On August 28, 1963, Bob Dylan played at The March on Washington for Jobs & Freedom. He played two unreleased songs from his 1964 album “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, which would go on to be anthemic for protesters in the 1960’s. The title track of the album would go on to be on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs of All Time, and has been a declaration of protestors ever since it was released.
No matter what your personal views on protests, marches, Bob Dylan, or politics are, it’s impossible to ignore the lasting use of Dylan’s song and the timeless message as a transcendent tool utilized by groups with common ideology throughout history. A more relevant example for churchgoers would be the song “Amazing Grace”. How the Church has clung to that song as a timeless anthem of the Gospel! I think the art that we create absolutely has the ability to do the same thing when it is infused with the Gospel and when the creators of their art create out of a desire to reach the lost with the Gospel and edify the Church with the truth. Peter wrote a great segment that I think relates well to this:
“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” // 1 Peter 4:7-11 (ESV)
In the case of songwriting: when a song is written, recorded, released, and then consumed, the song itself becomes a prayer on the lips of the person singing it. Whether it be someone listening to a song and singing along in their car, mumbling it in the shower, or corporately singing at church on Sundays, the lyrics of that song have become a recited prayer for that individual. Being intentional with that ability is what it means to be missionally-minded with the art that we create. Being “self-controlled and sober-minded” in this specific passage isn’t as much for evangelism, but for our own prayer lives. For artists, we tend to do most of our meditation when we create, which then is an opportunity for prayer and deep interaction with God. When we create out of this experience with the Father, our art becomes part of our prayers- which is why it is so crucial to be sober-minded and aware of the Truth of the Gospel when and while we create.
Now, the passage above is rich with direction for the follower of Jesus, but to keep focused on how this relates to artists and our art, I’m going to skip ahead to verse 10 and talk about our gifts and how we should use it: by serving one another. The text literally tells us point blank how to best use our gifts and how to be good stewards of them; that we would use these gifts to serve others, like Jesus came to serve (Mark 10:45). In what way did Jesus serve? The most notable that I can think of is dying on the cross as payment for our sins, something that you and I can’t emulate very well. However, the next best thing is sharing that Truth with people, loving them in such a deep way that we could think of nothing more loving than to tell them the way that our savior has served us, and sharing the Gospel with them.
But Peter also gives us some specific direction pertaining to how we communicate through our gifts. Use your words to speak “Oracles of God” (most other translations say “words of God” or “God’s words” or another variation of that), meaning to share the truths that God would say Himself. A great test is to compare what we say, paint, draw, sing, sculpt, or any other form of artistic communication with what the Bible, being God’s revelation to mankind (read: God’s word), says. Hymns are a great example of this, as they are typically written as more poetic forms of Scripture. Some amazing specific examples of songs would be Jon Foreman’s “House of God Forever”, “Joy To The World” by Isaac Watts, and even Bob Dylan’s “Every Grain of Sand”. Examples of visual art would be “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci and “David and Goliath” by Caravaggio. The point being, write what God has already said (while keeping context in mind) and you can’t go wrong with speaking His words.
As we look deeper into verse 11, we see that we are given direction to use our gifts to point glory back to God “through Jesus Christ”. Meaning that every way that we serve, every word we speak, and every brushstroke would point back to Jesus, so that God could ultimately receive the glory. I love how Peter finishes his statement in verse 11. He says exactly what we should implicitly be saying with every phrase: “To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.” With every breath, with every creation, let us redirect glory back to Jesus, that He can be glorified and so that everyone can see the beauty of the savior and would come to know Him and receive the gift of salvation. This is the heart of the mission of the Christian anyway, and as artists all that we should want to do is use our art to further the Kingdom of God and live out our faith as followers of Christ.
Kevin McClure volunteers with RYFO as a part of our Artist Relations team. As a songwriter and musical artist he has had the honor of touring the United States both as a performer and a worship leader for the better part of the past 10 years. Kevin lives in Omaha, NE with his wife Hailey and his two daughters, Everleigh and Eliska.