Music is useful in our society in many ways, but I believe that there are three main functions of music and the arts in our lives: 1) Performance, 2) Worship, and 3) Prophetic.
The most common use of music and the arts in our lives is that of performance, in which the artist gives his art to another person or group of people. This is certainly beneficial in many ways, especially when the artist and his audience have commonality in their likes, interests and goals. Much of this kind of artistic endeavor centers around Man: what man can accomplish in skill, what styles man likes to hear or see, how popular the artist becomes, etc. In essence, it's all about man’s performance and social acceptance.
A higher level of music and artistic involvement is that of worship. Music and the arts do a wonderful job of ‘pointing’ the audience to a target. The ‘pointing’ can draw an arrow to the Artist himself, or to a cause (like ‘saving the planet’), or to a consumer product (like Coca-Cola). Whatever music and the arts point to will be ‘exalted’. Another way of saying it is: whatever the ‘arrow’ is pointing to is lifted up and amplified, even worshiped.
There are many examples throughout history of how music has been used to ‘exalt’ that which it points towards. Take for example the biblical story in the Book of Daniel.
“Nebuchadnezzer the king made an image of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. (Dan. 3:1) Then the herald loudly proclaimed: “To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.” Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.” (Dan. 3:4-7)
Throughout the ages, all cultures and religions have used music in some form or fashion to convey their worship. The Bible is replete with the subject of musical expressions of worship in Judaism and Christianity. As the God of the Bible is a creative God, Who made man in His image, it stands to reason that He put within man the ability to create in like manner. Part of the response from those who worship God is, of necessity, a creative one.
Music and art that are brought to God in worship exist for a higher purpose than the pleasure of man. This kind of activity seeks to ‘point the arrow’ towards the Creator of all things, amplifying Who He is, inspired and empowered by His worth.
There is actually a third, and even loftier functioning of music and the arts in which few people are ever involved, and that is the expression of the prophetic.
This is where the purpose of the creativity is not for man’s pleasure, and not even to exalt God, but rather, it is when God Himself speaks through what is created. This phenomenon is not initiated by man himself. To do so would be ‘false-prophesy’. That doesn’t mean that man is a ‘puppet’, however. Man cooperates, in this instance, with God-breathed inspiration in the creative process. Man, by supernatural inspiration, brings form to what is being spiritually conveyed by God Himself.
The message that results may or may not bring pleasure to those who hear it. It may even run diametrically opposed to the culture’s desires. But one thing is sure: it will always cut deeper into the audience’s conscience than anything produced for performance or worship. It is a message that demands a response of action by those who hear it. It can elicit dramatic cultural change and has the power to move history substantially down a new and different pathway.
Elements of prophetic music and art can be intertwined with performance and worship, but when those moments happen, it is in stark contrast to elements that are not prophetically motivated. The artist is definitively aware of when ‘God steps into the picture’. All who have tasted of this creative inspiration are forever marked. Nothing less will ever suffice.