Re-Learning Guitar as a Method of Prayer

What am I actually thinking about when I'm playing guitar?

SimonHome Page

When I started playing church guitar, in a way, it was like a time warp back to my earlier life. A lot of the thoughts, feelings, and motivations that I had in my first (teenage) years of guitar were still there. Those thoughts and feelings had gone into me very deeply, over many thousands of hours of repetition, and near-total obsession, in an almost-religious-like fashion. So when I picked up a guitar again, that was what came back into my mind and my heart.

When I think about that time now, the thing that stands out the most is how much desire I had for worldly "success", acclaim, approval of other people, and all those kinds of things. And also to get the music as technically correct, and technically impressive, as it could possibly be.

When I was practicing, playing, and thinking about church guitar, my thoughts and feelings were usually far removed from an attitude of prayer and actual worship of God.

Playing Music as an Act of Actual Worship

Somewhere while in that mind state, I had this idea, of what the complete opposite of the way I'd approached playing music might look like:

I imagined sitting down (I guess I could be standing, but when I first thought of it, I imagined myself sitting) and playing something that was easy to play. I think that was one of the biggest things about this idea. That the music itself shouldn't be, from a technical point of view, something that requires years of near-total effort, and staying up till the early hours of the morning, and not sleeping properly, and the many other things that need to be sacrificed for a "professional" level of technical performance quality.

And the key point — being easy enough to play, there would be enough free thought space for me to actually think about what I was playing, in the context of prayer, and actual worship of God and of Jesus. I think these things, most probably, come much more naturally to vocalists — because they're actually singing the words. It would be a lot harder to not think about the words, and what they mean, when you're actually singing the words yourself. I find it fun to sing along when I play, but I most often don't — because it distracts me from being able to play as technically well as I can when all I'm doing is thinking about how technically well to play the music.

So this is where I'm at now. Like I'm trying to re-learn how to play music, all over again, but with an entirely different attitude to how I originally learned it. And entirely different motivations. Rather than quitting music, or trying to downplay this side of myself and my life as much as possible, I thought of an even better idea. I can continue with my practice of worship guitar, but from now on make a concentrated and deliberate effort to re-focus on the actual worship of God, who I love, and who loves me. And a deliberate effort to unlearn the desires and drives I had when I originally learned (and became obsessed with) guitar.

I think that if I do this enough, and in the right way, this will allow me to erase/re-write over the worldly thoughts and aspirations I had about music and guitar, that were so deeply embedded into me a long time ago. And I think it will work much better than just quitting guitar altogether. Like I did in my twenties, which was the last time I completed a uni degree.

What Do You Think About When You Play (or Sing) Christian Music?

I really have no idea what most other people think about here. I imagine if I asked a lot of people, there would be a very broad spectrum of answers. I imagine people who grew up as Christians, and learned their musical skills within the context of Christian worship, would think a lot differently to me. I also imagine there's a lot of desire out there to emulate the worldly music industry — and that I'm probably not the only Christian in the world where some of the worldly desires and motives from that industry have leaked out, and been absorbed.

Have a think about where you fit into this. I've improved my life massively by consciously rejecting the goals and desires I learned when I was fully immersed in worldly music, and wanting to be part of that scene.

I thought about how I would often open a Bible to a random page and just read a verse or two, and then think about them, and pray about them. I'd been doing that for many years. I even did it occasionally over the many years before I was a Christian.

But it wasn't until recently that I imagined what the equivalent of doing that with a guitar would be like. I had the idea of just sitting down (standing would also work) with a guitar. And praying. And playing something really simple and basic. Like a couple of chords. Or just one or two lines from a song. And think about what the words really mean. And do the whole thing in the state of mind of praise, and prayer. (And not as practicing for a performance).

This idea really changed a lot for me in terms of how I thought about Christian guitar.

I had other ideas, continuing on the same theme. Like reading from the Psalms (it could be any part of the Bible but the Psalms were originally songs so it seems more appropriate), while strumming a chord, or a few chords. I'm not much of a singer so it's not like I'm going to be writing any hit songs while doing things like this.

I found that this really helped me — in a way I hadn't discovered or experienced before — to keep my focus on the whole idea of making it very basic, and simple, and all about God.

Cover image by Billion Photos / Shutterstock.