I love music. I tend to only half jokingly tell people Dad raised me on 50s & 60s oldies and Mom on opera & classical music. As a result I have a fairly wide musical interest & tend to be pretty eclectic in my tastes. Right now I could tell you some of my favorite songs from any genre from hard rock to cowboy country to blues to a Baroque aria. I have my more favorite genres of course, and I go on kicks with one or the other. One style of music that I will never tire of is acapella singing. And I don’t just mean on during assembly times, though that is where this post is geared towards. If you don’t think acapella singing outside of church times can be good, check out Pentatonix or Home Free (yes even though they’re not gospel, still good stuff!).
Acapella singing is such a wonderful communion in its own right with God & each other. Its something we truly do all together as a body even if one person happens to be leading it, and often I’m extremely encouraged by hearing all of our voices united in the same song, in the same lyric, in the same thought that lyric is trying to provoke. I hear others singing with no barrier between them & God, between each other and our combined praise to God, and personally feel more connected as a body than at many other times when we’re singing together. In the same way as taking communion together as body speaks to one another that we’re in fellowship in Christ, and that we still believe Christ has been raised from the dead, singing together as one voice the praises of our Creator often does something similar, or at least it can. It can unify a body, open our hearts to what God may tell us that morning, and connect us with the person standing or sitting next to us as we together sing a line that speaks to both of us. Singing is one of the more experiential things we do as a body, and I think that’s correct. Many other aspects of walking in the Light require head knowledge to trump our feelings, for instance believing we’re saved by grace even if our heart tells us we could never be. But singing is a place where truly as we sing the lyrics we can both understand them in our heads and feel them in our hearts. To borrow from Horatio Spafford, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.” Even as I read these lyrics now and understand them, when sung with my brothers & sisters it takes on new meaning, it feels different, & it means something different when I read alone versus when I sing with the church. Those lyrics came out of a tragic experience that was put to music as the hymn we know.
We all have different experiences in our lives, some that can be shared with others and some that can’t. We all see God through different eyes, perspectives, & see Him working in different ways. We have different joys, different sorrows, different trials and different triumphs. We know this. What we don’t know is how our experiences may affect, may help, may encourage, may admonish, may rebuke, may relate, may connect with others. Hebrews 10 tells us the assembly is for encouraging each other and for spurring each other on to good works. Many people don’t treat the assembly this way, but that’s another post. Here’s my question:
Why don’t we do this with music more?
OK, what am I really asking?
Why don’t we write music from OUR OWN EXPERIENCES more?
This last Sunday I had the honor of song leading an original song written by a sixteen year old young lady from our congregation. While this was done with Leadership Training For Christ (at least as a pushing motivation), and used scripture for the lyrics, there is her experience somewhere in this song. It speaks to others inasmuch that they may not have read the same scripture she used & had it affect them the same way as when they sang the scripture along with the notes & the body singing it with them. To sing together “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trial,” giving glory to God while at the same time singing it with the same person who arranged the notes with this scripture was such a wonderful, encouraging experience for the congregation. To be connected not only now by singing the same lyrics and notes, but connected through whatever experience inspired the song writing, to share in that, to be lifted up by it is a unique experience. This is a similar experience as giving- there’s a blessing to the receiver as well as to the giver, possibly more to the giver. There is a blessing to whomever gives to others of their gifts, experiences, knowledge, & emotions as to the people receiving it, whether it be praying, preaching, encouraging, with whatever gift we have been blessed.
Songs are something that connect us to each other & to the principles contained in Scripture on an emotional as well as knowledge level. They’re a way to truly make the assembly experience our own. I’m not saying that the assembly is or should be totally experiential- not at all, but there must be an aspect of that. Scripture does not change. Principles do not change. We won’t be changing the Lord’s Supper. What does change in the assembly? What do we use to help mold each Sunday to this way or that? Our prayers, and our songs. We don’t use other peoples’ prayers to address our own congregation. There’s nothing wrong with that if its appropriate, but often we don’t, why? Because we personalize our prayers to our body & what’s going on with us today, to speak to each other & to God about the interaction between our experiences & the principles of Scripture He’s revealed to us.
Why not do this with songs too? At one point or another every song you’ve sung was new, & written by often very ordinary people out of an experience. Why not write new songs out of our experiences that speak to God from our experiences, hearts, minds, & thoughts, that speak to each other out of the same fellowship it can also encourage?
I know what many of you might be thinking- “I don’t know music!” “I don’t know where to start.” ” I have no musical training.” “I don’t know how.” “It might not be good.” Etc, etc, etc…
Well as far as the “It might…” arguments, I’ll tell you the same thing as I tell my children and happen to believe- for every “It might be bad” thought there’s an equal “It might be good” thought as well- you don’t know until you try, which as cliche as that’s become is still true!
Far as training & experience, well you’ll never get that until you try too. In this day and age of training, knowledge, & helpful programs literally right at our fingertips (he writes somewhat ironically with his fingertips) while it may not be the easiest thing, it is as easy to try and learn as its ever been. There are websites on tips for songwriting, websites that will teach you music 101, and free programs that can help you write notes & lyrics and let you hear how they sound. Those are just 3 things from a quick search, there are thousands of other resources. And this is assuming that you want to go full out and write a four part harmony song.
A hymn begins with a love for God, a few words and a basic melody. You don’t need notes on a screen, a fully developed chord structure and a copyright in order to share your love for God through song. Come up with something, teach it to someone else, and you’re worshiping in and through song, and if it happens to get sung on Sunday morning, praise God. We needn’t write new songs to have them sung on Sunday morning, but we need to ourselves write new songs to continue the tradition through the millenniums of taking Scripture to heart, of grappling with what it means to me, sharing it with others, and enjoying the blessings of God being praised. This is true, by the way, of prayers, Bible study, sermons, & random thoughts we have through the day. God is praised not just & only when we’re at the church building, but when we make Him such a part of our lives that we think on Him, dwell on Him, wrestle with what He tells us, & we must overflow somehow, whether in prayer, encouragement, sermon, or song in His praise. Worship is not something we go and do, but something we orient every aspect of our life to exude- worship is a life orientation. Church is not something we go to, but something we live, something we are, who & what we must be. A song from a heart that belongs to God is always worth singing. So, go for it, and maybe we’ll be singing your song from the next hymnal printing. Or maybe only your congregation will ever sing it. Or maybe just your friend will sing it with you. God be praised.
Grace to you.