Psalm 33:1-3 Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.
This is an anonymous Psalm, but it is clear the author was a musician who loved God. Such people are valuable! These three verses alone have enough in them to base a whole course in music ministry on them. In the first place, this is addressed to righteous people. All too often worship leaders are chosen for their musical skill alone, and that is a very dangerous mistake. If a person does not have an active, personal relationship with the Lord, they have no business leading worship, because they won’t really be worshiping themselves. Conversely, anyone who is in right standing before God (upright) is going to want to praise and thank Him, whether or not they are in a formal leadership position. Next, verse 2 mentions instruments. Some worship leaders play an instrument as they lead and some do not, but musical instruments, and music in general, were originally intended by God to be used in worship. However, the instruments, and the music itself, are not to take priority over the purpose, which is expressing thanks and praise to God. Then it mentions “a new song.” Some churches go “whole hog” with this, essentially using only songs from within the past few years, whereas some go with hymnals that have few songs less than 100 years old. Either extreme misses out on a great deal. Failure to sing new songs tends to stagnate churches into ruts, blinding them to the reality that God is still alive and working right now. However, the Church has a very rich musical heritage, and even Gregorian chants can be powerfully moving when properly used. There is such a volume of new music being created that it can easily be overwhelming, so wisdom is called for. The Holy Spirit knows what each congregation needs, and what is pleasing to the Father. Then there’s the little matter of skill. As already mentioned, some churches make the drastic mistake of going on skill alone. I have a professional Christian musician friend who has been a vibrant believer for many years, but who was won to the Lord by being asked to play in a “praise band” when he didn’t know Jesus from the man down the street. I know of other examples of that sort of evangelism, but such a person must never be the worship leader. When we hear and watch professional Christian musicians it quickly becomes evident which are genuinely worshiping God and which are just performing. God is always more concerned with the heart than with anything else. That said, a musician who doesn’t practice isn’t being a good steward of the gifts they have been given, and Jesus was very clear on that point. (Matthew 25:14-30)
This is very close to home. My wife and I both came from very musical families that loved God, and her father was the music minister in most of the churches they attended. Just yesterday she and I were both moved to tears during a video chat with our younger daughter as she was speaking of her deep joy at leading the music at her church, even considering leaving a very high-paying job to devote herself to it. Nothing would please us more! We are largely responsible for the music at this church, since it is so small, and we too find deep joy in praising God through music. As a pastor, one of my goals is for each believer to discover and delight in the joy of offering music to God. There are widely different levels of ability, but as I said, God is interested in the heart, and this passage even speaks of a “joyful shout.” I must not make people feel that because they can’t sing like I do, they aren’t to make music to God!
Father, thank You for this reminder, and for the timing, right after yesterday’s chat. I find myself convicted of my own lack of practice. Keep me from taking Your gifts for granted. Help me rather polish them consistently and effectively, so that I may offer my very best to You, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!