Article written by Matt Holmes
This past winter I attended a Punch Brothers concert. That show has stuck with me ever since. The band’s top notch musicianship engages the audience and invites them into a conversation filled with unique expression and conventions seldom heard. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy five-piece progressive bluegrass settings, you are forced to appreciate the band’s skill they have in their craft. At that concert, it was made clear that live music provides something different, something more than you can get with record players; live music provides an experience, a more direct connection to human expression. From the first note of the show I couldn’t look away from the stage, I was captivated. Ultimately, the music that night for me imaged worship of the one true God.
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. – John 4:24
First, the music engaged me mentally. I couldn’t help but begin to think where these sounds were coming from and how they were functioning. All the musicians worked within the design of their instruments and the design of sound itself. The musician’s fingers press down on the fretboard, changing the vibration of the string’s frequency. The style of music provides a framework to work within. The notes are played within certain scales and chords and in a certain order. To play an instrument in a way that it is not designed or to neglect the music theory behind how notes are supposed to function leads to displeasing dissonance and chaos. To become aware of how sound works and to master the techniques of the instruments is to align with truth, to create within the good design of music. Yet, playing with the right theory and technique alone does not create sound pleasing to the ears.
Secondly, the music engaged me emotionally. Throughout a show there are some “musical moments” that shine brighter than others, that connect with the audience more, that impact the listener deeper. Numerous times that night I was taken back by certain musical moments. Those moments were shaped by the delivery of all preceding notes and the specific presentation (such as dynamics, phrasing, etc.) of the notes in the moment. To simply play all those notes in succession would be impressive, but would not evoke powerful emotion or lift your spirit. The players on stage that night were expressing from the heart all the notes they played. Because of that, the listeners was invited in to feel and experience what the players were portraying and experiencing; a connection was made. Their emotion brought the music to life in a way that pleased the heart of the listener.
Being fully in the moment, reflecting on the Lord and His god design, I came to a place of worship. From mentally examining God’s good design of music, to emotionally connecting to God’s grace in His cultural mandate for humans to bear His image by creating and cultivating. That night provided me with an experience, allowing me to deeply believe theological truths I had known for a while in a personal way.
For our worship to be pleasing to the Lord, we must worship in spirit and truth. We must know the God whom we worship. We must know that the only way we have access to our Lord is through the cross of Jesus Christ. These are the truths we must understand and believe. We are also called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength. We must sing in our spirit a melody to the Lord that is genuine, expressive, and true. Worship of the one true God is to engage the mind, heart, and soul of the worshipper.
My night of worship did not take place at a church, but rather a concert hall. Jesus teaches in John chapter 4 that now because of the new covenant, we are free to worship God anytime and anywhere. The Samaritan women in the story shares the religious understanding of worship that it must be done in certain locations, like on the mountaintop and in Jerusalem. But now because of what Jesus has done for us, we have access to God himself through the cross of Christ and we have freedom to live within God’s good design. Because our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, we are free to worship our God in a concert hall or a coffee shop.
God’s presence and grace is not limited to inside a church. The image bearing of God is not limited to believers. Whether or not those musicians know the Lord, they bear the image of God as creators. Whether or not those musicians know the Lord, God used their music that night to bring me to a place of worship and to glorify Himself. As Christians, we should not be afraid to engage art or culture found in all areas of life. We should seek it out. For when we engage culture, we have a heightened awareness of God’s grace, and when we have a heightened awareness of God’s grace, we are drawn to worship in spirit and truth. For God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).