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“Where words fail, music speaks.” ―Hans Christian Andersen

My dad loved to sing. When a community choir presented Handel’s “Messiah” in the sanctuary of First Christian Reformed Church in Muskegon, Mich., he was part of it. In his final years, when we played a recording of this beautiful work, the “Hallelujah” chorus would bring tears to his eyes. Music spoke to him.

As a radio broadcaster and church musician, I made friends in the Black community and was blessed to participate in services where the music from African American history played a major role. The emotions of that Black gospel music brought tears to the eyes of especially the elderly who came to worship. They felt God’s presence. Music spoke to them.

I must confess that, among the various styles of Christian music, I do enjoy some country gospel. My wife and I were watching an old Gaither Homecoming video the other night. A performer who had struggled through some difficult problems gave a particularly moving rendition of an old gospel song. It brought tears to the eyes of many of the participants. And I found that my cheeks were damp, as well. Music spoke to us.

From the organ bench, where I add classical organ to my church’s praise bands, I am able to watch the congregation and witness their response to the music we are leading. I am touched when I see teenagers raising their hands in contemporary worship, singing at the top of their voices, with tears flowing down their cheeks. They feel God’s presence. Music is speaking to them.

And I get to thinking.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to worship in a tiny Native American church where the Lord’s Prayer was recited in Ojibway. I’ve taken communion in a storefront church in the slums of Puerto Rico. I’ve worshiped in The Riverside Church in Manhattan, and I directed a choir in the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., venues in which the majesty of the pipe organ was particularly thrilling.

I’d be hard-pressed to explain, however, which service was most meaningful, or which music touched my soul the most.

Shame on those of us who think we know what kind of music God prefers, what kind of music belongs in worship, or what kind of music we can anticipate in heaven.

“Music is one of the fairest and most glorious gifts of God, to which Satan is a bitter enemy.” — Martin Luther

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