The Quest for Music Miracles
© Copyright, Grantley Morris All rights reserved
The Ideal Musician
The Ideal Musician . . .
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun is one of the greatest of all missionary hymns and yet, marvels mission historian Ruth Tucker, it was written virtually a life-time before the onset of the modern missionary movement. Though more than half a century ahead of its time, Isaac Watts’ hymn was so powerful that it stayed in circulation decade after decade until the church finally caught up. How ever did he achieve such a feat? Because his hymn writing was based not on contemporary Christian thought but on the eternal word of God. He was paraphrasing Scripture.
I had heard that the gifted preacher and Bible expositor, Charles Spurgeon, was grateful that as a child he had committed many of Isaac Watts’ hymns to memory. I was unmoved. It had helped him in his formative years, I assumed. What startled me was the discovery that this great man of God treasured those memorized lyrics as being of immense value as he crafted his sermons. ‘No matter on what topic I am preaching,’ he wrote, ‘I can, even now, in the middle of my sermon, quote some verse of a hymn in harmony with the subject . . .’ Would a Bible scholar be moved to quote your lyrics in a sermon?
I confess to being initially surprised upon discovering the high proportion of theologians among hymn-writers. But how could it be otherwise? Should sermons be devoted to correcting the bad theology sung earlier in the service? Should the enormous power of music-enhanced words be placed in the hands of people inept at discerning truth? If music is the powerful, holy ministry we believe it to be, it should attract the cream of the Christian church.
It is believed Johann Sebastian Bach owned more books on theology than on music.
We earlier identified teaching as a vital function of Christian music (Chapter 4, section 13).
‘Your statutes have been my song . . .’ sang the psalmist (Psalm 119:54).
‘Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing . . .’ (Colossians 3:16).
Steve Camp claims most Christian musicians know more about music than about Jesus and they spend more time developing their music than their theology. Camp, who initially focused his music on Christian entertainment, asserts that Christian musicians cannot avoid the grave responsibilities of being teachers merely by labelling themselves Christian entertainers. If the average young person spends more time listening to music than to teachers, parents and pastors, the message in that music assumes great importance.
The Bible calls the Levites ‘Israel’s teachers’ (2 Chronicles 35:3 cf 2 Chronicles 17:8-9; 30:22; Nehemiah 8:7-8).
Billy Graham’s personal gift is clearly the spoken word, not music. Yet in a foreword to a book that had nothing to do with music he advised Christians ‘to continually be reading and meditating in at least three books: the Bible, the hymnal, and a Christian biography.’ But before getting too excited, take a second look at that quote. He said not hearing or singing, but reading and meditating. Are your lyrics worthy of this?
Popular songs with questionable theology are said to have ‘contributed to the eventual official acceptance of unscriptural practices in the Roman Catholic Church.’
Bishop Wordsworth provides us with an astonishing example of what not to do. In his hymn paraphrasing 1 Corinthians 13, he says that neither faith nor hope will remain, only love!
One young man, who had written a number of Christian songs, discarded them after a few months at Bible college. The Bible-training had exposed deficiencies in his lyrics.
If you knew the Lord and His word more intimately, would you feel the same way about your songs?
Be haunted by Michelangelo – a gifted man immortalized by a ridiculous
interpretation of Scripture. He depicted Moses with horns (Based
on Exodus 34:29-30,35 in the Vulgate version).
At least three times in Scripture we find the words, ‘The Lord . . . is my song’ (Exodus 15:2; Psalm 118:14; Isaiah 12:2).
The Bible speaks of songs which focus so much upon God that they are referred to by such expressions as ‘the Lord’s song’ (2 Chronicles 29:27; Psalm 42:8; 137:4).
Animal sacrifice was the focal point of all temple activity (see Chapter 4, section 18.) Everything else (music included) served this (2 Chronicles 23:18).
For us, the focal point is Christ’s atoning sacrifice (cf Revelation 5:9).
Bernard Manning speaks of Charles Wesley’s ‘obsession with the greatest things’, citing as proof the fact that in one on his hymnbooks, one in every nine hymns begins with the name Jesus, Christ or Savior.
See also Chapter 4, section 1.
The Levitical musicians were chosen on the basis of birth, not natural affinity for music. For many of them it must have been a hard slog. And these musicians had to be available for ministry, not only when they felt inspired, but ‘day and night’. That meant discipline.
Alan J. Lerner had a bit of trouble writing the lyrics to On a clear day you can see forever. In fact, it took him three hours a day, seven days a week for eight months. Before he was happy with the result he had written and discarded ninety-one complete sets of lyrics. And he wasn’t even writing for the Lord of glory. That’s discipline.
Self-discipline is the power factor in a person’s life. It is the quality that enables you to maximize your every gift. It means being persistent and consistent; punctual, reliable, committed. Without it you are like someone frantically try to bring life-giving water to a thirsty world, using a bucket with gaping holes. An undisciplined person is his/her own saboteur. This folly left the one-talent man a no-talent man (Matthew 25:14-30).
There is a law that can be expressed in a formula something like this:
Divine Input X Talent X Discipline = Achievement
Regardless of talent, if discipline equals zero, achievement equals zero. If discipline equals ten, your output is ten times greater, ten times more valuable, than if you had one unit of discipline.
How could your talent move the heart of God? Talent is God’s gift to you. Disciplined effort is your gift to God.
Don’t think of discipline as fleshly self-effort able to be dispensed with by a spiritual experience. On the contrary, discipline in its purest form is itself the product of a spiritual experience. It is the blending of two of the fruit of the Spirit – patience (better translated perseverance) and self-control.
Without God, however, even the most beautiful quality turns ugly. Leave Him out of the equation and apparent faithfulness becomes a faithless struggle; what should be an expression of love becomes proud self-effort.
Discipline must spring from a heart brimming with thankfulness for the undeserved kindness of God that has cleansed it. Effort must be lovingly, joyously yielded to God. It must not be a vain attempt to win divine or human approval, but a natural response to the realization that through Christ we already have divine approval – and that’s the only approval that matters.
We have already established that the ideal musician is well-trained in music (Chapter 7 and in part of Chapter 4, section 1 – including the note attached to it).
‘. . . All of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord . . .’ says 1 Chronicles 25:7 of the temple musicians.
Our Lord has often elected to mightily use untrained people. This thrills me. But we are looking at the person who specializes in ministering through music. Training may not necessarily be formal, but, at the very least, it will involve much practice and hard work. God rewards faith and faithfulness, but never sloth.
The disciplined person excels in prayer, Bible study, practice
and heavenly reward. You might not think discipline very
exciting, but I do. It’s the secret that empowers me to overtake
people with far greater ability than me.
Singers tended to lead processions (Psalm 68:25; Nehemiah 12:31 ff). They might not necessarily have planned the route, but they went out in front and set the pace. Unimpressed? That’s because you see the procession as a peace-time ritual. What if that procession were an act of war? You might think twice about leading Jehoshophat’s march (2 Chronicles 20:21). God’s singers put themselves in the line of fire.
If the church and the devil were in some sort of truce it would matter little who stands in front. But each church service should be an advance against dark and hostile forces. Eternal destinies hang in the balance.
We discovered earlier that a divinely-ordained function of music is to lead God’s people in worship (Chapter 4, section 4).
‘. . . the singers with musical instruments LEADING the praise’ (2 Chronicles 23:13; see also 2 Chronicles 8:14, NIV and note Nehemiah 9:5).
The leadership abilities of the temple musicians is obvious from the following Scripture, referring to repairs made to the temple during Josiah’s reign:
‘. . . The Levites – all of whom were expert with musical instruments – had charge of the burden bearers and supervised all the workmen from job to job. . . .’ (2 Chronicles 34:12-13, Anchor Bible).
The Levitical musicians were literally foreman material.
Christian musicians are leaders, not performers. They seek not to win the acclaim of spectators, but to bring fellow believers into a greater awareness of the Lord’s presence, a deeper love for God, an increased ability to worship, a heightened sensitivity to the Spirit, a more accurate understanding of spiritual truth, and a fuller manifestation of Spirit-led unity. What a privilege!
The psalms place much emphasis upon worshipping God, not just alone, but in congregations (e.g. Psalm 22:22,25; 26:12; 35:18; 40:9-10; 42:4; 57:9; 68:26; 96:3; 107:32: 108:3; 109:30; 111:1; 116:13-14,18; 149:1). The need for this to be done ‘decently and in order’ (1 Corinthians 14:40) immediately highlights the importance of leadership.
One of the greatest achievements of a good leader is the unification of the body of people, empowering them to pull together in the same direction. Scripture stresses the importance and immense potential of a congregation spiritually moving as one (e.g. 2 Chronicles 5:13-14; Psalm 133; Jeremiah 32:39-41; John 17:21; Acts 2:1-2; 4:24,31-33; Romans 15:5-6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 1:27; 2:2; 1 Peter 3:8-9). Music – especially congregational singing – can accomplish this like perhaps nothing else can. When singing, everyone is actively involved in, and focusing on, the same thing. Diverse emotions will be represented in almost any congregation – joy, grief, apathy, solemnity, and so on. Yet even these will begin to merge as the music continues.
Leadership through music is so subtle it often goes unnoticed, yet so powerful it will be acknowledged for all eternity.
The original text of Jesus’ powerful promise regarding corporate prayer (Matthew 18:19) contains the Greek word symphoneo.
‘If two of you shall agree [symphoneo] on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them . . .’
Even in Jesus’ day, this word had musical connections.
If the unity achieved when an instrumental or choral group flows together, is an excellent picture of the type of unity Jesus had in mind, why not actually use music to achieve that goal?
There is yet another seldom-noticed contribution of music to unity. Noting that most denominational hymnals include the works of writers from very diverse denominations, the hymn book has been called ‘the greatest argument for church unity ever printed’.
We each need to express to both heaven and earth our deepest feelings. Yet we usually lack the linguistic skills to spontaneously and adequately do this. Most of us flounder. We need a leader. We need a song-writer.
Writers of congregational songs have the responsibility of assisting large numbers of people to voice their spiritual feelings, enabling them to sing ‘with understanding’ (1 Corinthians 14:15) without the frustration of groping for appropriate words.
On the other hand, worship leaders have the even greater responsibility of selecting the exact songs that best meet each person’s immediate need to express himself/herself. Since only God knows the exact needs of each person, it is obvious how dependent a song leader is upon divine guidance. Song selection is a huge responsibility. It actually shapes people’s communion with the King of kings.
Song leaders have immense power. In seconds they can change the entire mood of a congregation. They can greatly assist, or hinder, the work God’s Spirit wishes to do.
Like the smell of food luring a nervous church-mouse out of its hole, music can coax hardened, hurting or timid souls to tentatively reach out to the God they desperately need. Yet, at this crucial time, the slightest distraction – just one discordant note – and those tentative creatures will instantly retreat to the dark hole they’ve been in.
Even self-conscious worshippers may slowly open up to God under the warmth of Spirit-led musicians, who are constantly filling the congregation’s hearts with reasons to trust, love and worship their Lord. Yet just one musician’s slip – even an inappropriate change of volume or tempo – can almost be like bursting into the privacy of timid lovers, jolting them into awkward self-consciousness. The ever-strengthening link between heaven and earth will have snapped and many people will have to start almost from scratch again.
Whoever has the power to lead a congregation into a greater sensitivity to the Spirit, has the power to destroy that experience. Regrettably, though it may take many musicians to create a perfect atmosphere, it only takes one to shatter it.
‘I’m so afraid of power,’ confided Keith Green in his private journal. The famous song-writer and recording artist confessed to ‘my fleshly desire to rule others. In my heart of hearts I only want serve! . . . I want more than anything else to pour myself out for them, for Jesus. But then there’s my old nature that wants to control everything . . .’
Ideally, only those having such a fear should be entrusted with leadership. In practice, at least one survey has suggested that even in churches, there is a tendency for power to be seized by those who lust for it. That should make us all fear.
Christlike leaders are servants, not celebrities. Their task is not so much to bless people as to lead them to the One who can really bless them. Their joy is not in reaching inaccessible heights, but in making those heights accessible to everyone.
A leader of God’s people must:
1) know where God wants His people to go
2) know how to get there
3) have the courage and faith to take God’s people there.
Leadership and wisdom are allies. Solomon, for example, sought wisdom in order to effectively lead God’s people. He knew that it is through wisdom that ‘princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth’ (Proverbs 8:16).
Another product of his wisdom, however, was one thousand and five songs (1 Kings 4:32).
Not only does Scripture mention Solomon’s songwriting when describing his wisdom, there is evidence that all four people with whom his wisdom is compared might have had musical ability. (For more on this (see Appendix, Note 8.2).
Perhaps the bond between wisdom and the ideal musician is greater
than is first apparent. According to our western view, wisdom’s
strongest link would probably be with musical leadership and song-writing.
The Hebrew conception of wisdom, however, stretches beyond ours
to include artistic skill (e.g. Exodus 35:26,35; 1 Kings 7:14).
We noted briefly in Chapter 4, section 2 that the Bible’s musical prayers often provide us with inspiring examples of faith (e.g. Psalm 121).
Strong faith is also a prerequisite for being a spiritual leader, as demonstrated when the singers went in front of Jehoshaphat’s army, taking the most dangerous position, when approaching three hostile armies of formidable strength (2 Chronicles 20:21).
Faith is a vital ingredient is prophesying, (Romans 12:6) and,
in fact, in every aspect of the Christian life (Galatians 3:2-5).
Of all the peoples on the globe, just one nation was holy unto God (Exodus 19:5-6). In the midst of this nation was a small minority who stood out as being holier than the rest of God’s holy people (Numbers 8:6-19). Yet even within the Levites, the holiest tribe of the holy nation, was a tiny minority who were holier still (Bible scholar, Braun, concludes from an analysis of 1 Chronicles chapters 15-16 that Levitical musicians were considered ‘pre-eminent among the Levites’),
Whereas some Levites lived in secular areas, (e.g. Deuteronomy 14:27; 18:6; Judges 17:7) some in Levitical cities, (e.g. Joshua 21) and some in the holy city, (e.g. 1 Chronicles 9:16) the singers were assigned to the temple itself (1 Chronicles 9:33; Ezekiel 40:44 – Hebrew text, see Appendix, Note 3.1). Most of God’s people occasionally visited the Lord’s House and a few ministered in it, but those involved in holy music actually lived there. Even priests could be temporarily unclean, (e.g. Leviticus 21:1-3; 2 Chronicles 29:34; 30:3) but no-one in that condition could dwell in the temple (2 Chronicles 23:19; Psalm 24:3-4; cf Exodus 18:10-13; Joshua 7:13). To reside in that holy place, would demand a very strict, dedicated life.
2 Chronicles 5:12 tells us the musicians were clothed in white linen. Perhaps it is significant that in Revelation 19:8 linen clothing is explained as being symbolic of righteousness.
In 2 Chronicles 20:21 we find an expression that is open to several interpretations, but it may mean that the singers were in ‘holy array’.
Singing godly songs without living a godly life is futile.
‘Take away from me the noise of your songs;
Because of unrighteousness,
Their songs were from God Himself. Their dedication to sacred music was probably faultless; their musical skills impeccable. But wrong living had nullified their entire ministry.
To human ears, the music would sound the same. But to God, what should have been the loveliest strains in the universe, were as hideous as a choir of pneumatic jack-hammers. And soon the whole word would know it.
The pursuit of holiness may be far from painless but, like salvation
and everything else in the spiritual life, it grows from our faith-relationship
with the Lord, not self-effort.
We have noted that for generations the Levites were little more than laborers and servants of the priests. Even when they entered their musical ministry they were positioned on the east side of the altar, the very side where the ashes and offal were flung (2 Chronicles 8:14; Leviticus 1:16).
The world and its music industry want ‘stars’; Christ and His church want servants. ‘Stars’ are parasites squandering their talents as they wallow in accolades. Servants are benefactors who roll up their sleeves and get things done.
The world may call egotists ‘stars’, but they are really black holes, sucking in people’s money, self-esteem and talent. Servants are the real stars; suns that brighten, release and empower the lives of those around them.
Humble people are spiritually fit; liberated from the excess flab of an inflated ego. They are spiritually perceptive, enjoying heaven’s lofty view of reality; seeing things from God’s perspective, in contrast to the narrow, gutter level view of an egotist whose eyes can focus on little beyond himself. Egotists are bombed out of their brains by self-delusion.
To many of us humility sounds dull, limp, shriveled, sickly; pride sounds expansive, vibrant, dazzling, powerful. Nothing could be further from reality. The virtue is so tarnished that we almost need another word. Those endowed with this power are but bold realists who storm to the finish line while egotists are still preening themselves. Humility is a gleaming, high-powered sports car under wraps; pride is a beaten-up wreck under tinsel. Those who humble themselves will be exalted, promises Scripture. This secret weapon operates in numerous natural and supernatural ways. One of them springs from the fact that humble people do not imagine they have ‘arrived’. As a result they heed good advice and continue to improve long after the proud have peaked.
George Beverly Shea’s autobiography drove this point into my brain. Early in his book he referred to his singing lessons and the help they had been. I can handle that. Most of us admit our need for instruction when first commencing to play an instrument or sing. His hard work paid off. He finally gained regular spots on two different radio stations. Still he took lessons. Still he improved. Then came another advance. He moved to Chicago to take up a full-time position on the Moody Radio Station. Upon arrival, one of the first things he did was to locate a voice coach. This man just didn’t know when to quit improving. He kept getting better and better because he kept believing that there were others who knew more about singing than he did. Advancement is one of humility’s hidden joys.
Jimmy and Carol Owens’ most popular songs, such as Freely, Freely from their musical Come Together, would never have been written had the Lord not convicted them of the pride that was keeping them from writing such ‘simple’ songs. There was an enormous cost to the ego for Jimmy to write like that. There’s a place for sophisticated and complex music but our Lord reserves a special place for those who humble themselves. Millions of people have been blessed on earth because Jimmy Owens’ won his painful battle with pride. Jimmy, however, will be blessed eternally.
We must never allow ourselves to set such high standards that we begin to despise simple lyrics. Isaiah’s report of seraphim’s worship (Isaiah 6:3) prove that lyrics can be simple, short, not very original, (cf Numbers 14:21) and not particularly poetical, and yet be of heavenly origin and treasured by the Almighty. Unless Luke recorded a mere summary, the angelic song heard by shepherds also had brief, simple lyrics.
Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ sounds most unpleasant. Three times he cried out to God for its removal. Yet pride is so deadly that suffering this ‘thorn’ was preferable to succumbing to pride’s charms (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). In these days when humanistic egotism is touted as a virtue, when the possibility of being idolized no longer terrifies, many of us are oblivious to our peril. God opposes the proud (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5).
In Tune with God: Contents
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