The Quest for Music Miracles
© Copyright, Grantley Morris All rights reserved
The Ideal Musician
The Ideal Musician . . .
‘Music is your own experience . . .’ declared Charlie Parker, ‘If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.’
To follow in the footsteps of ‘the sweet psalmist of Israel’ (2 Samuel 23:1) we would need more than an abundance of creative musical skill. Even if, in addition to David’s musical genius, we had his extensive theological understanding, we would still be hopelessly deficient.
We would have to match his beautiful, patient, forgiving spirit, (e.g. 2 Samuel 16:6 ff) his humility, (e.g. Psalm 51:1-5) faith, (e.g. 2 Samuel 12:15 ff) intense yearning for God, (Psalm 143:6) desire for personal holiness (Psalm 139:23-24) and his eagerness to obey the Lord (1 Samuel 13:14). These are the fruit of a genuine relationship with the living God.
Yet even then, there would be a shallowness about our musical composition unless, like David, we could sing about God’s supernatural intervention in our lives: delivering us from danger, healing us, empowering us, materially providing for us, loving us. The ideal musician is living proof that the Lord is a mighty, prayer-answering, promise-keeping God.
It is noteworthy that the four thousand musicians appointed by David were all aged thirty or over (1 Chronicles 23:3-5). Consider also the implications of Paul’s instruction that a church leader must be what the Good News Bible calls ‘mature in the faith’ (1 Timothy 3:6). The reason given is particularly important:
‘. . . lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.’
Christian artists are precariously exposed to this serious danger.
Charlotte Elliott’s ‘Just as I am’ is believed to have ‘touched more hearts and influenced more people for Christ than any other song ever written.’ Her brother wrote that more than half a century of suffering went into the writing of her hymns.
Audrey Mieir prayed daily year after year for Andraé Crouch’s ministry. ‘Andraé,’ she would say, ‘You are going to have to go through every song you write because God is using you to bring out things people want to express.’ The experience might come before or after the writing but, she assured him, it would come.
‘Your walk,’ says Chuck Girade, ‘Is the most important part of your songwriting.’
Earth’s greatest music is the product of a beautiful, intimate
union with the eternal King. It is of untold worth. And, through
Jesus, you are capable of producing it.
For simplicity, I will describe this song as if it were performed. However, even greater power sometimes attends congregational singing. Let’s explore the qualities of the ‘perfect’ Christian song.
Its every aspect – the writing, arranging, selecting for the occasion, and the performance – is accomplished with a heavy dependence upon the Spirit of God.
Both the words and music are enticing and relevant, not just to people in general but to the specific audience on the occasion it is sung. How past generations or out-of-earshot contemporaries would respond is irrelevant.
The words are so well formed and the message so vital that, like Scripture’s songs, they would have an effective ministry even without music. The music, too, is so good that it could stand alone. Additionally, tune and words come together as the perfect fit, with, ideally, not one syllable or note seeming a little forced or out of place.
Not only does the music – through volume, tempo and so on – not inhibit the words, it highlights the words and adds meaning to them. It arouses within the people a longing to hear the song (and hence the message) over and over. It engenders appropriate emotion, lifting them towards the attitude appropriate to the occasion (thankfulness, praise, joy, awe, repentance etc.), causing people to be more responsive to the lyrics. It seeds the words into the hearers’ mind and heart, causing the song and its message to erupt in their minds long after the music has stopped.
The ideal song moves people to respond to God in the way He wants them to respond at that particular time – perhaps to have faith in Him, yield to Him, praise Him, pray to Him, love Him, unburden themselves, appropriate His gifts, or repent.
It combines personal experience with Scriptural truth. Some elements of the experience might be foreign to the hearers (it might, for example, be more extreme than what they have personally gone through) but its nature and presentation is so meaningful to the hearers that it touches their own fears, longings, anguish or joy. The Scriptural truth linking it so hits the hearers that they see it as powerful, relevant and life-changing.
It preferably mentions not just ‘God’ – a word that could mean almost anything to people outside the church – but identifies the true God by focusing upon His only Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of the human race.
Above all, the ideal song is God’s choice at the exact moment
and location in which it is sung. It might even be so divinely
tailored to that particular occasion and audience that, like many
sermons and most specific prayers, it is never used again.
Scriptures references to a ‘new song’ reveal that in the heart of God is a continual yearning for the new. To fulfil this divine longing we must cut loose from the tyranny of old songs and let the fresh winds of the Spirit blow us wherever He wills. Sadly, this will upset traditionalists, just as Jesus and all his Spirit-led followers have always offended those who worship a god frozen in time, instead of Creator God who is forever doing a new thing. However, we must not confuse true spirituality with worldly fashion or with a lust for change. We must be like the Israelites on route to the promised land who moved whenever, and only when, God’s cloud moved.
Jesus is ‘the same yesterday, today and forever,’ but those who would misuse this truth to excuse a retreat into the past must remember that yesterday Jesus was dynamic and controversial. He made a whip and overturned the tables of tradition. And He’s the same today.
We must cling to Christ. That alone distinguishes a Christian musician, not the fact that Christ’s name appears in the music.
Commercial success may demand a commitment to ‘the market’. Success in your church may demand a commitment to the status quo. But spiritual success requires fearless commitment to Jesus Christ. The result might be glorious music that few people appreciate.
Hey, that can’t be right. Anything truly of God would be so good that people could not fail to appreciate it. Really? Is the best music always the most popular? People prefer old ‘wine’, said Jesus. God delights in new songs, says Scripture. Under God’s anointing holy prophets of old spoke words from heaven. And to their hearers those inspired utterances sounded like fingernails scratching a blackboard. People love darkness rather than light. And if anything exposes the fickleness of human taste it is music.
Be careful before trashing music so innovative that it is unpopular. If we think lightly of music that touches only God, our understanding of God’s worth is abysmal. If we regard as inferior a ministry that powerfully touches only one person, we do not understand the infinity of God’s love for an individual.
How can we be servants of the Lord if we are slaves to human approval?
A chill sweeps my spine as I contemplate how often we must stifle the Spirit by repressing innovative concepts He drops into our minds. (I obviously do not mean innovative doctrines!) Be true to His leading, no matter what the cost.
Says Winkie Pratney, ‘The one who conforms to a culture will never transform it. You’ve got to step out and be ahead of it.’
If fear of the new can be a stumbling-block, fear of the old can
be a millstone. Each move of God emphasizes particular truths,
but fresh winds will sour if allowed to get so out of control
that other Biblical truths are displaced by sheer neglect. For
instance, a rediscovery of the love of God must not be allowed
to wipe from our minds the Bible’s teaching about fearing God.
Often it is the unpopular, almost forgotten truth that we most
need in order to become the full, complete people God wants us
to be. So be led by the Spirit, not by the latest fad, when writing
and selecting songs.
The Scriptures amply testify to the significant contribution women can make to both secular (For example, 1 Samuel 18:6-7; 2 Samuel 19:35; Ecclesiastes 2:8; and, possibly, Ecclesiastes 7:5) and religious music (e.g. Exodus 15:20-21; Judges 5:1; 2 Chronicles 35:25; Psalm 68:25). In fact, Strabo, as a foreign observer of Palestinian music, singled out female, rather than male, singers for his exceptionally high praise. (SeeAppendix, Note 4.1.)
1 Chronicles 25:5-6 reads as though Heman’s daughters, along with his sons, were appointed, ‘. . . for song in the house of the Lord, with cymbals, psalteries, and harps, for the service of the house of God.’
This interpretation is supported by many Bible scholars. If correct, it is quite surprising because other temple ministries appear to have been restricted to male Levites (Leviticus 6:18; Numbers 3:22,28,34 Appendix, Note 8.3 explains how music also opened doors for boys).
Female singers were amongst the Jewish refugees returning from their Babylonian exile (Ezra 2:65; Nehemiah 7:67). Some scholars believe they were temple singers. I agreed, until taking more heed of the immediate context. In both Nehemiah and Ezra, temple musicians are grouped with the Levites several verses prior to the reference to female singers (Ezra 2:41; Nehemiah 7:44). Instead of being included with the temple musicians, the ‘male and female singers’ are mentioned immediately after ‘male and female slaves,’ just before a list of the beasts of burden. This suggests that these particular singers were slaves, not temple choristers. The use of musical slaves was no doubt accentuated by the fact that radios and stereos were rare in those days. In addition to entertainment, such slaves may have been in great demand in times of mourning (see Appendix, Note 8.4).
Miriam led only her gender in triumphant singing and dancing (Exodus 15:1,20). In contrast, Judith, the key figure in a Jewish apocryphal book, led both genders in song and dance (Judith 15:13-16:1). Deborah’s musical leadership, as outlined in the book of Judges, probably fell mid-way between these two. She joined Barak in song and is actually mentioned before him, suggesting she may have taken the dominant musical role (Judges 5:1). The account of Sisera’s mother in the last portion of the song (Judges 5:28 ff) has been cited as suggesting feminine authorship. In fact, Bishop Hervey suggested that, relative to Moses and Miriam, the roles were reversed, with Barak leading a male chorus in response to Deborah’s song.
So it is certain that in Scripture women had important roles in secular and religious music. Whether temple music was included is not quite as clear. If this one barrier to female musicians did exist, however, it surely met the same fate as the temple veil, rent asunder when Jesus died (Matthew 27:51). The only possible restriction would seem to be the New Testament directive that women should not exercise authority over men (1 Timothy 2:9-14 – See Appendix, Note 8.5).
Of many nineteenth-century women could it be said, ‘Preachers, theologians and Bible scholars, who would not permit a woman to speak or teach in a worship service, week after week sang her hymns and profited by her ministry.’
In Tune with God: Contents
For a treasure trove of hilariously helpful, compassionate and stimulating webpages by Grantley Morris, click the chest.