Funny enough, as I get older music is becoming more and more important to me. But I don’t think that’s because my tastes are changing; I think it’s because I’m coming to see more and more the power of what music can do in and to us.
Music, it seems to me, has the unique capacity to reach us at an emotional level that few things do. And when you combine a beautiful tune with rich, God-honoring lyrics, music becomes not only something to listen to in order to pass the time; it becomes something we can actually look to in order to preach the gospel to ourselves day in and day out.
It’s no wonder, then, that scholars tell us that one of the most rich passages in the entire New Testament, Philippians 2, was actually an early Christian hymn. In these verses we find a succinct and memorable recitation of the person and work of Jesus Christ. And it lifts my heart to think that somewhere, in a time long long ago, there were early Christians singing these words. Singing them so they would stick in their memory. Singing them so they would feel them as well as know them. Singing them so that, when all else fails the song would come back to them on the darkest days.
Such is the power of song.
And yet sometimes I find myself in the middle of such a hymn doing a bit of self-analysis. I’m singing along, and am suddenly struck by the power of a lyric. Lyrics like these:
- Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul
- My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
- Riches I heed not, nor vain, empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, now and always
Three different lyrics from three different songs, and yet in those moments of self-awareness and honesty, three lyrics that are bigger than me. Bigger than my faith. Such is the case with many such lyrics.
We sing these songs, and if we are honest with ourselves, there are many times we wish we felt them as solidly and confidently as we are singing. We fear, we doubt, we wonder – and in all that inner turmoil, we fall dramatically short of that which we are singing.
If that’s true of you as it is of me, then there are two options before us. One option is that we might simply stop singing these big songs. Put them aside for smaller versions of themselves – ones that are less definite, less triumphant, less declaratory. Squishier, softer songs that are more in line with the squishier, softer faith that we so often find in ourselves.
I suppose, if you wanted to do that, you could even claim it to be an issue of integrity. We might claim that we simply cannot sing things that are not in line with our hearts, and as a matter of honesty, that we refused to participate in things like this.
Or there’s the other option. The other option is to keep singing, not because our hearts and faith are as big and strong as these songs, but precisely because our hearts and faith are not. To keep singing because singing songs like these actually lifts our faith – it challenges us to believe bigger. To feel more strongly. To hope more surely. We look to these songs as a way of building up our faith rather than describing it perfectly.
Yes, these songs are bigger than your faith. Mine too. And that’s precisely why we need them, and why we must continue to sing them. It is because we are weak and frail that we need songs that take our eyes off of our own weakness and frailty and instead focus them on the greatness of the God who does not grow tired or weary, and His Son who has perfectly accomplished His work on our behalf and for God’s glory. We need songs that make us grow smaller and smaller in the grandeur of who God is and what He has done. We need big songs, for a big God, that remind us of a big, big gospel.
Keep singing, Christian. And let your faith rise up beyond you.