The Power of Your Musical Gift
By Don Potter
Let me explain for a minute what life a gifted musician might be coming out of, if he has come to know the Lord or in the case of one raised in the church, what life he might be trying to get into. I am drawing much of this from my own experience. I’ve been a professional musician for thirty six years. Professional means someone who has, on occasion, made a few dollars playing music he hopes others will like.
I found my hope in Jesus when I was thirty five. By the time I got saved I had already played musically, with some success, for twenty two years. I had learned many things along the way as a musician, such as how to please men; how to be the life of the party; how to use my gift to make friends and influence people; how to not be a responsible person because I was too busy being creative; how to make music a god; and under no conditions would I ever let anyone see that I didn’t know what I was doing. There are many more things I learned to do with this gift but that would bring too much attention to the works of the devil, so I will not go any further.
By the time a musician has played for twenty years, he or she has probably gained an understanding of how to manipulate the emotions of others, because that is essentially what we are called to do with our music. If it does not influence emotions it will not be successful. Many musicians are different and strange to those who are not musicians, so they often have a hard time getting along in life. Because of this, when they learn that their gift can manipulate others, they can be very tempted to use it for their own purposes. In fact, that is what the secular music world teaches musicians that they should do with their gift. In many cases it is the difference between survival or the death of their musical success, which to them is nothing less than their identity.
These are all things which the devil and the world try to do to both music and musicians. In Ezekiel we see that Lucifer was the worship leader in heaven. Music was his domain there, and after he fell he has been determined to keep that domain. Music is one of his most powerful tools for keeping men under his dominion, and for leading them into self-worship or idolatry which keeps them from the true worship of God. Therefore, when we use music for a true worship of God, and break free from all of the evil yokes that have been placed on music and musicians, we are taking a very powerful tool out of the hands of the enemy. Without question, music is one of the important battle grounds between light and darkness.
While we may cast out demons with a word, we must wrestle with principalities to displace them. Satan is the ultimate principality, and music is one of his ultimate weapons. That is why music was used as a weapon of warfare in the Scriptures, even to the point where the musicians marched in front of the army (see II Chronicles 20:20-23). However, we must recognize that there will be a mighty struggle over the power of music, and for the soul of every musician. That is why it is important for us to understand the strongholds that Satan has established through music, and over music, and how they can affect each of us.
Many musicians begin their professional career by playing “top forty” night clubs. Top forty songs are the ones which have proved popular with the world, so the club owner knows these will make his customers happy. But more than that, it will be the music that will make them drink a lot. The main point is to keep them coming back. If you don’t comply to these demands, you will be fired as a musician at the typical night club, which is one of the most common places for the musician to use his gift.
The top forty musician will usually start experiencing some frustration when he finds out he is not allowed to be creative or offer anything that could threaten the club owners’ hope of selling drinks. If the band is too loud and plays too long, the people will dance too much and not drink enough. If the band is too soft, the crowd will go home or to another club. One must learn how to control the people just right to be successful. To the employer of this type of musician, controlling the people is more important that making good music.
After the top forty night clubs, the other options for musicians are quite limited. Unless you have an extraordinary gift which allows you to write some original music and perform it for a listening audience, you will have to get some other work to make an income. A few can become studio musicians, others road players with a traveling act. A very tiny percentage may be able to gain part time work with a symphony. Those are about the limits for musicians who want to work in their field. This means that to do what you feel called to do you must still comply with all of the demands put on you, and will have your own creativity frustrated. To escape this, your own creative gift will have to be recognized, but there is hardly any way for it to be since there is no place for it to be expressed. This breeds a deep frustration in many musicians, and also an almost constant drive toward self-promotion. Of course, this is contrary to the reason for which the gift was given to us�to worship God. In this way Satan has been able to keep strong yokes on most who would enter what he still believes is his domain�music.
This also breeds a fierce competition among musicians. Because there is such competition, the music companies are able to sign musicians and artists for such low pay that most are also constantly struggling just to pay the rent and eat. Even those who have top hits must stay on the road most of the time to make a living and pay their bills. That is why few artists stay on top for more than a couple of years. They burn out quickly and their creativity is sapped by the system.
Naturally all of this bleeds over into the musician’s family life. For many the choice is to either lose their families or quit the music business altogether. If they choose their families over their gifts, they will often spend their lives wondering what might have happened had they stayed in music, or just resenting all those who look like they’re making it. Sounds like a pleasant life doesn’t it?
I am only touching the surface of what a complicated life the gift of creativity can be. Since the gift was given for the express purpose of blessing God, by offering up to Him the fruit of the seed He planted, then any other use of it is a misuse. That does not mean one can never be successful using their gifts in secular venues anymore than we should say that a gifted carpenter should only use his gift to build churches. It does mean that we must first offer our gift to God, and let Him decide if making us famous is what will bring glory to His name.
As stated, the “top forty” musician does not make up the entire music world, but his plight is typical and is a good example of what almost every musician faces when trying to use that which is a love of their life�playing music.
Discerning the Gifts
It is believed by many Christian musicians that all one had to do with his or her gift was to do Christian things with it. Get a Christian record contract and get famous for the work of the Lord. That’s a nice thought, but so far very few are really sold out to whatever the Lord wants for them. The same way that the world promotes, and uses music for manipulation and actual self-promotion, has become the way of much of the Christian music business as well. The amount of records that the world sells has become the goal of the Christian business. The idea of bringing the gospel to the lost through radio may have been a motive used by many to justify this self-promotion, but that is usually just a self-delusion to justify the sin of self-promotion. The Truth is too challenging for the “top forty” masses, so the truth must be compromised out of the music to make it the way many want to, supposedly for the sake of the truth. The fact is, singing about the reality of Jesus working in your life, and the Holy Spirit convicting us of our sin, does not sell, even to a Christian audience.
So we have done the next best thing. We glorify the gifts of the Christian. Who can sing the highest note. Who has more control over their voice. Who is able to play the hottest lick on their instrument, etc. And all of these envious ideas came from years of listening to the music produced by the world. Just being able to do all of these things will not lift up the name of Jesus.
I have played on many mainstream hit records, and later on some Christian projects, and there is often more reality and truth on the music of the world than that produced by many popular Christian artists. This is probably the reason why the young Christian hopefuls have set their sights on being like the musicians of the world. This is not to say that there are no Christian artists with a heart for God, and some are doing their best to be faithful to the call on their lives; it’s just not promoted in the business of selling CDs, and is actually very rarely found, even in Christian music.
Is Trying to Get Famous a Good Idea?
Isaiah 2:12 says, “For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low.” It’s interesting that this Scripture does not try to make allowances for certain people or things. It says EVERY ONE that is lifted up. That means, not only am I in trouble for lifting myself up, but I’m in trouble for letting myself be lifted up unless it is by God.
First Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.” This Scripture would make a lot of people in the music business uncomfortable, but it is the truth of God’s word, and if we are going to serve Him we must live by His words, not the ways of the world, even if those ways will make us “successful” quicker.
It has been my experience over the many years of playing, that the truly gifted musicians are not as interested in lifting themselves up as much as improving on their instrument. Though often the only way to survive in the business was to promote yourself, the truly gifted musicians are not nearly as interested in trying to get famous. Then who is trying to get them famous? Good question. The answer is record companies.
Record companies for the most part do not have musicians as their executives. So what is left is the competitive sale of the creative efforts of non-self-promoting people. Since it is easier to sell someone that is interested in lifting themselves up, it’s better for business to find those kinds of acts, and let the non-self-promoting-only-interested-in-getting-better ones go. That is why top hits and top acts are seldom produced by those who really are the most gifted. It has been my experience that those who are bent on getting famous are often not very good players or performers, but they do “sing the tune” that the record companies want to hear. Fame for the artist converts to record sales. Period.
So over the years the generally challenging quality of music has been slowly decreasing, because the ones that were bent on getting famous, have been doing so. This meant that glitter had to increase because the substance decreased. And glitter is what has attracted many to sell all for a moment in the spot light. Again I must qualify this by saying there are many great musicians and singers that are recording and doing quality work, but there are just not many in the mainstream of the music business, and it is getting more and more rare.
When the quality of talent started to decrease, the demand for entertainment went up. The almighty audience wanted something to move them. So like any good businessmen, the companies gave ’em what they wanted. If the music wasn’t good, you just showed more skin. If the artist was ugly, you fired them and got somebody sexy. If the sexy act is not gifted, you fix them up with high-tech equipment. You can see where I’m going with this.
Our artists and entertainers are a lot more imaginary then most suspect. We are not seeing what we are seeing, and we are not hearing what we are hearing. Still once in a while, a talented one gets through the maze. But for that talented one to survive, he must add glitter to his act, because it has now become expected, and is actually interpreted as a sign of success. And because the bad performers have been electronically made good, the good performers now sound inferior when nothing is done to their records. The prince of the air really does have a stronghold over what gets played on the air.
This is only a brief explanation of some of the experiences a musician can go through before he or she comes to the church. It can take a long time for them to go through the process of having their minds renewed, or to be healed of all of the spiritual and emotional wounds they have suffered. We will seldom get a musician who comes to the church who is a perfect worshiper of God, but this is their calling if they have been musically gifted by God, and it is worth paying the price to get them free and healed, but that does not mean it will be easy.
Musicians in the Tabernacle of David
Now in contrast to that way of life, we have the Levitical priesthood in the time of king David. There were thirty eight thousand Levites and all of them had made their own instruments, played from the earliest ages, knew the Scriptures by heart by the age of thirty (see I Chronicles 23:3), and all of their needs were provided for them by the church. After thirty years they were ready to be chosen by lot, not by talent or self-promotional skills (see I Chronicles 24:31, 25:1). Then they were ready to minister to the Lord, prophesy on their instruments with their gifts of music. They were commanded by David to minister to the presence of God continually (see I Chronicles 16:37). Their duties were to carry the burden of the presence of God (see I Chronicles 15:2), and to minister to Him in the tabernacle.
Only four thousand of the thirty eight thousand were picked to minister in the
tabernacle on the instruments of music (see I Chronicles 23:5), and they went in shifts for
twenty-four hours a day. They all qualified for the job, but only four thousand were chosen. The rest of the Levites did the daily things that were needed in the tabernacle, such as keeping the doors, taking care of the grounds and the tent itself, making sure all the sacrifices that were offered were unblemished, and, in general, ministering to the people as well as the needs of the tabernacle. Needless to say, their responsibilities were essential to the dwelling place of God, but most of them were not doing what was probably the chief love of their life but a small portion of the time. Out of those who were willing to serve, four thousand would be chosen at a time to lead the worship.
How awesome it must have been to be in the presence of God continually, much less to be faced with ministering to His presence. The quality of praise must have been the best that it could be. This sheds a completely different light on the true role of a musician. They served God. They sometimes served Him with their instruments, but if they were not chosen to do that, they served Him in other ways. But above all, they served, they were not there to be served. Somewhere between the Levitical priesthood and the “top forty” musician, things got sideways.
Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine.
They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands (Isaiah 5:11-12 Niv).
The word banquets here means a place where people drink and gather together. Sounds like a top forty night club. This also sounds like what might have happened to the job of musician. It’s very much like the club owner and the people that had little regard for the deeds of God. Gifting, whether used for good or evil, will be determined by the one that it is trusted to. There is a system out there ready to devour all who will serve it, but the choice is still ours whether to serve this system or not.
It is easy to understand why most musicians prefer success over service, acceptance over rejection, so they will do what ever is demanded of them. However, it is up to each of us to determine whether we will compromise and bow down to the devil and his ways, or serve the Lord His way. However, the church does not always make this choice an easy one. The reason is that the system that rules over much of the church, and over popular Christian music, is the way of the world and not the way of God. It is therefore understandable why so many Christian musicians fall to the other traps and sins of the world, since there is often little to distinguish what they do with their gifts in church from what they do with them in the world. This is not to justify their fall, but it is understandable.
The Meaning of Entertainment
“Entertain” means, “to hold together; to keep the interest of and give pleasure; to divert and amuse.” Because the afterfix -tain often means to keep out, or to hold up, such as in de-tain, “entertain” can be the counter to “entering-in.” The prefix a- is also usually used as a negative, or counter, as “amusement” is actually a counter word to “musing,” or deeply reflecting on something. That is of course the effect of entertainment and amusement; it occupies us without requiring us to think, or to enter in ourselves. Music can do the same thing. If music is to be used to help bring the church into the presence of the Lord in worship, it must be used to help us enter in, not entertain. There can be a subtle difference between the two, but the ultimate result of each is profoundly different.
True worship does not require us to disengage our minds, but rather to focus them on Him. In effect, we do worship that which has our attention. If when we are worshiping our attention is more on the music than on the Lord, the music has usurped the place of the Lord, and an idol that has eclipsed Him as the focus of our attention. Now much of the church seems to have tried to remedy this by playing only the most dull music which is not in danger of capturing anyone’s attention, but this is actually only demeaning to the glory of the Lord. When we really begin to see the glory of the Lord there will not be any music that can distract us, regardless of how wonderful it is. If we are called to worship Him with our music, we must give Him our very best, but we must understand that the music is the sacrifice, the offering, the One we are offering it to is the reason for the music.
We can call ourselves Christians, but if our attention really is on the ways of the devil, or on self-promotion, then we are not worshiping God in Spirit and in truth. If we are going to use our musical gifts to worship God, we must learn to “muse deeply” on what our singing and playing in the temple is accomplishing, or we may go on playing but the presence of the Lord will have departed.
In David’s tabernacle the musicians were instructed to minister to the Lord. When was this changed to minister to the people? When did the demands of the people become a priority over ministering to God? The Levitical priests who were not chosen to minister in music were the ones that came out of the tabernacle to minister to the people. The musicians stayed in the tabernacle continually offering thanks and praise to God.
What Did David Do?
First Chronicles 16:4 says, “And he [David] appointed certain of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, and to record, and to thank and praise the LORD
God of Israel.” “Record” meant that scribes heard the new songs that were being offered to God in thanksgiving and they were written down. There are one hundred and fifty of these psalms in our Bible. Seventy three were written by David. Forty nine were anonymous. That means many new songs came forth unto God that were recorded, but no one knew who was singing them. When the king came in the tabernacle for his worship time and began singing his prayers and praise to God, the scribes knew it was him. Thus, much of what David offered in song to God was recorded. The same happened for Asaph and others, but there were also others that came from unknown worshipers, but they were good enough to become canon Scripture.
This implies that it is right that even that which is meant to be used in worship to God be recorded and shared with the people. However, this was not done just to bless the people, but rather to also stir the people to worship God. In David’s tabernacle the people were also allowed into the courts of the Lord to praise Him. Anyone could come into His courts with praise as long as he entered His gates with thanksgiving.
In this same way our music that is truly an offering to God should stir the people, but not toward ourselves or our gift. Even though each thirty year veteran musician was obviously playing his very best before the God of Israel, he was doing it for the God of Israel, not recognition. Christian musicians should be the best, and offer the best to God, but for His sake, not our own. As the Lord Himself made clear in John 7:18:
He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the one who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him (NAS).
What Does the New Testament Say?
In 1 Corinthians 14:26 Paul wrote,
What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification (NAS).
The word translated “psalm” here means, “the old songs to which new hymns and praises are added.” Paul sounds like he is instructing the same thing that David was in the tabernacle. But now we have the extra advantage of the old hymns and the new song of praise. The new song has more to do with singing what’s in your heart to God.
I know this all sounds like disorder after Paul instructs us to be orderly. But if we can remove from our minds the idea of stage and performance in front of people in the church, and know that we are all just worshipers of God, then I won’t care what you are singing unto the Lord, and you won’t even know what I’m singing to Him, because we are not focusing on one another but on Him. One doesn’t have to have a microphone to be able to worship God with the new song.
Could We Remove the Stage?
Does the idea of a stage and performance in the church come from the Scriptures? No. It comes from the world. I have watched many people completely change their personalities when faced with the task of getting on stage and singing or preaching to others. This is like saying that the reality of their own true personality was not acceptable in front of the masses. It is what has become known as a TV personality. Who taught us that? Why do we think we have to imitate it? Now there are some practical reasons for having a stage, especially for preaching or ministering in large rooms. The remedy may not be to remove the physical stage as much as the stage mentality in our heart, but sometimes it may mean removing the physical stage.
If we follow the lead that Jesus left for us, we see someone who always taught the truth and said whatever He was told by His Father. That sometimes offended most who were present. I can’t imagine any show-biz tactics being used by the Lord of Lords. Isaiah 53 says He had no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him. His strategy was truth, not appearances.
When He spoke to the multitudes in Matthew 5, He was addressing some of the most oppressed people on the earth. They were slaves in their own land, poor and deprived of the freedom that most men enjoyed, and filled with anger, hate and hopelessness. They were waiting for Messiah to come and crush their oppressors so they could be free again in the Lord. And His speech begins with, “blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). He probably didn’t draw a lot of applause for that sermon. Come to think of it, He probably did not get much applause for any of His sermons. Would He now if He preached in our church?
The performance spirit is ingrained deeper than we think. As long as a congregation is sitting in judgment, like an audience does at a concert, those who get in front of them will be faced with the age old problem of acting like someone they believe will be acceptable to the audience. Then it becomes a battle of the opinions. If opinion is held in higher regard than discernment, we as the congregation will reward those who meet our expectations, rejecting all that does not measure up�and not much of what is truly God will measure up to our present appetites for entertainment over substance. In doing this, we get our desires met, or the desired results from the people, but are we getting the results we need from God?
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (II Timothy 4:3 NIV).
Will this be what is written about our generation? We know that the Lord returns for a church that worships Him, not the world, or those who worship it. We are all making the choice now if we are going to be that church whose passion for Him compels Him to come for us. Worship is one of the powerful ways that has been given to us to express our love for Him, and in some ways even prepare our hearts for Him. Those who recapture the true meaning of worship, and the true use for which music was created, will have displaced the evil one from one of his most powerful strongholds, but even more importantly, captured the attention of our Lord. He will draw near to those who draw near to Him, and worship, in all of its different facets, is how we draw near to Him.
This article The Power of Your Musical Gift by Don Potter is excerpted from The Morning Star.