Scripture: Psalm 150
It is almost impossible to separate a practice and an understanding of Christianity from music. For as long as there have been Christians we have been singing. The gospels of Matthew records that the disciples sang hymns together on the night of the last supper. Paul and Silas were singing songs of praise while imprisoned in the book of Acts. The letter to the Corinthians mentions congregational singing, and the letter to the church in Philippi even includes quotes from an ancient Christian hymn. This scripture from Psalm 150 this morning, shows us that music has long, long been away to worship the living God.
It honestly is no surprise that music is such a big part of worship. There is something uniquely special about music. A popular quote, which is actually a mixture of several different quotes and can be attributed to no one in particular, is “music is the language of the soul.” There is perhaps something to that. Music tends to speak to us on a level like nothing else. This is backed up by science. There are very few things that light up our brains like music does. While the music styles differ, this is a universal human response across cultures. More than visual images, music has the ability to fire up the emotional centers of our brain and create a genuine emotional response. Music is stored in our memory differently, which is why when you cannot remember where you put your keys down you can still sing the words to a song you have not heard for two decades. Music can also activate the language and comprehension parts of brain. This not only helps remember lyrics, but it is easier for us to understand and find deep meaning in song lyrics as opposed to an academic book. It is no wonder music has been so central to Christian worship. Music enables us to experience and understand God like anything else.
Of course, because even as Christians we are imperfect and flawed there is a dark side to music in the church. It has long been a point of controversy. It is hard for us to think about it now, but songs like When I survey the Wondrous Cross were once controversial. In an era when singing the scripture of Psalm was most common, Isaac Watts began writing new hymns, like When I survey the Wondrous Cross, and some people were not happy about it. The hymns of Charles Wesley, such as O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing and Hark the Herald Angels Sing, were once scandalous. Wesley wrote his songs to reach the unchurched so he would often set his profound lyrics of worship to familiar tunes that were commonly used in taverns and pubs. For the past twenty years too many churches have spent too much time and energy fighting the worship wars between traditional and contemporary. It starts to become a silly argument when you realize that many of the songs first considered “contemporary worship” are now pushing thirty years old.
It is true that we all have music styles we prefer. Some people feel that an organ is the music of heaven, others think that old time gospel music is the music of the heart, still others desire the beat of rock and roll, and others worship best when someone drops the bass in hip-hop music. There are so many different music styles and they can all be used to praise the Lord. That is the point of this morning’s scripture. Did you hear how many different instruments were named? They all produce different styles of music, but they can all be used to worship and praise the Lord. The type of music is not important. What is important is that God is glorified.
Worship is when we turn our hearts fully to God. Music helps us to do that better than anything else. When we praise God in genuine worship, then that is the most beautiful sound in the world, regardless of the musical style. It should not matter if the song is too slow. Praise the Lord anyway. It should not matter if the song is too loud. Praise the Lord anyway. It should not matter if we are not familiar with the words. Praise the Lord anyway. When we worship God we should focus not on what we prefer or our most comfortable with, but the focus should be on praising, worshiping, and glorifying the triune God.
May everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord! May you praise the Lord. May you always be willing to worship in Spirit and in truth.