Music is art. It is an expression of what is going on inside. It is creativity for the ear buds. God’s Word shows countless musical expressions:
“My lips will shout for joy,
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have redeemed.”
Moses takes time after the Red Sea episode to write a song proclaiming God’s victory,
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”
Tracing it back even further, we see creativity to a greater extent in the creation account. God created the earth, everything in it and around it. He created the things we see all around us and their intricate functionality. We can picture the creation account as a huge music orchestration as God breathes and sings life into existence. Cosper does a great job in painting the account of creation:
“First out of nothingness come the heaven and earth, then the explosion of light and the division of day and night. Once upon a time, there was no light. Then suddenly come billions of boiling stars and galaxies. The waters of the seas part and the Creator’s imagination spins out majestic mountains and valleys, volcanos and rivers, deserts and icebergs, each one carved up by light and shadow. The song continues as life begins to teem and whir…
Then come the animals. The dinosaurs. The dolphins. Lemmings and lightning bugs. Hummingbirds and wildebeests. There are themes like reptiles and bears, and variations upon each theme: polar bears, grizzly bears, black bears, Asiatic bears, panda bears. Creation has an improvisatory flair, bursting with imaginative energy and glory.
As God sings the song of creation the creation responds with its own exaltation. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God,’ as the psalmist says (Ps. 19:1). Creation’s song can be heard in the crash of perfect, spiraling waves on the coast of South Africa and the explosion of lava on Hawaii. Its melody is as subtle as the whirring of bees and as gentle as a breeze across the black hills of South Dakota. The psalmist isn’t merely being metaphorical; he’s noticing that God has imbued creation with a song that can be heard by ears tuned to the work of the Creator.” (28-29)
Creativity is something that emanates from God. What’s awesome is God created us to be creative as well. We see that in music, art, dance, at work or at home.
As we stand in awe of God’s creativity, we also see a God of excellence. Each creation was created with care and excellence. Nothing was a throwaway or extra. Nothing was held back. This is shown in the creation account. We see His excellence all around us.
Birds are fascinating, how they just fly around and sing all day. God created their wings with the precise shape in order to get the maximum amount of thrust as they flap. Their bones are hollow to be light weight enough to fly but strong enough to keep its structure. God’s excellence on display.
God’s excellence is brilliantly displayed at the cross, in the person of Jesus Christ. He held nothing back…His only begotten Son. Out of love and compassion, He bore our punishment to redeem us back to Him. Even though we fall, we mess up, we sin, we turn away from Him, He pursues us through Jesus Christ. Christ more than enough. This is excellence defined.
I want to restate this: Music is art, expressing what is going on the inside. What is it saying if we aren’t pursuing excellence in musicianship or playing to our fullest capabilities? Instead, we hold back because that’s just what you’re supposed to do. Or, maybe we are holding back because we don’t want others to think we are prideful and showing off. Is God glorified in that? If God is glorified when we use our talents to the fullest potential, then we should be practicing and playing to our fullest abilities. Would art really be art if a painter were to hold back on a particular stroke technique or a distinctive color because it would be too “flashy”? No, it would fully display the talents and the beauty of the painting. God is concerned about the heart above all else. We see this in the story of Cain and Abel (Gen 4:1-5). Both presented offerings. Abel presented the first born of his livestock and with much invested, giving his best. Cain offered crops, seemingly as an obligation or duty. God was pleased with Abel not because of the type of the offering but because of Abel’s heart.
For us, I think I can confidently say that we are not perfect. We have been affected by sin which makes us far from sin. Yet, we are called to pursue this excellence. Just as the Father pursued excellence, we are called to be like the Father in every way, including excellence. Now, this looks different for each person, each skill level, each art. Chappell stated that, “Excellence in all dimensions of worship expression, including music, must not simply be defined by cultural standards of sophistication, but by the ability of the expression to strengthen, deepen, and develop faith.” (140) As we pursue excellence, being better than we were yesterday, we pursue a deeper faith, for Christ to grow us and conform us more into His excellence.
So, as we think of Creativity and Excellence regarding music, this can also be applied to our daily lives. I have a few questions that I’d like us to ask ourselves:
1.) How can you be more creative? Is there anything holding you back? Are you fearful of creativity? Are you fearful of man?
2.) Are you living a life of excellence? When you play music on Sunday morning, are you playing with excellence, no holding back? As you attend Sunday mornings, are you using that time to meet and greet folks you don’t know?
3.) Is your heart captivated by the Gospel? Do you regularly go to God’s word to be filled with the Gospel day in and day out?
Now I’m not advocating huge awesome guitar solos and flips off the stage. Rather, I’m advocating for us to glorify God by pursuing excellence. In leading our musicians at New City, I never want them to hold back. I never want them to give anything but their best. I want them always to pursue excellence. Now, this is different for each individual. For one person it may mean felling free to express himself more on a guitar solo. For another, it could mean learning to play softer so as to allow the church to hear each other singing. Maybe a bit more ad libbing when singing on a chorus. Let us sing and play with joy, knowing that God has blessed us with talents to bring glory to Him. The very fact that each of us has different levels of musicianship show that there is not a set perfect “Christian” sound we are to strive for. Harold Best defines excellence as “the process-note that word process-of becoming better than I once was.” (108) This is applying the gospel to our lives! This reaches beyond the realm of music. This touches every aspect of our lives, being a parent, spouse, worker, etc. Placing our faith in Christ, He calls us to walk as adopted sons and daughters, pursuing Christ. While we stumble and mess up, we still strive to be better than we were yesterday. This is living the Gospel. Creativity and Excellence are part of that process. Play with joy. Play with freedom. Play for Him.
Best, Harold M. Music Through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1993), 108.
Chapell, Bryan. Christ-Centered Worship:Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 140.
Cosper, Mike. Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 28-29