In sixth grade, I was in the band room, after jazz band practice, on what was otherwise a normal Thursday. Kids were talking about popular songs of the day, and I felt weird that I didn’t really know them. Wanting to fit in, I was thinking that I needed to start listening to the radio stations that they listened to and learn the music.
Right there, as if a person had walked up to me, I felt the Lord ask a very clear question. “Are you willing to not listen to secular music for the rest of your life?” There wasn’t a command in the question. It was as if I could say, “yes” or “no”, and He would continue to love and accept me either way.
As I thought about the question, my hesitation was that I wouldn’t fit in with the other kids. I don’t remember expressing that thought, but He clearly told me that would be a sacrifice, if I chose to make the commitment.
The second, and probably larger, concern I had was that I would not be able to enjoy music anymore. You see, what I knew of Christian music at the time wasn’t really my style. I enjoy a very large variety of styles of music, including jazz and classical, but my “go to” is rock. My mom’s Christian radio station was okay, but it was mellow and definitely not rock.
Without much more thought, I said, “Yes, I’ll commit to that.” The conversation with the other kids continued, but I just listened, mostly wondering what I had committed myself to for life. I don’t think that all secular music is wrong or that God asks this of all believers. I need to be obedient to what He asks of me.
Music is universal
Music transcends language, race, and culture. There is an exceedingly wide variety of styles, rhythms and general feels to music around the globe, but all people seemingly have an internal ability to relate to music. I’ve heard many songs sung with the same tune in multiple languages. It’s as if God created music to be a part of the internal being of all people.
Music touches our emotions. It can be calming, encouraging, and even enraging. What we are feeling seems to be intensified when expressed through music.
Music has been used to express rebellion. Each generation seems to use music as a means of separating and differentiating themselves from their parents. And yet, we also use music to bring people together.
Music and the brain
We learn better when the concept is put to music. How many of us learned our ABC’s by singing the song? I remember when my kids were at a charter school, they had a song for the presidents, the states, and several other lists of things. It was a tool used by the teachers to get the kids to memorize a vast amount of information more easily.
Music clearly has a connection to how our brains process information and learn. It’s believed that kids that play an instrument do better in school and later in life. I’m no expert, but apparently playing music, even simple instruments, helps with brain development.
Playing music in the background will somehow be absorbed into our minds. We don’t have to be purposefully listening to the words, and yet, somehow we know them. When we sing along to the songs, we are encoding those words and thoughts deep inside of us.
Deep in memory
If you put on a Petra song from the 1980s, even if I haven’t heard that song in years, I will most likely be able to sing along with the majority of the words. These days, I struggle to remember things I heard just this week. Tell me your name, and I may not remember it in five minutes. How can I remember words to a song I haven’t heard in years? There is a strong imprintation in our memories when we listen to music, especially over and over again. I remember those Petra songs, because I listened to the albums and sang the songs.
Most people, who have enjoyed music and listened to it for years, have similar abilities to recall tunes and lyrics. Even people who don’t regularly listen to music can relatively quickly identify the theme song of different TV shows, movies, or talk radio programs. The spoken word has less impact on our memories compared to music.
When you look at the hymns across the ages, you will see songwriters that put theology to music. They even put a few to bar tunes. How scandalous! Apparently, they knew that we don’t remember much that the preacher says, but at least they could get us to learn through the songs being sung. Some ministers even plan the church service so that the songs coincide with the sermon message, aiding the congregants to take something into their week.
Over the years
It’s been a long time since I made that commitment back in sixth grade. I’ve missed out on being able to participate in many conversations about this song or that band. But then, I seem to have missed many of the hip and stylish trends over the years.
In the couple years that I was angry at God and not in church, I even tried to listen to the popular radio stations, but I couldn’t. When I was mad at God and didn’t want Him speaking to me, I couldn’t break the commitment made. It wasn’t a conscious decision about keeping it. Trying to listen to secular music just grated on my soul. I ended up creating a couple of instrumental-only stations on my streaming service.
By the way, I got to enjoy rock as a teenager, listening to screaming guitars and heavy drums, all with Christian lyrics. When I go back and look at the lyrics of the songs, there was some good theology that I didn’t even realize was there at the time. Today, I still enjoy the rock beat and feel. There’s not much that is more fun for me than playing bass with a drummer beating away, and an electric guitarist screaming, while singing praises to my Lord.
I believe the Lord asked me to make that commitment years ago, because He wanted the best for me. At the time, I thought it was a sacrifice. Now, I’m glad I did it. I’ve gotten to enjoy some great music over the years, and my mind has absorbed a lot of good lessons.
What about you? What are you absorbing in your soul through the music you listen to and sing?
Get your complimentary PDF excerpt of the Forgiveness chapter from Breaking the Burdensome Yoke.
Delivered straight to your email.
Enter your email address above to receive new blog content and devotional thoughts bi-weekly!