Church Music Explosion
"As far as your person is concerned, you must not get angry with anyone regardless of the injury he may have done to you. But where your office requires it, there you must get angry, even though no injury has been done to you personally."
(J.S. Bach, from a notation in his personal Bible - Matthew 5:26)
As I meet and talk with church musicians from all backgrounds, our conversations inevitably turn to some of the difficulties of working in the church. And we usually agree that the root of those problems is less of a musical one than one that is spiritual. In preparation for this class, I have tried to zero in on what the spiritual difficulties and challenges are for those of us who work as musicians in the church. I believe that working in the church is probably one of the most spiritually challenging jobs anyone can have.
- First and foremost is the heightened contrast (and hypocrisy) between the law of God and our fallen natures. While we work in an institution that shines God's light on a fallen world, it first shines on ourselves, showing our own sinfulness and how far we fall short of God's perfection. This creates inevitable conflict in us and in others.
- Secondly, the true church is a great threat to Satan and therefore is under constant attack from within and without. The "battle within" takes place within the staff and congregation and certainly within ourselves.
- Thirdly, people often get away with things that would never be allowed in the secular world. Many times people say or do wrong in the name of Christ. This can be very hurtful, spiritually confusing, and very damaging.
How do we grow spiritually so that we may leave these hindrances behind? How can we be more effective in our service to God and our congregations? First we need to continually grow in our understanding of who God is. This is a life long process. In our business it is easy to lose sight of for whom our worship is intended. In today's church, worship services have become more and more focused on the congregation. This is done under the guise of reaching, teaching, challenging, convicting amongst many other reasons. Many times the worship service is aimed at attracting the unbeliever for evangelistic purposes. Evangelism is very important, however our worship services are intended for the worship of believers - the unbeliever cannot worship. However, under the best of circumstances we all tend to lose sight of the fact that our worship services are meant to worship God. God (not the congregation) is our audience. Therefore we must continually remind ourselves of who God is. The God who told Moses to take his shoes off because he was standing on holy ground has not changed.
Isaiah 6 gives us a glimpse of God, how awesome and fearful he is indeed. Here Isaiah has a vision of heaven.
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim...And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for."
When we begin to understand who God is, we will also fear him in the right sense of that word. We will be much more thoughtful as we prepare and participate in our worship services. So what are some of the challenges and solutions of being a church musician?
Being Spiritually Right with God
We must first be spiritually right with God. No matter how great our God given talent is, no matter how fantastic our postlude is, no matter how wonderful the choir sang the anthem - it all means nothing if it was not done with a heart that is pleasing to God. Cain presented God with wonderful fruits and vegetables - all beautiful things that God had created - but they were not offered in accordance with God's requirements, and therefore were not pleasing to him.
Proverbs 15:8 "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him."
The unrepentant Israelites of the Old Testament continued on in their elaborate temple worship. But God looks on the heart, not the outward appearance.
Isaiah 1:12-15 & 18 "When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations - I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen ..."Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land."
This may seem severe to our modern sensibilities, but scripture also tells us that God is unchanging - the God who Isaiah saw, is the same God in 2009. Malachi 3 says, "For I am the LORD, I do not change." So how do we enter the presence of this fearful God - by being clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Only the imputed perfection of Jesus Christ is sufficient. Once we have received that forgiveness and salvation we are then able to come and worship God. Our offerings are now acceptable and pleasing. Then as we begin our Christian walk we must come each day for a spiritual cleansing. This is of course not for salvation, but for forgiveness for the sins of the past day, and for grace and direction for the new day - our "daily bread."
Five Daily Prayers
So what are some concrete things we can do to strengthen ourselves spiritually for the battle of the day? Dr. Kennedy preached a sermon that that might be helpful in this regard; it was entitled "Five Prayers that Will Change Your Life." They are:
- Slay Me - (Colossians 3:5, "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.")
- Cleanse Me - (Psalm 24:3-4, "(Who) shall ascend the hill of the Lord, and who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.")
- Fill Me - (Ephesians 5:18-19, "Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart.")
- Lead Me - (Romans 8:14, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.")
- Use Me - "Lord, use me today. Use me for Your glory. Use me for Your plan."
It is so important that we spend time in scripture each and every day. The word of God sanctifies us; it retunes our hearts so that they are in harmony with Him.
- Daily Scripture Reading. We are surrounded by man's wisdom. Our minds go out of tune like a musical instrument, only faster. Many times the church becomes confusing spiritually, when we see hypocrisy in others and ourselves. So what do we do in this fog? We go to scripture.
- 2 Peter 1:19-20, "And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."
- Devotionals. There are many good devotionals - find one from a trusted pastor. "Morning and Evening" by C. H. Spurgeon is a classic devotional. A small leather bound edition is available on Amazon.com.
- Study Bible. It is helpful to have a good study bible to clarify passages.
- "MacArthur Study Bible" by John MacArthur (New King James Version) - (Calvinist, but dispensational perspective)
- "Reformation Study Bible" by Sproul and Packer (English Standard Version). (Reformed perspective)
Listening to Sermons Online
We are all very busy on Sunday mornings, and may not be able to go to Sunday School. Sunday School is usually where we learn important doctrine and receive a more in depth study of the Bible. Consider listening to sermons online. Many churches are posting their sermons on their websites; these I recommend and are available iTunes or elsewhere.
- Truths that Transform, D. James Kennedy
- Ligon Duncan - First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS
- Grace to You, John MacArthur
- Renewing Your Mind, R.C. Sproul
- Truth for Life, Alistair Begg
Iron Sharpening Iron
It is also important to have good friends, and colleagues, people who are wise, perhaps older, people with great wisdom that you can learn from.
"The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:11-14)
It is important that we have people around us that we can be honest with, and who keep us honest. Many times this may not be someone in your church - perhaps it is best they not be. We all know the pitfalls of being too open with a colleague in the work place, or a choir member.
Honesty with Ourselves
We need to be spiritually honest with ourselves. It is so easy to deceive ourselves - "the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked." It is easy to lose sight of who we are personally. We can lose our identities in our profession, in what we do. As public people we develop personas, and yet these personas may not really be who we are. People who work in the church are good at keeping up a façade, sometimes hiding deeper spiritual problems underneath. God judges the heart not our appearance; He does not judge how competent we were as musicians, but rather the state of our souls. From time to time one hears shocking stories of people doing terribly immoral things in the church. However, we are only shocked because we did not know who these people really were. All our sins can be forgiven, but we must begin by being honest with ourselves.
Taking Time to be Quiet and Listen
"Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Philippians 4:8) We must take time to do nothing. We must take time to feed our spirits. We must even take time to feed our inner musician. We are so busy doing things, we can quickly become like Martha of the New Testament.
"Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38 - 42)
Take time to be quiet, to do nothing. Take time to do wholesome things, read good things, listen to good music, and enjoy God's creation. Many times if we would just do less, we would actually achieve more. Here I would also suggest the importance of physical activity. As musicians we are not always the most active, and this is not good for the mind or body. Frequent, moderate exercise is one the best things we can do for a healthy mind, and certainly a healthy body. If you are feeling down or depressed, consider exercise - it may help.
How to Worship While Working
Sometimes we become frustrated because we cannot worship like the rest of the congregation on Sunday morning.
- First understand that our work is also a form of worship.
- Secondly, we can develop the mental discipline to concentrate on scripture readings and listen to the sermon.
- Thirdly, if you read and meditate the hymn texts before the service, it will be easier to think of them during the congregational singing. Consider reading one of the hymn texts as part of your Sunday morning devotions, or on Saturday evening before you go to bed.
Dealing with Hurts and Bitterness
I firmly believe that bitterness is a great problem for those who work in church music. Musicians are naturally sensitive people, they have to be in order to be good musicians. For that reason they can easily be hurt which can lead to bitterness. Musicians are also performers, and therefore can put up very good facades and hide these deep hurts. I think we can all agree that the church is an easy place to be hurt and to become very bitter. Many times bitter people do hurtful things themselves, and sometimes even leave the faith altogether. Some just hang around infecting others - making disciples of their bitterness.
- The church is one of the "best" places to be hurt. Because we are involved in a place that is supposed to be good, nurturing, spiritual, and better than the world, our guards can be let down.
- The true church is also under great spiritual attack because it is a tremendous threat to the kingdom of Satan.
- Many times people with great gifts can inexplicably have glaring faults. Such is the case many times with pastors and musicians alike.
Bitterness does not go away - it may be buried and ignored - however it must be dealt with if we truly want to be free and healed. Bitterness is like a weed - you can cut it off at ground level and pretend it is gone, or you can dig deep and deal with the root of the problem.
Hebrews 12:15 "Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled."
Bitterness always defiles many - it never happens alone. It infects those around us. It infects those we talk to - people we talk to in hopes they will agree with us. Many times we try to get even with people by talking badly about them behind their backs. I recently was given a sermon series by a friend called "Suffering Wrong" by Joseph Stowell, who until recently was pastor of Moody Church at the Moody Bible Institute. In one of the sermon's he uses the Genesis story of Joseph talking about the issues of hurt and bitterness. It is a wonderful sermon series and I would recommend it to you. He first notes that the great wrongs perpetrated against Joseph by his brothers, and later Potiphar's wife were ultimately meant for his good. If you remember, Joseph's brothers were jealous of him because he was his father's favorite. They sold him as a slave, and Joseph ended up in Egypt in the house of Potiphar. Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him, and when he refused, she accused him of rape, for which he was thrown in prison. Eventually Joseph, through a series of events, becomes second only to Pharaoh. When there is a great famine his brothers come to Egypt for food, at which time they are reunited. The story begins in Genesis 37. Joseph Stowell uses this story to begin his sermon by asking:
Do you have more memories than dreams? Are you focusing on the past hurts of life, or are you focusing on growing spiritually and moving on to better things in life?
- We must refuse to live in the past.
- We must refuse to let the past be a prism for the future.
- Choose to live in the future, not paralyzed by our pasts.
We must set our offenders free:
To truly move forward and heal from hurts perpetrated against us, we must forgive our offenders - even if they don't ask for forgiveness. That does not mean we don't protect ourselves from them, perhaps by putting distance between us, but it does mean that we forgive them and leave them for God to judge.
- The key to forgiving others is to understand how much we have been forgiven by God.
- Remember that our sins have been forgiven, "as far as the east is from the west."
- The Lord's Prayer states, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," a very powerful statement indeed - take a moment to consider what this implies!
- On the cross Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34) This may seem impossible for us, but God can help us to forgive and be Christ-like.
Can we see God in the midst of evil circumstances?
- The evil against Joseph, was part of God's divine plan - God's providence. We must see past the wrong and see the good God is intending for us. This of course does not exonerate the perpetrator, but it does free us to see God in all things.
- Romans 8:28, "All things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose." Do we really believe this, or just say it as a pretty platitude?
- Was God there when Jesus was crucified?
- If all you can see is the devil, you will retain your bitterness. We must see God in all our circumstances.
Joseph blessed rather than cursed his brothers:
- You will never get at the root of bitterness, unless you can bless those who curse you - it will set you free. This may seem impossible but with God's help we can become more Christ-like as we grow spiritually.
Refuse to retaliate:
- After Joseph's father died, the brothers were worried he would now retaliate. When Joseph heard this he said: "Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones." And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.(Genesis 50:19-21)
- When we retaliate (even in our minds), we push God out of the picture.
- Romans 12:19, "Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, I will repay."
- We don't need to sort things out, God can and will do it perfectly in his time.
Bitterness is the enemy of faith, it says:
- God does not have a plan; no good can come out of this.
- There is no way there is a final judgment.
- I can't wait for God.
Forgiving our offenders:
- An act of self-healing.
- God says if you want me to take care of this I will, and in the process you will be free and healed.
- The greater the hurt, the greater the blessing - when the forgiveness comes.
- By forgiving others we lay it all down.
- We are free to be blessed and fruitful.
Finally I would encourage all of us to continue to strive each day to grow in grace. Our lives are an exciting journey that God has already planned out for us. All we need to do is to "pour ourselves out as a drink-offering" to the Lord. Seek each day to do the work of that day. If we are faithful, God will bless our work. We must not be "career oriented" but rather "servant oriented." Each of us has been given a unique gift by God. All we are required to do is to invest it and multiply it with His help. When we stumble and fall, we must quickly return to the throne of grace for cleansing and forgiveness. Then we can move forward in the joy and peace of his service. May this be a year of great spiritual success for each of us as we serve in His church.