Before You Pop in Your Earbuds

Recently a reader asked me if it’s okay to listen to secular music or if Christians are only supposed to listen to Christian music. It’s one of the age-old questions, isn’t it? I’m guessing it’s a question that has crossed your mind at one time or another, so I thought I’d let you listen in on the conversation . . .

I wouldn’t go so far as to make sweeping rules about music—like you should only listen to Christian music. That smacks of legalism. But I definitely think that wise girls need to be smart about what we’re listening to. Here’s why.

Music moves us. It touches something deep within our souls. That’s why an epic anthem in a movie makes us want to cheer. A playlist filled with love songs sparks romance. Funky-fast beats motivate us to push through that last mile of a long run. Soft instrumentals melt away stress.

Music has a profound ability to open our hearts.

Have you ever wondered why music moves us so much? The simple answer is that God made it that way. God loves music! That’s why heaven is filled with song (Rev. 5:9, 14:3, 15:3). Our love for music was part of the package when He made us in His image.

Music has a profound ability to open our hearts. In the context of the pure, God-focused worship He originally intended, that vulnerability allows Him to move our hearts in larger-than-life ways. But when sin entered the world, it also messed with our music. We stopped playing our music to express love for God and began using it to glorify things God stands against. Now, when music opens our hearts, it makes us vulnerable to swallow ideas we’d usually spit right out.

Think about it. If you overheard me telling a guy, “You can’t have my heart, and you won’t use my mind, but do what you want with my body,” you’d have the good sense to see I was way out of line! But through the medium of a good dance beat, suddenly Lady Gaga’s words aren’t so repulsive.

I’ve been totally guilty of this. I’ve let downright stupid outlooks on life take over my mind and mood because it was a song with a catchy beat. Now that I have the luxury of hindsight, I can see—like a blaring spotlight—the effect my music had on me.

One particular album really affected me. I listened to it all the time. Without meaning to, I memorized every word. Subconsciously the music made me feel alive, dangerous, and a tinge rebellious. I thought it was harmless. I didn’t see the connection between listening to that music and the “secret sins” I battled until years later. I’m not saying the songs made me sin, but they sure set the stage. To this day when I hear a song from that album—at the grocery store, on TV, wherever—I have flashbacks of that dark, sinful time of my life. Ironically, I can’t stand to listen to that album anymore.

I still love good music. But now I stick to artists that point me to God instead of away from Him. This is my new criterion:

Don’t cope or crave in unhealthy ways, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let God’s Spirit fill you up till you overflow with praise to God! Sing God-honoring music, with melodies that move your heart to thank God for everything He is and does through Jesus (Eph. 5:18–20, my paraphrase).

We can’t make the mistake of writing off the music we listen to as “just” entertainment, because it affects us on a deeper level. If you’re serious about staying connected to Jesus (especially if you’re battling secret sins), you need a life soundtrack that is going to pump you up and draw you closer to Him. A simple exchange—unholy tunes for virtuous ones—has the power to radically transform your life.

If secular music becomes your main music source, your relationship with God runs the very real risk of getting apathetic and anemic.

Does that mean that you can’t ever listen to secular music? No. But just like junk food, you’ll stay healthier if you keep it in moderation. If secular music becomes your main music source, your relationship with God runs the very real risk of getting apathetic and anemic (the spiritual version of “fat and lazy”).

If you think your music might be affecting you (or if you want to find out if it is!), I triple-dog dare you to take the 30-Day Music Challenge:

  • For thirty days, only listen to encouraging music that worships God and/or reminds you to live His way.
  • At the end of the thirty days (or any time during), write down how your moods, thoughts, and emotions have changed.
  • If you need some ideas for music that is big on substance without being boring or lame, check out my “Listening To” board on Pinterest.

As God’s family, we should have the corner market on music that both touches our souls and makes us want to dance, right? I mean, we should have the most joy and the most reason to sing and dance in all this big, wide world because of what Jesus has done for us. So bring on the dance beats, melodious harmonies, or lovely ballads. And let’s remember that we’re not missing out on anything by feasting on good music instead of binging on junk.

I’m curious: How does the music you listen to affect you, either for good or bad? Are you listening to a “healthy” diet of music, or does your playlist need some trimming? Are you going to take the 30-Day Music Challenge? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

About Author

Jessie Minassian is a speaker, blogger, and the author of ten books and Bible studies, including Crushed, Unashamed, and Backwards Beauty. She is the "resident big sis" at LifeLoveandGod.com, a Q&A website for teen girls. Her work for teens and their parents has been featured internationally through outlets such as Focus on the Family, Parenting Today’s Teens, She Reads Truth, Axis, Revive Our Hearts and YouthWorker Journal. She and her husband live and serve at Hume Lake Christian Camps in California, and have two daughters.

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