That Stuff We Do Before and After the Sermon

Interestingly enough, the Bible contains a songbook. That’s what the Psalms, all 150 of them, actually are. But have you ever thought about why that is? Along the same lines, did you know that Paul actually instructs the Colossians to sing “songs and hymns and spiritual songs” (3:16)?

In fact, at least since the time of Moses if not before, God’s people have always worshipped him with music. So there must be something to it. But what? Here are three related thoughts:

1. Music helps us worship with the full range of who we are as human beings.

God certainly created us as rational entities. We’re endowed with the ability to employ propositions, make inferences, evaluate truth claims, reason abstractly, etc. And all of that is useful and even necessary in understanding and following God.

But that’s not the sum of our existence. We’re not just insubstantial CPUs. We’ve been created as physical, emotional, and aesthetic beings. Music invites physicality: with our ears and voices certainly, but also in other ways. Psalm 47 exhorts all peoples to “clap their hands” and Psalm 150 urges us to praise God with percussion and even dance. (You can do all that stuff in church?!?!).

Likewise, music allows us to appreciate beauty and creativity, which is one way we’ve been created to image God (who we find doing this very thing in places like Gen. 1 and Psalm 104). Not only that, but if we consider them rightly, any expression of beauty/creativity is capable of pointing us to appreciating and worshipping its source, God himself.

Finally, while music speaks to the mind, it often does it through the hearts, the seat of our emotion and will. In other words, while music is not less than rational, it’s certainly more. Therefore it can encourage the rest of our faculties to engage as they should. And in this way, our hearts can be brought in line with what we actually believe. This ties in to my second point.

2. Music is powerful. 

All the above (and surely more) means that music can make produce a wide range of responses, some of which are astonishingly powerful. There’s a reason, for example, why movies employ soundtracks. The music often communicates as much of the story as the dialogue and action.

Think also of virtually any quality musical performance that you’ve ever witnessed. One of the most profound, and I’d even say spiritual, experiences I’ve ever had occurred at a rock concert. (Along the same lines, I caught a showing at last weekend’s T/F Film Fest of Twenty Feet from Stardom, a documentary about a handful of veteran and very talented background singers. The near capacity crowd at Jesse Auditorium erupted in appreciation, I suspect not just for the film, but also for the people involved and the music they’ve created.)

This is part of the reason why we can be pierced by sorrow, engulfed in joy, and moved to tears of all kinds when we worship God with music.

3. Music is memorable.

It’s fair to say (though I can’t remember who first said it) that you can evaluate a church’s spiritual health through its music. If that music creatively expresses truth that honors God and communicates his gospel and its implications, then the church is likely on a firm foundation.

Why is that? Again because of everything mentioned above, music is memorable. And while the preaching of God’s word is rightly found at the center of the church’s worship, it’s often music that helps to ensure lasting understanding and appreciation for biblical truth. 

Paul certainly knew this: his instruction for the Colossians to sing is found in the context of his admonition that they “let the word of God dwell in [them] richly.” If you’ve been around a church for very long, you might be surprised to find out how many biblical passages you’re familiar with because you’ve encountered them in music. And that doesn’t even count the more general biblical and theological truth you absorb through solid musical worship. If I ever doubted this in my own life, I’ve see it play out time and again the lives of my young kids.

Obviously, much more can and has been said on this subject. But I hope this will at least help you value all that stuff we do before and after the sermon a little bit more. As Martin Luther once said: “Next to the word of God, music deserves the highest praise.”

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