Saturday, August 27, 2011

God, My Heart, and Music - Bob Kauflin

Recently, I've been reading through a book entitled "Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World". It has been so good so far! Very encouraging, assuring, and convicting.
I wanted to share on the topic of music. It has been heavy on my heart for the last couple weeks and I want to share what I've been reading, learning, and studying about it.
I'm just going to quote straight from the chapter "God, My Heart, and Music" written by Bob Kauflin. I'm going to take bits and pieces from each paragraph of the main points that have struck home for me.

"In twenty-first-century America, we love our music. Satellite radio, CDs, streaming Internet, and iPods enable us to live our lives to a constant soundtrack. Walk through any public venue and you'll see dozens of people oblivious to their surroundings, tuned in to whatever's pouring through their ear buds. For many of us, life without music would be unthinkable, undesirable, and unbearable.

Do you ever think about the effect all this music might be having on us? On you? Is it all innocent entertainment? Can we listen to too much music? Could there be consequences we're completely unaware of?

As a professional musician for the past thirty years, and someone who has over forty days of music on my iTunes, I've asked myself these questions more than once. It only makes sense to find out if so much music is a good thing or a bad thing. And if you're a Christian who listens to or makes music in today's culture, you should be asking yourself these questions as well.

What motivates us to like the music we do? Is music entirely neutral? Why does music affect us so deeply? Does the music I listen to affect my thoughts or behaviour in any way? Does it say anything about my relationship with God? Most important, are my music choices consistent with the gospel that has saved me?

If these questions don't seem important, think again. Music can be more dangerous than most of us realize. It has the potential to harden our hearts and weaken our faith. If fact, a wise Christian understands that listening to music without discernment and godly intent reveals a heart willing to flirt with the world.

Without discernment we won't be alert to the effects music might be having on us. Without godly intent we'll be listening to it for the wrong reasons. We'll be failing to fulfill the purpose for which Christ redeemed us. Paul tells us, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We were ransomed from hell so we could glorify God.
Music is one more way God intends for us to do that.

It's Just Music - or Is It?
Music can be simply defined as an organized combination of melody, harmony, and rhythm. For non-musicians, melody is the part you can whistle, harmony describes the music that supports the melody, and rhythm is the beat.

Those three elements in themselves carry no moral value. There are no "evil" melodies or "false" rhythms. Music alone is incapable of lying to us or commanding us to do wrong. Music by itself is also unable to communicate "truth statements" to us. A melody can't unpack them meaning of Christ's substitutionary atonement, a chord progression can't clearly articulate that God created the world, and no beat can express the meaning of the incarnation.

But music affects our emotions in profound ways.

No, music can't save us. But it can deeply affect us.

The passions music draws out range from noble to base, from simple to complex, from God-glorifying to sensual. That's why people who write advertising jingles, pop songs, and film scores can make a decent living. They know music speaks powerfully to our emotions. Most of us are touched by the music we hear, even when we're unaware of it. In fact, sometimes we realize how music is affecting us only when we notice it's not playing anymore.

Because music can't be handled, smelled, or seen, it tends to get its meaning from the things that surround it. Sometimes those associations are positive, like a song from your wedding or carols on Christmas Eve. But sometimes we associate music with negative, even sinful, things. And if we don't realize what music is "carrying", worldly attitudes and desires can influence and affect our unsuspecting hearts.
I've found music can be a carries of at least three elements: content, context, and culture.

Philippians 4:8 should guide our media choices. That same verse provides God's standards for content in the songs we listen to. It tells us what music should lead us to think about.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8)

These biblical standards instantly bring into question much of the music that's currently popular and available to us. When I don't even consider ungodly lyrical content in the songs I listen to, I'm allowing music to seduce me.

It's not uncommon for Christians on Sunday mornings to worship Jesus for His substitutionary death on the cross, then sing songs during the week that exalt the sins He died for. We sing, "My chains are gone, I've been set free," then remain enslaved to lyrics that promote fornication, profanity, anger, godless pleasure, sensuality, and materialism. "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10). James is right . These things ought not to be so. But when someone expresses the concern about song lyrics, we usually have a ready reply: "I don't even listen to the words. I don't know what they're saying."
My response is, "Why not?" Christians, of all people, should be asking what songs actually mean. We're to "do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31). And if we "never" listen to the words attached to music, we're training ourselves to tune out the content of songs and simply allow the music to affect us. That makes it all the more difficult to focus on the truths we sing on Sundays. we tend to be more influenced by the sound, beat, and tempo than the word of Christ we're proclaiming.

Don't misunderstand me. Listening to a song with sexually suggestive lyrics won't cause you to run to the Internet and start downloading pornography. Hearing a song with profanity doesn't mean you'll be peppering your conversations tomorrow with four-letter words. But over time the lyrics to songs can weaken our defenses, blur our discernment, and redirect our affections toward the world. Listening to music is never neutral, because our sinful hearts are involved.

Music with ungodly lyrics can persuade us to love things we wouldn't ordinarily love - specifically the "desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions" (1 John 2:16).
We're foolish to repeatedly subject ourselves to songs whose lyrics could dull our conscience and make us glory in sinful desires rather than the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14).

Sometimes we pride ourselves in what we can handle, as if exposing ourselves to temptation were a virtue.

If we're concerned about the seductive effect worldly lyrics can have on our souls, we won't be racing close to the edge of sin, seeing how much we can take in before it finally starts affecting us. We won't be tempting ourselves with music that contains profanity, sensuality, rebellion, or other worldly attitudes. We'll want to stay as far from the edge as we can.

Culture isn't the same as worldliness. Our society's cultural makeup has both positive and negative characteristics. We can seek to relate to our culture without it being worldly. But worldliness - self-exalting opposition to God - is present in every culture and can be found in anything associated with the music we listen to: packaging, advertisements, pictures, and web sites, as well as a musical artist's clothing, attitudes, and interviews.

Many of the songs at the top of the charts are filled with ungodly aspects of our culture, stemming from the lives of those who make and market the music. see if you can recognize any of them in your favourite music:
  • independence and rebellion ("I am my own authority");
  • emotionalism ("To feel is to know");
  • temporal narcissism ("Five years ago is ancient history");
  • love of pleasure ("It's all about me");
  • sexual immorality ("Marriage and purity are so yesterday");
  • transience ("Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die").
You might not intentionally and enthusiastically embrace any of these values. But all of them can find their way into our hearts through the music we enjoy.

It's important to note that music and its associations don't create sin in our hearts - they simply reveal what's already there. If I value what I feel over what I know to be true, I'll tend to listen to music that feels good rather than music that's good for me.

At this point, maybe you'd like me to suggest a list of artists or music styles that every Christian should either pursue or avoid. Sorry, but that list doesn't exist. And if it did, I'm not convinced it would be helpful. What appropriate for one person to listen to might be sin for someone else because of the differing associations we make. We rarely hear music in a vacuum. Depending on the state of our hearts, any song we hear is a potential carrier of worldly values and perspectives.
Rather than a list, I offer you two questions.

First, does the music you listen to lead you to love the Saviour more or cause you affections for Christ to diminish?
Second, does your music lead you to value an eternal perspective or influence you to adopt the mindset of this "present evil age"?
Answering these questions honestly is an important step toward making wise decisions about the music you listen to and living a life worthy of the gospel.

If we don't take the time to soberly evaluate our music listening habits, we can become oblivious to the worldly propaganda music carries. We can be led into compromise. Here are some of the signs that you're already there.

You seldom or never use Scripture to evaluate your decisions about music.
Hopefully, you've seen by now that while Scripture may not address specific styles of music, it does address the hearts that are listening. We may assume God gave us music just to make us happy, not holy; He actually gave us music to make us happy and holy.

Music is far too significant a part of our lives for us to assume it won't affect us. Proverbs 14:15 reminds us, "The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps." Discernment in music is simply one part of  the overall discernment we're called to exercise as disciples of Jesus Christ. Unexamined listening habits leave us at the mercy of our own sinful desires and the influence of a godless culture.
Another area Scripture addresses is how our music listening affects those around us. Jesus strongly warned those who caused little ones to sin (Luke 17:1-2). Does your music provide a temptation for new Christians, younger siblings, children, and non-discerning peers? How are you demonstrating love to others through the music you're exposing them to?

Your passion for Christ has waned; your passion for music hasn't.
There can be many explanations for our diminished zeal for God. Sometimes the most obvious reason is that we're feasting regularly at the world's table of delights.
When the music we regularly listen to glories in what should shame us and directs our minds to earthly things, we're being more than unwise. We're exposing ourselves to a message associated with the enemies of the cross - the cross that purchased our forgiveness and freed us from the bondage of our sinful desires.

Music is meant to be a means of bringing glory to God, one more way in which we can "proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). I want to suggest specific steps to help us use music in a way that benefits our souls and honours the Saviour.

Evaluate your current intake of music.
Areas to consider include how much music you listen to, what types, in what situations and times of day, and for how long. Ask your friends, parents, or a pastor to get their perspective on whether your music listening is characterized by biblical discernment and a desire to please God. Make sure they give you an honest answer. It could be the means God uses to deliver you from the world's grasp.

Delete or throw away music you'll listen to only if you backslide.
When we become Christians, God transforms our hearts. We're no longer those who live "in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind' (Eph. 2:3). Pursuits we once found appealing no longer interest us and at time even repulse us.

Listen to music with others.
Part of the joy music communicates comes from sharing it!

Make music rather than listen to it.
Producing music ourselves frees us from thinking that the joy music provides depends on technology.

Keep track of how much music you buy.
Broaden your musical tastes.
Listen to old music. (hymns)
Intentionally thank God every time you enjoy music.

Music is a gift from God. But God never intends His gifts to replace him as the object of our desire and delight. Music may be able to calm our hurried spirits, encourage our troubled hearts, and strengthen our weary souls, but not like our Saviour can. He has redeemed us by his death, sympathizes with us in our weaknesses, and is able to give us mercy and grace in our time of need (Eph. 1:7; Heb. 4:15-16).
Music, like all of God's gifts, is meant to draw our hearts and attention to His glory, His power, and His love.  

Music is a precious gift, but it makes a terrible god.
By God's grace, may we always know the difference."


  1. Wow, Rachel - you have done such a brilliant job of tackeling this somewhat touchy subject so carefully. Music is one of the things I'm very wary of - and I don't like the lines about not understanding the words or the "It's only music - I'm just listening to it" claim. I think that while out of the heart the mouth speaks, it's could also be said that out of what I hear, I will talk. It's so important that we are filling our lives with Godly, glorious grace. :)

  2. hi Rachel,

    your blog is really inspiring and encouraging, that's why it makes me become one of your follower. it's good to know that you're also a Christian and servant of Jesus Christ.

    Keep inspiring.

    smiles from,
    Lhen :)