How Music Can Meaningfully Shape Your Sabbath
“By the seventh day, God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2-3).
The Sabbath is a distinct day; it is unique, consecrated, set apart. The seventh day is listed among the Ten Commandments that God delivered to Moses from Mount Sinai for the people of Israel. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:8-10).
Ann Swindell, in an article for RELEVANT, describes the significance of Sabbath:
“When we press the pause button on our striving and realize that the world continues spinning just fine without our work, we are tangibly acknowledging that God is the maker and sustainer of our lives.”
We would be wise to press pause on work based on the aforementioned verses and simply rest on Sabbath. It’s usually easy to rest from chores around the house or request the day off from work. What about entertainment, though – like music?
Music is present in our lives seven days a week. In the words of legendary singer and songwriter Stevie Wonder, “Music is a world within itself. It is a language we all understand.” Music fills the space between school and studies, sports and siblings, stress and Sabbath. We press play on our iPod or smartphone app to be transported into the midst of a favorite artist or band who sings our favorite tune.
Unlike our heavenly Father who rested on the seventh day after his cosmic, prodigious labor, we have a hard time resting and powering our minds down from media. The beat goes on, but the way that we approach music on Sabbath can have a far-reaching impact on our faith. Let’s begin with the Sunday alarm clock.
I tend to be old school and prefer an alarm clock that’s plugged into the wall and buzzes loudly at the appointed time. Many of you, however, wake up to a smartphone alarm with a more relaxing melody or trendy tune. Speaking of which, if you like to listen to music in preparation for church, be intentional about the artists on Sunday morning. Select songs that will begin to stir your spirit and tune your thoughts towards God. Consider Psalm 135:3:
“Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.”
A pleasant, edifying song to God is a good way to start Sabbath.
Enter His Gates
The drive to church is the natural extension of the time preparing for church. There are numerous radio stations to choose from, and for those of you who still have a CD collection (compact disc, in case the abbreviation dates me too much), I’m sure it’s highly diverse in artists. Scan the preset stations or choose an album that edifies the Father and prepares your heart for time with Him during the drive time to church. Choose to enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise (Psalm 100:4).
Worship, which typically precedes the sermon from the minister, seems self-explanatory. But the truth of the matter is that worship is not about what songs are selected and whether we like them or not. Is there anyone else who will own the disappointment of not hearing their favorite song at church?
At its core, worship is our individual and collective response to the love of God and the arresting truth that He reconciled us unto himself once and for all through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our worship is the natural outflow of this, and Psalm 104:33 is strong confirmation.
“I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.”
Coda (The End of the Piece)
When church concludes, are there any guidelines for the rest of Sabbath? Here are a few suggestions that I try to observe to the extent that I can remember and accomplish them.
First, I strive to play songs that echo the aim of the day: edifying God. For instance, as a runner, if I go for a run on Sunday morning before or after church, I assemble a playlist of both fast and slow pace songs that underscore the purpose of the run – worship. Hillsong and Planet Shakers tend to occupy many spots, though I still tuck DC Talk, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Petra into the lineup too (I’m a 1990s guy). Ask your parents about Petra.
What’s unique about a Sabbath playlist is that there’s seemingly no limit to the possibilities, thanks to iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, and other music apps. If it seems like your collection is overplayed, might I suggest that you explore new genres that still exalt God in the message? Take “Amazing Grace,” what may be regarded as the most important hymn in history. Do some searching and then stand back in amazement at the number of musicians who have covered this magnificent song. Start with “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes. Follow it up with Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Randy Travis, and Chris Tomlin.
The focus of Sabbath is rest – physical rest. Refraining from work or errands is the point of the seventh day. I sporadically stumble on keeping this commandment, but I continue to strive towards that end. Of course, I should stop striving all together and heed the words of Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
Music has a way of reinforcing the presence of this special day. Sabbath is praising God for who he is and what he’s done. The final line of Psalm 150 summarizes how music and Sabbath should ideally intersect.
“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.”