There’s music in the air

Practice and effort create a joyful song to praise the Lord.

Glenn L. Schwanke

I’m at my office computer. My mind is burrowed deeply into a Hebrew text study for this coming Sunday’s sermon. Yet little by little, my thoughts are gently nudged away from Hebrew grammar. Why? There’s music in the air!

Where’s it coming from? Not from the hundreds of MP3s I’ve got squirreled away on my hard drive. (Nor is the music streaming from a Web site like Spotify or IHeartRadio.)

Instead the music is coming from our chapel. College students in our Lutheran Collegian group are practicing again.

That happens a lot these days. Maybe they’re practicing the hymns and liturgy for an upcoming service. Maybe someone is practicing a solo to be used during the offertory or as a reading response. Maybe two vocalists, male and female, are working on a duet. Maybe a keyboardist is smoothing out some timing issues with another student who is playing the guitar. Maybe a small ensemble of flutes and clarinets are rehearsing. But one way or another there’s music in the air.

As I sit back in my office chair and allow the music to wash through me, I’m humbled. I’m also filled with thanks. Why?

These college students usually spend hour after hour practicing for worship. Sometimes that’s because they are nervous; it’s the first time they will be playing for a service. Usually there’s another reason. These young adults take worship very seriously. They practice and practice and practice because they want to glorify the Lord with their music. They spend hours working on their fingering or fine-tuning the dynamics of a piece, even though their playing already sounds sublime to the untrained ear. They practice even though they are swamped with assignments, projects, and papers at school. They practice even on a Friday or Saturday night, when they could be hanging out with friends. They practice, because they want to give their very best to the Lord who gave us his very best.

Sometimes when I listen to the students practice, I’m struck by something else. I don’t know the music. It is new to me. So I need to ask questions about it. Who is the composer? Who wrote the lyrics? May I preview the lyrics?

Why do I ask those questions? I know that our gracious Lord has given us New Testament Christians breathtaking flexibility and freedom when it comes to the forms of music we use. Paul’s encouragement to the Colossians proves that. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). However, the “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” of Paul’s day and the different musical genres available to us today still need to breathe “the word of Christ.” The sweetest music, played ever so skillfully, does little good if the message isn’t soundly scriptural. Instead, it can do great harm.

These college students get that too. So they patiently bring their “aged” campus pastor up to speed on the music they prepare. Then that music is introduced in worship for the first time. It’s repeated, and soon it becomes one of my favorites—and one of the congregation’s favorites too.

But now it’s time for me to get back to my text study. The music I hear drifting in from our chapel is an added encouragement for me to do my very best in preparing next Sunday’s sermon.

Glenn Schwanke, pastor at Peace, Houghton, Michigan, serves as campus pastor at Michigan Technological University.

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Author: Glenn L. Schwanke
Volume 101, Number 1
Issue: January 2014

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