musicprayer

Music During Prayer

One of the men in the church I serve mentioned something to me that I had never thought of before.  He said that music played during prayer distracted and confused him.  Whether it was the keyboards lightly played or a guitar quietly picked, it was distracting to his focus upon and attention to the prayer.  And he wasn’t speaking of music poorly played.  In fact, the better the ability of the guitarist or keyboardist, the more distracting it can be.  He wasn’t sure if he was to listen to the music or the prayer.  He wasn’t sure if the leadership wanted him to meditate to the music or participate in the prayer.

Music well done is hard to ignore and music poorly done is difficult to bracket out.

Was he to be engaged in the prayer or was he to be enjoying the music?

My first reaction (in myself) to his comment (and it was a comment, not a complaint), was that we can multi-task, it’s no big deal.  We can enjoy the sweetness of the music and follow the rhythm of the prayer and amen its requests and affirmations both at the same time.  But as I thought about it, I had to be honest with myself and admit that I, too, find myself distracted by music played during prayer.  I listen more to the music than I do to the prayer.  I find myself commenting to myself about the music during prayer: “O, that’s nice.”  Or, “That sure is repetitive.”  Or, “I bet he’s bored.”

Again, my first reaction in myself to my friends’ comment about music during prayer had to do with multi-tasking.  But should we multitask in prayer?  Isn’t prayer task enough?  What’s the purpose of music during prayer anyway?  If it’s to set a mood, for me, the mood of the moment easily overshadows the prayer of the moment.  The mood the music creates can crowd out the plea of the prayer.

The music makes it a more emotional moment, but I am not convinced it makes it a more spiritual moment.

In fact, for some people, it can distract them from the spirituality of the moment.  This is obviously part of a larger conversation about substituting emotion for spirit – something that is easy to fall into – and a dynamic we should look into.

I’m sure many would make the argument that since prayer is the continuation of worship, and since the worship songs are carried on the wings of music, the prayer can use the same musical updraft that’s been created.  Maybe.  I don’t know.   With worship songs, the words and music and melody and rhythm are woven and knit together – they are parts of a whole.  In thinking of one you think of the other.   Not so with prayer.

What do you think?  I know that with the great need that billions have of knowing Christ and the mind-boggling social and environmental needs of our planet, music during prayer isn’t a burning question, but it is a relevant one.  I haven’t reached any firm decision – I’m boldly planting my feet on both sides of the fence!  I know that for some, music and prayer go together like peanut butter and jam.  To think of a musically unadorned prayer is like a bride without her wedding dress on her wedding day – an unspeakable tragedy.  What about you – have you thought of this before?  Have you thought through this before?  Chime in.

6 replies
  1. Bill Holdridge
    Bill Holdridge says:

    Tim,

    This has been something I’ve thought about again recently. Not long ago on a Wednesday night, the worship leader played well and softly as we waited for the communion to be distributed and as I stood before the people in an attitude of prayer.

    Soon I found myself being carried away by the Spirit into prophecy. The Spirit was speaking through me to encourage the hearts of the saints. I don’t remember what the prophecy said.

    As I later sat down, I thought to myself, “What just happened?”. The first answer that popped into my mind was that the worship leader, sensitive to the Holy Spirit, was being used by the Spirit to engender a prophetic environment at that moment. Similar to the effect that David’s music had upon a troubled Saul, the music (I believe) had the effect of creating an openness to the things of the Spirit.

    I am of the persuasion that music in such an environment and for such a purpose is holy. Yes, it provokes the emotions, but emotions are not necessarily a carnal thing. They are part of who we are, God’s gift to us. They can be sanctified unto God, or they can be sanctified unto the flesh.

    My two cents. It could be three cents, but I gotta jam.

    Reply
    • Miles DeBenedictis
      Miles DeBenedictis says:

      Bill,

      I agree! Much of the Psalms are prayers put to music, yes?

      I’ve found that some people account worship as only reverent and holy if it’s totally unemotional. I’m convinced however that God created music to stir our emotions and true heart worship should be emotional, at some level. The danger, and there are always dangers, is not allowing it to be come emotion driven or emotion centered. Certainly we’ve all witnessed a form of worship that is more emotionalism than anything else.

      Interesting things to consider nonetheless.

      Reply
      • Tim Brown
        Tim Brown says:

        Bill, Miles – the concern of the gentleman (and mine), isn’t the emotional component of worship (either during worship or prayer), but the focus of the mind during prayer accompanied by music. So, not the emotional, but the possible, mental distraction. And, Bill, I agree with you that the prophetic can be stimulated by the musical. Good thoughts, guys, thanks.

        Reply
  2. Gunnar Hanson
    Gunnar Hanson says:

    Good post. I have had this sort of thing brought up to me before and I am sensitive to it now…especially when a mistake (literally, like a string is struck by accident or a worship team member coughs or trips…) I am not sure that we can every get everything right so long as people are involved. It’s hard because sometimes critical people don’t have their hearts right…or it was isolated. Good food for thought and I am passing this post on to my worship team.

    Reply
  3. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Hi, Gunnar – I think that music poorly played is more of a distraction than music well played. The post concerns music itself. I am sure there is appropriate middle ground. Thanks.

    Reply
  4. Liz
    Liz says:

    I feel that music during prayer or when someone is sharing is emotional manipulation. Are the words of the prayer or the speaker not enough?

    My opinion is similar to the opinion of the person in the blog. I find the music distracting when I’m trying to listen to the words of the speaker. Once the music begins, I can no longer focus on the speaker.

    I wonder how many people feel the same way I do. Did Christ that a requirement for worship is to play music and pray at the same time. Was music playing when Jesus prayed? I doubt it.

    I appreciate worship music and I appreciate prayer, but the two together become a “clanging cymbal.”

    Reply

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