In Tune With God

The Quest for Music Miracles

Grantley Morris

© Copyright, Grantley Morris  All rights reserved




CHAPTER 8

The Ideal Musician

In James Montgomery’s expert opinion, George Sandys’ psalms were ‘incomparably the most poetical in the English language, and yet they are scarcely known’.

Genius alone is insufficient for an effective music ministry.

We know that praising the Lord in music is not to be restricted to a favored few. Every Christian should musically extol the Creator (1 Chronicles 16:23; Psalm 30:4; 67:4; 68:32; 96:2; 98:4; Proverbs 29:6; James 5:13; Revelation 5:9-10). However, as we have scanned the pages of God’s Word a picture is beginning to emerge of the person who specializes in the music ministry.

As we put the pieces together we will almost certainly feel unworthy of such a high calling, but it is the crucified Lord, not our background, natural abilities, or religious strivings, who makes us worthy.

THE CALL

Why haven’t you walked on water? You’re no more mortal than Simon Peter. By His Spirit, Jesus is even physically nearer to you than He was to Simon. The difference is that Peter was called to walk on the water. Jesus told him to do it (Matthew 14:28-29). Prior to this Peter could only say, ‘Bid me to come.’

Similarly, Isaiah could only plead, ‘Send me,’ and wait for a response (Isaiah 6:8).

King David discovered that not every request for ministry is accepted. He was not permitted to build the temple (1 Chronicles 17:1-6). Another King, Uzziah, learnt to his grief that he could not exercise the ministry of a priest (2 Chronicles 26:16-21, note also 1 Samuel 13:9-14). Centuries earlier, the Levite, Korah, made a similar mistake, with even more disastrous consequences (Numbers 16:8-10,33,39-40). Even priests could not engage in priestly ministry unless it was specifically authorized by God (Leviticus 10:1-2).

Allow me the madness of piling instance upon instance to demonstrate the centrality of this principle.

The Lord strongly rebuked those who assumed the office of a prophet without being ‘sent’ (e.g. Jeremiah 23:21). Likewise, to have the ministry of an evangelist, one has to be ‘sent’ (Romans 10:15 cf Matthew 9:38). And James warned against seeking a teaching ministry (James 3:1).

Paul’s apostolic authority rested in the fact that he was chosen by God to have that ministry. He did not seek it (Acts 9:15; 13:2; 22:10; 26:14-18). Nor was it conferred upon him by man (Galatians 1:11-20). So crucial to Paul’s entire ministry was his divine calling that he stressed it in most of his letters before writing another thing (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1).

It’s mind-boggling, but even Jesus’ ministry was authentic only because He did not act on His own initiative (John 5:19,30-31). The sole basis for His ministry was the fact that His Father had sent Him (Hebrews 5:4-5) and that He said and did nothing other than what the Father authorized Him to (John 3:34; 6:38; 7:16).

Ministries are not to be grasped on our own initiative.

Whenever God sets us a task, He commits Himself to equipping us with everything necessary to triumphantly complete it. There is not a Christian on earth who lacks the divine resources needed to excel in the ministry God has called him or her to. The key to successful ministry is therefore God’s calling. Everything springs from this.

I can almost hear people objecting, ‘Reliance upon God’s calling applies only to ministries like missionaries and pastors, not lesser ministries such as music.’ Hopefully, not many would have proceeded this far into the book and still regard music as a minor ministry. But if further confirmation is needed, it is readily available.

In the Old Testament, the main people with a ministry in music were Levites. There were probably no others engaged in this ministry full-time. Like the high priest himself, (cf Hebrews 5:4) Levites did not volunteer for ministry, but were chosen by God (Numbers 3:6, 12; 8:16, 19). They were chosen solely on the basis of their parentage (1 Chronicles 25:1). Talent was not the critical factor (cf 1 Chronicles 25:8). They were literally born for this specific ministry.

Just as we could not choose the human family we were born into, no amount of effort on our part can cause us to have a God-ordained ministry in music. It is not for us to decide to have a music ministry and then seek God’s blessing upon it. Our responsibility is to determine whether God is calling us to this ministry. Musical ability and a love of music are suggestive, but are not infallible proof, of God’s calling.

It’s obviously futile to spend the rest of our lives wringing our hands, wondering whether God has called us. But neither should we be presumptuous. By all means, continue with music if you feel at peace about it, but keep your ear attuned to the Lord, being aware that in time He could lead you into another ministry.

We may have to serve our Lord in a very humble capacity for years before being called into the ultimate ministry God has chosen for us (see Appendix, Note 0.1). For decades, the Levites served God as mere laborers, carrying and assembling the tabernacle through the wilderness. There was no time to develop musical skills. After the conquest of the promised land, the ark seldom moved. For centuries, they had almost no ministry. Only after the permanent site for the ark was finally captured by David, were the Levites released into the music ministry.

Assuming we have been ‘called’, let’s bring into sharp focus the qualities we should be believing God to develop within us. We’ll draw together those aspects we have already discovered and add new ones. Since so many of them are of great importance, we won’t attempt to list them in any particular order.

THE IDEAL MUSICIAN:

1. DELIGHTS IN GOD’S WILL

Consider spending every second of the rest of your existence doing nothing but God’s will. If that prospect seems a little cold, drab, claustrophobic, you have missed so much.

Obedience is the ecstasy of perfect love.

Do you believe God is all-powerful? Then you believe He could ask nothing of you that would be too hard for you. An omnipotent God could turn a mouse into a superman. It’s exciting when God asks the impossible of you. A miracle is around the corner!

Do you believe God is all-knowing? Then you believe that in every situation you face, God knows all the facts – past, present and future – so much more than you could possibly comprehend. When God asks you to do something, He is granting you the unique privilege of tapping into the greatest Mind in the universe. You have the opportunity to so something infinitely wise.

Do you believe God’s love is infinite? Then you believe God loves you more than you could possibly love yourself. Your welfare, joy and fulfilment mean more to Him than they do even to you. You can trust a God like that. You can revel in the extravagance of His desires for you.

If you truly believe in the infinity of God’s knowledge, love and power, you will never disobey Him. We only disobey when we secretly believe we are smarter than God, that His love for us is inferior, or that He is so weak that our inadequacies can nullify His power.

Satan whispers, ‘One little sin won’t hurt,’ or says about a particular issue, ‘Obedience is too frightening/painful.’ He’s really saying, ‘The God who gave everything for you – even His own Son – doesn’t have your best interest at heart. He doesn’t know what’s best for you. He will command you and then abandon you to your own frailty.’

To disobey our wonderful Lord is to foolishly believe a lie. In any circumstance, the will of God is the one thing you can do that you’ll be forever thankful for.

God’s will is an exciting manifestation of love. God revealing His will is the Almighty Lord expressing His desire for us to enjoy His very best. And obedience is us receiving that love, delighting and rejoicing in the beauty, perfection and security of God’s yearnings for our welfare. Think of it: we need no longer be confounded by the finiteness of our own intelligence; Almighty God loves us so much that He grants us free access to His infinite wisdom and goodness! Obedience is love made real.

For more on the importance of obedience, see Chapter 4, section 6.

Exult in the magnificence of God’s glorious desires for you.

2. IS MOTIVATED, EMPOWERED, AND CONTROLLED BY SACRIFICIAL, SELF-DENYING LOVE

The Christian musician exists to serve. This is not some lofty ideal. It’s basic. Fundamental. A servant’s heart is essential for a fulfilled life. So much of Jesus’ teaching revolves around this. He who loses his life will find it . . . if you would be greatest be servant of all . . . deny yourself . . . It sounds morose. It’s actually the secret of a joy-filled life.

Andraé Crouch records in his book the wise words of his father when Andraé started his first tour. ‘God is going to use you. As you travel, your name may be in lights but if you don’t care about people, if you get on stage and don’t feel for those people, don’t have a burden, a compassion to win them at any cost, then it is time to come home.’

Love drives a musician to prune every trace of unnecessary offence from a performance so that only elements ordained and confirmed by God remain. Don’t be surprised if God’s leading varies from occasion to occasion. No-one knows the audience like the Lord.

We touched on love that costs in chapter 6, but if its importance were to be reflected by the space devoted to it, this subject would fill the book.

3. IS DEVOTED TO PRAYERFUL COMMUNION WITH GOD

In our survey of Bible songs we discovered that a vast proportion, something like two-thirds, are either prayers or contain prayers (Chapter 4, section 2). Further analysis of these songs revealed an enormous range of prayers. Virtually every conceivable type of prayer is represented.

The songs that the Lord so much approved of that they are included in Scripture, were the works of musicians for whom prayer was as natural as breathing, and more important than eating.

The ideal musician understands prayer. For him/her, prayer is not a spiritual sheen added to give a ministry its finishing touch. Prayer is the structural framework around which the entire ministry is formed. You can achieve great worldly success without a word of prayer but Christian musicians are expected to move in the spiritual realm and in that realm you get nowhere without prayer.

Before he made his first album, Keith Green regularly included in his concerts a plea to the audience to pray for the production of the projected album. In addition, prayer teams were formed, praying constantly throughout every studio session. The result was the biggest debut album in the history of Christian recording to that time. He ensured that subsequent albums were also immersed in prayer.

Frances Ridley Havergal is said to have never written ‘a line without first praying over it.’

‘I’m very excited about the new album,’ John Schlitt of Petra told a magazine about their new release, ‘but I’m feeling the real excitement is in this new Prayer Warriors endeavor.’ The band was making a concerted effort – through such things as mailouts and a phone line with 50 three-minute devotionals – to teach its fans about prayer and to mobilize intercessors. ‘We believe it’s going to make a huge difference in our ministry,’ said Bob Hartman, the band’s founding member. ‘When Christians get really serious about prayer, things can happen. We’ve seen it over and over . . .’

4. IS FILLED WITH THANKFULNESS AND PRAISE TO GOD (PSALM 147:7)

‘. . . singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; GIVING THANKS ALWAYS FOR ALL THINGS unto God . . .’ (Ephesians 5:19-20).

To this general Scripture we can add many that specifically target those who specialize in music.

David appointed the Levitical musicians ‘to thank and praise the Lord’ (1 Chronicles 16:4,7; see also 2 Chronicles 5:13; 20:21; 31:2). This was the very reason for their existence.

That fruit of the Spirit called joy, is very closely associated with this:

‘And David spoke to the chief of the Levites to appoint their brethren to be the singers with instruments of worship . . . by lifting up the voice with joy’ (1 Chronicles 15:16).

‘And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed themselves and worshipped’ (2 Chronicles 29:30 – see also 30:21).

‘. . . with rejoicing and with singing, as it was ordained by David’ (2 Chronicles 23:18).

‘My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing praises to Thee’ (Psalm 71:23 – see also Proverbs 29:6; Zechariah 2:10).

The Lord is not looking for musicians who are good actors. Hear the pain in Jesus’ voice as he quotes Isaiah:

‘This people honor me with their lips but their heart is far from me’ (Mark 7:6).

A praise ‘performance’ leaves Him cold.

George Beverly Shea has sung How great thou art so many times you’d think he was striving for top billing in the Guinness Book of Records. In just one crusade, he sang this hymn, with choir backing, ninety-nine times. People kept asking for it. He humbly honored their request.

Once, would you believe, he found himself tending to mechanically repeat the words, rather than worship his Lord in song. He repented before the Lord, resolving never to be overcome by such an attitude again. Over a decade later, his promise was still unbroken.

If repetition reduces you to a robot, it’s time for a new song or a new heart. There is a place for perseverance, but only if your motivation is love for God. If you intend persisting merely because it’s too embarrassing to stop or because you love the accolades, then it’s time to persist not in music but in prayer.

Don’t let your attitude smother your music before it reaches heaven’s Throne.

See Chapter 4, section 1.

5. IS CONTINUALLY SPIRIT-FILLED

‘Be not drunk with wine . . . but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody . . .’ (Ephesians 5:18-19).

In alluding to these verses, Kittel’s Theological Dictionary, speaks of the ‘Spirit-produced song’. Wilson points out that the present participles – speaking, singing, making melody etc. – ‘depend upon the main verb’ – be filled – ‘and thus describe the blessed consequences of the Holy Spirit’s fullness.’

‘Men are said to be filled with wine when completely under its influence,’ mused theologian Charles Hodges, ‘so they are said to be filled with the Spirit, when He controls all their thoughts, feelings, words, and actions.’

If wine elicits song, (Psalm 69:12; Isaiah 5:11-12; 16:10; 24:8-9) how much more should being filled with the Spirit of the Song-giver! (Job 35:10; Psalm 32:7; 40:3) If our songs should be Spirit-produced, how dependent we are upon the Spirit!

6. HAS A PROPHETIC MINISTRY

I am forced to the rather startling conclusion that ideally a Christian musician should prophesy. In fact, though I am a cautious person, the more I pore over Scriptures about music, the stronger my urge to going beyond calling this the ideal and pronounce it the Scriptural norm.

Many psalms foretold future events (e.g. Psalm 22; 110) So did the song of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:16-21, 29-30; 32:1-43). This obviously makes them prophetic. The essence of prophecy, however, is not prediction, but God speaking through His servant. In prophecy, God frequently speaks in the first person, as He does in many psalms (e.g. Psalm 46:10; 50:7-23; 81:7-16; 91:14-16).

Even in inspired songs outside the Psalter, composers with prophetic ministries clearly predominate. Moses, (Exodus 15:1; Deuteronomy 18:18; 31:30) Deborah, (Judges 4:4; 5:1) David, (2 Samuel 22:1-2; Acts 2:29-30) Isaiah, (Isaiah 5:1 ff; 23:15-16; 26:2 ff) Habakkuk, (Habakkuk 1:1; 3:1-19) and John (Revelation 1:3; 5:9 ff; 15:3 ff) all contributed to the Bible’s songs and had obvious prophetic ministries. Miriam, too, was a prophetess (Exodus 15:20-21). Moreover, the key Levitical musicians appointed by David – Asaph, Heman and Jeduthum – were all prophets. David placed these three Levites in charge of all the musicians, and the musical leaders came from their descendants (1 Chronicles 25:1-7; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15). Scripture individually calls each of these three founders a ‘seer’, in other words, a prophet (1 Chronicles 25:5; 2 Chronicles 29:30; 35:15). Psalm 50, bearing the title ‘a Psalm of Asaph,’ is prophetic in that it can say ‘God says’ (Psalm 50:16, note also verse 7) (cf the familiar prophetic expression, ‘thus says the Lord’).

When the Lord spoke prophetically to Jehoshaphat, it was through one of the ‘sons of Asaph,’ (2 Chronicles 20:14) presumably a Levitical musician (cf 1 Chronicles 25:1-2; 2 Chronicles 5:12; 35:15; Ezra 2:41; 3:10) Prophets in 2 Kings 23:2 becomes Levites in the parallel passage in 2 Chronicles 34:30, perhaps implying that all Levitical musicians were regarded as prophets.

Amazingly, I have found only one person named in Scripture, clearly stated to have composed a biblical song, who is not specifically called a prophet – Solomon. Yet we have only to read a few samples of his sayings and revelations to gain the impression that even he foretold future events under divine inspiration (1 Kings 8:33,35,37,41-42,46-47; 9:2-9; 11:11-13).

Furthermore, we see a similar picture when looking from the other side: most prophets wrote songs. Besides the long list already provided of songwriters who had prophetic ministries, several other prophetic books have parts that read so much like psalms that you can almost hear the music (Jonah 2:2-9; Zephaniah 3:14,17; Ezekiel 19:1-14; 32:2,16). To this we could add the inspired utterances of Mary and Zechariah (Luke 1:46-55, 68-79 In their headings the NIV, NKJ, NRSV and GNB actually call Mary’ s utterance a song and the NIV does this for Zechariah utterance as well. Luke specifically calls Zechariah’ s utterance a prophecy). Jeremiah wrote laments that were apparently set to music (2 Chronicles 35:25 – see especially NASB, GNB, NIV). Almost every prophet burst into poetry. Of all seventeen prophetic Old Testament books, plus the highly prophetic books of Psalms and Revelation, only tiny Haggai and Malachi contain no poetry. Whether the poems were originally intended to be set to music we cannot always be certain. Music, however, seemed to play a critical role in the prophetic ministry of Elisha (2 Kings 3:15 ff) and the prophetic bands (1 Samuel 10:5).

1 Chronicles 25, called by Johann Sebastian Bach ‘the true foundation for all God-pleasing music,’ describes David’s appointment of Levitical musicians. This has to be a key passage for a Biblical understanding of the function of music. In the span of just five verses, prophecy appears once, prophesied twice and seer once. That’s four references in five key verses. We must be careful not to drain prophecy of its meaning just because it is used in relation to music (see Appendix, Note 8.1). Music is the vehicle of the Spirit. Neither must we diminish prophecy’s significance to music in our era. Since Acts 2, ours is the age of the Spirit.

If prophecy is as basic to God’s plan for music as Scripture implies, then a brief analysis of its nature is too important to relegate to an appendix. For many years I was very mistaken about the nature of prophecy. Instead of careful analysis of the Scriptures, I was allowing my imagination and experience dictate to me.

Preaching is speaking about God. Prophecy is God speaking. It often foretells the future, not because this is an essential feature of Biblical prophecy, but because the Source of the utterance is the One who knows the future and the darkest secrets buried in the human heart. Godless soldiers blindfolded Jesus, hit him, and mocked, ‘Prophesy who hit you’ (Luke 22:64). These brutes were not asking for a Bible lesson! When prophesying, a person is the mouthpiece of the One who cannot be blindfolded. John called the book of Revelation, filled with predictions, a prophecy (Revelation 1:3). Revelation’s letters to the seven churches, (Revelation 2:1 – 3:22) however, are also prophecy. Even without the occasional foretelling, they clearly touch a dimension not reached by teaching or preaching. They are personal orders from the Commander and Chief of the church; the piercing words of the One who knows each church with divine knowledge. No wonder Paul said that if newcomers encounter prophecy the secrets of their hearts would be laid bare (1 Corinthians 14:24-25). This is why, when Jesus started telling the woman at the well things about her that only God could know, it immediately dawned that she was in the presence of a prophet (John 4:17-19).

The outpouring of the Spirit after Jesus’ ascension irrevocably changed not the nature, but the availability, of the gift of prophecy. It is the fulfilment of Moses’ longing:

‘. . . would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!’ (Numbers 11:29)

Our spiritual era, ushered in on the Day of Pentecost, is characterized by the outpouring of both the Spirit of God and the gift of prophecy upon all flesh (Acts 2:16-18). Said Peter under the inspiration of the Spirit, ‘the last days’ prophesied by Joel have arrived, characterized by everyone being able to prophecy – exercising a gift God had previously reserved for a select few. That Joel meant prophecy in the fullest, supernatural sense is proved by the fact that he bound it firmly to dreams and visions – unlike preaching, but exactly like Old Testament prophecy (e.g. Numbers 12:6; 1 Samuel 3:1). The prophetic books are filled with accounts of dreams (e.g. Daniel 2:45; 4:19; 7:1) and visions. The source of a teacher’s message might be a Bible commentary, but the source of a prophecy is a supernatural revelation of the order of visions and dreams. (For further Biblical information about the gift of prophecy (see Appendix, Note 8.5).

So prophesying in our time should be just as supernatural as it was in Old Testament times, but far more prevalent. The closing of the canon of Scripture means we have no need of new doctrine from God, but our need for new direction from God is just as great as when Agabas told the church to get ready for a drought, and prepared Paul for the trials ahead by saying, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit . . .’ and acting like a prophet of old (Acts 11:28; 21:10-11). It is just as needed as when Paul received God’s guidance through visions, (Acts 16:19; 18:9-11) and saved lives by foretelling the outcome of a shipwreck. Our need is just as serious as when Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, penned the words, ‘covet to prophesy’ (1 Corinthians 14:39, note also 1 Corinthians 14:1).

We could continue looking at the New Testament usage of the word prophecy, but each time the same picture emerges. The New Testament uses not just the same word to describe Old Testament prophecy and the gift we should be exercising today, but it clearly refers to the same phenomenon. It is not general exhortation, or the expounding of doctrine. It might be, ‘Prepare for a famine,’ (cf Acts 11:28) or ‘You have five husbands,’ (John 4:18) or ‘I [the Lord] have this against you,’ (Revelation 2:4) but it is the exact message God wants a certain group of people to hear at that specific time.

In most Christian circles, music is a form of communication either from people to people (such as testimonies and re-hashes of Bible truths) or from people to God (prayer and praise). But before we can begin to imagine our music conforms to the Biblical pattern, we must add a third dimension: from God to people (prophetic music).

Jimmy Owens was ‘songwriter-arranger-conductor-producer’ of Christian albums. He had made over a hundred when the Lord suddenly showed him he was on ‘a colossal ego trip . . . trying to build a name for myself in the name of the Lord’. He felt the Lord say that he and his wife should write nothing until they heard from him. One and a half years passed. Then they quickly achieved more for the Lord ‘than in all our previous years of ministry combined’. Their secret: ‘Hear what the Spirit is saying and let Him say it through you.’

They point out that this was Jesus’ approach to ministry.

‘I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father who has sent me.’

‘. . . the word which you hear is not mine, but the Father’s who sent me.’

And, I add, this is the way even of the Spirit Himself:

‘Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, [that] shall He speak: and He will show you things to come.’

In the words of Peter:

‘If any person speak/sing, (the Greek word is a broad one. Grudem, people 175, specifically mentions that what Peter had in mind could possibly include singing) [let it be] as the oracles of God . . .’ (John 5:30; 14:24; 16:13; 1 Peter 4:11)

Though the Owens’ make no claim to a prophetic ministry, they believe that by being sensitive to the Spirit of God and listening to the ministry of others, they can discern what the Spirit is currently saying to the church. They can then, with the Spirit’s empowering and direction, put that message into music. The result is not merely Scriptural truth, but that specific truth which the Spirit knows the church most needs to hear at that time.

I challenge at least all songwriters, preferably every musician, to earnestly seek God regarding this matter. People claiming that the gift of prophecy is not for them must be extremely cautious. There is a great danger of using human tradition or fear to nullify a direct command of Scripture.

To anyone wishing to divorce prophecy from music, I feel like proclaiming ‘what God has joined let no man put asunder’. The bond is strong and holy.

Next . . .

Covet it, and the gift will be yours (Psalm 37:4; Acts 2:16-18).


In Tune with God: Contents



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