The other day, one of my sons asked if I liked a certain music artist he had heard about from a friend. “I like a few of his songs,” I told him. “A couple of them are beautiful, but some of his songs are not God-glorifying.” This spun off into a conversation with my two boys about music.
How do we help our teens discern whether or not a song is godly? As I told my boys, there are many helpful questions we can ask (thank you, Bob Kauflin!), but one way we can determine if a song is God-honoring is to ask: “How does this song make me feel?” I know, I know, it sounds like I’m throwing open the doors to whatever music we “feel” like listening to. But hang with me for a moment.
God gave us feelings to motivate us. Emotions move us to action. We feel happy and so we laugh, we feel righteous anger and we defend, we feel compassion and we help. And music? Music stirs up the feelings that move us to action. This is the ultimate purpose for the gift of music: to stir up emotions that move us to God and godliness. We sing praises and play instruments, in order to excite feelings that move us toward God.
So if this is God’s purpose for music, then it is vitally important that we ask: “How does this song make me feel about God? How does this song make me feel about godliness? And how does this song make me feel about sin? Or, more broadly, think about the kind of music you like to listen to. Does the music on your playlist leave you more angry at others, or grateful for God’s goodness? Discontent with your life or desirous of doing good? Hating sin or loving righteousness?
How does your playlist make you feel? Better yet, does the music you listen to make you feel the way that God wants you to feel?
As I told my boys, a song may not contain any “bad words” but still be bad if it stirs up emotions that warm your heart toward sin. A song’s meaning may even be vague or the words enigmatic, but if it stirs up arrogant, selfish, or lustful desires, then it is ungodly. On the flip side, a song may not mention God or his Word, but the words and music together generate feelings of awe at his beauty and majesty in creation, shame for sin, or selfless love for others. This is a good song.
Like medicine through an IV, the music that flows through our children’s earbuds affects every part of them—including their emotions. And their feelings, in turn, influence how they act and think. If we are to be wise parents, we must not simply tell our children not to listen to ungodly music (although we must tell them that!). But along with biblical boundaries, we must also help them curate a music playlist that stirs up and promotes godly emotions.
Asking “How does this song make me feel?” doesn’t lower the standard, allowing a flood of ungodly music into our teens’ libraries. Rather, it raises the standard higher—for them and for us. Music that is pleasing to God is music that generates godly emotions.