I was once told by a fellow Christian that church musicians should not practice their music, because the Holy Spirit will work through the music just as it is on Sunday morning.
Is there Biblical justification for music practices? I think there is.
Psalm 33.1-3: ‘Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.’
The phrase in this passage that grabs my attention is: ‘play skillfully on the strings.’ There’s a misconception in some circles that when the Spirit moves, he moves through ecstatic, uncontrolled, unpracticed music. Apparently that’s not what the Psalmist thinks, because he calls for skillful playing. For all but the exceptionally talented, skillful playing requires patient honing of skill, and that requires practice.
The phrase ‘play skillfully’ is composed of two Hebrew words. The first word means to ‘make something good’ and the second word means ‘to play music.’ When that first word, to ‘make something good,’ is combined with other Hebrew words, it can mean ‘to speak well’ (Deuteronomy 5.28; 18.17) or ‘to walk in a stately fashion’ (Proverbs 30.29) or ‘to make someone more glorious’ (1 Kings 1.47) or ‘to adorn one’s head’ (2 Kings 9.30). When combined in a slightly different grammatical construction it means ‘to inquire thoroughly’ (Deuteronomy 13.14; 17.4; 19.18). In other words, this word refers to doing something in a good and pleasing way. When used with the Hebrew verb ‘to play,’ as it is in Psalm 33.3, the meaning is ‘to play skillfully.’ This is also the meaning in 1 Samuel 16.17; Isaiah 23.16; Ezekiel 33.32.
Here are a few more verses that suggest that those who led the worship of God in the Old Testament period valued skillful playing and singing in their worship:
‘Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful’ (1 Chronicles 15.22).
In his old age, David organized the priests and Levites of Israel for their role in the worship of God. He made sure the singers were good at what they did. ‘Their number who were trained in singing to the LORD, with their relatives, all who were skillful, was 288’ (1 Chronicles 25.7).
‘The men did the work faithfully with foremen over them to supervise: Jahath and Obadiah, the Levites of the sons of Merari, Zechariah and Meshullam of the sons of the Kohathites, and the Levites, all who were skillful with musical instruments…’ (2 Chronicles 34.12).
Of course, skillful playing and singing does not guarantee worship that is pleasing to God. Ephesians 5.18-21 makes clear that pleasing worship comes from Spirit-filled people, is directed to the Lord in the context of the gathered community, arises from an undivided heart, is full of thanksgiving, and is accompanied by mutual submission among believers and reverence to Christ.
One of our values at PCF is ‘undistracting excellence.’ We try to be prepared and ‘skillful’ in our leading of worship in song and prayer and preaching so that God’s people are led, not into worship of us, but into worship of God. I’m grateful for the hard work of our worship leaders and teams every week, as they seek to lead us into an experience of the great, Almighty Triune God.