Isn’t it interesting the extent to which music affects our life? Every culture throughout history has had their own music, from basic to advanced in composition, lyrics and instruments (or lack thereof).
I remember many years ago I began a new job working in the emergency room at a local hospital. During orientation there was a presentation from a music therapist, where she had the class take their resting heart rate, then played a song and, afterward, had us again check our resting heart rate. The first heart rates varied wildly, but nearly all had an identical heart rate after the song was finished (if I remember correctly, the song was set to 70 beats per minute). The music united our hearts…
I was reminded of this recently when reading an article about the best songs to listen to during a workout. The researchers listed out several songs which had a beat that helped you get to a good target heart rate. They also mentioned the subconscious effect of music in a workout, that most people underestimated their effort over 10% when listening to music. The music helped them to forget the difficult effort they were putting out.
All this led me to think about music and how it affects my life…
I often am asked- how does God talk to you? For me, while I have experienced times where I have had a voice interjected into my mind or knowledge presented so strongly that I couldn’t think of anything else, God often speaks to me through song. And while that may seem strange, if you consider what our church songs are, it really isn’t so odd. Many songs we sing from our hymnals are derived from scriptures, often from Psalms, but also numerous other places in God’s word. The songs we sing are prayers, admonitions, exhortations, encouragements, praises, petitions and so on.
Not long ago I was struggling with some of those stresses we all face, that often seem nearly unbearable. I woke up singing a song, got ready for church and was singing this song as I shaved and got dressed. As I was walking to our morning ministers’ meeting, I realized I was singing a song I had never heard nor sung before, and yet I knew it. The words were answers to the turmoil I was feeling and brought me comfort. As the day began and busyness of it continued, I found that I totally forgot the song. Desperate, I searched through the two songbooks we use in our local, Zion’s Hymnal and Saint’s Hymnal, hoping that I would find it there. But I couldn’t. It brought up a recounting of a story a sister shared in Phoenix many years ago: One night at a service they had some visitors, and during the service they sang a song which this sister said, “We had never sung before, and have never sung again”.
I consider that story and also my experience, and I am awed at God. I am amazed that He knows what is perfect, for the perfect time and the exact need…
As a singer and musician, I love reading through the Psalms. As I read through the passages, I can see David writing and singing the prayers of his heart. Some were joyous, and some came from places of near despair; from sickness of sin and from gratitude for forgiveness.
There is one small verse in Matthew (26:30) and Mark (14:26) which says, “And when they had sung an hymn, they went out to the mount of Olives.” This brings the thought to my mind, “What was it like to hear Jesus sing?” Did he sing lead or did he blend in a perfect harmony?
While there are many songs I love, there are three that recently I have held to the words of, for their comfort, for their expressing where I was, and then lifting me up. The first is a song by Matt Maher, titled, “Lord I Need You.” The lyrics that particularly touch me are:
Lord, I come, I confess,
Bowing here I find my rest. Without You I fall apart,
You’re the One that guides my heart
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You,
Every hour I need You.
My one defense, my righteousness,
Oh God, how I need You.
So teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way.
When I cannot stand I’ll fall on You,
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay.
I have prayed this same prayer, long before I heard this song. I remember working in my shop, struggling with the trials that, truthfully, were insurmountable for man, and decided to turn on some music to stop my mind from trying to solve the unsolvable. This song came on, and as the words fell line on line, I felt as if God was telling me He heard me and my confession that I needed Him to guide my actions, and especially to guide the feelings of my heart.
Psalm 139:1 To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. 2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. 3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. 4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
Another song that has touched my soul recently:
When my hopes and dreams are far from me
And I’m running out of faith,
I see the future I picture slowly fade away.
And when the tears of pain and heartache
Are pouring down my face,
I find my peace in Jesus’ name.
In the eye of the storm
You remain in control.
In the middle of the war
You guard my soul.
You alone are the anchor
When my sails are torn.
Your love surrounds me
In the eye of the storm. (“Eye of the Storm,” Ryan Stevenson)
This song hit me when I was giving in to frustration over changes in my life that were out of my control and not in my plan. Maybe you are like me, that sometimes your mind gets stuck on the broken record of failures, disappointments, unwanted changes of life and the fears they bring.
For me, this song and this verse in particular drew my mind back to a wonderful testimony of God providing for me: We read how Christ sent out His disciples, instructing them to take nothing but the clothes on their backs. Then, just before the events that led to His death began, He reminded them of that time-
And he said unto them, When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye any thing? And they said, Nothing. (Luke 22:35)
God knows how to bless us… I am continually reminded of this.
I have found myself singing as I watched a thunderstorm roll in, or the sunrise over beautiful canyons:
O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder Consider all the worlds thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed. (How Great Thou Art)
As we gathered in my in-law’s home on the day my sweet mother-in-law Marlene passed on to her reward, I couldn’t help but sing:
Come, thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise. (Come, Thou Fount)
I sang these songs, because for me, I couldn’t express my feelings to God in simple words; I had to try to acknowledge the beauty and gratitude with the best thing I could offer. Perhaps that sounds odd, or maybe you have felt it too.
I remember a testimony many years ago that I have always thought about: A man was standing next to two others in a choir, and within himself was frustrated that the two next to him could barely carry a tune. As the song started, he heard beautiful music from them. He then was told by the Lord- “But this is what I hear.” I know God sees our heart, our desires and our efforts. Our offerings are beautiful to Him, regardless of the value we put on our own abilities.
So, what is my point in this article? Song is just another way we bring ourselves before God, but sometimes we don’t consider how important it can be. When the words resonate within us and reach us in where we are, it amplifies our praise, or our petition, or our confession to Him. Song is something that even science shows is able to unite (remember the heart rate story above), and can often make us forget the weight of our burdens (how it can affect us when we exercise).
The last song that has been on my mind is a beautiful song by Audrey Assad, “I Shall Not Want:”
From the love of my own comfort,
From the fear of having nothing,
From a life of worldly passions,
Deliver me, O God.
From the need to be understood,
And from a need to be accepted,
From the fear of being lonely,
Deliver me, O God,
Deliver me, O God.
And I shall not want, no, I shall not want.
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want.
When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want.
2 Nephi 3:33 “I am encompassed about because of the temptations and the sins which doth so easily beset me. 34 And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. 35 My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep. 36 He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh. 37 He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.38 Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night time.39 And by day have I waxed bold in mighty prayer before him; yea, my voice have I sent upon high; and angels came down and ministered unto me.”
I think of the words of this song in relation to this psalm of Nephi. We are encompassed by trials, by fearful things and difficulties of life. But when God moves, it is perfect. When He blesses, it is right. His gift of peace is beyond understanding; to those unacquainted with God it would make no sense. And yet, as the song says, “When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want.”
As editor of this publication, I have prayed and considered what God’s people need to be reminded of. This article is to remind you that God is present, He brings joy, He speaks in many ways, He is able to find you in your trials, He hears your song of praise, your song of sorrow and pain, your plea for peace, direction and assurance of His love. He finds way to meet you, to assure you, to bless you. This is why we love Him, for He searches us out. May God bless you continually, and that you in all places may bring Him the praise He is due.