Music to Console
In March of each year, members of the Emmaus Ensemble pack up their gear and take to the road to minister in local churches across the United States. I had the privilege of directing the Ensemble for fifteen years, and I was continually amazed by the ways in which music could minister to the needs of God’s people in the churches we visited across the country.
A few years ago, the Ensemble traveled to a little town west of the college for a Sunday morning concert. The church was full to the back. We began the concert; as we sang, my students began looking rather anxious. I had my back to the congregation, so I was not able to see what the students were seeing. When the singers were seated during the message, I asked the ones near me why everyone had looked so concerned. They said that during the first song, most of the congregation began crying, and continued to cry throughout the concert. At the end of the service, the first person I spoke to was a woman with tears streaming down her face. She explained that her 15-year old son had been killed in a car accident on the previous Monday night; his funeral had been on Thursday. This grieving mother told me that every song we had sung had ministered to her and had brought her comfort. It was as if we had known exactly what she needed to hear at that moment! I told her that while I had chosen the music almost nine months before, the Holy Spirit knew her needs even then and prepared us to minister to those needs by divine appointment. This experience affirmed to me (and to my students!) that music can be used of God to minister to the hurting.
Music to Comfort
The Bible provides numerous examples of music used to care for the needs of others. In 1 Samuel 16, David’s musical ability had a soothing effect on King Saul’s agitated spirit. Verse 23 says: “And whenever the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him.” David used his musical ability to minister to Saul and bring peace and comfort.
Acts 16 finds Paul and Silas wrongly accused, badly beaten, and incarcerated in a Philippian jail. Verse 26 gives us a glimpse into their inner cell in the prison: “But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Commentators often view the missionary team’s singing as a demonstration of their steadfast faith: Paul and Silas praised God in the midst of very difficult circumstances. Some commentators also highlight the use of music for evangelism in this passage. The men gave testimony to their God, and the other prisoners took notice. There is, however, another plausible explanation for their singing — to encourage each other in the face of a truly frightening ordeal. Singing songs of praise to God that called to memory His character and works likely provided encouragement and peace, even in a jail cell! Music can be a great encouragement and comfort to those in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Music to Exhort
In Ephesians 5:18-19, Paul emphasizes the “one another” ministry of music in the lives of believers: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord.” In the parallel passage in Colossians 3, Paul again highlights the “one another” quality of music ministry between brothers and sisters in Christ: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” We are called to use music with discernment to teach and admonish others. Paul here affirms music ministry as an effective method of caring for other believers.
Music to Encourage
God calls us to minister to others through music just as He ministers to us through this medium. In Psalm 32:7, David references God’s gift of song in times of trouble: “You are my hiding place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with songs of deliverance.” God encouraged David through song. In Psalm 42:8, the psalmist says: “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; and His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.” This is one of several references to “songs in the night” (Job 35:10, Psalm 77:6). Many of us have had the experience of late-night wakefulness and worry. Often in these circumstances, the Lord will bring to our minds the words of a familiar song to comfort and encourage us.
A beautiful picture of God’s care for us through music can be found in Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.” In the NKJV, the final phrase of the verse is translated: “He will rejoice over you with singing.” What a beautiful picture of our loving Father as He takes joy in His people’s deliverance!
Music for This Life and the Next
In March 2003 my grandfather was nearing death. His journey over the last several years had been a slow and gradual descent into increasing dependence on others and then skilled nursing care. One Saturday morning, I woke with the strong sense that I should go visit him. He was failing rather quickly at this point and was unable to speak or respond much to his surroundings. I drove the seventy miles praying that I would get there in time to spend some meaningful moments with him. When I arrived he did not seem to be aware that I was there. I left my mom sitting beside him and went to the lobby of the nursing home to retrieve an old hymnal from the music rack of the piano. Upon my return, I sat next to his bed and sang hymns to him for about an hour and a half. Whereas he had not been responsive to speech, he immediately responded to the hymns that he had known and loved for the sixty-plus years since he had come to know the Lord. He smiled, mouthed the words, and said “Amen” to his favorites. Music had the power to comfort him and bring him peace and joy, even at the point of death.
This power to encourage and care for others through music is available to all who believe. Let us purpose to use music for comfort, encouragement, and counsel in the lives of those around us as we have been called by God to do.