When I was in high school, I heard a song called, “Clear the Stage.”
It was gorgeous. It was intense, poetic, and convicting, and I loved it. But I also misapplied it.
Instead of hearing “Christ is greater than,” I heard, “Lights, decorations, and great music are distractions.”
I began to feel guilty for loving a good stage set. I started to wonder if I really loved God or if I just loved music. I started to believe that appreciating graphic design and smooth stage transitions meant I was loving the experience over the Creator, and that I had to push those things aside in order to worship Jesus more purely.
Fear and shame caused me to twist a call to authenticity into a denouncement of anything that was beautiful besides Jesus. I was on track for a confusing, shame-filled, puritanical few years.
Mercifully, there was an artist that attended my church at the time. He had loved both Jesus and art for a lot of years, and one evening I heard him say: “Maybe the beauty isn’t a distraction from worship. Maybe God made it beautiful so that you could worship.”
I believe that beauty is God’s signature. Or maybe more like His fingerprint - He leaves it on everything He touches. I believe that beauty points to God, and that things are beautiful so that I can worship.
I love good music, good design, a good stage set, and logistics. I would even say that those things enhance my worship experience - and that there's nothing idolatrous about that.
I've recently begun to think of music like a language.
When you’re in a foreign country, even if you’ve been there for decades and you’re as fluent as fluent can be, when you hear somebody on the subway speaking your first language – your heart language – your ears perk up. You want to turn to them and say, “Me too!”
That’s why it’s so beautiful (and important) to see the Bible translated into the heart languages of people that don’t yet have access to it. Because you can hear the stories in a language that you know, but when you hear the gospel in YOUR language, your heart language, the words carry a little more weight. You feel them pressing in on you differently. Like they don’t have to filter through your mind first, they get fast-tracked to your heart.
I think that music is similarly intimate. Music knits itself to our experiences and it can transport us back to places and people with the force of tidal waves. This has happened to you: you hear a song and it slams you.
We have a heart language and we have heart music.
When I was in a church that was different from the church I grew up in, I still loved Jesus. I still learned things, I still worshipped with sincerity, I still served. I still had lots of joy. But when I stepped back into a church like the church of my childhood, I couldn’t help from crying, because it was like hearing somebody speak my heart language.
It felt like the setting in which I learned to love Jesus. It was exactly like the first time I heard the gospel, and the first time I raised my hands in worship. Everything about that place reckoned back to the early, formative years of my faith. To be in that kind of building, in that kind of atmosphere, hearing those kinds of songs was like hearing my heart language after a long season in a foreign country.
I try not to be critical of other styles of church: different music, or seating, or orders of service, or communion protocol. I also try not to be critical of people that have a very strong preference about those things. I try to remember that they may just be clinging to their heart language.
Hear me: I believe that the gospel is paramount. I believe that it comes before heart-music (or style or language) every time, by a million miles. I believe that we must be willing to leave our country, to learn a new language. If you are clinging to your heart language at the cost of allowing others to hear the good news in THEIRS, you are choosing your comfort over their rescue, and you’ve got to let it go. Reaching people comes first.
But I am not a Puritan. Greater suffering and greater boredom does not necessarily mean greater holiness. I believe that God made things beautiful so that we could worship. Right now, I am a part of a church that is speaking my heart language, both linguistically and musically, and I love it.
What is your musical heart language - in church or otherwise? What album feels like hearing your native tongue for the first time in a long time?