I pull the plastic wrap off the album and gaze at the soft brown cover. There is a man staring intently at the camera with his guitar propped against him. He has a kind smile on his face.
The Great Adventure.
I pop the CD into my player, and it doesn’t come out for another month. It is constantly on repeat. It was a birthday gift from a good friend. He knew that I had been listening to a loaned dcTalk cassette tape and thought that I would enjoy a new album by another Christian artist. It turns out that Steven Curtis Chapman turns into my favorite Christian artist.
I enjoy the music, but the lyrics compel me. I have gone to church for years and I believe in God, but he speaks of a faith that is lived everyday. He sings of a Savior that changed him completely. There is a peace and a passion evident throughout the album, and I long for it.
I don’t remember where it happened or exactly when. I can’t pinpoint an exact “salvation date.” I didn’t drop to my knees and confess all my sins at once and invite Jesus into my heart. But gradually, slowly, I started to let the message of these songs melt my heart a little. I felt myself soften and noticed I was praying more. Before I knew it, Jesus was Savior of my life. I found myself wanting to live for Him. All of my actions were held accountable to Him.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Christian music saved my life. God could have reached through to me some other way, but He chose to do it through music. I’m thankful that He did.
Contemporary Christian music used to be the only thing I listened to. I cleared out all secular albums and tuned my car radio to the Christian station 24/7. Every song spoke directly to me. I could play name that tune and win every time.
Now, I rarely listen to it. The music seems trite and the lyrics contrived. There are a few Christian artists that I still respect and enjoy, and though I don’t listen to him much anymore, Steven Curtis Chapman is still one of my favorites. But on a whole, Christian radio just seems so unoriginal.
So I wonder… is it just me that’s changed or is it the music that’s changed? It may be due to a bit of burn-out, or changes in musical preference on my part. I also believe that this music is becoming unoriginal. Much of today’s Christian music lacks originality and passion. It’s like there’s this formula that all Christian musicians have to follow. Where’s the fun in that?
The plastic chair trembles under me. I grip it with my little white knuckles. The teacher looks at me. She has a kind smile on her face as she patiently waits, but for some reason, I am unable to answer her. It’s a simple question. What color construction paper do you want? My mouth stays shut. I am frozen under her gaze. If I move my mouth and words come out, the earth will swallow me up.
I was an awkwardly shy child. Seriously. I hated being on the spot and hated talking to strangers. Being painfully shy is a hard thing. It’s hard to function through life when you feel too afraid to talk to anyone. It’s hard to communicate when you’re afraid to speak. I found that for most of my early life, I faded into the background of all the talkative people in the world. If someone was energetic and outgoing, my thoughts and feelings would not be heard because I didn’t have the strength or energy to fight for air.
Which is why music became so important for me. I stumbled into my voice in middle school, but it wasn’t until high school that I found the courage to perform a solo. Although I was the most nervous I’d ever been, the applause and affirmation I received were amazing. As I continued to perform, I found that singing was a way for me to have undivided attention for the three to four minutes of my song. I could communicate with no interruptions, and I could do it beautifully and poetically.
When I discovered worship music, it was a double bonus. I could communicate my thoughts on my greatest belief to those who listened, and I was able to praise God. It was perfect. I felt a great peace every time I sang, like confirmation that I was in God’s will. Singing made me happy, and from the feedback I got from my church congregation, I gathered that I was blessing people in the process. I made the decision that I wanted to devote my life to worship. I decided to major in church music.
So what do you do when the thing that you decided to devote your life to no longer makes sense; when the direction you wanted to take your life in is suddenly fuzzy? Singing still makes me happy, but worship music often leaves me feeling empty. I don’t connect with worship songs like I used to. When I sing them, my mouth is moving and going through the motions, but my heart is just not feeling it.
Where do I go from here?
Why is worship or music important to your life? Or why is it unimportant?
With growing boredom, I slump down into the hard pew and stare at the tiny pencils and prayer cards in front of me. I breathe out a silent sigh of frustration, knowing I will chance a dirty look from Mom if I let it out loud. My sister sits next to me, slightly less fidgety than me. I try to pay attention to the words the man in front is saying, but they make no sense. Words like salvation and repentance mean nothing to my four-year-old brain.
Finally, he asks us to turn to page 294 in our hymnals. I jump up eagerly, knowing the service is drawing to a close. I stand on tiptoe next to my mother, and peer intently at the Methodist hymnal in her hand. The organ plays some long, loud tones and I look around, wondering what is coming next. Everyone around me begins singing in unison, and I listen in awe. All I can see are strange black lines and markings on the page before me. It’s like some strange code that everyone knows but me. I stare more intently, hoping that the unfamiliar markings will begin to make sense and I will be able to join in. No matter how hard I focus on the hymnal, it doesn’t become any clearer. I simply listen to the angelic voices around me. There is an awe that seems to fall upon the room. I look up at the faces as they sing. The women are smiling, as though at peace with the world.
Before I could read music or knew what salvation meant, I knew that there was a bit of mystery and reverence involved in worship. It was holy before I had a full understanding of the word. Though I couldn’t sing along to the hymns at that young age, I could sense the adoration in the room. I longed to be privy to the strange code so that I could join along in the singing.
It was special. It was not to be taken lightly.
Worship rarely has that sense of awe for me anymore. There’s no mystery; no reverence. I’m too flippant. I forget that I am bowing down before the God of heaven and earth and everything. It just turns into, “Hey God, thanks for all the stuff You do. You’re pretty cool.” Although I believe that God wants me to be comfortable and free in worshipping Him, He is still the God of power and might; the God who would smite down the Israelites for disobeying. I would do well to remember that.
What’s your earliest memory of worship?