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“’But get me a musician,’ Elisha said. And then, while the musician was playing, the power of the Lord came on Elisha. And Elisha said, ‘Thus says the Lord…”
II Kings 13:15-16

I have devoted recent weeks to writing Water from Rock’s 2012 Advent Devotional, based on both the words and the music of Handel’s Messiah. It has proved to be a wonderful spiritual discipline for me to spend time reflecting on both the Biblical text and music of Messiah. I am newly inspired by the power of the Biblical text, and by the power of music. It has led me to new appreciation for the relationship of music to our spiritual lives.

It is clear that the Apostle Paul linked music to our spiritual lives when in Ephesians 5:18-19 he writes:

“Be filled with the Spirit as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts.”

Note elsewhere how the Apostle Paul connects taking in God’s word with singing and music:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God” (Colossians 3:16).

I’ve always know something of the power of music in my life. The night my father died unexpectedly, there was something within me that knew I needed to listen to Handel’s Messiah. So after everyone else had gone to bed I slipped away to listen to two old 78 rpm recordings of Messiah from beginning to end. I soaked it all up, from the “Comfort ye, comfort ye”, at the beginning, all the way through to the saint’s triumphant “Amen” at the finale.

We know that words are powerful, but we also know the difference it can make when those same words are fused with music. Sometimes words are too small a container to say everything. Music is a non-verbal way of saying things too big for words. Music touches both our right and left brain, reaching deep within where words alone cannot touch. In fact, scientists using brain imaging tell us that music stimulates more areas of the brain than any other activity. They say that images of our brain light up when we listen to music. Perhaps that is one reason why the Bible says that heaven will be filled with music and singing!

So I am struck by today’s Biblical text where the prophet Elisha says: “Get me a musician”, and then he said, “Thus says the Lord.” Music education plays little part in theological education today, but played a notable part in the ancient prophet’s training. Samuel formed a “school of the prophets” (I Samuel 19:20; II Kings 2:3-7), where the “harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre” (I Samuel 10:5) were part of the curriculum. The Spirit’s inspiration would sometimes come upon the prophets as they were making music (I Samuel 10:5). Perhaps this says something about the many reports of Christian martyrs who have died singing.

Martin Luther loved music, honoring the key role in plays in our Christian faith. Luther said:

“Music is the art of the prophets, the only art that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.”

In another place Luther commends music to us:

“One of the finest and noblest gifts of God is music. This is very hateful to the devil, and with it we may drive off temptations and evil thoughts. After theology I give the next place and highest honor to music. It has often aroused and moved me so that I have won a desire to preach. We ought not to ordain young men to the office of preacher if they have not trained themselves and practiced singing in the schools.”

I have felt the calling in recent years to teach on the spiritual disciplines. I regret that in this I have said little about music. I am about to change that. I know the critical role that music has played in my life. I use it to turn my thoughts to God and things that really matter. I use music to calm my agitations and stress. Music lifts me up and inspires me before I preach or teach. I use music to pour out the deepest stirrings of my heart to God.

I’m with Elisha! “Get me a musician!” Turn off the TV and radio, and get me a musician! When you are discouraged, listen to music on your CD player or iPod. You pick the kind of music, whatever it is that moves you and draws you to God. And when you’ve got a big task to take on, sing a hymn or chorus. When you’re having trouble sleeping, breathe a psalm deep within. ”Be filled with the Spirit, singing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs.

Grace and peace,

photo by kevsunblush

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