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The Joy of Music

Music is there to refresh us, to comfort us, and to fill us with joy!
By PETER DAVIS
Read Time: 7 minutes

“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

I first saw this quote from Johann Sebastian Bach in a guitar method book shortly before I started college. I was months away from starting my undergraduate degree as a Music Education major, and these words kept ruminating. Over those next four years, I would be surrounded by music. I was encouraged to practice for several hours daily, examining my technique and musical expression with a fine-toothed comb to ensure my interpretation was perfect.

In many of my classes, we would take deep dives into the music theory of a piece of music, sometimes getting so far deep in the weeds that I would forget how beautiful the piece of music actually was. When I felt overwhelmed and burned out with school, I would remember these words and reflect on the true purpose of music.

For many, music serves as a source of comfort and solace. During those times we’ve found ourselves overwhelmed, depressed, exhausted, or lonely surely, we can think of a song that has comforted and sustained us. Music is there to refresh us, to comfort us, and to fill us with joy! Most importantly, it exists to give glory to our Heavenly Father, the same God who created sound and made it possible for us to listen and participate in music.

Looking at the Psalms, we see the healing and sustaining power of music at work in the Sons of Korah, where they write: 

Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:7-11, ESV).

It’s in this psalm that the writer expresses the deep pain they are in. They feel oppressed and taunted by their enemies, but worst of all, they feel forgotten by their God. These are familiar emotions to many of us, and it’s comforting to read these verses and recognize that we are not alone in our struggles. However, this passage also gives us a glimpse into how God sustains His children. Much like Jesus, as he exclaimed from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1) the psalmist isn’t truly forgotten. We read, “At night, his [God’s] song is with me.” With the waves of God breaking over him on one side and the ever-present feeling of abandonment on the other, the psalmist can find comfort in God’s gift of music.  

King Saul experienced this several times during his reign. Immediately following David’s anointing, we’re told the spirit of the LORD departed from Saul and was replaced with a harmful spirit from God that was tormenting him. In response to Saul’s emotional distress, his servants suggested they find a musician for him. 

Saul’s servants then said to him, “Behold now, an evil spirit from God is terrorizing you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you. Let them seek a man who is a skillful player on the harp; and it shall come about when the evil spirit from God is on you, that he shall play the harp with his hand, and you will be well… So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.” (1 Samuel 16:15-23, NASB 1995).

Once David began playing his music, Saul found peace and comfort because that’s precisely what music does to us. At its core, music is a God-given gift that can comfort us in times of struggle, allowing us to feel His presence and remember His mercy.

The Joys of Giving Back

Speaking from my own experience, this is true not just as a listener of music but as a performer as well. When I pick up my guitar and begin strumming a few chords, I often get lost in the music, forgetting the problems and struggles of life. As far back as I can remember, playing music has always given me a great sense of joy. Whether by listening to a piece of music, singing, or playing an instrument, a beautiful melody can move people and evoke emotions in a way words can’t. Music has made me smile and laugh, made me cry, and left me in awe at its immeasurable beauty. 

But music doesn’t exist solely to make us feel good. Rather, it exists to give back to God, who so graciously provided it for us. Psalm 147:1 (ESV) tells us, “Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting.” Of course, it is good to sing and make music, but the psalmist emphasizes that it is especially good to sing praises to our God.

As a teenager in the New England CYC, I was always the “guitar around the campfire guy.” Whether it was for our weekly CYC on Friday nights, CYC weekends, or Bible School, I always came prepared with a guitar and my tattered copy of the Praise the Lord hymn book, and the whole group would gather around this one book to sing praises to God until we began losing our voices. Looking back, I realize just how special that time in my life was. Many of those experiences mark the times when I felt most musically and spiritually fulfilled. After giving it much thought, I finally know why.

It took me a while to truly combine my passion for music with my passion for God. In fact, these two facets of my life were compartmentalized for years. I only recently began learning to play the piano, the traditional instrument to accompany hymns. When I was growing up, it was somewhat rare to see a guitar used in an ecclesial setting. When I started playing guitar for my CYC, it began to give my music a greater purpose. I finally felt I could use my talents to give back to God! Since then, I have had many more opportunities to serve musically in the community. I look back at the first time I played my guitar for the memorial meeting, or when I helped to record music for a Christadelphian album, or when I helped organize the Christadelphian Virtual Choir. I remember just how much joy these experiences gave me. It was not simply because I was making music but precisely because I was using my musical skills to give back to God and to serve the community. 

The Joys of Communal Singing

One of my favorite hymns is Hymn 284, The Days are Quickly Flying, and I can vividly remember singing this song at Bible School one year. This particular experience moved me tremendously. So many brothers and sisters surrounded me, all of us raising our voices for the same purpose: to give thanks and praise to the Lord. There have been times in my life when singing hymns has given me a glimpse of the Kingdom. Singing this song at the end of a Bible School and hearing hundreds of voices lifting their notes for Him, I felt choked up and moved to tears by the end of the hymn.

Singing hymns is an essential part of our worship; in fact, it’s a frequent command in the Psalms. It’s important to never lose sight of the meaning of lifting our voices in praise. Psalm 149:1 (NASB) says to sing God’s praises “in the congregation of the godly ones.” Why? “For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will glorify the lowly with salvation.” (Psalm 149:4 NASB). We ought to sing God’s praises together because God loves us. We need to praise God as a congregation because He will change us in the twinkling of an eye and glorify us with salvation. One of the points that the psalmist is making here is that when we sing songs of praise together, it should point our minds forward to the Kingdom. 

When we consider our quote from the beginning again, one of the goals of music is indeed to refresh us, but there is a day coming when we will no longer need to be refreshed. There shall be a day when all suffering, torment, and sense of abandonment will be done away with. We will be permanently comforted. 

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4 ESV).

On that day, there will be no need for music to comfort and refresh us, as it did for Saul and the sons of Korah. However, that doesn’t mean that music will cease to exist. On the contrary, we see in John’s Kingdom vision that a new song will be sung, and as a permanently refreshed people, we will join in that chorus. Not to comfort us from our sorrows but to give all praise and glory to God and His son. 

And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. (Revelation 5:9-10 ESV).

So whenever we sing together, let’s embrace the joy it gives us today. We experience the excitement and connection felt when we lift our voices together to the same tune. It can ease our pain and seemingly take away our sorrows but for a few moments. But let these things also point our minds forward to the time when God will take away our pain and sorrow and grant us everlasting joy in His Kingdom. As we often sing,

Lord, come then in thy Kingdom,
Set up on earth thy throne;
And, lest they sheep grow weary,
Come take them for Thine own:
Now, when the night seems darkest,
Come in Thy glory bright;
Come to redeem Thine Israel,
And turn our faith to sight

Peter Davis,
Reseda Ecclesia, CA

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