The impact of music on the human spirit
God sings. The Bible shows that He sings loudly over anyone who turns away from sin and oppression and stays faithful to Him until the end. Made in God’s image, we all have an inbuilt ability to break into song too. Every tribe has its own unique culture of making music to celebrate, mourn, or worship together. God’s Word shows us that there is more to music than just singing because it involves our human spirit.
Zephaniah 3:11-12,17 ESV “On that day you shall not be put to shame because of the deeds by which you have rebelled against me; for then I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. But I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord, The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
Genesis 1:27 ESV So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
All creation sings
Mankind may not fully understand how “all the earth worships and sings praises to God,” or how the “stars sang together,” or how “the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord,” or how God can hear the “cry of Abel’s blood from the ground.”
Psalm 66:4 ESV All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name.” Selah
Job 38:7 ESV when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Psalm 96:11-13 ESV Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Genesis 4:8,10 ESV Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. And the LORD said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.
What we do know is that there is a rhythm to life; from the way our hearts pump blood to the rhythm of the ocean waves, birds singing, whale calls, and frogs croaking. Scientists have found that plants emit electromagnetic variations that can sound like rhythmic music when translated into audible sound at various frequencies. There is so much in the unseen and inaudible that we have yet to understand.
Music in the Bible
Songs are mentioned throughout the Bible, from the first book of Genesis to the last book of Revelation.
The Bible officially records over 180 songs, ranging from praises for God (e.g. Psalm 68), songs for offerings in the temple (2 Chronicles 29:25-30), celebrations over battles (e.g. 1 Samuel 18:6-7, 2 Samuel 6:5), and love songs (Song of Solomon), to songs of grief and lament (Jeremiah 9:10, 2 Samuel 1:17–27, 2 Chronicles 35:25).
The first lyrics recorded in the Bible (Exodus 15) were sung spontaneously by God’s people after their triumphant escape from the Egyptian army through the Red Sea, which God parted for them. Moses and all the people broke into the same song together, praising God for what He had just done to the Egyptians. In that song, they even call God their “song.” Shortly later, Miriam leads the women into a chanting chorus, a type of incantation.
Exodus 15:1-2 ESV Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him,
Exodus 15:20-21 ESV Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”
Here are some other quick facts about music, as mentioned in God’s Word.
1. There are constant music and praises being sung in heaven.
Revelation 14:2-3 ESV And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders…
2. Music in heaven is paired with the fragrant prayers of believers who worship God with pure hearts.
Revelation 5:8 ESV And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.
3. For God’s people, singing is an integral part of worship. King David, for example, appointed worship leaders from amongst the Levite priests.
1 Chronicles 15:16 ESV David also commanded the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers as the singers who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy.
Isaiah 51:3,11 ESV For the Lord comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
4. Songs to God were accompanied by shouting, clapping, hand-raising, dancing, and all types of musical instruments, based on the occasion.
Psalm 33:3 ESV Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
Psalm 47:1 ESV Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
Psalm 134:1-2 ESV Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!
Psalm 150:3-6 ESV 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! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
5. Jesus sang and worshipped the night He told Judas to proceed with his plan to betray Him.
Matthew 26:23-25,30-31 ESV Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “You have said so.” … And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
There also is an important spiritual aspect to music.
The spiritual aspects of music
The Bible lists singing as one of the spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit. In his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul reminded believers to teach and admonish one another with God’s Word and “spiritual songs.” Such songs are to be used to build up the body of believers.
1 Corinthians 14:26 NLT Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.
Colossians 3:16 ESV Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 ESV Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
Music can have a prophetic role to play, where the Holy Spirit inspires disciples of Jesus to sing God’s revelations in a song. It is therefore not surprising that some Holy Spirit-filled believers not only speak in tongues, but also sing in tongues. Even in the Old Testament, we see that the worship leaders appointed by king David “prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals.”
1 Chronicles 25:1 ESV David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals…
Powerful things can also happen when music or musical instruments are played by faith. We see that:
- The walls of Jericho fell after God’s people obeyed His instructions to blow trumpets and shout after a week of circling the walls of the city of Jericho | Joshua 6:20 ESV So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted a great shout, and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they captured the city.
- A harmful spirit left King Saul, who was oppressed by an evil spirit, every time David started to play the lyre, a musical instrument. | 1 Samuel 16:23 ESV And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.
- An earthquake shook the foundations of the prison and sprung open the doors of the jail where the apostle Paul and Silas were imprisoned as they were praying and singing hymns. | Acts 16:25-26 ESV About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.
God Himself filled the place of worship where Moses and the people had gathered to sing praises to Him. His physical presence was so overpowering that no one could remain standing. Genuine worship ushers in the glory of God and brings people to their knees.
2 Chronicles 5:11-14 ESV 11 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place (for all the priests who were present had consecrated themselves, without regard to their divisions, 12 and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters; 13 and it was the duty of the trumpeters and singers to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord), and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, 14 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
But before we are tempted to glorify the power of music, we need to see what God’s Word tells us about the nature of music.
God sees the heart of our music
The Bible shows that we do not just sing with our minds, but our spirits too. We are called to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” and “make melody to the Lord with our hearts.”
1 Corinthians 14:15 ESV What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.
Ephesians 5:18-20 ESV be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
This is the type of spiritual worship worthy of God; when we offer our entire selves back to Him as living sacrifices. In fact, scientists using MRI brain imaging have found that music activates every part of our brains, including the parts responsible for our emotions, creativity, and motor skills. Music can also affect our blood pressure, heart rate, and hormones. Music is a full body-spirit experience.
Romans 11:34-35,2:1 ESV “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” … For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever…I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
God’s Word shows us that we can sing to:
- Praise God | Psalm 104:33-34 ESV I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.
- Proclaim His wondrous works | Psalm 105:2 ESV Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!
- Teach God’s Word | Colossians 3:16 ESV Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
- Give thanks to God | Psalm 33:2 ESV Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!
God hates and rejects religious worship where songs are simply “performed” outwardly, rather than inwardly from our hearts. God pierces right into our hearts and sees any hint of hypocrisy. God is not swayed by impressive acoustics or staging. He wants hearts that first make it a point to love Him and live right before Him. He doesn’t want anyone’s lip service.
Isaiah 29:13 NIV The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
Amos 5:21,23-24 NLT “I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies. Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.
Psalm 19:14 ESV Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
God laments when His people make use of music purely for their personal enjoyment and forget Him or disregard His works in our midst. This has happened in gatherings held in God’s name in the past and it continues until today.
Isaiah 5:12 ESV They have lyre and harp, tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts, but they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands.
There are “Christian worship” songs today that do not sound like the praises sung in the Bible (e.g. Psalm 8, Psalm 145, and Psalm 150) that exalt God above all else and acknowledge His holy name. God’s Word warns us of a time when believers will love ourselves more than Him and this is reflected in many popular Christian songs today.
Hebrews 13:15 ESV Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
2 Timothy 3:1-2,4-5 ESV But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty For people will be lovers of self… rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.
The demonic use of music
God gave us breath so we can praise Him, but we also see the use of music by Satan in idol worship and various forms of witchcraft.
Psalm 150:6 ESV Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
In the book of Daniel, we see that king Nebuchadnezzar, the ancient king of Babylon, made it compulsory for everyone to bow down to and worship the towering golden idol he had made at the sound of any music.
Daniel 3:15 ESV Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”
Then in Revelation 18, we read about Babylon again. This time, it symbolically describes a global economic and religious system where demons and foul spirits hide out. This modern-day Babylonian system has many singers and different types of musical instruments and also uses witchcraft to deceive all the nations i.e. different people groups. Also, see Witchcraft is mainstream and dangerous
Revelation 18:2,21-23 NLT …“Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen! She has become a home for demons. She is a hideout for every foul spirit.. the great city Babylon will be thrown down with violence and will never be found again. The sound of harps, singers, flutes, and trumpets will never be heard in you again… For your merchants were the greatest in the world, and you deceived the nations with your sorceries.
We see that secular music today tends to be about idols such as ourselves, love, sex, drugs, power, and money. The lyrics glorify sorcery, violence, revenge, suicide, death, and even Satan. Even children’s song lyrics can be very ungodly.
Music, sounds, and chanting are also used in New Age and other spiritual “healing therapies”, meditations, and rituals. Some involve bowls, bells, and dances to worship the dead and various gods.
As believers, we need to beware and stay away from such ungodly uses of music. Brain research shows that music taps on a part of our brains that involves empathy and association and binds us emotionally to the singers and lyrics we listen to.
God’s Word makes it clear that we are to keep our bodies, temples of the Holy Spirit away from all forms of idolatrous music, as testified by the testimonies below. May we worship Him with all our hearts, minds, and souls. He is worthy of our praise.
1 Corinthians 3:16 ESV Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
2 Corinthians 6:16-17 ESV What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,
“I’ve always loved music and singing from a very young age. Like a form of escapism, it enabled me to feel strong emotions. I’m quite sensitive to things, especially noise and motion, and music alleviates my motion sickness as it distracts or numbs my senses whenever I’m travelling. I also had trouble falling asleep when I was a child, and I sought to listening to Buddhist chanting that my mother recommended (she was a Buddhist at the time).
I am particularly drawn to pop ballads, R&B music as well as Cantonese pop music, perhaps because of the musical patterns and arrangements that were designed to make us ‘feel’ more. Gradually I learnt to sing along with ballads that ‘sounded’ good without realising that the lyrics that were coming out of my mouth contained messages of sexual immorality, pride, and other works of the flesh.
For more than 20 years, I had been tainting my mouth, heart, and mind with ungodliness and sinful thoughts, until God slowly led me to realise the impact that the music had on me. Praise God was His grace and revelation!
I accepted Jesus Christ as my Saviour in 2012, but continued to listen to pop ballads and other music that glorified heartache and romance – despite warnings from other fellow believers about secular music. Because of my passion for singing, I decided to join the praise ministry in a church. During worship, I felt so nervous when I was singing praise to God because I was so fixated on vocal technicality and music arrangement that was pre-arranged; I didn’t have an active relationship with the Holy Spirit and I was relying on my flesh to sing, and it was emotionally exhausting. It seemed that I (and perhaps many others in praise ministry) had been worshipping the gift of praise, when we should be worshipping the Gift Giver.
By God’s mercy, He brought me to a prayer session where I saw the corruption in my heart and the lies that I had bought into; all those years I had been exposing my soul to lies of the enemy!
Since then, music and worship changed completely. I’ve come to realise that true worship can only happen when our hearts are pure like a child’s – that is when we can meet God’s Spirit face-to-face. If I harbour bitterness or hold onto unforgiveness, it takes a lot more effort to worship the Lord.
Every time I worship, I always pray and ask the Holy Spirit to lead me and acknowledge that it is not by my own works but only by the power of His Spirit. Praise God that I’ve been able to feel so much joy that I can’t help but smile from ear to ear! I also heard from others that they also feel the change in my singing since God’s transformation in me through repentance and confession.
To me, when I worship God (even if it’s before a congregation) it’s just between me and Him – a personal time to thank God and Jesus for what He did for me and time to remind myself of the truth about Him. Being able to focus on Him, I feel that I’m singing from my heart and I’ve stopped worrying about singing with ‘good technique’. I sing for God, and all praise and glory belong to Him.”
Also see other testimonies:
Leading hedonistic music and dance as a deejay: Jesus frees trader from depression
Singing a song that brought curses: Jesus frees manager from blood pact with death
Singing spiritual songs in a sorority: Jesus frees believer from spiritual blindness
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