How to Listen to Music

This week we are taking a break from our emotions series for a how to guide. This how to guide is adapted from a lesson I recently did for an FCA Fields of Faith event. Hope you all enjoy!

It’s a little longer, so if you want to listen to it instead, scroll to the bottom of the page, grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and hit play!

God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Elohim, the I am; there are so many different names and titles for God. Each one displays and highlights a different aspect of who He is. Today, I want to focus on God the Creator, one of my favorite titles for God.

This aspect of God is the beginning of our story, and the beginning of the biblical story. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created…” These words echo through and form our story just as God’s words echoed through nothing and formed the universe.

God is the original creator. Out of nothing He imagined and created the heavens and the earth. He filled the sky with stars and the world with plants and animals.

And then he created us…

But He created us different than everything else. Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” We too are one of God’s creations, but we were created different. We were created in the image of God, created to mirror and reflect God.

And then He breathed His life into us. The breath of God is within us, it is what gives us life. In the New Testament we are told that His spirit dwells inside of us as well.

Being made in the image of God and having His breath and spirit flow through us means that we also contain the ability and desire to create.

Psalms 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”

God’s creation points to Him and glorifies Him. We see pieces of God in all that He has made. Since we are created in His image, and He dwells within us, all that we create should point to Him as well.

If from the beginning we were made in His image, and if our very life flows from His breath within us, then everyone, including those who do not claim to follow God, bears the image of God. Sometimes we do a really good job at reflecting God, sometimes we do an absolutely terrible job. But no matter how well we are reflecting Him to others, we were created in His image. His breath is within us.

Which means that whenever anyone creates, whether or not they are a Christian, they are creating as an image of God. And whether they mean to or not, they put a little bit of Him into their creation.

And tonight, we are going to use music to help us practice how to see God reflected in all of creation. There are clips of songs embedded in this blog for us to discuss.

I haven’t experienced many Christians or churches intentionally teaching how to listen for God in music. Most of my childhood I was told, “just don’t listen to that, do you really want that filth entering your ears?”

Now, there is some truth to that. And especially at a very young age, I was not cognitively capable of separating the good from the bad. So, for a time, it was better for me to not listen to certain songs at all.

But there comes an age when you should be trained how to listen to music.

As Christians, we shouldn’t ignore other people because they curse or drink or are mean. These are the people we should seek out to love. But Paul was right when he wrote that “bad company corrupts good character,” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

The lost and ungodly are included in the people we are called to love and to serve, but we must have a strong Christian community to keep us grounded in the ways of God, to remind us to always reflect His image. We are not called to stay away from ‘bad people,’ we are called to interact with them in intentional ways.

Maybe music is similar. Maybe there are Godly lessons we can learn from artists even when they are not singing about God. Because that part of God inside of them, whether they recognize it or not, is impacting them.

This song is a great one to start with because there are some very direct connections scripture.

In this song AJR talks about the embarrassment he felt from the stupid things he did when he was drunk, he talks about the loneliness and sense of failure he felt when no one showed up to his concerts, he talks about his broken heart when his girlfriend dumped him, he bares the troubles of his heart and soul in this song.

Line after line he shares all the terrible things that happened to him. Yet, in the chorus, he rejoices. He realizes that all the things that happened to him, the good and the bad, make him who he is. 100 bad days makes 100 good stories. These stories are what make him interesting; his past led him to his present and his story is unique and powerful and interesting.

As you are reading through these upcoming scriptures, see if there are any connections to the song that catch your attention.

Jeremiah 29:11
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Philippians 4:12-13
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Matthew 6:25-34
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Bad days and bad times are going to happen in life. If we focus on just the now, and hold on to all of these problems, they will drag us down and leave us feeling defeated and hopeless. But, if we hand them over to God, and understand that they fit into a larger picture of life and humanity as a whole, then purpose, understanding, or at least acceptance can normally be found.

Matthew tells us not to worry about life. That yes, there are things we need to live, but that we should trust our creator to provide for us. He knelt beside us and breathed life into us, will He not also sustain us? Jeremiah, often known as the suffering prophet, reminds us that even when we can’t see any hope in our future, God has plans for us to prosper; plans for us that should give us hope.

Paul drives this point home when he wrote, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Throughout his life, Paul was imprisoned again and again. He was beaten and shipwrecked. So when he writes about knowing both need and plenty, he was greatly familiar with both. He had 100’s of bad days. But he knew that his hope and strength came from God. That, through God, he can change those 100’s of bad days to 100’s of good stories that would inspire and strengthen billions of people.

I know that this may not be one of Taylor Swift’s most popular songs, and yeah, it’s a little dated now, but it shares a lot about what it means to be a Christian.

Of all of the genres of music, love songs are the easiest for me to see intersect with the image of God found within all of us.

Colossians 1:15-16
“[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”

         The love of the Father for the Son compelled him to create for His son. The love that is found within the trinity is so strong that it compelled God to create so that others might know that love too, so that we might know that love.

1 John 4:8 says that “God is love.” We see that God is not just someone who loves, but that love is one of the very centers of God’s personality, God’s identity. Creation flowed out of God wanting to share that part of Himself. More than that, God wanted to instill that same personality of love into His creation, into us.

Our desire to love and be loved comes from us being created in the image of God. In this song, Taylor Swift starts by talking about how her and her boyfriend got in a huge fight, it was so big that she expected him to leave and break up with her. But instead, he stayed. He didn’t just love her through the good and easy times, he loved her through the hard times, the ugly times, the times when she was so mad that she threw stuff at him.

That reminds me a lot of what Paul wrote about love to the Corinthians. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Whether Taylor Swift meant to or not, she describes the same kind of love that Paul describes. A love that is patient when the other person is mad, a love that is not easily angered when the other person is throwing things, a love that is kind and forgives, a love that never fails, a love that stays.

But sometimes we display the wrong type of love, sometimes a love doesn’t stay.

Love is a serious thing, it binds us to others. Our love is modeled after God’s love, a love that never fails, a love that always stays. When we love others, that love is supposed to be a similar love, a love that never fails. Genesis 2:24 says “a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Unfailing love bonds us. But if that unfailing love does fail, it rips apart that love and leaves a nasty wound. In this song Danielle Bradbery, does a wonderful job at expressing the damage that failed love causes. Unfailing love trusts all of its secrets to the one it loves and preserves and protects all the secrets it receives from the one it loves.

In this sense, two people in love become human diaries for each other. They share and protect each other’s secrets. They share the good and the bad without judgment, with only love.

But when that love fails, and one person leaves, all of the secrets and dreams and trust of the other leaves too. The two that have been bonding into one are ripped apart and left with pieces of the other still attached to them.

Love is a beautiful thing. But love done wrong can be devastating.

We’ve gone over a lot of good examples, so are there any bad examples? We’ll, I’m glad you asked. Our fourth song is a perfect bad example.

Before we get into this song, I’ll go ahead and admit that I like Ariana Grande as an artist. Her beats are popin and sometimes, just like her, I feel like a dangerous woman. But, when we take the time to stop bouncing along to the beats, and we actually listen to the lyrics, we see that they speak to the human condition. But is it a condition that we want to model?

We see this song spawning out of the situation that Danielle Bradbery was just singing about, failed love. The song came out just 3 months after her break up. In 7 Rings, Ariana says she’s “been though some bad shit,” and “she’s wearing a ring, but ain’t gon’ be no ‘Mrs.’”

Needless to say, Ariana isn’t in the best headspace, but, who is after a big breakup. In this post-breakup time, we see Ariana turning to her money as comfort. She sings “I’d rather spoil all my friends with my riches, Think retail therapy my new addiction.”

She might be spending a lot of that money on others, spoiling all her friends and stuff, but that isn’t how charity goes. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Giving isn’t meant to be proclaimed in the streets or blasted through car radios. The purpose of giving isn’t to be noticed, it’s to help those in need.

And, as Ariana continues, she jokes about retail therapy becoming an addiction to her. Throughout the song she brags about how much money she has, saying that her receipts are as long as phone numbers.

It reminds me of what Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

When devastation hits us, we grasp tightly to what we think protects us, what we think will never fail us. If we turn to money, we will be disappointed, for money fades. God’s love is what will never fail us. God’s love is what will sustain us, because it is what created us.

We’ve looked at songs that we should model after and one that we shouldn’t model, but what happens when you come across a song that’s a little good and a little bad?

The truth is, most songs will be like that. Most songs will have things that reflect God right next to things that are opposite of God. We see that in this song.

In DNA., Kendrick writes about his life growing up. This song is rough because his life growing up was rough. It talks about cocaine because his dad and uncle sold cocaine. It talks about violence because he used to be violent. It is dirty because he is singing about the dirty places of our society.

He talks about how all that he’s done, all that he grew up with, weighs on who he is. He says “I’ve got dark, I’ve got evil, that rot inside my DNA.” There are parts of who he was and what he was around that eat at him. Terrible things that ruin part of who he is.

He says “I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA.” With the poison and pain in his life he talks about still having joy. Paul writes, “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Similar to what we talked about in AJR’s song, the bad things in our lives challenge us, but focusing on God, leaning on God, remembering that he created us and will not leave us, allows us to persevere through our sufferings and gives us hope.

What Kendrick also does in this song is open our eyes to places in our society that we might be blind to. Jesus’ ministry was all about reaching out to the needy and broken and sinners. Kendrick talks about “Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption, scholars, fathers dead with kids.” He paints a picture of a rough life with much hatred and violence.

But within all of that, he mentions redemption. He provides hope to those who find themselves in the same situation he was once. He also calls to those of us who do not find ourselves in a similar situation. And that call is to reach out and help. To find the needy and do as Jesus did: love and restore them.

Before this blog post comes to an end, there is one more point that is essential to make.

We talked a lot about how to look for God in music, but He is not just displayed in songs. God can be found in moves and tv shows and paintings, but most of all, He can be seen in other people. One of the most important aspects of learning how to find God in songs is that it trains you to find God in everyone that you interact with.

The homeless person on the street corner, your neighbor that brags about expensive car, your coworker that is always rude to you; somewhere in them is the image of God. Our job as Christians is to love them and help bring out that image of God that they have buried inside themselves.

Comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think! I you have any specific songs you want me to dig into, I would love to listen to them!

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