The Quest for Music Miracles
© Copyright, Grantley Morris All rights reserved
Music’s Facets in Scripture’s Light
There are times when personal feelings must not be allowed to dictate to us.
Music was a central feature of King Hezekiah’s celebration of the purification of the temple. This emphasis, however, was not the result of a royal whim or ecclesiastical embellishment: it ‘. . . was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets’ (2 Chronicles 29:25-30).
‘To obey is better than sacrifice’ (1 Samuel 15:22) This applies to melodic sacrifices of praise, as much as animal sacrifices.
‘. . . David and all Israel played before God with all their might, and with singing, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with timbrels, and with cymbals, and with trumpets’ (1 Chronicles 13:8).
Read out of context, we would surely conclude that this event must have greatly pleased the Lord. Instead of approving, however, God slew a key participant (1 Chronicles 13:10).
Disobedience was at the heart of the tragedy. What seemed a good,
modern, God-glorifying idea (the use of a new cart) had displaced
simple obedience – carrying the ark upon the Levites shoulders
(1 Chronicles 15:2, 13-15; Numbers 1:50). All the praise, music
and sacrifices were nullified by disobedience.
The Bible’s hymn book is crammed with prophecies. This is no coincidence.
In fact, I believe the relationship between music and prophecy
is so strong that rather than present just a smattering of the
evidence here, I will restrain myself until a later chapter so
that I can draw all the evidence together.
During the dedication of Solomon’s temple, music played and the cloud of God’s glory spectacularly filled the sanctuary. The biblical account (2 Chronicles 5:11-14) hints at a link between this music and the awesome manifestation of the Lord’s presence.
After privately anointing Saul as king, Samuel told him,
‘. . . you will meet a company of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a tambourine, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they will be prophesying: And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them, and will be turned into another man’ (1 Samuel 10:5-6).
Clearly, Saul’s spiritual experience on that day was closely associated with music, though it is uncertain how critical the music was in initiating the experience.
In the above examples, the use of music to induce a manifestation of the Spirit may not necessarily have been deliberate. Any element of doubt, however, is removed in the case of Elisha. On one occasion, when he wished to prophesy, he specifically arranged for a harpist to play (2 Kings 3:15).
It was probably common knowledge amongst the bands of prophets such as those Saul met that, under God’s direction, music can enhance one’s receptivity to the Holy Spirit. Whilst the harpist played, the Spirit of God came upon Elisha and the Lord spoke through him. Since Elisha’s message was apparently in prose, it is unlikely the music was used to accompany a prophecy in song. On this occasion, music was used to elicit a prophecy, rather than to deliver one.
This is highly significant. Here we have Scriptural proof that
non-vocal music can have a genuine spiritual effect upon a hearer.
Moreover, it suggests that some spiritual experiences are dependent
upon what may be loosely called background music. Those who take
exception to the use of music during altar calls need to give
this implication serious consideration (see also section 18,
below). Other sections, such as the discussion on spiritual warfare
may also be relevant to this facet of music.
In the chorus of Psalms 42 and 43, the psalmist sang to himself, in an attempt to break through depression, and exercise faith in God (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).
As is typical of Biblical music, however, he did not force the entire ministry burden upon music alone. In addition to melody, he used prayer, praise and a positive Scriptural mentality to lift himself from his despondency (For example, Psalm 43:3-4).
Furthermore, this godly songwriter did not use music as a means of escapism. He faced his problems head-on; neither pretending his trials were trivial, nor letting them stifle his faith.
There are several other instances of psalmists addressing themselves in song (including Psalm 103:1-5, 22; 104:1, 35; 116:7; 146:1).
A New Testament reference to singing for personal edification is found in Paul’s discussion of singing ‘with the Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 14:15). This, he says, edified the participant (1 Corinthians 14:4).
If we are not edified, how can we hope to edify others?
‘Whenever you come together, each of you has a song, or a teaching, a tongue, a revelation, or an interpretation. Let all be done for edification’ (1 Corinthians 14:26).
‘Come and hear, all you that fear God,
A number of psalms fall into this category (e.g. Psalm 3:4; 6:8-9; 18:6; 27:2; 28:6; 34:4, 6; 40:1-3; 116:1 ff; 118:5) The book of Psalms is filled with references to being saved from sin, sickness, death, etc. Often these testimonies are combined with praise or petition to God.
These songs reveal a standard of frankness and honesty that we should emulate. They are not all glowing testimonies of victory (e.g. Psalm 32:3-5; 40:17; 137:1 ff). They neither hid, nor gloried in, past failings.
A personal testimony in song necessitates having an experience. Frequently, it involves an initially adverse situation. We cannot, for example, give a personal healing testimony without first being sick! Very few Scriptural miracles occurred without someone being in an unpleasant dilemma that necessitated divine intervention.
Scripture commands us to rejoice when we encounter trials (James
1:2) because such trials produce a depth of character (Romans
5:3-4; James 1:2-3) and a greatly enhanced ability to minister to
Others (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). If our experience is only second-hand,
this is likely to be reflected in our music, especially its composition.
This is another possible reason why ‘no-one could learn that song
except the 144,000’ (Revelation 14:3).
The Lord wanted to impress a message upon the minds of His people that would remain with them for generations. So He wrote a song (Deuteronomy 31:19-21). God declared that although in generations to come Israel would forget Him, they would never forget the song.
Andraé Crouch failed his high school algebra. He couldn’t remember the formulas. His father suggested he set them to music. It worked! He later used the same method to learn Scripture.
I doubt if there is a preacher in the world who has instilled so many Scriptures into so many minds as Dale and David Garratt have with their Scripture songs. The simple addition of music to Scripture’s power-packed words and presto! thousands of people start effortlessly memorizing God’s Word. Integrity Music used to produce recordings of Scripture songs for the express purpose of aiding the memorization of Scripture.
The more Scripture is put to music, the easier it becomes to fulfil God’s command to Joshua, and Paul’s command to the Colossians.
‘This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; but you shall meditate therein day and night . . .’
Music’s value as a memory aid, coupled with its ability to entertain and arrest attention, makes it a powerful medium for instilling truth. But the Scriptural standard of music is not achieved by using song merely to drill people with biblical facts. The goal should be to instruct and enlighten. And beyond even that, the goal of all ministry gifts – of which teaching is one – is to lovingly release people into their own ministry and to help them reach ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
For hundreds of people to quote a preacher is almost unheard of. In contrast, it is common-place for thousands to sing words composed by a song-writer.
Consider the Wesley brothers: Hundreds of thousands – no, millions – more people have sung Charles’ songs than have read any of his famous brother’s sermons.
‘. . . teaching and admonishing one another [by means of], psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . .’ (The interpretation of Colossians 3:16 suggested by the bracketed words is supported by both Greek grammatical considerations and a comparison with the parallel passage in Ephesians 5:19.)
In fact, teaching is the primary or secondary aim of a number of Biblical hymns (e.g. Psalms 1, 37, 91, 112, 127, 128, 133).
‘Give ear, O my people, to my teaching’ (Psalm 78:1).
‘I will teach you the fear of the Lord’ (Psalm 34:11).
In Psalm 49 the teacher expounded his wisdom to the accompaniment of a harp (Psalm 49:3-4).
Everyone engaged in teaching should take the following words very seriously:
‘Let not many become teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater judgment. For in many things we all offend’ (James 3:1-2. The presence of ‘we’ in James 3:1 shows that James was including himself. He was clearly referring to those who aspired to be good teachers, not those who sought to be judgmental or to lord it over others. This is what makes his statement so staggering.)
Teaching is a highly responsible ministry.
The attitude-changing power of music is vividly portrayed in the words of Jeremy Collier (1698): ‘Music is almost as dangerous as gunpowder; it may be requires looking after no less than . . . the mint.’
Many of us pray earnestly for our politicians and never give our nation’s secular songwriters a thought. Yet ‘a very wise man’ felt music is so persuasive that if he could write a nation’s songs, he would be unconcerned about who wrote its laws.
Shortly before he died, Dwight L. Moody was visited by hymn-writer, Will Thompson. ‘Will’, said the famous evangelist, ‘I would rather have written [your hymn] Softly and tenderly, than anything I have been able to do in my whole life.’
A remarkable statement.
Let’s examine the divinely authorized methods the Bible’s songs use to influence people for God. We will then tackle the issue of whether Scripture approves of using music for the ultimate impact upon a person – conversion.
Psalm 95 is one of many Biblical songs seeking to raise its hearers to new spiritual heights. It urges hearers to worship God and not harden their hearts. How it does this should be of particular interest to us. It is, after all, no ordinary hymn. It carries God’s seal of approval in a way no extra-Biblical song can claim.
This psalm ministers to the whole man – intellect, will and actions, as well as emotions. The writer used to the fullest, every means at his disposal to elicit a God-glorifying response in his hearers.
This is in marked contrast to some modern musicians, who seem content to rely almost solely upon a musical appeal to the emotions.
One of the features of this psalm is its use of the words ‘us’ and ‘we’. The psalmist did not have a ‘holier-than-thou’ or stand-offish attitude. He identified with his listeners. This can be a powerful way of influencing people. Furthermore, as many of the great intercessors have discovered, (e.g. Ezra 9:5-15; Daniel 9:4-20) identification – which reaches its pinnacle in Christ crucified – is an attitude that touches not just human hearts but God’s heart. And God’s approval is obviously crucial in Christian ministry.
To the power of music and identification, the psalmist adds rational argument. Persuasive reasons, both positive and negative, are given for worshipping God:
* He is the Rock of our salvation.
* He is above all gods.
* He is the Creator.
* We are His people.
* If we harden our hearts we could miss God’s rest, as did our fathers. (This is an indirect appeal to the Biblical record.)
Not content with even this impressive list, the psalmist adds yet another powerful means of influencing others: the magnetism of personal example. ‘Make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms,’ he sings and immediately he does just that, singing a psalm of praise to God in the next three verses.
Psalms 96 and 98 employ the same principles. They commence with, ‘O sing unto the Lord a new song’ and that is exactly what the psalmist proceeds to do, at the same time giving rational reasons for following his example.
Many other psalms fit this pattern. How many can you find?
Inspired by the Bible’s example, let’s use music’s power, under the leading of His Spirit, to help change people’s attitude, for the glory of God.
To look for evangelistic content in the Bible’s Song Book is nearly like scanning the works of Shakespeare for references to rock ‘n’ roll You are looking in the wrong era. Evangelism is essentially a New Testament concept. Less than one eighth of the Bible belongs to the era initiated by the Great Commission (from Acts to Revelation). Nevertheless, if the Bible’s Songs are as deep as I suggest, you never know what you might find. Before plunging into this, however, let’s step back a little and ask ourselves if people who wish to use music for evangelism are not closer to the spirit of New Testament evangelists than their critics.
The New Testament portrays its model evangelist, the apostle Paul, as a man desperate to employ almost any and every means to propagate the gospel.
‘I have become all things to all people that I might BY ALL MEANS save some,’ he declared (1 Corinthians 9:22).
‘Some indeed preach Christ because of envy and strife . . . from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds . . ..’ Can you imagine such debased motives attached to such a holy task? Yet in even this scandal Paul rejoiced because what mattered most was that in ‘every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached . . .’ (Philippians 1:15-18).
If we had Paul’s passion for evangelism brewing within us we would need pretty strong evidence that something was unacceptable to God before refusing to press it into service for the King.
‘Music and the Bible are the two most important agencies with which to reach the world’ declared Dwight Moody in the latter part of his life, ‘And I’ve made as much of singing as I have of preaching.’ That’s the evaluation of one of the greatest evangelists the world has seen – someone who himself was totally unmusical.
If we had just one percent of Moody’s conviction of music’s power to ‘reach the world’ we would beg God to let us use it to snatch souls from the flames of hell.
We don’t know how regularly Paul used music but we know he burst into a duet at midnight in the midst of criminals in the Philippian jail, and that was about as far from a church setting as one can go (Acts 16:23-25, 30-34). If he sang in a stinking jail in the dead of night with his wounds throbbing, surrounded by such a potentially hostile audience, one wonders how often he sang to non-Christians in less trying circumstances
We’ve mentioned and will later expound how Scripture regularly links music with prophecy (see chapter 8, section 6). The significance to this section is that Paul stressed the powerful spiritual effect prophecy can have on unbelievers (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). If music is linked to prophecy, it is also linked to powerfully convicting unbelievers of the reality of God.
Geoff Bullock sees the initial outpouring of the Spirit upon the church as a blueprint for what should happen when the Holy Spirit comes upon Christian musicians. At the birth of the church, the ‘sound of divinity and humanity being struck together in the power and the presence of God by the Holy Spirit’ did not remain within the four walls where the church had gathered. It reached outside and touched people of diverse cultures, not in the normal language of the first Christians, nor even in Greek, the international language with which all must have had some familiarity, but in the mother tongue – the heart language – of every hearer.
‘For too long we’ve been making our music more relevant to within the walls [of the church] than outside the walls. And yet God, from the day of Pentecost, burst out of those religious walls . . . because He wanted this sound . . . heard in the marketplace in the language of every culture represented.’ The result, of course, was thousands of conversions.
Note the key facets:
1. The message went out from the church into the world
2. It penetrated cultural barriers and reached hearers in a form they could readily identify with
3. There was a strongly supernatural element.
It is often asserted that there is no Biblical precedent for using music for evangelism, but even in the Old Testament not only were God and the godly sung to, but also the ungodly (Psalm 6:8). Some psalms were addressed not just to Israel, but to ‘all inhabitants of the world’ (Psalm 49:1; note also Psalm 117:1 and Isaiah 48:20). This is rather staggering, written as they were, centuries before Jesus commissioned His church to preach to Gentiles. The significance was not lost to Paul, who twice quoted psalms to prove that Christ came ‘that the Gentiles might glorify God’ (Romans 15:9, 11 – quoting Psalm 18:49 and 117:1). His first quote is particularly strong:
Therefore will I give thanks unto you, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto your name.
This verse appears three times in the Bible (2 Samuel 22:50; Psalm 18:49; Romans 15:9).
The Song of Moses focuses on people who have turned their back on God (Deuteronomy 32:5-6,18,36-37). Psalm 94 admonishes evil-doers to take heed (Psalm 94:5-12). Psalm 52:1-7 is directed to sinners, warning them of God’s judgment and Psalm 75:4-10 is similar. (These last two psalms are discussed in greater detail in Appendix, Note 4.3..)
You could certainly build an evangelistic sermon around Psalm 34:14-18, which commences ‘Depart from evil and do good,’ and ends by affirming that the Lord is near those who, in the words of the Amplified Bible, are ‘thoroughly penitent’.
Psalm 82 has lyrics apparently designed to coax the ungodly into a right relationship with God. The song says:
‘How long will you judge unjustly,
Note also Psalm 4:2-5:
‘O you sons of men, how long will you turn my glory into shame?
That sounds to me like an appeal to sinners to repent and put their faith in God. Can you conceive of anything more ‘evangelistic’ in an Old Testament context?
Several psalms come close to telling us to use music to evangelize the world:
‘Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
The use of music as an evangelistic tool has solid Scriptural backing.
Since most of our Biblical understanding of music comes from the Old Testament, it is not surprising that references to evangelism are muted, and for me it would be loud and clear at half the volume. Nevertheless, Carman has an interesting thought. This innovative and controversial artist believes the scriptural emphasis indicates that the primary function of music is to magnify the Lord. Emphasizing Jesus declaration, ‘If I be lifted up . . . I will draw all people to myself’, he concludes that if music causes Jesus to be exalted, conversions will result. Praise and worship directed solely to the Lord will woo the Spirit of God so effectively that unbelievers present will be saved. He warns that some Christian artists, rather than casting the burden of evangelism upon Jesus, seem to think they must be lifted up, so that they will draw people to Jesus.
‘He put a new song in my mouth,’ sings the psalmist, ‘. . . Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord’ (Psalm 40:3, NIV). Doctored that way, the ‘new song’ sounds like an evangelistic song, but the full verse supports Carman’s thesis. The words I teasingly omitted define the ‘new song’ as ‘a hymn of praise to our God’.
The power of the approach outlined by Carman cannot be denied, though I find no Scriptural basis for excluding songs that are unashamedly evangelistic. Jimmy and Carol Owens also see a role for evangelistic songs and yet, to their surprise, songs they intended to be sung to the Lord or to Christians have often turned out to be their ‘most powerful instruments of evangelism’. Even in Geoff Bullock’s analogy based on the Day of Pentecost, it was probably praise, rather than a call to repentance, that the non-Christians heard in their heart language (Acts 2:12).
In Tune with God: Contents
For a treasure trove of hilariously helpful, compassionate and stimulating webpages by Grantley Morris, click the chest.
Win friends – forever! Link your page to an evangelistic site. Here’s how.