Read Psalm 57.
I have a complicated relationship with music. My singing voice leaves something to be desired. (Some would say it leaves everything to be desired.) When I was in high school, my lack of vocal excellence kept me from all but the bit speaking parts in our high school musicals. One year, I had four separate parts in the same play—basically every male part that didn’t require singing. The only way I know how to make music is by playing a CD. (And yes, I still like CDs.)
At the same time, I appreciate good music. I think I have an ear for what makes a good song. I can usually listen to something once and tell you if it will resonate with a crowd, what’s unusual about it, or what’s off. I’m also a bit of a music fanboy. I read the liner notes, I appreciate the stories behind the songs, and I get attached to certain artists, just as if they were dear, old friends.
That said, I’m jealous of singer-songwriters. They have been given a gift I simply can’t imitate. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been at a show, usually at some small café or intimate theater, and the performer starts telling us—his audience, his new friends—about a difficult season in his life or some tragedy that shook the whole world. He’ll then go on to describe how he got out his guitar or sat at his piano and poured his heart out in the mystery of songwriting.
What rises up from the pain of the moment is something beautiful and lasting, something that will reach far beyond the songwriter’s own bones, giving words to emotions we all feel. It’s like a tender miracle that God gives to musicians that they can, in turn, offer the world. I can write, but it’s just not the same as a song.
Psalm 57, like many other psalms, captures this miracle of songwriting. David describes a difficult season of life, only to sing to the Lord a few verses later. “I am in the midst of lions; I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords” becomes “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth” in an instant (vv. 4–5).
Reading this psalm, you almost get the sense David was saved in order to sing, as if suffering fueled the songwriting. Taking a step back and looking at the whole plotline of Scripture, I can’t help notice that the end of redemption’s story is filled with song too. “All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:4).
Worship is what we were made for, and God has seen fit to allow the brokenness of this world not to hinder that worship, but instead to give us occasion to sing. Just ask Paul and Silas: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). God’s goodness and faithfulness are all the brighter in the darkness of trials. When we sing in the black of night, we rebel against evil. We proclaim the devil’s demise. Neither the curse, nor sin, nor death itself can halt the songs of worship we sing to our Creator.
In the midst of a grim situation, David can sing, “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 57:9–10). You and I may not be songwriters (not yet, anyway), but we can still light up the darkness with the music we sing to the Lord—with our voices and with our lives.