Use Music Well
Music is meant to be a means of bringing glory to God, one more way in which we can “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). I want to suggest specific steps to help us use music in a way that benefits our souls and honors the Savior.
1. Evaluate your current intake of music.
If you think, “I don’t need to evaluate the quality or quantity of my music,” you’re probably wrong. Because indwelling sin is so deceptive, I usually have a difficult time seeing the effect music is having on me. Areas to consider include how much music you listen to, what types, in what situations and times of day, and for how long. Ask your friends, parents, or a pastor to get their perspective on whether your music listening is characterized by biblical discernment and a desire to please God. Make sure they give you an honest answer. It could be the means God uses to deliver you from the world’s grasp.
2. Delete or throw away music you’ll listen to only if you backslide.
When we become Christians, God transforms our hearts. We’re no longer those who live “in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:3). Pursuits we once found appealing no longer interest us and at times even repulse us. But more often than not, music that might tempt us stays on our computers, in our CD collection, or on our MP3 player. Whether the reason is negligence, lack of time, or the thought that we might find it appealing at a later date, it’s wise to get rid of what could hinder our growth in Christ.
Music is a precious gift, but it makes a terrible god.
3. Listen to music with others.
As my children were growing up, we had one CD player in the house that served as the family listening center. Music was a family activity and no one developed his or her own private listening habits. Those days are long gone. But listening to music with others is still a good idea. Part of the joy music communicates comes from sharing it. If you only listen to music through a set of headphones, consider investing in a set of speakers for your iPod or an audio system for your home. And don’t insist on listening to music only you like.
4. Make music rather than listen to it.
You don’t have to be especially gifted to play a guitar or plunk out chords on a piano. But even if you don’t play an instrument, you can obey God’s command to sing (Ps. 47:6). Producing music ourselves frees us from thinking that the joy music provides depends on technology.
5. Go on a music fast.
At American University, students in a class called “Understanding Mass Media” were shocked to learn mid-semester that the course requirements included a 24-hour media fast: “No television, computers, iPods or other MP3 devices, radio, video games, CD players, records, or cell phones (or land lines) for 24 hours.” One student described it as “grueling pain”; another called it “one of the toughest days I have had to endure.”1 But everyone lived to tell about it, and some even thought they benefited from the assignment.
Maybe you can’t imagine giving up your music for a month, a week, or even a day. But there are few more effective ways to measure the place music holds in your life, thinking, and behavior. It doesn’t even have to be a full fast. You can try driving in silence for twenty minutes rather than listening to the radio or your iPod. You can establish a limit to how much music you listen to each day.
Whatever kind of fast you choose, it’s sure to leave you with more time to pray, read your Bible, and serve others.
6. Keep track of how much music you buy.
Rhapsody, iTunes, and other downloading services have made it easier to lose track of how much you’re actually spending on music. Before you know it, you’ve racked up one hundred dollars in charges for music you “had” to have. Realistically, some of us can’t even listen to all the music we buy. Figure out a budget for what you should be spending and stick to it.
7. Broaden your musical tastes.
Music is neither a demon to be feared nor a god to be idolized. It’s simply a part of God’s creation intended to serve his glory and our good. That means we can appreciate a wide variety of different styles and expressions of music. But when it comes to music, most of us know what we like and like what we know. We rarely venture out into new styles and genres. In fact, we excel at mocking the tastes of those we think are less musically informed— people who like country, opera, or pop, for instance. Try asking your friends with different musical tastes to suggest songs or albums you should listen to. Discover what they enjoy about a particular style or artist and what aspect of God’s glory you might be missing by not listening to it.
8. Listen to old music.
Human beings have been making music at least since the fourth chapter of Genesis, where we’re told that Jubal “was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (Gen. 4:21). A lot of music has been written, sung, and recorded since then. And yet we can still think the best music is what was produced in the past ten years—or worse, what’s coming out next month. Music that stands the test of time is worth giving our attention to. That doesn’t mean everything written in the past is great music. But we’re shortsighted, proud, and poorer if we never appreciate the music God has given us throughout history.
9. Intentionally thank God every time you enjoy music.
Music is a gift from God. But God never intends his gifts to replace him as the object of our desire and delight. Music may be able to calm our hurried spirits, encourage our troubled hearts, and strengthen our weary souls—but not like our Savior can. He has redeemed us by his death, sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, and is able to give us mercy and grace in our time of need (Eph. 1:7; Heb. 4:15–16). Music, like all of God’s gifts, is meant to draw our hearts and attention to his glory, his power, and his love.
We can use music to deepen our love for God in countless ways. The most obvious way is proclaiming God’s truth together in corporate worship, pouring out our hearts to him in song, encountering his presence. Some people find it helpful to sing with or listen to a worship CD during their private devotions. But as we’ve seen, God isn’t concerned only about music in “religious” settings. He intends us to use music for his glory everywhere. As we listen to a skilled jazz guitarist or a concert pianist, we can thank God for his gifts of creativity, talent, sound, and beauty. A new mother singing a lullaby can reflect on God’s tenderness and mercy. Playing CDs on different occasions can provide moving accompaniment that heightens the significance of important moments and relationships.
Letting Music Direct You toward God
Ultimately, music is a means of deepening our love for and enjoyment of the One who gave us this gift in the first place. In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis expressed it like this:
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them. . . . For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.2
No music, however beautiful, however impressive, however technologically creative or emotionally moving, can rival the wonder and breathtaking beauty of the Savior, who came as a man to live a perfect life and die an atoning death in our place.
Giving up, reducing, or changing your music diet may feel like a sacrifice. It just might be. You may have to sacrifice looking cool to your friends to please your heavenly Father. You might have to sacrifice slavery to earthly appetites and pleasures so you can pursue and enjoy eternal ones. (Can we even call those sacrifices?)
But no sacrifice we make compares to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He redeemed us to purchase our forgiveness and to earn us a place among those who “no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15).
That means music is no longer ours to use however we want. It never was. It was never meant to provide what can be found only in a relationship with the Savior.
Music is a precious gift, but it makes a terrible god.
By God’s grace, may we always know the difference.
1. In Washington Post Magazine, August 5, 2007, 20.
2. C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: MacMillan, 1980), 7.
This article is adapted from Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, edited by C. J. Mahaney.
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