Key Scriptures: Psalms, Philippians 4:8, Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19, Psalm 105:2, James 5:13, 1 Corinthians 14:15, Acts 16, Isaiah 26:3, Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 5:22-23, Luke 6:45, 2 Corinthians 11:3, Psalm 119:11, James 3:11-18, Psalm 19:14, Colossians 3
Guiding Question: What kinds of music and entertainment media would God want us to engage with in our free time?
Optional Introductory Activity: In the week prior to your lesson, ask students to text you the title and artist for their favorite song at the moment. Go on one of the lyrics websites and print out the lyrics for some or all of these songs.
Begin by explaining to students you would like to read them a poem. In a very “poetry reading voice”, read the lyrics to one of their songs. Don’t identify what you are reading. If curse words are in the lyrics, just say “beep” to replace the curse word.
Ask students if they are familiar with that poem. Regardless of how they respond, read the lyrics to a couple more songs. Try to read them as deadpan and elegantly as possible, no matter how silly the lyrics are. If possible, choose songs that reflect a variety of musical styles.
Without identifying who chose them as their favorite songs, reveal the title and artist of the song lyrics you have just read to them. Choose the song with the most objectionable lyrics. If you can, project the lyrics so all of the students can see them. You may want to put blanks in the place of curse words.
Ask students if there are any parts of the lyrics they would feel u comfortable singing in front of Jesus if he were in the room. Make sure they are aware not just of objectionable words, but underlying themes and attitudes that reflect ungodly attitudes or promote sinful behaviors as good and desirable.
Ask students if they believe the lyrics of music have any impact on them mentally, emotionally or spiritually. Encourage them to explain the thought process behind their answer.
Lesson: (Questions to students are in bold italics.) Note: While this lesson primarily focuses on music, with a few minor changes the focus could change to cover books, movies, shows and/or video games. The same basic principles apply.
The earliest complete song with music and lyrics that has been discovered in its entirety was written probably around the time of Jesus in Greece. The lyrics are, “While you live, shine…have no grief at all…life exists only for a short while…and time demands its toll.” Judging only by the lyrics, why do you think the author wrote these lyrics? The song was actually found on a tombstone and the notes with it can still be read and played. Obviously, the lyricist was mourning the person buried there. In fact, song lyrics are often written to express emotions or ideas even today.
The lyrics of songs can also reflect the worldview of the lyricist. The question that has been asked probably since the beginning of music is can the melody and lyrics of a song impact our minds and emotions? Can music actually influence the way we see the world? Can music change our beliefs about God, life and other important topics?
Although there are a few songs – by Miriam and Deborah -recorded early in the Bible, the largest group of songs was accumulated in the book of Psalms. When you think about the book of Psalms what facts, words or ideas come to mind? The book of Psalms is actually a book of 150 poems. We know that many of them were meant to be sung. Unfortunately, no one has found the actual notes recorded anywhere, although some have made guesses as to the tunes. By the time of Jesus, many Jews also prayed some of the Psalms as prayers.
The book of Psalms is popular with many people, because many of the Psalms mirror the emotions felt by everyone at some point in time. In fact, for some of the Psalms, we know that the author wrote them during or after a specific event in the Bible. The Psalms were written over a rather long period of time by authors that include Moses, David, Solomon, Asaph, the sons of Korah and perhaps others.
Let’s take a brief look at a couple of Psalms and see if you can figure out the emotions the author was having when he wrote it. Read Psalm 6. What is at least one emotion the author seems to be communicating in this Psalm? The author seems to be experiencing sorrow for his sins and grief. How can you identify with what the Psalmist writes? (Repeat with Psalm 8 – hope and Psalm 44 – anger at God.)
In fact, various people have made lists of the Psalms by the emotions they express. Sometimes the emotions are personal ones about things that are or have happened in their lives. At other times, these emotions are an overflow of their hearts for God.
So we know the songs in Psalms were influenced by the emotions of the writers, but can those Psalms or the lyrics of other music influence our emotions, thoughts and ultimately our worldview? For answers to those questions, we need to look at some research done by social scientists.
A study by the Prevention Research Center called, Music, Substance Abuse and Aggression found that there was a significant, positive correlation between listening to certain genres of music regularly and negative behaviors. They found that young people who listened to rap were more prone to alcohol and substance abuse and had more aggression…even when controlled for other factors. Listeners of techno and reggae were more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, but the music did not appear to make them more aggressive.
Another study by the APA found that listening to songs with violent lyrics increased the likelihood of participants filling in the blanks of words like h_t with a vowel that made it an aggressive word, and increased the feelings of hostility even when there was no provocation or threat. Even seemingly humorous songs with violent lyrics had the same impact on subjects. What do you think about the studies’ findings? Do you think it is possible for the lyrics of your favorite songs to encourage you to participate in any specific behaviors, good or bad? Why or why not?
What is still unclear is whether or not the music’s lyrics actually encouraged these negative behaviors or whether people with these negative behaviors tend to gravitate to music with those lyrics. So while it is obvious a strong connection is there, the actual causation is still unclear.
But what about Psalms? Can music impact our emotions? A study by Bharucha found that people tend to listen to music to help them feel a certain emotion. You probably already have figured this out and play fast, upbeat music when you are happy or need energy and slower more melancholy music when you are sad. Is it any wonder that Paul and Silas were singing songs to God when they were jailed in Acts 16? They probably were trying to keep their spirits up in a difficult situation.
A study by Vastjall even found that participants were less stressed when there was music in the background and more stressed when there was none. This appeared to be true even when the subjects had no control over what music was played and were passive listeners.
Obviously, God would be thrilled if we sang Psalms all,day, but can we figure out how God feels about other music we may listen to in our free time? Read Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19, Psalm 105:2 and James 5:13. What are some of the ways God encourages us to use music in these verses? What types of songs would actually allow you to do these things?
The Bible also recognizes there is a connection between the things to which we expose ourselves, our minds and the behaviors that result. Read Philippians 4:8, 1 Corinthians 14:15, Isaiah 26:3, Romans 12:1-2, Luke 6:45, 2 Corinthians 11:3, Psalm 119:11, James 3:11-18, Colossians 3 and Psalm 19:14. What do these verses tell us the connection is between the things we expose ourselves to and think about and our spiritual health and the actions and choices we make that result from that dynamic? How could we choose music, books, movies, games, and shows that make us stronger rather than weaker spiritually? If the connection is evidently so strong, why do we often choose to listen to, read and watch things that are negative, violent and/or glorify sinful choices and behaviors? What are you afraid might happen if you made different music and media choices than your peers? Do you think your current music and media choices have influenced you in any way? If so, how? If not, what have you done to make sure you don’t allow those things to impact you spiritually in a negative way? What choices do you need to make to lessen any negative impact your choices of music and media have had on your thoughts, attitudes and actions?
Skills Activity: The activity you choose for your students should reflect in part how they responded to the lesson. Those who are listening to and watching a constant diet of negative content may need more help analyzing the content they are consuming, especially in light of Philippians 4:8. They may need help analyzing why they are drawn to such negative content. They may respond to being challenged to keep a diary of the content they consume in a week and their thoughts and emotions as they interact with the content. Then challenge them to view and listen to only positive content for a week, recording their thoughts and emotions. Did they notice a difference? What can they do to motivate themselves to decrease their exposure to negative content?
For students who don’t have high engagement with negative content, you may want to encourage them to create various pieces of scripture art using various Psalms that would reflect their moods at different times. They can use the appropriate piece of art for comfort and encouragement when needed. Below is a partial list of Psalms and the corresponding emotions they express.
- Praise Psalms 27, 29, 46, 47, 65
- Thanksgiving Psalms 9, 18, 21, 30, 34
- Struggling with temptation Psalm 73, 141
- Sorrow for sin Psalm 6, 32, 51, 106, 130
- Distress/stress Psalm 3-5, 7, 17, 28, 43
- Pain or frustration (illness) Psalm 6, 38, 41, 88, 102
- Discouragement Psalm 13, 22, 26, 42, 60
- Sorrow Psalm 23, 31, 39, 63, 88
- Grief Psalm 6, 31, 77, 137
- Anger at those against God Psalm 10, 12, 35, 40, 52
- Anger at God Psalm 44, 80, 137
- Wanting to spend more time focusing on God Psalm 8, 19, 36, 68, 77
- Hope Psalm 2, 8, 16, 22, 26
- Need wisdom Psalm 1, 14, 15, 37, 49
- Need God’s help Psalm 5, 25, 27, 61, 143
Application Challenge: Review the main points from the lesson. Keep a record of the music, shows, movies, games and books you are exposed to for a week. How would you describe them based on the lesson? Do you find your mood and/or thoughts were impacted by them? Challenge yourself to increase the amount of positive content and decrease the amount of negative content each day.