The Quest for Music Miracles
© Copyright, Grantley Morris All rights reserved
The Spirit’s Enabling
God has things in His heart ‘He has never given to anybody before because everybody is so busy cloning everybody else,’ says Winkie Pratney.
To illustrate, he cites the scene he witnessed in a camp where ‘God was pouring out His Spirit in incredible ways’ upon many teenagers. A girl got up, eyes closed, walked to the piano, sat down and started to play. Winkie had never heard such music. ‘It sounded like rainbows and waterfalls and novas. It was so powerful I ran and got my tape recorder and taped it.’
With her eyes still closed, she played for an hour and a half. Winkie described the music as ‘from heaven,’ ‘scary,’ ‘unbelievable’. He stressed that she until then she had never been able to play the piano. She had always wanted to play but her family was too poor to afford lessons.
I am convinced that you can receive music direct from God. I don’t mean you could call it Psalm 151 and add it to the Bible. I mean that enough of God can be in your music that your native abilities are surpassed; that if you claimed your music originated entirely from within you, heaven could sue you for plagiarism.
Both Bach and Mozart so highly regarded a tune ascribed to church musician Heinrich Isaak that they would rather have composed it than any of their own masterpieces. Tradition, however, says that Isaak received the melody from a wondering minstrel. Said Igor Stravinsky, ‘A good composer does not imitate, he steals.’ We have enough people on earth stealing from each other. Why not plunder heaven?
Biblical revelation leads us to expect God to at least occasionally endow people with powers beyond their natural abilities. We noted in Chapter 3, Scriptural instances of supernaturally empowered physical strength, speed, stamina, sight, and speech. To the list of biblical miracles of interest to musicians, we could add divinely bestowed knowledge, (e.g., 2 Kings 6:12) wisdom, (Note Chapter 8, section 10) ability to hear heavenly things, (Acts 22:7,9; Revelation 5:11) manual dexterity, and artistic skill (Exodus 31:3-5). These were not native abilities. Some of them occurred just once in a person’s life.
Consider the implications if such acts of God were channeled into music. Imagine a flutist playing along with heavenly music she is divinely allowed to hear; a guitarist with supernaturally heightened speed or dexterity; a composer soaring beyond his natural talent under the inspiration of the same God who gave David his psalms, Solomon his wisdom, and Paul his revelations.
If our Lord can give a ‘human’ voice to an ass, (Numbers 22:28) He can give a beautiful singing voice to anyone. The God who taught David’s hands ‘to war’ (Psalm 18:34, note also Psalm 144:1) can instantaneously teach anyone’s hands to play an instrument.
We are forced to acknowledge the theoretical validity of this. With God all things are possible, and He delights in using unskilled people to put the skilled to shame (e.g., Acts 4:13; 1 Corinthians 1;26-29). Furthermore, we have gathered many clues throughout this book that heaven longs to be actively involved in our music. So it is quite conceivable that He would sometimes choose to work such musical miracles. But now it’s time for the crunch – the cold reality of life on this planet since the closing of Scripture’s canon. Are our theories ‘pie in the sky,’ or do they work in the lives of real flesh-and-blood, bumbling Christians like you and me?
Brian believed he had a ministry in music, but no-one else seemed to think so. Out of sympathy, his church allowed him to croon to them about once every six months.
One day, he announced to his pastor that he had seen himself in a dream singing with a magnificent voice to the church on Sunday night. He saw the congregation captivated by every note.
Feeling challenged that such a miracle was theoretically possible, Pastor David Pawson reluctantly consented. He could sing in the service. Brian added that in his dream, a stranger accompanied him. Here the pastor drew the line. He would have to use the church’s usual organist.
Five minutes before the service, the organist handed Pastor Pawson a note saying he had been called away. He could find only one replacement – a stranger. Brian immediately recognized the new organist as the one he had seen in his dream.
With a voice his friends had never heard before, Brian began to sing. ‘That’s not my husband!’ cried his wife, tears rolling down her face. Even his usual stiff, wooden posture was transformed. When he finished the church was filled with such awe that the eloquent preacher was unable to continue the service.
Young Kathryn Kuhlman, in her twenties, preached a simple salvation message and stayed on while a half dozen people knelt at the front. One of them was Isabel Drake, a teacher. In between sobs Isabel was praying for God to fill her with more of Himself, unaware that something extra-ordinary would occur. She then began to sing.
‘I had never heard such music,’ said Kathryn of this unforgettable experience. ‘It was the most beautiful singing with the most beautiful voice I had ever heard. She was singing in a language I had never heard, but it was so ethereal, so beautiful that I felt the hair on my skin begin to rise.’
Isabel’s mother, gripping Kathryn’s hand so forcefully as to almost crush it, gasped in near-hysteria, ‘That’s not my daughter singing. Isabel can’t even hold a tune. My daughter can’t sing a note!’
May got out of bed to switch off the television. Joe must have left it on.
The set was dead. Where was the music coming from? From Leslie’s room? Sixteen year-old Leslie, blind, spastic and mentally retarded, couldn’t talk or hold a spoon. He’d never managed to even wriggle out of bed by himself. Yet there in front of her was Leslie, seated at the piano, giving a flawless rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. This severely retarded boy had never so much as played a note before.
May fell to her knees, praising her miracle-working God.
Thereafter, with skill equal to a professional, Leslie was able to play any tune after hearing it only once. Often, his rendition would contain embellishments and feeling which were lacking in the music he was challenged to copy.
Later, years before he learned to talk, he began to sing. His repertoire, which included almost every conceivable type of music, grew into thousands before everyone lost count.
Leslie Lemke has become so famous that you have probably heard of him. His concerts move his audiences so profoundly that it defies explanation or comparison. Through them, many people have come to know the Lord.
While ‘experts’ frantically grope for a natural reason for Leslie’s unique gift, we need look no further than May’s and Joe’s faith-filled prayers to the Lord of creation. Year after heart-wrenching year the Lemkes daily interceded for their pitiful charge. May would say she made a real nuisance of herself, persistently badgering heaven for a miracle. From the time Leslie was twelve, her prayers became more specific. Tenaciously clinging to Jesus’ parable in which everyone received a talent, May insisted that God give Leslie a talent.
For the Lord not to honor such stubborn faith would be more astounding than the subsequent miracle. No wonder Leslie’s performances have such a powerful impact. How many of us have mediocre, rather than miraculous, ministries because we have failed to emulate May’s persistent prayer-life? Let’s refuse to accept anything less than heaven’s best!
Caedmon, who died in about AD 680, is widely regarded as the first writer of hymns in the English (Anglo-Saxon) language. Until late in his life, this prolific hymnist had been poetically and musically inept.
One night, as Caedmon slept in a stable, a man appeared to him in a dream and asked him to sing. ‘I can’t sing!’ protested poor Caedmon. This inability was the very reason why he was in the stable. At feasts, guests were sometimes invited to take turns singing. Whenever his turn was approaching, he would walk out, rather than face the embarrassment of displaying his musical incompetence. That very night, to his distress, it had happened yet again.
At the man’s insistence, however, the sleeping Caedmon launched into an original song extolling God as Creator. When he awoke, the song was still with him.
Early in the morning, an excited Caedmon reported the strange experience to the monastery. Soon scholars were assembling to hear his song. So impressed were they, that they pronounced it a divinely bestowed gift. Further, they expounded a Christian theme and invited him to render it in verse. To their delight, the next morning, Caedmon presented them with a beautiful poem on the nominated topic.
He was urged to join the monastery, where this same technique was employed innumerable times with astounding success. They would expound a Scripture or doctrine and he would return it to them in delightful, melodious verse. Before long, his works covered a huge range of biblical themes and deeply moved many hearts.
Does God really do things like that? I confess I wondered how much of this tale is historical fact, rather than quaint legend. Tracking information to its source is often frustrating, full of cul-de-sacs, and sometimes disappointing. This time, however, there is gold at the end of the trail. All the above facts about Caedmon can be traced to none other than the scholarly English monk, Bede (c.673-735 AD). Not only did he write soon after Caedmon, he is renowned for his thorough historical research.
For Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), composing was such a spiritual exercise that whenever he got stuck he said, ‘I try to find out if I have erred in some way or other, thereby forfeiting grace; and I pray for mercy until I feel that I am forgiven.’
When writing his great oratorio The Creation, Haydn prayed every day for strength for the task. Near the end of his life, this famous composer heard, for the last time, his impressive chorus, Let there be Light.
‘Not mine, not mine!’ he exclaimed, ‘It all came to me from above’.
A servant opened the door to find Handel in tears. ‘I did think I did see all heaven before me, and the great God Himself,’ blurted the composer. He had just finished writing the Hallelujah Chorus. That the Messiah could be written in so short a time caused Sir Newman Flower to pronounce ‘it will remain, perhaps forever, the greatest feat in the whole history of music composition.’ The composer ate little during those momentous 24 days. Later, fumbling for words to describe his experience, he said, ‘Whether I was in the body or out of my body when I wrote it I know not.’
It was mid-1966. Several hundred Pakistanis had gathered in Hyberabad to farewell their beloved Australian missionary. At the end of the meeting, the guest of honor, Rev. Geoffrey Bingham, was asked to close in prayer. He arose to do just that, but instead, he found himself singing. Somewhat surprised, he sang with transcended ability about Christ suffering on the cross and of the love of the Father and encouraged those present to go on in Christ. Though not sure what his next words would be, his song continued for probably more than ten minutes. An American Episcopal Bishop expressed his amazement, wondering how Rev. Bingham had fit the words into the tune. Both missionaries realized that it was not the usual type of Christian music sung in Pakistan, but the significance escaped them.
In contrast, most of the Pakistanis had tears in their eyes. Not only were they deeply moved by the words, the melody had touched them as well. ‘How did you learn our music?’ they asked, astonished to hear such music coming from a westerner. They explained that it was the type of music associated with Urdu folk songs which were a thousand years old.
The Spirit of God had not only spoken, He had chosen the perfect melody with which to whisk those words deep into Pakistani hearts.
Rev. Bingham is well aware of the tendency for us to unconsciously reproduce tunes we have heard before. Nevertheless, this highly perceptive and intelligent man is convinced that such an explanation of this event is hopelessly inadequate.
Two or three weeks later, Rev. Bingham was some three hundred and seventy miles away in a rural area, leading an outdoor meeting. Few Christians have seen such scenes. The Spirit of God was moving in an exceptionally powerful way. The feeling of love and unity was immense and it was soon to manifest itself in a remarkable manner.
As he was about to lead in prayer, Rev. Bingham again found himself singing. He recognized the song flowing through his lips as somewhat similar to the one the Lord gave him in Hyberabad. But no-one else did. He was the only one present who had been at both meetings.
He had hardly started when all those present joined in, singing the same words and music! The congregation would have been familiar with the musical style, but the tune, quite complex by western standards, was almost certainly quite new to them, and the words definitely were. Nevertheless, Rev. Bingham could clearly hear them pronouncing the words as they sang along with him. The missionary himself was unsure what his next words and notes would be, yet it seemed not one of the two or three hundred present were silent. Finally, after ten or so glorious minutes, they all stopped together.
Acts 4:24 could possibly mean that all present unitedly prayed aloud an identical prayer. Since this is a most obvious interpretation, commentators have often felt obliged to specifically mention it, but they usually reject it. Such a miracle seems improbable. However, Rev. Bingham’s experience has led him to conclude that we have underestimated what can happen when Spirit-filled Christians are united in love.
In a church service in Adelaide, South Australia, the Holy Spirit gave Pastor Roger Rice a brand new song. He immediately sang it to the congregation. Simultaneously, the Lord gave a member of the congregation the same tune and words. Glennis Wearn was inclined to publicly join the pastor in his new song, but refrained for fear that such boldness would be construed as improper. Instead, she remained in her seat, quietly singing a duet with her pastor. Though the words and tune were completely new, singing the duet was so effortless that it seemed to her as if anyone could have done it. (Related to me in person by Glennis, a woman well known to me.)
During the Welsh revival, the congregational singing soared to such spectacular heights that one of the leaders, R. B. Jones, declared it ‘indescribable’ and ‘unimaginable.’ ‘I have seen nothing like it,’ he declared. Conventional hymns were sung, but with a supernatural unity. Unannounced, an appropriate hymn would suddenly commence. It was as though the congregation were responding to an invisible baton – as if over one thousand individuals had gelled into one personality.
We saw in Chapter 2 that the hearing of celestial music has continued down to present times. Some of this music might be beyond our powers to reproduce. Nevertheless, in a divinely-given vision, John the Revelator not only heard songs, he recorded the lyrics for posterity (e.g. Revelation 5:9-10). Perhaps he even shared the tunes with some fellow Christians. He heard melody just as surely as the lyrics. Isaiah may have had a similar experience when he heard the seraphim’s worship (Isaiah 6:3). The angelic Christmas carol is yet another celestial song which has found a permanent place in Scripture. Such Biblical occurrences prove that at least part of some heavenly songs can be shared with the world.
A pastor lost his power of speech. With his ministry opportunities severely curtailed, he prayed for a new way to serve His Lord. He always maintained that his hymn writing gift was a direct answer to that prayer.
One day, while communing with God, he had a vision of Paradise. As he gazed in awe, words came to him which he immediately wrote down. Only after completing the song did the vision slowly fade. That song, born so mysteriously, was soon being sung around the world, blessing countless thousands of people.
The experience of a modern-day Pentecostal? Hardly. He was Rev. William O. Cushing. The year was 1876. As you read this section, notice the dates. Many of the instances were clearly untouched by twentieth century Pentecostalism. Indeed, they belonged to an era in which I would expect a greater reluctance than exits today to admit to a supernatural experience.
Thirteen years earlier, Prebendary Edward Harland had a dream. He saw a huge heavenly choir singing as they entered a glorious temple. The moment he awoke from the dream, he recorded the words he had heard. The hymn was later published.
In that same decade, Phillips Brooks wrote, ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ for a Sunday school Christmas festival. He asked his Sunday school superintendent, organist Lewis Redner, to provide a suitable melody. Inspiration, however, eluded the organist. Redner went to sleep on Christmas eve with still no tune. As he slept, he dreamt he heard angels sing. Upon waking, he quickly jotted down the angel’s melody. It winged Brooks’ carol to popularity. For the rest of his life Redner believed the tune came from heaven.
This side of eternity, we may never know how many other Christian works have had similarly remarkable origins. In many Christian climes, there would be considerable pressure to suppress such facts.
Nevertheless, we know enough to be certain that God’s desire to communicate with His people through dreams and visions didn’t die when the ink dried in the final word of the New Testament. Nor has it suddenly been revived in our era.
The fading of the first century did not introduce a new spiritual epoch. It was the dying of our Savior that established our current spiritual era, not the dying of the last apostle.
For God to change the ground rules at some point in history, would require another covenant. Large chunks of the New Testament would be obsolete. If it is true that ‘I will pour out my Spirit . . . and your young men shall see visions’ is not a promise we can claim today, the New Covenant has been superseded and God didn’t bother to tell us. For the Lord to withdraw this promised mode of communication with His children would have been such a blow to the early church that they would have needed at least as much warning and preparation as Scripture gives regarding the Second Coming. At no time – not today, not in the middle ages – has God ever rescinded His promise to the church.
Deception, excesses and heresy have always been with us, but so has a loving Savior who longs to reveal Himself through His Word and through visions.
In Tune with God: Contents
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