The Gift of Music

Most of us possess an affinity for some kind of music. Our tastes may differ, but at the very least, we have a taste for music. We enjoy music—listening, singing, playing—because it communicates emotion for us or a message for us or a message to us. In one way or another, music expresses something that is happening within us.

In a recent article, Elizabeth Landau admits that though scientists still have much to learn about the connection of music on the brain, new research is uncovering some fascinating ways in which music works on our brains. One study from McGill University in Montreal has found that in patients who are about to undergo surgery, participants who listened to music had less anxiety and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol than participants who took anti-anxiety drugs. It’s only one study, but the results are fascinating and reveal what God’s people have always known: music is one of God’s most wonderful gifts.

Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people play instruments and sing. Sometimes the songs are expressions of gratitude and praise; sometimes the songs are prayers of lament and petition. We find more of the same in the New Testament. In the final hours of his life, Jesus sings hymns with his disciples. Paul encourages the church to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. It also appears that music is the gift that keeps on giving—John’s Revelation describes saints and angels singing praise to God around his throne.

I suspect that you and I connect certain spiritual experiences to music. We might think of a significant spiritual moment when we hear a particular song. We might associate a particular life-changing event when we sing that song. Music emits deep emotion for us which is why we become so protective of the music we love.

I guess it makes sense that something we associate so closely with our most intimate, memorable, and significant moments of life would become a battleground for us. We take it personally when the music we connect with the work of God in our lives is ignored or politely (sometimes not so politely) pushed aside. God used this music to help to change us; to degrade it or to nullify it is tantamount to degrading and nullifying what God has done. In one way or another, despite our age or the music we love, we feel this pain.

Knowing this, let me suggest two actions: 1) be careful about how we treat the music that others love. Remember we are not just talking about music; we are talking about something connected to God’s work in his or her life. 2) give the music that others love and you don’t a chance. Ask him why this music is special? Ask her what experience of God she associates with this song? Both actions are a means of treating others the way we want to be treated; both actions are a means of loving others and affirming God and his work in others’ lives. If every person in the church committed to this perspective about music, the church would begin to look like Jesus intends.