"Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise His Name; proclaim His salvation day after day." Psalm 96:1-2I believe that Christ created music primarily as a way of glorifying Him, but also as a way of uniting us as believers. We are not united in language, we are not related in culture, we are not united in denomination, but surpassing all of those things, we are united as we use song to glorify our Lord. True community comes only through Jesus, and the growth of that community through living out our love for Him together. I have been in countless situations where I felt an incredibly present and obvious spiritual unity, with individuals who I otherwise did not know or have a relationship with, come through music.
One of these instances occurred in Clarkston, Georgia, this past June while I was on a choir tour with my youth choir. The trip occurred in the midst of a serious storm for me and I honestly really questioned what God was doing and why He would place me there, so far away from everyone I knew and loved, during such a time of pain. See, I left for the trip to Georgia the morning after I graduated from high school. While on the bus in the early morning, I found out that one of my childhood bestfriends had been involved in a tragic accident with a drunk driver after we had both graduated just the night before. I was, understandably, devastated, and I became angry at the Lord. I resented the fact that I was on a bus heading 16 hours away from my home. 16 hours away from my friend. I absolutely could not understand what God was doing. Once we got to Georgia, I took part in my mission work by day, continued serving as the team leader of a Bible club team, and remained a vital part of my youth choir, but by night I would question God. And I would cry in staircases and I would plead with God to make it okay and to make her okay. And I would ask God to keep her until I arrived home again. Just to have one more memory with her.
Fast forward a few days later, I had just gotten on the bus with my youth choir headed out for the day. Right before the bus was to pull out of the parking lot, I got word that the Lord had called my sweet friend home. In that moment, the entire world as I knew it ceased to exist. It all came crashing down around me, and I was left in the mess. In the darkest moment of my life, I pleaded with God and I begged and I wished for it to be changed. And I was powerless. I would end up staying in Georgia a few more days before flying home to be with family and friends, and those days were some of the hardest. Just like before, I would complete ministry work and sing concerts by day, and become a complete mess at night when I thought no one would know.
The night before I was to leave Georgia and return home, I was asked to speak and sing about what I was going through at a local church service. The idea did not appeal to me at all, and I felt certain there was no way I would be able to get through it, but for some reason I agreed to it. I told my story that night, in the few words that I had, and I sang "Just Be Held" by Casting Crowns, and I didn't feel like it was anything out of the ordinary. But what happened afterward was extraordinary. That music touched the hearts of the men and women in the church service that day. Where my human weakness and despair had failed me in the department of words, the music communicated my pain. The music communicated my weakness. The music communicated my confusion. The music communicated my very loss for words. Those people, the majority of whom I had never even met, knew my heart, and they surrounded me with love and with prayer. Even though I was 16 hours away from most of my loved ones, God had used music to connect me with dozens of strangers and to remind me that I wasn't alone. That I was never alone. And I was shown yet again that music is the thread that connects us as believers. Expressing our devotion to Christ and our desperate need for Him through song is the commonality in all of our hearts that unites even two of the most different individuals.
"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common." Acts 2:42-44Acts 2:42-44 described the functions of the early church as it began its ministry after Pentecost and Peter's sermon to the crowd. "Breaking of bread" is said to refer both to communion and to worship. We know that there was no "church" as it functions now before Pentecost, and that many years beforehand, the world was divided by language at the Tower of Babel. This early church was the first entity to forge the division between ancient people groups, and that could only be accomplished through the 4 functions of the early church, the 4 commonalities between all believers: worship, teaching, service and fellowship. I believe that, although all 4 of these tasks share equal importance and relevance in the Kingdom, worship is the most unifying of the four. It is not usually one's desire to complete tasks of service with people that are not like-minded, teaching is very hard when there are language and cultural barriers, and fellowship is neither effective nor meaningful if communication is strained. However, I think worship is an expression of our common beliefs that is capable of traversing both culture and language. I think that for anyone who has been in a cross-cultural ministry situation that the connection of lives and hearts through music and worship can be plainly seen, even when other attempts to forge communication have been awkward or even outright failed. I experienced this first-hand while in East Asia over Christmas break. Many people I came in contact with did not speak fluent or even conversational English, but I was blessed with the opportunity to sing for them and aid in leading them in worship multiple times. A tangible connection was formed between our hearts and theirs, and our viewpoints and beliefs were clearly communicated even in the face of a large language barrier. I believe that the Lord had that very fact in mind when He made us relational creatures and when He made us with the desire to glorify Him.
"My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to You- I whom You have delivered." Psalm 71:23
"Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts." Colossians 3:16
"My heart, O God, is steadfast, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music." Psalm 57:7Throughout all of this discussion and study of both the relevant Scriptures and personal experience, it can be plainly seen that music plays a large role in worship, in churches, and in the Christian lifestyle. It is capable of surpassing cultural and language barriers, it unites individuals from incredibly varying backgrounds, it speaks when words cannot be found, it glorifies the Lord to the highest, and it is a part of our very DNA as descendants of the early church. I will forever be grateful for the impact that music and worship has on my life, and for the ability to use that as a vessel to form relationships with countless other believers.