Original photo: Antiquiet
Confession: I was one of those 10,000 people who bought tickets to see the legendary musician perform here last week.
It was close to 3 hours of pure guitar magic, as he switched back and forth between playing on his acoustic and electric, enthralling the crowd with pop, rock and bluesy hits from his Grammy-winning music career.
Coming across as kind and gracious when addressing his fans, the American singer and songwriter’s debut show in Singapore was a night to remember indeed.
But I was not prepared for how I felt days after the concert. It felt like a bad emotional hangover.
There was a tension between basking in the afterglow of “wow, I can’t believe I finally watched John Mayer live” and being flooded with thoughts such as “what does enjoying this kind of music say about me?”.
At the heart of my wrestle was the age-old question: “Can a Christian listen to secular music?”
Now that the fog has lifted, I’ve come to 3 conclusions that I hope will be helpful to anyone who might also be caught in this bind.
1. THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH APPRECIATING MUSICAL TALENT
Watching John Mayer doing his thing filled me with awe. From seeing his fingers effortlessly slide up and down the fretboard to nail those riffs during his guitar solos to listening to his soothing vocals, he had the crowd enraptured.
It reminded me that music exists because there are people out there who decided to put their gifts of creativity to good use. Our God is a creative God who brought beauty into chaos when He created the universe, and the pinnacle of His creation was us – human beings. Because we are made in His image, we too create.
No doubt some musicians are more gifted than others, so we celebrate their immense talent and perhaps even look to them for tips to up our skill level. I know many Christian musicians who are John Mayer fans because of his impressive techniques.
Whatever artistic gifts and talents we may have, we’re at no fault for wanting to cultivate them. But ultimately, what are we doing with them?
Are we using our gifts and talents to connect with the Giver and express our affections for Him? (Psalm 33:3) Are we using our gifts and talents to bless others? (1 Peter 4:10)
2. MUSIC HAS THE POWER TO MOVE US DEEPLY
As John Mayer hit those familiar notes during his performance, it stirred in me nostalgia and brought to mind memories of what I was going through when I was playing those tunes on loop.
I started listening to him since Room for Squares – the first of 7 albums – and his earlier songs could well be described as the soundtrack to my coming-of-age years.
Graduating from university (No Such Thing), leaving behind the baggage of a toxic relationship (Slow Dancing In a Burning Room) and driving down the highways in the US during an epic road trip (Neon, sadly not played that night).
Music doesn’t just penetrate the depth of our emotions; it also has the power to shape our thinking.
Even if you can’t quite make out the lyrics, music has the power to evoke emotions, change moods and shift atmospheres. For instance, I feel melancholic when I listen to Gravity and In Your Atmosphere, but I can’t quite put a finger on why.
Being fully aware that some ballads have the ability to make me sad, I know that I must intentionally limit the time I spend soaking in them (Proverbs 15:13).
While over the years I’ve increasingly devoted more airtime to uplifting songs that turn my heart and mind to God – the source of hope and joy – yet I still find myself drawn to other genres of music.
This just means I’ll need to continue setting boundaries and being more conscious about curating my playlist.
3. LISTEN TO THE MESSAGE
“He’s a player, you know, right?” someone commented to me after the concert.
Because I had only been interested in his music, I honestly didn’t even realise what John Mayer’s personal life was like he until I started researching for this article.
I learnt that while he started off with a squeaky clean boy-next-door image, he soon became tabloid fodder with his kiss-and-tell approach to the string of high-profile women in his life, e.g. Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Aniston, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry.
To be fair, he seems to have sobered up and expressed remorse over his controversial past in recent interviews. Perhaps that’s what he alludes to as well in New Light.
Nonetheless, as he sang Your Body Is a Wonderland to the crowd that night, I just couldn’t bring myself to join in.
While many of John Mayer’s hits speak of the universal desire to find love and be loved, there are a few that are perhaps telling of his promiscuous lifestyle and worldview on relationships.
As an artistic expression, songwriting gives voice to our feelings and articulates our thoughts. There is secular music, and then there is secular music that promotes views on issues of our day – be it love, money or career – that run contrary to God’s views (Philippians 4:8).
As we listen to songs that are not written for God, we’ll need to guard our hearts and minds. Music doesn’t just penetrate the depth of our emotions; it also has the power to shape our thinking.
The song might sound great, but pay attention to the content as well; be careful about what it glorifies. This applies to other forms of entertainment too – whatever we choose to fill our minds with will have an effect on how we think and behave even if we don’t immediately realise it.
A member of our team put it this way as she shared about her inner thought process as she watches Netflix: “If Jesus was watching this with me, would He like what I’m watching?”
Since we are made of spirit and flesh, the side we choose to feed more will eventually become the one that grows stronger.
“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:17)
As I sat and reflected the day after the concert, I felt compelled to pray for John Mayer. I prayed that he would come to know that there is a God who loves him deeply and whom he can find true satisfaction and fulfilment in.
I also look forward to the day that there will be more John Mayers who would write and sing songs of faith, hope and love, and who would be equally skilful and impactful in their craft.
THINK + TALK
- What kind of music or other forms of entertainment do you enjoy?
- What impact do they have on your emotions and thoughts?
- How can you better glorify God when choosing what you watch or listen to?