NIV). The Bible goes on to tell us that as the worship team praised God, the Lord set up ambushes for their enemies (vs. 23). We must understand this: When we focus on the Lord in prayer, praise and worship, we create an atmosphere that is "friendly" to him. This is what God is accustomed to in Heaven -- an atmosphere of constant praise and worship (Rev. 4:8-11). When we create that same atmosphere among us, it draws God's presence, and when He shows up, everything that is not holy must flee! Bondages are broken! The enemy is struck down and chased off! This is what happened when David played his harp for king Saul; this is what happened when Paul and Silas prayed and sang while in prison; and this is what happens when you and I lift up the Lord in song, praising His Holy name! When God wants to be intimate with His bride, the church, all that is not holy must leave the bridal chamber when He comes!
Missing the Mark in Our Music...
So why, you might ask, are we not seeing this take place more regularly among the saints? Why do many of us still leave the worship service dead, dry, in bondage and without having sensed God's presence? Where is the judgment of God on the enemy through song? Why does it seem that we are not changing the world with our music, but they are changing us with theirs? Let's examine one reason in scripture:
"By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion!' How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?" (Psalms 137:1-4, NIV)
There is a powerful insight here, saints. Here we see Israel in bondage to the enemy as a direct result of sin and disobedience. Israel is captive to Babylon, which means "confusion." Notice what the enemy asks for; the "songs of Zion!" Did they want to be ministered to? No!! They were mocking Israel because they recognized that the same songs which brought fear and power when Israel was right with God now had no power to convict them. This is the way it is with the church, beloved; when we are in bondage to the world, confused about our role in God's plans and about the truth of His word, we lose the presence and power of God, and the world loses its fear and respect of our relationship with God!
Have you noticed how many gospel artists are flirting with the flavor of the world's music, its clothing styles, its body language, and its musical trends, in an wayward attempt to "draw" the lost? Have you noticed how a compromised, hard-to-recognize gospel is regularly finding its way onto secular air waves, only to gain secular attention and then fade away, entertaining many, ministering to few, convicting no one? Beloved, the world only wants to hear our music when it does not convict them. Never forget this, child of God: drawing a crowd is NOT drawing souls! God does not want His music "watered down" with worldly elements to draw a crowd of sinners, with the hope that some might accidentally get saved. That is not His way! Entertainment draws people; but true ministry draws the presence of God, who convicts hearts, judges sins, and brings many to salvation (John 6:44). Without His presence, it is all just a show! We must remain focused on ministering to the Lord God, first and foremost, if we are to see the return of His power in our music! Praise the Lord!
~Pastor Ron Barnes