A few years ago, I was invited to write for the Conversations Journal blog, which seeks to generate conversations that lead to transformation. We were discussing various things that contribute to spiritual formation in Christ. For one of my posts, I explored the role that music can play in our walk with the Lord.

I believe that music—especially worship music based on Scripture—can be one of the most powerful tools God uses to transform our hearts. This becomes especially true when we engage in corporate worship, where we join other Jesus followers singing from their hearts, but it’s also true when we’re by ourselves.

Music is powerful. But why?

That’s the question I ran after in my piece for Conversations Journal:

“When We Have No Words”

A number of years ago, I was traveling through a really difficult stage in my spiritual journey. My walk with God had become empty and stale, and my work in ministry had become meaningless. The most painful part was realizing just how much I had been stiff-arming God and resisting his Spirit’s movement in my life. I had allowed fear to paralyze me spiritually.

Through a number of different circumstances, God showed me all too clearly how much I was refusing to obey his leading in my life. Deep down I didn’t trust myself, and I didn’t really trust God either. I feared failure in my work, my marriage and my family.

However, I knew that if I really believed in God and wanted to follow him, I would have to open my heart to him in new ways. I would have to deal with areas of guilt and shame I wanted to forget. Broken and filled with tears, I tried to pray. But I couldn’t. I had no words.

That’s when music really began to form my soul. During this season, I was listening to teachers on how to open the deep areas of my heart to God, and I was listening to a lot of music. I began to discover why music is so powerful.

Music is essentially an expression of the heart, so it can help us express our hearts as well. The lyrics can provide words when we have no words, and the sound can provide emotions when we feel numb. (That’s also why the music we choose is really critical.)

When I had no words to pray, and when I didn’t know how to feel toward God, several songs helped me. I found myself saying, “Yes, Lord. What they just sang—that’s how I feel or that’s what I want.” The lyrics of the songs became a platform from which to open my heart in prayer. They drew from my heart emotions I didn’t know were there and desperately needed to express.

I discovered a deep love and longing for God I had forgotten how to feel.

Several songs did this for me. One of them was “Finally Home” by MercyMe. I recall one day listening to it about 30 times straight and weeping before the Lord as his Spirit healed deep wounds of self-contempt and expressed God’s Fatherly love for me.

The song begins,

“I’m gonna wrap my arms around my Daddy’s neck, and tell him that I’ve missed him. And tell him all about the man that I became. And hope that it pleased him. There’s so much I want to say. There’s so much I want you to know.”

Here is the whole song. Take a moment to listen.

This song met me deeply because I so longed to be reunited with my Heavenly Father and be at the center of his will—no more running, no more emptiness, no more fear. I missed my Daddy, who created me and wanted to work in my life. I wanted him to know how much I loved him and how sorry I was for fighting against his will. The song reminded me of a myriad of Scriptures that express God’s unconditional love and forgiveness through Christ. (I only realized months later that this song is more likely about reuniting with an earthly father who has died, but that’s not where my heart went! That’s not where God took me.)

This song helped form my soul by offering words when I had no words, providing emotion when I didn’t know how to feel, and opening my heart to receive what God was already saying through his Word. I believe this is one of the reasons why music and worship are so powerful and important, especially in corporate worship. They invite and empower us to express our hearts to God in ways we cannot on our own. When we express our hearts, God responds and touches our souls.

I wrote that piece four years ago, and it rings true now as much as ever.

Have you ever listened to a song and something in you connected to the lyrics and you weren’t sure why? Like something was happening in your heart that was deeper than just enjoying good music? Have you ever stopped to think God may be speaking to you in that moment?

I experience this often with music. At first, I may just like the music. Then, I get drawn in by the lyrics and how I can relate to what they are saying. Over time, as I listen to the song more, God uses specific lines in the song to remind me of Scriptures about his love and his desire for me to walk with him. I remember ways I’ve avoided or missed him. Eventually, I begin to sing the song myself not just as lyrics but as a prayer from my heart.

I believe we have an opportunity to do this every time we listen to heartfelt music based on the truth of Scripture, and I believe the opportunity is even greater when we worship together.

Music is powerful. It touches something deep and gives us words to pray. Maybe, just maybe, this is one of the reasons God included 150 ancient Israelite songs in Scripture (the Book of Psalms)—to give us words when we have no words.