Throughout church history, our faith, our doctrines, and our spirituality have been most vitally expressed through our sung words. Sharing in the rhythm, tone, and energy that music – whether through hymns, praise choruses, A Capella, choral, instrumental, or chanted genres provides us all with a sense of our common humanity and draws us closer to one another and to Christ. There is something about joining our hearts and our voices in praise and worship to our Creator that often speaks to the deepest level of our souls – weaving together our most profound emotions, inspiring us towards action (and occasionally protest), instilling in us a great sense of comfort, and even challenging us when we would otherwise feel apathetic.
Although there may perhaps be a few churches that still do not employ any form of music, it is fairly safe to say, that almost all major Christian denominations and other world religions find music integral to the life of the congregation. Within the Mennonite and Anabaptist traditions, music has also been central to our life and witness. In fact, I can recount being a young teenager and volunteering at the local Mennonite nursing home. While there I met an elderly woman, Anna, who came across to Canada from the Ukraine on a boat while singing:
“Wherlos und verlassen sehnt sich oft mein Herz nach stiller Ruh; doch Du dekkest mit dem Fittich Deiner Liebe sanft much zu. Unter Deinem sanften Fittich find’ich Frieden, Trost und Ruh; den Du schrimest mich so freund-lich, shutz-est mich und deckst mich zu.”
The English translation of which reads:
When I’m lonely and defenseless, my heart longs for rest and peace. Then You spread Your wings of caring, with Your love You cover me. Under Your soft wings of mercy my soul rests and is renewed, for You shelter me with kindness, keep me covered, close to You. [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1GMdN73rnA – plus cute baby conducting!]
This song greatly sustained Anna during some very stressful and confusing times of her life. Being uprooted from the familiar and travelling to a strange land where she did not speak the language or know the customs and culture must have been very unsettling and challenging for such a young girl. Yet, this song became an anchor to her in the storm, kept her face upright, and allowed her to see goodness and grace amidst the terror, turmoil, and loss.
Many of us also have had similar instances with particular songs. There are a number of modern worship songs I go to when I am feeling distressed, confused, or anxious. Here are a few you might like to check out for yourselves:
Strong Enough (Matthew West): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=knuHDPbE5es
You’re My Everything (Owl City): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbOcVER0WqU
Guardian (Ben Cantelon): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiRH8Hc8VQI
You’re Not Alone (Owl City, Britt Nicole): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DavJ9UKS2ps
I Will Praise Him (Rebecca St. James): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXET-duSRr8
The Kindness of Our God (Rebecca St. James): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roeDXgsmaUA
Diamonds (Hawk Nelson): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yf1ARbpB0gA
Better Than a Hallelujah (Amy Grant): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rm5kx3xqmg0
Shoulders (For King and Country): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfiYWaeAcRw
Sparrows (Jason Gray): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRJZQFRyZ6s
There are also a number of older hymns I turn to for support and guidance: How Firm a Foundation, Blessed Assurance (my baptismal hymn), It Is Well With My Soul, and Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing to name only a few.
One of the most wonderful advantages to music is that it allows us to express ourselves when words fail us. Sometimes I am experiencing something, but don’t know how to share it with a friend, but if I play a certain song it summaries exactly what I would have shared. At other times, my friends are really struggling with something and no words of advice or wisdom will lessen the impact. Instead, sharing with them a song allows them to be in the present without meaningless words needing to be exchanged. We thus minister to one another in this sense of shared musicality, letting the spirit flow freely.
There is a great worship song by the City Harmonic which sums up music ministry perfectly:
Praise the Lord when it comes out easy
Praise the Lord on top of the world
Praise the Lord ‘cause in every moment Jesus Christ is Lord
Even in the middle of the joys of life
There is always grace enough today to
Praise the Lord
In fact, the Apostle James himself wrote: Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+5%3A13&version=NASB
Worshipping Christ fully through our music is about finding a balance between proclaiming the goodness of our God and singing the Lord’s song in a foreign land.
When we lift up our voices, there will definitely be many moments of jubilation, celebration, and delight. But there will also be moments of immense pain, intense hurt, and immeasurable grief. Nevertheless, when we turn our hearts and our voices to God in prayer and in song, we receive all the blessings of a pure and complete relationship with Him. We are truly able to sing about the rest and peace we find in Him. We are truly able to ask Him to keep us sheltered, close to Him. We are capable of praising the Lord at every moment. We are able to sing and be sustained because of our common sung theology – a solidly scriptural belief that places Christ at the centre. We are able to share in our common humanity because music is the one gift that unites us all.