Q: At camp the speaker talked about how music can affect us. I kind of see what he means, but is listening to just regular music that big of a deal? Should I only listen to “Christian” music?

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I wouldn’t go so far as to make sweeping rules about music—like you should only listen to “Christian” music. That smacks of legalism. But I definitely think your camp speaker was onto something. Here’s why:

Music moves us. It touches something deep within our souls. That’s why an epic anthem in a movie makes us want to cheer. A playlist filled with love-songs sparks romance. Funky-fast beats motivate us to push through that last mile of a long run. Soft instrumentals melt away stress.

Have you ever wondered why music moves us so much? The simple answer is that God made it that way. God loves music! That’s why heaven is filled with song (see Revelation 5:9, 14:3, 15:3). Our love for music was part of the package when He made us in His image.

Music has a profound ability to open our souls. In the context of the pure, God-focused worship He originally intended, that vulnerability allows Him to move our hearts in larger-than-life ways. But when sin entered the world, it also messed with our music. We stopped playing our music to express love for God, and began using it to glorify things God stands against. Now, when music opens our souls, it makes us vulnerable to swallow ideas we’d usually spit right out.

Think about it: If you overheard me telling a guy, “You can’t have my heart, and you won’t use my mind, but do what you want with my body,” you’d have the good sense to see I was a flippin’ idiot! But through the medium of a good dance beat, suddenly Lady Gaga’s words aren’t so repulsive.

I’ve been totally guilty of this. I’ve let downright stupid outlooks on life take over my mind and mood because it was a “cool song.” Now that I have the luxury of hindsight, I can see—like a blaring spotlight—the effects my music had on me.

One particular album really affected me. I listened to it all the time. Without meaning to, I memorized every word. Subconsciously the music made me feel alive, dangerous and a tinge rebellious. I thought it was harmless. I didn’t see the connection between listening to that music and the “secret sins” I battled until years later. I’m not saying the songs made me sin, but they sure set the stage. To this day when I hear a song from that album—at the grocery store, on TV, wherever—I have flashbacks of that dark, sinful time of my life. Ironically, I can’t stand to listen to that album anymore.

I still love good music. But now I stick to artists that point me to God instead of away from Him. This is my new criterion:

Don’t cope or crave in unhealthy ways, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let God’s Spirit fill you up till you overflow with praise to God! Sing God-honoring music, with melodies that move your heart to thank God for everything He is and does through Jesus. (Ephesians 5:18-20, my paraphrase)

We can’t make the mistake of writing off the music we listen to as “just” entertainment because it affects us on a deeper level. If you’re serious about staying connected to Jesus (especially if you’re battling secret sins), you need a life soundtrack that is going to pump you up and draw you closer to Him. A simple exchange—unholy tunes for virtuous ones—has the power to radically transform your life.

Does that mean that you can’t ever listen to “secular” music? No. But just like junk food, you’ll stay healthier if you keep in it moderation. If it becomes your main food source, your relationship with God runs the very real risk of getting apathetic and anemic (the spiritual version of “fat and lazy”).

If you think your music might be affecting you (or if you want to find out if it is!), I triple-dog dare you to take the 30-Day Music Challenge:

  • For 30 days, only listen to encouraging music that worships God and/or reminds you to live His way.
  • At the end of the 30 days (or any time during) write down how your moods, thoughts, and emotions have changed.
  • If you need some ideas for music that is big on substance without being boring or lame, check out my “Listening To” board on Pinterest.

As God’s family, we should have the corner market on music that both touches our souls and makes us want to dance, right? I mean, we should have the most joy and the most reason to sing and dance like madmen in all this big, wide world because of what Jesus has done for us. So bring on the dance beats, melodious harmonies, or lovely ballads. And let’s remember that we’re not missing out on anything by feasting on good music instead of binging on junk.

Love,

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