I'm borrowing from John Piper's book "When I Don't Desire God: How To Fight For Joy" for this blog post. Being a musician this excerpt about glorifying God with music in his book resounded with me because it presents the proper attitude and end goal all musicians should have for their music; to glorify and exalt our great Creator.
I've loved music and written music for awhile now and I've undergone temptation time and time again to create a song with one's own glorification in mind. Instead, music should be a tool we have been given that is used to represent and give glory to the One who gave us music in the first place.
Fighting For Joy With Sights And Sounds That Humans Make
And of course, words are not the only way that artists waken others to the glory of what they have seen. There is visual art (drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, film) and there is music. I will not say much here because I am out of my element. What I know about art and music I know from experience, not formal study. I am a witness, not a judge. And what I testify to is the power of visual art, especially music. As it is with creative writing, so it is with these: They have the potential to awaken the mind and heart to aspects of God's glory that were not perceived before. Paintings or photographs of mountains can call forth a sense of wonder and peace. If we are willing to "look along" (not just "at") these picture, as Lewis taught us, our eyes will run up the beams to the Original Glory, and the wonder and peace will rest finally in the wonderful and peaceful mountains and streams of God's power and mercy.
Music, it seems to me, is the most complex art of all. Who can really explain what happens when music works its power? Its transforming effects are documented in cases ranging from Parkinson's disease to plants. As with all things in nature and in the hand of fallen man, it can be used to reveal or conceal the glory of God--to corrupt the mind or illumine the mind. At its best, music echoes a true perception of some facet of God's glory. The ambiguity of the medium itself, combined with cultural and social and personal associations, complicates the display of that glory in sound.
I recall reading a story of a tribal person, with no exposure to Western culture, being flown to Europe and taken to a performance of Handel's Messiah. He sat almost the whole time covering his ears with his hands because, as he explained later, it was just so much noise to his ears. That is an extreme illustration of the complexity of communication with music. Nevertheless, the power is there, and it works everyday for good or for ill. My point is that in the fight for joy it is good and right to pursue a deeper sense of God's glory with the help of music.
Wielding The Weapon Of Music In The Fight For Joy In God
If this were not right, the Bible would not command us so often to sing (eg., Ex. 15:21; 1 Chron. 16:23; Ps. 96:1) or to play on instruments (eg., Ps. 33:2-3; 57:8; 81:2; 150). Music seems to be into worship and the world of nature. Among the many creatures God has made in his wisdom (Ps. 104:24) are the birds that God has taught to sing: "Beside [the springs] the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches" (Ps. 104:12). Surely God has not created music as a pointless distractions from rational apprehensions of God. Surely, this too is a part of the creation that is "declaring the glory of God."
To wield music well in the fight for joy we should be filled with the word of God, so that our minds are shaped by biblical truths. If our mind and heart have been molded by the contours of God's character and humbled by the grace of the gospel, we will discern what sounds reveal and correspond to the varied glories of God. And since this depends so much on cultural contexts and personal backgrounds, we will need not only a grasp of musical richness, but also deep theological grounding in God-centered truth, and cultural sensitivity, and an awareness of the dynamics of the heart, and profound love for people of all kinds.
We must make it our aim that the joy awakened in music be joy in God. Not all pleasures of music are pleasures in God. Then the effort to delight in God in music will involve a prior shaping of the mind by the Word, so that the structures of sound that do not conform to God's character are not pleasing in the first place. Then the effort to delight in God through music will also involve a thoughtful testing after the music has already awakened joy. Is this joy, we ask, rooted in something good about God? Is it shaping my emotions into Christ-exalting configuration? Is it stirring my desires to know Christ better and love him more and show him to others at the cost of my own comfort? So before and after music has its immediate effect, we pursue the goal that music us more glad in the glory of God.
You can find the full book for free in PDF form, "When I Don't Desire God: How To Fight For Joy" by John Piper by clicking here.
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