The Mystery of Music and The Part We Play

by JUSTIN GRAY 1 Samuel 16:23 “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.”

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The Mystery of Music

I’ve always been struck by this passage of scripture, primarily because of the mysterious effects of David’s music on King Saul.

What was it about music that caused a person so deeply downcast to be refreshed and encouraged? Did David’s harp have a special power to drive away evil spirits?

As I think about these questions, I can’t help but envision young David in the fields tending his sheep when he is suddenly startled by a crack of thunder and flash of lightening. Rising to his feet, he squints his eyes, only to see a soft glow in the dark distance. With caution and great curiosity, he rushes toward the light. His eyes grow as big as watermelons as he peers over a rock to discover the shining HARP OF HEAVEN! An angelic choir sings sweetly in the background as he picks up this God-zapped instrument. And the rest is history.

We all know that’s not how the story goes, and I hope I haven’t offended any Biblical scholars with my gross use of creative license. But most people would agree that there’s something pleasantly mysterious about music. It has a unique multi-dimensional power that affects us in so many ways.

When I was kid one of my favorite events of the year was Christmas caroling with my church group. (Actually, it was probably the only thing I enjoyed about church other than playing basketball in the gym, and sleeping through sermons in the rather comfortable and conveniently unoccupied balcony pews.)

On a freezing Saturday morning, we would gather together in the fellowship hall, hold hands for a quick prayer, and then squeeze our way into the church van. I would nervously rehearse the songs in my head as we rode the roller-coaster of potholes through Detroit to the nearby nursing home. As we exited the van and entered the halls of the facility, I remember a feeling of sullenness that’s hard to put into words - a type of heaviness probably similar to that of the vexed King Saul’s chamber.

I remember passing room after room of old men and women with death hovering over them. I can still see their long faces filled with apathy, loneliness, and resignation.

Our group would huddle up, decide the first song, and begin singing.

None of us had a magical harp, but we did lift our voices in holiday cheer. We sang songs about the coming of Christ. We sang songs about a glorious future where peace would reign and joy would abound.

As we sang, I watched an old woman’s eyes fill up with tears as she clapped her arthritic hands and smiled.

As we sang, I saw a group of people once covered in abandonment and sickness enveloped with laughter and celebration.

As we sang, it was as if they were refreshed and made well again - like a harmful spirit had suddenly departed.

After a round of applause and heart-felt thank yous, we were begged to stay. David stayed with King Saul, but we had to return to our parents. We jumped back on the bus and our caroling adventure was over.

I’m all grown up now with a wife and four small kids and, unfortunately, I don’t have time to go caroling anymore. That old nursing home looks very different today and many of those people we sang for have died.

As I reflect upon this passage in first Samuel, I realize that I’ve experienced the mysterious power of music from both David and Saul’s perspective.

Like Saul, there have been times when I’ve been so discouraged that I didn’t think I could make it another day. And then I hear a song and suddenly there’s a wonderful change. Like that old women in the nursing home, my soul smiles and claps it’s hands. There have been other times when God has allowed me to be the bearer of music to others. Giving me strength to shoe away the vultures circling over a weak and weary soul.

One thing is certain, there are things that God does through music that can’t be done elsewhere. And though I may not completely understand its power, I know life would not be the same without it.

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As songwriters, worship leaders, and musicians, we have a unique ability to harness this mysterious gift to help others. As you and I do the hard work of cultivating our passion and skills, it’s important that we remember the incredible power that music has to elevate, comfort, and speak to hearts like nothing else can.