Do you think that art is a way of worshipping and connecting with God? Have you ever wondered why we sing songs in church in addition to hearing a sermon?
I want to take you back now to a time when you intently pursued God. What would it look like for you to connect with God in a relationship closer than even your strongest friendships?
Connecting with God through art begins with learning how to praise and complain to God. I know the importance of both from experiences in my own life. Many times, I’ve written poems and songs to express my feelings towards God and find His help in the midst of them. These times of crying out to God in my darkest points and reminding myself of who He is, is the very essence of art. Art is a conversation with our Creator. Art is rekindling the fire of passion we once had for Him.
This process of creating something beautiful is often messy, and it involves more complaining towards God and even arguing with Him than Christians generally think is acceptable, but doesn’t God say in Isaiah 1:18:
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool. (ESV)
This idea that the people of God are to “reason” [or (as an ESV footnote says) “dispute”] with the Lord is deeply important not only in Isaiah, but throughout the whole story of Scripture. Time and time again, David “reasons” with the Lord by expressing his agony and joy in the Psalms, singing phrases such as this in Psalm 22:1:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (ESV)
Jesus exclaims the same lamentation as David in the book of Matthew while he is on the cross, thereby giving a glimpse of how important David’s inspired complaint to God was to him.
God uses David in this example to show that art is not merely about expressing how we feel, but about reminding ourselves and those around us about the truth of God in the middle of our painful situation. Right after David pours out his feelings about God’s absence, he sings in verses 3-5:
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame. (ESV)
This pattern of complaint and praise towards God continues throughout the Psalms, and is still important for Christians to observe today when worshipping God through art. Whether, we are singing songs in church or engaging in any other activity involving art, we should always seek to glorify God through it. And ultimately, God receives glory from both our praises and our deepest cries of pain.
Dave and Alicia Radford (right) of The Gray Havens playing at Bryan College
Dave and Alicia Radford of Christian Narrative Pop Folk Band The Gray Havens deal with both praise and complaint in their music. The following interview demonstrates this unique perspective on art.
BEN: How has writing music encouraged you in your faith?”
ALICIA: I’m always thankful how there are glimpses of the Gospel in our songs because I need to hear the Gospel again and again, and I need to be reminded of the promises of God.
DAVE: I’m going into writing to stimulate emotion. Part of what we do is to awaken wonder and joy for the Lord and His glory through song, and writing is a like a therapeutic way of awakening that wonder and joy for the Lord in myself emotionally.
BEN: How has your narrative style of songwriting and singing factored into how you awaken wonder and joy?
DAVE: I think people respond to stories; I think we’re a storied culture, a storied people. And Jesus is always using stories to illustrate something or get a point across in the Gospels, so I think that stories help draw you in and make what you’re saying more hearable.
ALICIA: In [Rankin Wilbourne’s book] Union with Christ, I learned that Jesus himself uses so many metaphors to illustrate what the relationship between Him and His church looks like, because in some ways you can’t just say it. You have to see it in a picture.
BEN: How do you think music plays into worship? Music is something we do every week in church, so why do you think we choose to sing songs?
DAVE: I think it’s just how we’re made. People have said that if there’s one universal language that would transcend culture and time, it’s music. I think it’s just something about how God has wired us to be.
ALICIA: I think I’ve heard it said about Martin Luther that he was a good preacher and a good lecturer, and that people were afraid of what he was saying because they were things that were not commonly held at the time. But the people weren’t as much afraid of that as the songs that he wrote, because people would be singing them and the songs were spreading.
My time with The Gray Havens moved me to think about the art that has helped me connect with God. What are some of the songs, books, and other forms of art that have helped you connect with God? Please share in the comments below or with a friend.
Ben Reagan is a sophomore at Bryan College who’s busy trying to figure out his major when he’s not having deep and humorous conversations with friends. He enjoys writing poetry, songs, fictional stories, and accidentally placing himself in countless awkward situations.
Links to The Gray Havens Music: