Four Biblical Ways to Bring the Power of Music into a Church’s Worship Service
God created a universe in which music exists, and God saw that it was very good (Genesis 1:31). And God created human beings in his music-creating, music-loving image.
Music is unique in its power to make us experience different feelings. Film directors use music to direct how we feel watching a particular scene, generating excitement, fear, suspense, joy, sadness, comfort, longing, and more. And we like it because we want to experience movie scenes, not just watch them. Parents around the world and throughout history have known the power of music to soothe their babies to sleep or to redirect toddlers from tears to laughter. There is a God-created soulishness to music that empowers us to experience realities we otherwise miss.
The Bible also tells us that God is a singing God:
“The LORD your God is in your midst, …he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
And we’re told that Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples (Matthew 26:30).
So, it’s no surprise that the Bible shows God using skilled musical artists to enable his people to experience—to feel—his transcendent awe, wonder, and glory.
In the Old Testament, one of the most important roles the priests (also called “Levites”) carried out was to represent the presence of God before his people in worship. And a crucial way they did that was through their music.
Through these Old Testament worship leaders, the Bible reveals four principles that church congregations today can use to bring God’s power of music into our modern worship.
1. God wants a diversity of music instruments and musical styles in worship.
The Bible never directs any particular style of worship music—which in and of itself communicates something significant. Musical style in worship seems open to the musical tastes and instruments of any given culture in which a congregation worships.
But there is a charge for worship leaders to employ a wide diversity of instruments.
When King David (himself a musician and songwriter) directed the priests to become skilled at musicianship, the Bible says, “David told the leaders of the Levites [remember, priests] to appoint their fellow Levites as musicians to make a joyful sound with musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals” (1 Chronicles 15:16). A lyre was a kind of small ancient guitar, as was a harp. Cymbals are percussion instruments.
God’s worship-leading priests who incarnated the presence of God were also told to “make a joyful sound” with a wide variety of musical instruments. Psalm 150 includes this instruction:
“Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!”
And if you dance a bit while playing, all the better!
2. God's Spirit "inhabits" diverse musical worship.
This next biblical passage is amazing to me. When the temple was first completed and dedicated to God, we read that the musicians made loud music that invited God’s Spirit to draw near and inhabit the temple.
“All the Levites who were musicians…stood on the east side of the altar…playing cymbals, harps and lyres. They were accompanied by 120 priests sounding trumpets. The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: ‘He is good; his love endures forever.’ Then the temple of the LORD was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.”
2 Chronicles 5:12–14
The “cloud” in the Old Testament was the visible presence of God’s Spirit. In this passage, God was visibly showing that his Spirit—his “glory”—inhabits his true temple. This was a powerful spiritual and mysterious experience for God’s people to witness.
And it’s a visible demonstration that God’s Spirit also inhabits the musical worship of his people. Priestly musicians led worship with cymbals, little guitars, other instruments, and 120 trumpets! Imagine the sound levels of 120 loud trumpets all at once. After a while, “the singers raised their voices in praise with these lyrics, ‘He is good. His love endures forever.’”
At this crescendo, it says, “Then the temple…was filled with…the glory of the LORD.”
3. We can experience God in worship simply by listening to music without singing.
“The whole assembly bowed in worship, while the musicians played and the trumpets sounded.”
2 Chronicles 29:28
Here, congregational worship happens through instrumental music. No singing. And this happens on an individual level as well.
There’s a strange story in the Bible where Elisha, the prophet, needed to listen to a skilled musician before he could sense the Holy Spirit’s leading. Elisha requested, “Now bring me a musician.” And we read, “When the musician played, the hand of the LORD came upon him. And he said, ‘Thus says the LORD….’” (2 Kings 3:15–16). Something about music—no singing, just music—brought “the hand of the LORD” upon Elisha so he could prophesy.
This demonstrates something powerfully spiritual about instrumental music in worship. And it’s why the Bible says, “Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre” (Psalm 33:2).
This “ten-stringed lyre” was an early version of the double-neck guitar that Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin played in “Stairway to Heaven” and Don Felder of the Eagles played in “Hotel California.” Just kidding.
The point is, the Bible teaches that the mere playing of instruments can “praise the LORD.”
We see the spiritual power of instrumental music when a young, musically talented, Spirit-filled David was in the presence of King Saul. When Saul was being tormented by an evil spirit, the Bible says that “David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him” (1 Samuel 16:23). David’s skilled musicianship could touch the soul of Saul in a spiritually powerful way.
There’s a spiritual power in artistically skilled musicians to touch our hearts and minds in ways spoken words simply cannot do.
4. God wants artistic variety and "new" songs in worship.
There is no style of music prescribed for worship in the Bible. What is prescribed is artistic variety: a wide variety of instruments and a constant introduction of new songs. In the Bible, there are nine instances where God tells his people to sing a “new song” (Ps 33:3, 40:3, 96:1, 98:1, 144:9, 149:1; Is 42:10; Rev 5:9, 14:3).
“Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”
God wants his gathered church to understand and carry out the priority of attracting and developing skilled musicians, vocalists, and songwriters so that his people can worship him in a fresh and varied way.
The Bible makes it clear: a key part of being created in the image of God is to be beings who express our deepest hearts through music and song. As a result, we sense God’s presence in a spiritually profound way when we gather to sing and when we listen to others sing and skillfully play music in worship.