This headline seems a bit redundant. After all, I’m a Christian and, of course, I’d love Christian music. But this is not always the case. In fact if you listen to a lot of the conversations young Christians are having today, you’d find that Christian music is a kind of punching bag. It’s fashionable for us to take a sledgehammer and bash, with great glee, the art that our brothers and sisters are creating.
To be sure, there are songs for the Christian that are worth rejecting. Songs that have little or no theological teeth and songs that create a kind of Christian subculture, yada, yada, yada. But I think we’re often really, really unfair to Christian music artists. Peter Chin’s recent article at Christianity Today is a good place to start. Sometimes our critiques are legitimate. Other times, I suspect, we’re out to prove how sophisticated we are or how “unlike those other kinds of Christians” we are.
Christian music has had a powerful effect on my own heart. I’ll give a couple of examples.
Several years ago I endured perhaps the most significant trial of my life. I was in the midst of my pastorate in the Chicago suburbs. I had been unfairly and unjustly attacked by people I loved and respected. Not only did they betray me, they publically slandered me, threatened my ministry, and attacked my character. To make matters worse, my wife was out of town with our kids, helping a friend whose husband had just died from cancer. I have never felt so low in my life.
After a meeting in which things went really badly, I retreated to my office at the church, stunned, angry, and unsure of what to do. The first thing I did was turn on a Pandora channel on my laptop. The first song that played was Chris Rice’s song, “Come to Jesus.” I don’t know if you like this song or not. I don’t know if you think it’s shallow or brilliant or whatever. But this song, in that moment, ministered to my heart in a way that I will never forget. I will never forget the tears that ran down my face and the reassurance the Holy Spirit gave me in that moment, reminding me that this wasn’t Jesus attacking me, this was Christians. So I ran to Jesus and found life, away from the hurt caused by people I loved.
I don’t know what was going through Chris Rice’s mind when he sat down to pen those lyrics. I don’t know what his motivation was. But I do know that his application of his heart and mind to music was a gift to me at that time.
To write music, to produce any kind of art, is difficult. The artist is vulnerable in that moment, when he puts pen to paper and exposes his thoughts to the world. He can be subject to endless critiques and mockery. But he also has the potential to be used by the Spirit of God to minister to people he will never meet. We should be grateful for artists who write songs for the Church.
Another example, this time a hymn. One of the things I love about growing up in a more traditional church was the singing of hymns. They come back to me, time and time again, in my adulthood. One in particular is “Jesus Paid it All.” This is my father’s favorite hymn. My dad is a pretty stoic, hard-working, blue collar guy. I’ve rarely seen him cry. But every time he described the words in Jesus Paid it All, he cried. That hymn makes me think of my father. In 1865, Elvina M. Hall sat down and wrote this hymn, not knowing the impact it would have on people she never met. I’m grateful she did.
Finally, one more. This week in church we closed with the simple revival chorus, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” It was the appropriate ending for a sermon that focused on what it means to follow Jesus. I needed this sermon this week. When we stood to sing, I was overcome with emotion. “I have decided” brings me back to wooden benches at camp meetings in my youth and the decision to walk forward and commit my life to Christ. It brings me back to campfires and key moments of discipleship. According to this story, this simple chorus has a remarkable story behind it that I’m not sure is verified. Regardless, for me, this song has powerful meaning.
I could go on. I could talk about how “Amazing Grace” and “There is a Fountain” and “A Mighty Fortress” stir up thoughts of worship and praise. I could talk about singing “The Power of the Cross” by the Gettys with thousands of people in a room and feeling like I was in Heaven. I could muse about Michael W. Smith’s recent “Sovereign Over Us” and a song our church sings during communion whose title escapes me.
The point is that I’m grateful for artists who continue to put pen to paper, who compose the notes and give us a way to sing about the God we love.