Music plays an integral role in our formative years. As a dad to four, I regularly get the eye-roll from my high school daughter when I crank the tunes of my youth and tout how THAT was when music was good and how today’s musicians are largely big corporation products rather than authentic artists. But I digress.
The fact that music shapes us so dramatically leads most of us to be passionate about our tastes in music. Having been in student ministry for nearly 20 years now, I’ve seen so very clearly the role music plays in the life of a high school student. I recently asked a roomful of teens what type of media they’d be willing to live without. Nearly every one of them declared they couldn’t live without music. It’s incredibly powerful. And it might be something we’d do well to give a bit more thought to.
Now let me assure you, I’m no legalist that claims to listen to only “Christian” music. I love Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, and U2. I love Five Iron Frenzy, Matt Redman, & Hillsong. I love Steve Miller Band, Billy Joel, and Bon Jovi. I love David Crowder, Gungor, and Vigilantes of Love. So don’t think I’m pinpointing any particular type of music.
Every style has its own inherent message. Listen to rap music, and you’ll think life is about stacking ‘dem g’s and smacking ‘dem ‘s. Listen to country music and you’ll think life is about getting that porch swing kiss, throwing back that shot of whiskey, sitting on that tailgate, and bemoaning that lost love. Listen to mainstream pop and you’ll think life is about dance, and fame, and fun, and carefree, go-with-whatever-is-in-front-of-you kind of living. Slice it anyway you want to: What goes in our ears goes in our heart. And what goes in our heart comes out our mouth. (Proverbs 4:23, Luke 6:45)
I don’t believe that music is all-powerful and that looking into your iTunes is looking into your soul. But I do believe that I can make a direct connection between the music a teenager regularly listens to and the general attitude of that teenager’s heart. I’ve seen it too many times to discount the undeniable power of music.
So, what is the answer? Well, if you believe there is one I think it starts with a return to two powerful words and understanding the difference and similarities between them: Entertainment and Edification.
The mind set only on entertainment will justify its intake of otherwise objectionable content. It will say things like “I just like the rhythm. I just like the bass. I just like the melody. I don’t listen to it for the lyrics.” But if that’s true, how it is that the same person can sing along to every word? Saturation, that’s how. Because being entertained has won out over being mindful of intake.
The mind set on edification looks and listens through a different lens. Not a lens that says everything not a hymn is from hell, but a lens that is more discerning and more discriminating. That mind knows that there ought to be a portmaster checking the cargo of every ship that would seek entrance into its harbor. That mind knows that “all good things come from God” (James 1:17) and that Jesus didn’t die to make us legalistic, party-pooper, rule-followers. He died to make us alive and free. And we are fully alive and fully free when we live lives that revel in Him, His goodness, His creativity, His grace, and His presence.
So know that your ears and heart are indelibly connected and as you enjoy the gift of music, you are shaped by the power of music. Don’t be afraid to make split-second decisions on what you allow in, knowing that what comes in will find its way out in how we think, speak, and live.