Discipling through song in the nitty gritty of life

Our eldest is 10 years old and worrying… again. She worries about almost everything. But this time she’s worrying about sin. She’s realising that she’s a sinner and wants to uncover every last bit of her sin. She remembers moments from yesterday, last week, even last year when she stuffed up and feels the guilt. Her mum patiently sits, listening, speaking, comforting, praying.

Then there’s a pitter-patter of feet. Our 5 year old gently sidles up to his mum and whispers a line from one of my songs (and the Bible!) in her ear, “say – as far as the east is from the west…”

I’m a songwriter, and more latterly I’ve been focussing on writing songs for children (and adults who are listening in). It’s been an interesting journey getting to this point and my belief in the power of song to speak and embed truth in children has only grown.

Songs Stick

We all know that songs stick in our minds. I’ve had the privilege of working as a musician alongside those with dementia. Song lyrics remain where conversational words have fled. There are so many Bible verses I know, not because I’ve heard them in sermons, but because I listened to songs based on those verses when I was a child. Songs stick.

Songs Speak

But songs go much deeper.

As adults we can name songs that speak to us in those moments where words have escaped us. In those dark places where the only utterances of our mouths are painful groans. Songs give us the words we need. As we find that others have experienced what we’re going through we feel connection with the writer and their lyrics. We find we are not alone. More than that, the song seems to be able to take us on a journey that perhaps the writer has also gone on. We’re able to share the pain and anguish both with the author and also with the one who is ‘familiar with suffering’ (Isaiah 53:3).

It is easy to forget that the Psalms were written for corporate worship in the Temple. I think we forget this because the Psalms seem so personal. They are those same cries of anguish. They are those same journeys through pain and suffering. They are those same moments where we realise we are not alone as the suffering servant stands with us and brings us through.

They are so personal, and yet are designed to be sung together, as a church. That’s because these experiences are shared experiences. And through them we can gently disciple each other to behold the one who holds us fast (Jude 24-25).

What art-form does David and the other writers choose to convey these deep truths to each other? Song!

Songs stick – they are able to embed these truths of hope in suffering deep into our hearts, equipping us to face life in all its scary complexity and darkness.

But perhaps more vitally, songs speak. They are able to communicate the depth of human experience and something of the transcendence of God’s glory in ways that a spoken sermon cannot. Why else would the Psalms be considered such a treasure-trove? 

We know this to be true as adults, and yet all too often I fear we deny these treasures to the little ones. 

They too go through pain and suffering. They too see death and sadness. They know all too well that the world is broken. They feel the pain of abandonment and loss and they delight to see goodness defeat evil (just hear the whoops of joy when watching the death star explode in Star Wars!) 

What they lack are the words to express this. Our daughter used to bite her nails as a toddler. An older friend said ‘she’s worrying’. We thought – ‘she’s only a baby! What has she to worry about?’ But sure enough it turned out to be true. Her brain was dealing with all sorts of worries and battles long before she could articulate them. So I’ve written songs about worry, contentment, about fear and resting in Christ when everything seems to be going wrong, about identity in a confusing world, songs responding to events like the Manchester bombings, songs about life and death and the one who has victory over death (‘he’s turned my tomb into a bed’! as Spurgeon once said).

Song can give children the words. Just as they did for my 5 year old as he led his 10 year old sister through her guilt-ridden angst to see the wonder of God’s forgiveness. 

Just as song gave the people of Israel the words to deal with the depth of personal sin (think of Psalm 51!) and moved them to repentance and to delight in God their saviour, surely song can do the same for our children.

On one of my albums I wrote a song with a particular child in mind whose father had walked out on them (‘Father to the fatherless’). 

When you find your daddy isn’t
Everything a dad should be
Remember your Father in heaven
When you lose someone you’re close to
And the tears run down your face
Remember your Father in heaven

He’s a father to the fatherless
A husband to the widow
He will never let you down
Or leave your side
He’s a father to the fatherless
A husband to the widow
For he’s the one your heart was made to know
And he’ll never, never, ever let you go

I wanted to stand with her in that pain while also pointing her to the Father who will never abandon her. However, I soon saw that it was as much a song of confession on my part and a song for my own children. I haven’t walked out on my family, but I have let them down in so many ways. I’m not the father that I should be and I need to confess that. Children need to know that we all fail but there is one who will never fail us. I need that Father and my children need that Father too.

Not all of us are song writers. But we all have access to songs. Listen to albums with your children. Let the gospel words that are embedding in their hearts take root in yours. And then, when that moment comes when your daughter is worrying, or your son is angry, or your children feel the anguish of loss, be like a 5 year old. Dig into that treasure trove of music and say ‘remember that song? That’s about this…’

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