Music in general and hymns in particular are most often thought of as something that we hear, something we sing, something we listen to.
We attend a concert, we listen to a recording, and we play an instrument. These are all musical activities that involve sounds we can hear. Music has been described as sound that is an organized collection of notes played in a defined rhythmic pattern. Well written music is generally pleasing and interesting to listen to. Why is this? What makes music pleasing and interesting? It is because the harmonic, melodic and rhythmic patterns are audibly satisfying and are produced in a way that we can learn and later recall. To simplify this, a song will have a melody line and a rhythm that we can recognize and remember. Much of popular music, folk music and religious music falls into this category. Most hymns are easy to learn and easy to later recognize and recall.
Music is appealing because melody and rhythm offer a pleasant alternative to the relative plainness of ordinary speech. The world would be a much less interesting place without benefit of music in all its varieties. Instrumentalists, symphonic orchestras, chamber groups, men’s and women’s choirs, mixed choirs, children’s choirs and vocal soloists are some of different ways of presenting music.
Hymns are a treasure
For the disciple of Christ hymns are a treasured part of our worship. Our hymns contribute to a united form of fellowship and worship. When we sing — we participate together in making music to the Lord. As we learn new hymns we learn not only fresh music, but we combine that music with innovative and poetic ways in which to express our praise and love for God and His dear Son. In other hymns we express thanksgiving, offer prayers or confess our faith in the coming kingdom. All of these concepts are enriched when they are combined with music and thoughtful words to express our beliefs, feelings and emotions.
It comes as a surprise, however, when we read that we are to “…make melody in your heart to the Lord”. The full verse reads: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19).
ESV — “making melody with your heart to the Lord.”
Holman Bible — “making melody from your heart to the Lord.”
NASB — “making melody with your heart to the Lord.”
Here we have reference to music made in or with our heart. No melody or musical sound is produced by the heart. This is clearly a figure of speech. It is a metaphor for the seat of our emotions reflecting our deep seated love and adoration for the Lord. Hymns may be sung with skill and understanding by a congregation, small group or by an individual. This verse however is pointing to the thoughts and meditations of our heart.
Melody from within
The melody is within our hearts. This may at first seem an impossibility, and inconsistent with all that we generally understand about music as an audible arrangement of sounds and rhythm. We are told that melody is be in our heart and is directed to the Lord. The Lord knows our inward being. He knows our thoughts and our mind. He knows our heart. “For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether” (Psa 139:4).
Deep within our thoughts are found our inward and most personal reflections about the Creator, thoughts of His goodness, His purpose, His Son, His love, His mercy. These thoughts move in and out of our stream of consciousness. Sometimes we are aware of a Bible verse that expresses our awareness or appreciation of God at that moment. It may be the words of a poem or some particularly helpful expression of a precious truth. Or it could be a song, a hymn, a melody that runs through our mind where music and words combine to give silent praise and petition to our Heavenly Father.
A similar sentiment is written by Paul in Col 3:16 — “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” What does it mean to be thankful to God in your hearts? How can we show thankfulness with our heart? Surely this concept is instructing us to be thankful with our inmost perception and genuine feeling. The Lord Jesus taught us that the first commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matt 22:37). Each of these ways to love God spring from our inner understanding and appreciation of the great God we worship, God who is our Heavenly Father. The Psalmist writes: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless his holy name” (Psa 103:1). The essence of true worship is a full and complete expression of the inward heart and mind by a child of God.
Sometimes our music is silent
So our hymns become for us a medium by which we express our love and devotion to God. In unified vocal experience we sing praise to God and participate with others as we share beautiful words and music. But there are times when the only music we hear will be that which we alone can hear, inside our heart and mind as we reflect upon the God we worship and honor His name in silent praise. May that praise be never ending in the heart of all creation.
The words which from my mouth proceed,
The thoughts sent from my heart,
Accept, O Lord, for Thou my Strength
And my Redeemer art. (Hymn 8)
Ken Curry (Toronto East, ON)