Sacred Music as Prayer
SACRED MUSIC AS PRAYER
A significant aspect of worship music is its role as prayer. . . . [O]verall we tend to view singing and prayer as separate categories. Why we have come to see them so distinctly is uncertain, but the rise of music as entertainment within the evangelical church undoubtedly contributes to this view.
When music in church becomes entertainment, it is objectified as "an event." It turns into something to watch, a spectacle. Such events are necessarily detached from the immediacy of being something in which we are involved. Other worship elements can be treated this way, too. Pastoral prayer can be an aural "spectacle" if members of the congregation are not praying along with the minister. But perhaps more than with spoken prayer, music becomes something done FOR us instead of being done BY us. This disconnection may be amplified by the music-suffused society in which we live (music in the malls, restaurants, elevators, etc.—when it is a mindless backdrop for other activity). We thus become desensitized to music in a public setting, as something in which we are not involved as "doers"—whether we are listening or singing. This musical alienation is a danger prevalent in services with soloists and even choirs—that the parishioner views music as an event he is watching or to which he is listening as a bystander instead of as a participant.
Music, however, often takes the role of prayer. And prayer in the midst of the congregation is to be a group activity.
—Paul S. Jones, SINGING AND MAKING MUSIC: ISSUES IN CHURCH MUSIC TODAY. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2006, pp. 10-11. ISBN 0-87552-617-9
[I greatly appreciate the "entertainment" caution that Dr. Jones articulates here. Of course, all sacred music is NOT prayer, at least in the sense of hearing from and speaking directly to God. Much of the Psalter and many of the great hymns of the faith are testimonies or instruction about God's greatness and goodness. From Psalm 23 to "A Mighty Fortress," from "Of the Father's Love Begotten" to "Before the Throne of God Above"—these are texts that give faithful testimony to the redeeming work of the one true and living God. When I sing these kinds of poems, the response of my heart and mind is something like, "O God, you are awesome and loving and good. Thank you for the truth of your Spirit-breathed Word; thank you for choosing me (a helpless sinner) as your precious child. Please deepen my faith and, through Jesus, accept the worship of my heart, my lips, and my life. Amen!"]
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Have a great week.
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Music and Worship
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
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