The presence of dreams, visions or angels, however, is not essential for divine assistance in a composition.
God spoke to Job out of a whirlwind, to Elijah in 'a still, small voice,' to Gideon by a dew-drenched fleece, to Josiah by the Scriptures. He has spoken through girls and old men, through kings and prisoners-of-war.
When God wishes to deliver a melody to you, He has an enormous range of options, including dropping it into your mind, perhaps a few notes at a time, in a manner so subtle that it seems the work of your own creativity.
William Cowper's dearest friend was gravely ill. From the midst of this painful experience came his famous hymn, 'Oh, for a closer walk with God.' The words of the hymn 'were whispered to my heart,' he said, 'in a way which I have often experienced.' Theoretically, this 'whispering' could have been as much of God as if a heavenly choir had chanted it to him.
'Writing is praying for me,' wrote Frances Ridley Havergal. She prayed not just for enabling or thoughts, but for each word. She would receive perhaps a line, joyfully thank her Master, then look to Him for the next word or note.
Many people regarded her as talented, but she considered the truth to be 'much nicer' than that. She believed her poems and music not the product of her ability, but something she received line by line from God. To confirm that it was really the Lord and not herself, she would sometimes discover that the ability to write verse was taken from her . Once, this lasted for five years. If each word, each rhyme, each note is a direct answer to prayer, the whole work must be gloriously saturated with heavenly input.
Ira Sankey was on a British train scanning a newspaper for news from home. His eye caught a poem, 'The ninety and nine.' Enthusiastically, he told Moody it would make a good Gospel song. Moody requested it be read to him. This the famous singer did, with as much feeling as he could muster. Upon completion, he expectantly looked up, only to find Moody so unimpressed that he had already reverted to reading his mail. Deflated, Dr. Sankey cut out the poem and cast his mind to other things.
Next day, Dwight Moody was preaching a stirring sermon on 'The Good Shepherd'. Suddenly, he asked Sankey to sing something appropriate. Sankey's heart pounded. This gifted singer and composer had a wide repertoire and yet the perfect song for the occasion seemed to elude him.
Out of nowhere a voice seemed to say, 'Sing the hymn you found in the train.'
'Impossible!' thought Sankey. The words were ideal but they had never been put to music. He was about to totally dismiss the ridiculous notion when again the impression came that he must sing this poem.
In one of the most nerve-racking moments of his life, he reached into his pocket, unfolded the newspaper scrap and, before more than a thousand people, placed it on the organ.
Offering a fervent prayer as though his life depended on it, he struck a chord and sang the first word. Note after note came to him. A hush fell upon the audience.
Miraculously, the first verse was completed. But would he be able to repeat the miracle for the second verse? Sankey's mind raced. What if he forgot the new-born melody? But the Lord who started the miracle was well able to complete it. That tune has circled the globe with not a note changed.
'Sankey, where did you get that hymn?' asked Moody with tears in his eyes. 'I never heard the like of it in my life.'
It was the poem Moody had dismissed the previous day!
Though born in a moment, it became his most popular song.
Heaven's interest in music extends far beyond song-writing.
'Sometimes, after prayer and fasting, God would anoint me at a practice and show me things on the guitar I'd never done before,' said Stewart Wissell, speaking of his experiences when a member of the gospel group 'Emmanuel.' 'It's as if the Holy Spirit would take control of my mind and hands and put patterns in my guitar playing which I never knew could be done. Even in live concerts this would often happen.'
I can certainly understand why Stewart said he found that exciting. Note, however, that it wasn't a substitute for practice. God's grace isn't intended to induce slothfulness.
Mrs. Hall scribbled in the choir loft during her pastor's lengthy prayer. The result was the hymn 'Jesus paid it all'. She showed it to her pastor, who had no difficulty finding a tune. Another church member had written some music and handed it to him. The two matched perfectly.
While in Southern Africa, David Pawson wrote a hymn, based on part of the book of Habakkuk. He searched for a suitable tune and could only find one.
Some time later, he visited a church in England. To his amazement, he discovered they had felt led to learn this very tune. They knew nothing about his song. Not having any words, they used to merely hum the melody, in blind obedience to the Spirit's leading. Pastor Pawson had the words the Lord was preparing them for.
When Brett Johnson announced his song, I was annoyed. It was the second time in as many weeks he had chosen that song. I later learned that others had considerably more fuel for criticism. For this church, it was actually the fourth time in a month that artists had sung 'On Christ the solid rock I stand.'
Until now, it had apparently been merely an unusual coincidence. But this time, it was a deliberate choice on Brett's part. And everyone knew it.
Brett had a very wide repertoire, including several dozen original songs. Despite this, and knowing that the worn-out hymn had already been ridiculously over-exposed, this young man announced that he felt led of God to sing it yet again!
It was Brett's home church. He would have to live with this for a long time.
That morning, during his usual time with the Lord, he was reminded that his purpose was not to entertain, but to minister to people, as God's Spirit directed. That clinched it for Brett. He would face the fireworks. There was only one way for him - God's way.
Here was a man God could trust with a snippet of His infinite knowledge. God's direction did not have to make human sense before he would step out in obedience. He had the courage to take up God's challenge.
The song completed, Pastor Andrew Evans arose to preach. His text was none other than the parable of the man who built his house upon the rock. So accurately did his sermon fit the song, that Pastor Evans deliberately read verbatim a portion of his typed notes to demonstrate how he and Brett had independently chosen exactly the same theme. It was fitting that Brett be honoured in front of the whole congregation, in whose presence he had risked humiliation.
Before someone tries to dismiss this act of God as mere coincidence, let me share another incident in Brett's ministry. He and his wife were asked to sing in an evening service in their church. They chose one of Brett's original songs. This is how it went:
Place your Word, eternal truth,
Deep within my heart,
That I might know
The wisdom of your ways.
And let that seed of love you've sown,
Grow into a tree,
Bearing fruit for all the world to see.
Search me, O God, and know my heart,
Try me and know my anxious thoughts,
And see if there be any wicked way in me.
Lead me in Thy everlasting way.
O, lead me in Thy everlasting way.
There are things within me still
That have to fall away.
Complete the work within me, Lord I pray,
And shape me for your perfect work,
Like a potter moulds the clay.
And help me Lord to serve you everyday.
I have quoted it in full because it gives valuable insight into why this man hears from God. Moreover, you can see for yourself that there is scant reference to being moulded by a potter. Yet the song they sang on Sunday emphasised this. For no rational reason, Connie and Brett felt led to sing 'Like a potter moulds' thrice, instead of the usual once. Never before or since have they done that.
Music which on one occasion assists, will on a similar occasion, hinder. God alone can differentiate.
Invitational songs have often been used to bring people to a life-changing decision. But not always. Teenager, George Beverly Shea, came under conviction many times. Each time, however, he would release his pent-up emotions by heartily singing the invitational hymn with the congregation, thus delaying his spiritual pilgrimage.
Background music has sometimes been most helpful, but some people could react so violently to this 'attempt to manipulate emotions' that the music ends up hindering the Spirit's work. At times Billy Graham has chosen not to use music when people in his crusades are making a decision for Christ.
No matter how experienced we become in the use of Christian music, we never lose our dependence upon the Spirit's leading.
The Lord whispers His directions to those who sincerely seek Him. But Scripture teaches it is far better to have never received a revelation than to hear and not obey. (2 Peter 2:21; Luke 12:47 f; John 15:22) And why should God even bother to share His secrets with musicians too inflexible or tradition-bound to respond to them? (cf Matthew 15:9) The Bible records times when people sought the Lord's guidance in vain. Knowing they were rebellious, God refused to answer them. (Ezekiel 20:1-3,31; 14:3,7f - see also Psalm 66:18; Proverbs 1:25-30; Jeremiah 14:10-12; Zechariah 7:13) So let's rid ourselves of hindrances and enter the exciting realm of Spirit-led ministry.
'That's good!' she gushed when he finished his song.
'Oh, it wasn't me,' he humbly said, 'it was the Lord.'
'No - it wasn't that good!'
Having confirmed that God wants to be creatively involved in our music, we come to what I regard as the most exciting part of the book - discovering how our creativity and God's creativity mesh. If we get this wrong we will produce music which, no matter how good, is still less than what God wants and, no matter how much we enjoy our ministry, we will still miss one of the greatest joys a human can experience. Because it is so vital that we are convinced of the following, I will in a short space look at it from many different angles, not to be repetitive, but to prove that no matter how we approach it, truth leads to the one, thrilling conclusion.
When writing the book that grew from this one, (See Appendix, Note 0.1) I pleaded with God that it be all of Him and none of me. That seemed spiritual and I sincerely meant it, but God was not interested. His revelation came only in drips, and putting it together was like trying to thread needles with spastic hands. All of God? I could not possibly have poured more of my own effort into that book, yet I knew God was there - powerfully.
My prayer to become God's dictating machine fizzled because I had not counted on God's love. He ignored my offer, just like the father ignored his prodigal son's offer to relinquish sonship and become a hired hand. (Luke 15:18,21-24)
The Almighty wants to give us the thrill and honour of genuine involvement in His magnificent purposes. Being creative is God-like and He longs for His children to know this joy. If, through His inexplicable love, Christ wants me as co-heir, he wants me as co-author. (cf 1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6.1;)
It was critical that a piece be written immediately and Jimmy Owens' mind was blank. In desperation Carol slumped to her knees at her bedside. 'Do you know what it's like when you're trying to create something?' she asked God, then broke into laughter as she realised who she was speaking to. What made the moment so precious, however, was that when she next peeked at her husband, ideas were flowing almost quicker than he could scribble.
Divine love is a compelling reason for God valuing our efforts. Here is another: God created our creativity. Our raw natural abilities are as much a product of God's creativity as any music He could ever compose. He could not deny our (consecrated) creative efforts without denying His own creative skill in making us.
Some people's claim to divine inspiration produces such mediocrity that it seems an excuse for laziness or, more likely, a failure to see the gap in the 'all of God, none of me' half-truth.
Self must die - sinful selfishness, independence, pride and trying to earn heaven's approval. And we must yield everything to Christ, acknowledging that His ways are higher than our's. But to go so far beyond this that we renounce and denigrate our divinely-created mental and physical powers is as unchristian as gnostic heretics who taught that everything physical is of the devil.
Paul's ministry was an astounding mixture of hardship (torture, deprivation, shipwreck) and miracles (healings, earthquake, snakebite survival, blinding of Elymas' eyes). Likewise, your music should be a peculiar mixture of the natural (plain hard work) and the supernatural (divine intervention). The same passage of Scripture that emphasises the prophetic (ie supernatural) side of music, also points to the existence of a training system. (1 Chronicles 25:1-8, especially 7,8)
During her 'musical visions', (Described in Chapter 2) Frances Ridley Havergal, for the most part was content merely to marvel at what she was hearing. At times, however, she applied her mind to composing along with the ethereal music, predicting, and in fact willing the next sequence.
That our Lord wants us to be submissive but active partners is His work, not mindless robots, is demonstrated in the penning of Scripture. In the original language, the individual style of each human writer is very obvious. It is truly the Word of God, yet the Lord ordained it that each sentence bears the imprint of the human writer. He chose to use, rather than over-ride, the individual personalities of the writers. If this is so for Scripture, which is more God-inspired than anything we could produce, it will be true for even our most Spirit-filled music.
A man and a woman in love long for a union, the natural result of which is offspring that are neither entirely the man's, nor the woman's, but bear the unmistakable marks of both. That union, Scripture boldly declares, has a spiritual parallel. (Ephesians 5:31f) Though this initially shocks our impure minds, it rings true. The human desire to express love in this manner was placed within us by the One who fashioned us in His image. The inexhaustible creativity of God longs, through our union with Him, to birth within us unique and wondrous things, bearing the image, not just of one partner, but of both Him and us.
A musician and an instrument unite to produce sounds which neither would produce without the other. We are living instruments fashioned by the divine Instrument Maker with greater sophistication than any man-made instrument, having our own creativity. Like an instrument maker with his cherished instrument, our Maker longs to blend His ability with ours to produce unique sounds to bless the world.
So, both to express His unfathomable love for us and to display His own genius in creating us, the omnipotent Lord treasures our contribution. But because that same love yearns for intimacy with us and that same creativity forever craves new expression, the Almighty longs to couple His supernatural ability with our natural effort to birth something as unique and as precious as is a child to its loving parents. The product of this supernatural union will be in one sense human, in another sense divine; an earthly song glowing with heavenly glory.
Let's clarify the often misunderstood role of human effort. As a proud attempt to earn salvation, good works are abhorrent. Wrong attitudes turn good works sour. As an expression of loving submission to God, however, sweat is beautiful. For the Spirit-filled Christian in divine submission, human exertion and divine enabling are not opponents but allies. View inspiration and effort not as an incompatible mix of oil and water but as bricks and mortar. They merge to build a monument of love for the glory of God - glory that His father-heart longs to share with us.
Those who are called to minister in music, will seek to refine their gift. If we are ever hesitant, the parable of the talents is sufficient to seal the matter for us. (Matthew 25:14-30) Yet as we grow in Christ, our motivation intensifies. Our love for God fills us with a longing to develop the abilities He had graciously bestowed upon us. We treasure the gift because we adore the Giver.
A man takes from the earth a precious diamond and spends hours studying and cutting it, desiring to reveal to the fullest the beauty God has placed within it. In like manner, we labour to display the beauty resident within our gift, that the Giver might be glorified.
Longing to see our Lord's eyes sparkle with joy, we polish His gift till it gleams. We want it to shine so brightly that He can see His face in it. Then we want the whole world to see that face.
For the secular musician, training and practice are simply a matter of common sense. Our motivation is much deeper and sweeter. Yet sometimes practice and musical training seem at odds with ministering in the Spirit's power.
A lady I admire was very much used of God until she started taking singing lessons. Formerly, when she was in church worshipping her Lord, God would often suddenly give her an entirely new song. There was no time for rehearsals. The song was divinely created for that specific occasion. The moment there was a pause in the service, she would share that beautiful song with the congregation. With remarkable consistency, her songs would blend in with the rest of the service in ways beyond human control. Since commencing singing lessons, however, her training seemed to be hindering her ministry.
My guess is that her lessons had simply made her more self-conscious, causing her to focus upon correct voice production, rather than focusing upon her Saviour. Such a change of focus would probably have an adverse affect upon any ministry, let alone one so dependent upon hearing from God that very moment.
The solution, it would seem, is not less practice, but more. Eventually, such things as correct breathing should become almost second nature. Then she will be able to concentrate upon the Lord and sing correctly as well. The result will surely be an even more effective ministry.
Miracles are an essential aspect of authentic Christian ministry. So powerful are they that Jesus affirmed that miracles would have brought to repentance even Sodom, the epitome of wickedness. (Matthew 11:23)
Nothing can compel belief, but we have an obligation to present a message so Spirit-charged that everyone knows that to reject it is to reject not a man-made religion, but God Himself. We long to join Paul in saying we have 'fully preached the Gospel,' but how can we unless, like him, we can say in the same breath that we have proclaimed 'in word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders'. (Romans 15:18 f) 'The kingdom of God consists not of talk [or human music], but power,' declared the apostle. (1 Corinthians 4:20)
Miracles - God's supernatural intervention - are not a luxury. Yet they often come with a price tag. In May's case, it was one and a half decades of unrelenting, faith-filled prayer. For Stewart Wissell, it was diligence. For Rev. William Cushing, it was maintaining intimacy with the Lord. Without courage, Dr. Sankey's miracle would have been quashed.
In no sense can we earn a miracle, but how can we receive if we are not receptive?
Souls are God's responsibility, sounds are our responsibility. That's the way many Christian musicians view it. God wants us to do our best, but they imagine that's about the limit of His interest in our music. The Lord is expected to take the back seat, politely applauding the finished performance, but basically leaving us to our own devices, musically.
We now know differently. God longs to be involved in our music - guiding, inspiring, tutoring, and at times actually composing and playing through us.
'Open my lips,' prayed the psalmist, 'and my mouth will show forth your praise.' (Psalm 51:15) 'Take my lips and speak through them, take my mind and think through it,' became one of Frances Ridley Havergal's favourite prayers.
Let's never forget that music has its ultimate Source in God, not man. The further one goes from the source the more polluted the water. Forget about following the world; you will lead it, if you draw close enough to the Source.
Be not quick to assume God is not in your songwriting or musical performance just because it fails to conforms to one of my illustrations. God assists and inspires us in a thousand ways.
The Spirit of the Almighty resides within us. Everyday we speak with God. Everyday we're seated in heavenly places. To us, the supernatural is commonplace. It would hardly be surprising if much of our music is more divinely inspired than we realise.
Yet each of us could probably develop still further our ability to receive from heaven. My passion is to inspire you to enter into an ever-deepening musical partnership with 'the Chief Musician,' the One who 'gives songs in the night,' the Origin of 'every good and perfect gift,' the Lord of sound and time, who is constantly worthy of a new song. Seek Him. Yield to Him. Harmonise with Him. The result will last for eternity.
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