Music


Finally they came to Kansas City and I got to experience what I thought might never happen. When The Police first announced their tour more than a year ago Kansas City wasn’t on the list. We explored the idea of going to another city to hear them but it was going to be cost prohibitive. When they extended their tour Kansas City was on the list and the date went on the calendar.

The concert was really amazing. How three guys can make so much music is pretty unbelievable. During their final song (pre-encore) I was caught off guard, not with anything they did but by my own reaction. Recently I’ve been reading a lot about God’s love and grace and have sort of been living in a continual state of awe. Although I still don’t fully understand the richness and depth of God’s love for me, I have a much stronger grasp of it now than I did when I was younger. There really are some things good about getting older.

For some this may sound odd and for others it might border on sacrilegious, but as I stood in that arena with around 12,000 other people I quit hearing the voice of Sting and began hearing select lyrics as if they were coming from God. It was a unique worship experience.

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
Ill be watching you

To hear those words coming from God’s heart to my ears was powerful and humbling. There would have been a time in my life that putting those words in a God context would have meant He was maybe watching me to catch me doing something wrong. However, I’ve come to realize that’s not God and doesn’t accurately represent His character. He’s watching me through eyes of love. When I DO stumble along the way He changes His tune, but only slightly.

Oh, can’t you see
You belong to me
How my poor heart aches
With every breath you take

For me, life doesn’t get better than knowing I belong to Him and He loves me unconditionally. My devotion and love for God has moved beyond obligation and has become a response to His devotion and love for me. I wonder if anyone else in that arena had a similar experience?

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I used to love hearing people say, “Great worship today.” Not so much anymore. Although I understand their intent and they believe God was present among us, I also know what they’re really talking about is the music. Somehow it’s become less acceptable to “compliment” musicianship, and more acceptable to only categorize it as being worship. It’s as if we’ve somehow decided music is now the only acceptable form of worship, and in many churches I’ve attended that’s reflected in the attitudes of the worshippers.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe music is an incredible form of expressing our emotion and thought and as such should be a powerful part of our corporate experience. But if music is the only form our expression takes then our worship is lopsided and incomplete. Be assured, God will always accept our offering of love when we come to Him with clean hands and a pure heart, but there are so many more ways of expression than music.

I love my wife Jacque more today than I ever dreamed possible back in 1977 when I first said, “I love you.” That being true, I try to find new ways of expressing my love so it’s an accurate reflection of the depth and richness of my emotion. If I only said those three words over and over again, at some point they’d become commonplace and lose their appeal and impact. Out of love it’s up to me to keep my expression fresh and appealing.

In recent years I’ve learned to express my love for Jacque in ways that are meaningful to her. Before then I guess my expressions of love were based more on my preferences than hers. I don’t think this was a conscious thing on my part but more an indication of the maturity level of my love. As my love for her has grown and matured so has the variety and depth of my expression. In that process I’ve grown to understand that if my love is pure then my expression needs to be focused on her preferences more than my own, otherwise it’s about me. While she never tires of hearing the three words I would daresay they’ve become far more meaningful as I’ve expressed them more on “her terms” than mine.

So, how does God want us to express our love to Him? In as many ways as our God-given creativity will allow. It’s for sure we’re not limited to music, and definitely not one style or sound of music. The options are myriad and God stands ready to receive whatever we offer Him. So when you say, “Great worship today,” what do you mean?

Ever had an intimate moment behind the wheel? Mine happened just this week, and it sort of caught me off-guard. It was a Matt Redman song that I’ve not heard for a number of years called Intimacy. Combine that with The Prayers of the Saints which is the next song I listened to and it was sort of like a one, two punch. That moment made me miss leading worship. More than just leading it made me miss the crafting art. The part of planning that allows for intimate moments.

I’m not talking about manipulating people’s emotions. I’m talking about creating the space within a service for people to experience intimacy. Not in the forced or artificial way I’ve seen far too many times, but the genuine Holy Spirit kind of moment where you just “get out of the way” and allow the moment to flow. Yeah, I miss the art of crafting those opportunities, and in that intimate moment behind the wheel I knew I was ready to lead again. I knew it because I was visualizing how I would use those two songs and what I would pair with them and it was an energizing thing.

While all of this was going on I was hearing another Matt Redman song in my mind and spirit. That song speaks of the Father singing over me. The sound of that song didn’t come through my earbuds but I could hear it as if it were.

This past Thursday I had a really great experience during my daily commute. I drive about 10 miles along surface streets to get to work in the morning, so depending on traffic it can take as long as 30 minutes. On this particular morning I wasn’t in the mood for the usual NPR so I pulled out my headphones and plugged them into my iPhone (please don’t send any comments about the dangers of driving with headphones) and launched my iPod. The song list was right where I’d left it a few days prior, which was in the G’s. 

The first song that played was David Crowder’s Glorious Day. Now it’s less than 30 seconds long but what a cool start — sort of an invocation. From there it was Glory in the Highest by Chris Tomlin, which just sort of continued where Crowder left off. Up next was the sounds of Steely Dan, singing Godwhacker. Quite a contrast to the previous two but what a great contrast it was. From there it was Tony Bennett singing the Good Life followed by Got To Get You Into My Life by Earth, Wind & Fire. How could you not like that? Then came my favorite song of the morning, Grace by Michael W. Smith. By the time I parked my car and walking to my office I was pretty much positioned for the day. 

Then on the way home I decided I should pick up right where I left off. Again, the title was Grace but this time it was U2. Different from Michael W. Smith but it’s still Grace. Then came Paul Simon singing Graceland, followed by John Mayer’s Gravity. As I pulled into the garage Paul Baloche was just ending A Greater Song. My entire commute was jammed with great music.

Now I could pontificate about how all of those songs had some sort of spiritual meaning for me, or how they spoke to my soul on a deep level. I could probably even tie them all together for you with some type of God metaphor. After all, God also begins with the letter G. But I’m not going to do that — even though much of it would be true. I’m just going to challenge you to turn on your iPod some day and pick a letter. Not an artist or an album, but a letter. Just let it play and see what happens. It’s like eating a potluck dinner at an old country church. Enjoy!

It was on the treadmill surrounded by scores of other sweaty people at the gym when it struck me so strongly for the first time. I’m not sure why it took so many years after it was released to become meaningful but it did. Jacque and I had recently been through a major loss and we were in terrific emotional pain. I was probably at my most cynical point during this particular point in the process and that night at the gym this song began playing on my iPod:

You could say I lost my faith in science and progress
You could say I lost my belief in the holy church
You could say I lost my sense of direction
You could say all of this and worse but

If I ever lose my faith in you
There’d be nothing left for me to do

For me, that time on the treadmill listening to Sting was an amazing worship experience. God moved on my spirit and I realized that I was far from actually losing my faith in God. In other things yes, but not God. I would never want anyone to believe that when I stepped off the treadmill the pain was gone, the grieving was over and my cynical attitudes were completely transformed because it didn’t happen that way. But what began that night was a renewal. A renewal triggered by music.

Some will perhaps argue this with me, and that’s fine but God used Sting to minister to me that night, and many times and through many so-called non-Christians since then. Who am I to question who God uses? How He works? The moment I begin to do that is the moment, it seems I begin to lose my faith.

So can you worship God through so called non-Christian music? (if there is such a thing) Does God work through artists like Sting? What are your thoughts? What are your stories?