The other day I did one of the most painful things an artist can ever do. While I was in my office I pulled out my guitar and my favorite worship song. I practiced it a few times then I hit record on my phone. I knew that the sound quality would not be the best, yet I was trying to catch the heart of my worship, not just the sound. As the phone’s red-light flashed telling me it was recording, I sang and played with all my heart unto the Lord. I played all the dramatic nuances of the song, I even went into open worship and then back into the chorus of the song. Finally, it was done. I pushed the stop button on my phone and there was only a moment of hesitation. Should I play it or not? What if it is horrible? I ultimately pushed play and listened intently to the song. It can only be described as a valiant attempt of a beautiful song. The passion and heart was the best part of the recording. As I listened to myself I came face to face with one of my many short comings: I cannot sing, at least not in a way the human ears find pleasant. I know that the Lord only requires what Psalm 98 calls a “joyful noise,” but people are far more critical. I feel the truth Adam Jones spoke when he said: “I’m my own worst critic”.
Sometimes, we get so caught up in what the world sets as the standard we forget who determines reality. We get so focused on what the world dictates as success we lose sight of what God is up to. However, God’s word is powerful and challenges us to make a choice. We can either be conformed to the pattern of this world or be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The scripture says: “With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (Romans 12:1-2, J.B. Phillips New Testament) What strikes me in this paraphrase is the way Phillips highlights the distinction between the world squeezing us into a mould and God re-moulding us from the inside out. The world is oppression, God is transformation. The world is outside pressing down, God is inside expanding our maturity when it comes to life and especially when it comes to worship. What really matters is when we come face to face with our short comings: are we going to let the world squeeze us or are we going to let the Lord expand us?
I decided to hit play once again, this time I was not listening for all my failures. This time I was listening to areas where I could believe God for a miracle! This time I chose to lay myself on God’s altar. When we choose to allow God to open our eyes to true reality we are upon His altar; He changes us from the inside out! The world will never stop trying to press you into its mould, so our spiritual location matters. We must decide whose side we are going to be on in the eternal shoving match: on God’s altar or in the mould of the world. True spiritual worship is more about the location of the sacrifice than the sound the sacrifice makes. Yes, we must strive to become better! Yes, we use tools such as audio recordings, video recordings, and critical observers that will help us improve. These are great tools to help us refine and grow so we play and worship skillfully. However, the sacrifice should never come off the altar, not even for improvements! Once we are off the altar the pressure of this world makes it hard to get back on. So may you be transformed from within as you willingly choose to keep your life upon the altar of God.
There is an old hymn that first appeared in 1834 written by Edward Mote. It is titled On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand. The chorus of the hymn is “On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.” As I sat in my office reading the lyrics to this hymn that has impacted so many people, I felt the Lord working in my heart. Recently, there have been opportunities in my life for victory through Christ; yet I had failed. I find myself in this state over and over again, crawling back to the cross. I feel that I have, on many levels, let God down repeatedly again and again. I come back to God every time expecting the door to be slammed in my face. I am expecting God to be done with me, to have reached the limit of His grace. However, every time I come back He is waiting there for me, not with the condemnation I expect, but with love, acceptance and forgiveness!
There is a passage in the book of Romans that says: No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NIV) I cannot help but read that passage and be filled with overwhelming reassurance that Christ’s love never fails me. As I sat in my office I could not help but weep as the Lord brought this scripture into my mind. I thought I might have misunderstood or mis-memorized it so I pulled out my Bible and read it. Then I read both Romans and the hymn (On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand), three times I read them. As I read both I had one question on my mind: “Really, nothing?” and the Lord would answer my question: “Really, Nothing!” You see, there are all kinds of things the enemy uses to entrap us. The enemy will try and get us separated from Jesus our good shepherd. If he can separate us then he will try and make us believe he has devoured us. He will tell us: “You are defeated, rejected and unable to get back to God so why even try?” He tempts us by putting all kinds of things out there for us to lay ahold of. The enemy will use one of his most powerful tools on us once we have sinned: he will lie to us! He will tell us that we are disqualified, not good enough and we will never be accepted again. The enemy may struggle, fight, and wrestle with God, but he can never get us separated from Christ completely. When we come to this realization, the truth that nothing can separate us from God’s love for us, we become more than conquerors through Him who loved us!
As worship leaders our relationship with God and our understanding of the love of Christ directly effects our worship services. When we are rooted and grounded on the Rock of our salvation, when we realize the Rock is Christ and His love, the love we can never be separated from we will lead people in worship with victory in our hearts and passion in our mouth. When we know Christ loves us we will hang on His every word, the words of the scripture. When we are worshiping the words of Jesus will come out from our hearts and sweep over His church. We will lead His church in true spirit filled worship, when we worship in spirit and truth.
The other day I came home only to be captured by my kids. I was told that I needed to come into the back yard. I was taken by both hands and led into the back yard where a outdoor theater was set up. My kids had set up a performance for me! I was full of anticipation as both of them stepped behind the table cloths hanging from the clothesline to collect themselves. Then the drums started and bursting out form the middle was the oldest and they began to dance and sing. They were singing a song I had never heard and I am sure that they did not even know the words either. Almost instantly the younger one, the drummer, decided that playing with other toys was more important so my wife had to take over as the percussionist. As the performance went on I realized that my little children had come to an end of their performance, so I stood up and gave an uproarious applause! I clapped and shouted I was as enthusiastic as I could get with out disturbing the whole block.
As I walked into the house I had a revelation about how the Lord sees our worship. He began to show me about we have fallen into a formula for our worship. Our worship services are predictable at best. Have you ever noticed that most worship services are predictable? They begin with announcements followed by a prayer, a few songs based around religious ideas, then there is more prayer and a sermon, all to be capped off by yet more prayer! This is boring. It’s no wonder that church attendance is declining. It is no wonder that a missionary from China came to visit American churches and said “I am overwhelmed with how much the American church can do with out God.” I think that this is a wake up call to the American church. I began to reflect on my own church services and how I had fallen into a pattern. Not that passion was gone, I truly love the Lord and seek to bring Him all of my worship. And service had become predictable the people in the church would shower the worship team with complements saying “wow, worship was amazing today!” What they are really saying is, hey that band is really sounding good, and you nailed those songs. This is, by the way, totally missing the point of worship; the point of worship is the one we are worshipping. I have been in services where there are lots of people singing incredibly sweet and poetic songs, the band sounds beautiful and Gods manifest presence is missing.
There is this simple verse in the psalms: Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Psalm 22:3 (ESV). There is something that I believe is missing in worship today, something called “Open Worship”. This is when we are in service (assuming you have a good worship leader) they will invite the congregation to sing a new song unto the Lord. This is the equivalent of each of the church members running in to the Father God, taking Him by the hands. Saying “Daddy, come on!” Open worship is the offering of our hearts, where we have a conversation with God telling Him just who He is. It is where we sing a song that beckons the Lord to incline His ears. This is the unscripted part of the worship service, this is the part when we step out from behind the tablecloths and give God all that we are! I wonder if maybe this Sunday you might decide to take the Lord by the hands and give Him all of who you are. I wonder if maybe you are ready to stop trying to do church without God. The truth is that God will go where we welcome him. Welcome Him in your services this weekend with open worship!
When I was a youth pastor, I strongly felt that teenagers should lead other teenagers in worship. Which presented its own set of problems! In the high school group we would lose a worship leader every four years (when they graduated), so I found myself working with teenagers, constantly pouring into them and equipping them to lead worship. I found that some of the most talented singers were some of the shyest people in the world. For some reason they did not think they had any kind of voice, despite all of the praise from adults and their peers. There was some underlying fear that seemed to keep them captive. On some level they felt like they were going to be rejected if they messed up. They felt that if they could blend into the crowd and not get noticed then they would never be rejected because no one would ever hear them make a mistake. Deep within their hearts was the desire to praise God with the voice He had given them. Yet, the fear of rejection and being an outcast overshadowed that desire, so it stayed buried deep within them. The book of First John gives us the remedy for this arresting fear. It says: There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.1 John 4:18-19 (ESV)
The truth is the more secure we as people feel about God’s love and acceptance the more risks we will take for God. Those risks include worshiping Him with all of the voice He has put in us! I found the more time and love I gave to these teen worship leaders, the more secure they became. Consequently, the more powerful worship leaders they became.
Now when we look at a congregation rather than the worship leader we see this truth of the “fear of rejection” consumes God’s people. Fear of standing out is very prevalent in our churches today. However, this can be overcome by creating an environment where love and acceptance are the defining characteristics. If people are free from fear because they are loved than they will sing praises to their Lord. If we are to create this type of culture in our worship we will need to lay ahold of one other passage of scripture. Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. Zephaniah 3:14-19 (ESV) Over and over again it says “the Lord, is in your midst”. When the presence of God is realized His love overwhelms us. When my kids are fearful I will scoop them up and begin to sing over them and the fear leaves and they just relax in my arms. If we want to create a place where fear is cast out, our worship teams must do as God does. We must sing over the congregation with confidence and love. When our worship is an overflow from the Love that God has poured into us, we are willing to risk the rejection. When people see us expressing our love for our God with our reservations, it breaks down walls and kicks open doors for the Holy Spirit to come with His love which will drive out fear.
I was talking with a friend the other day, John*, and he was having one of those seasons in his life that was like one of those old stereotypical country songs, “He had lost his job, his truck broke down, his dog died, and he was fighting with his wife” (not all of this happened to John, I am exaggerating for drama). It seemed like his world was crashing down around him, and he wanted me to tell him what he should do next. Instantly I felt the tension of what Job’s friends must have felt when they saw their good friend in anguish. The Bible says that they did not recognize Job when they saw him from a distance. They raised their voices and wept, then they sat in the dust with him and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great (Job 2:13). These guys did it right at first. I began to ask a few leading questions of John, like “What is the Lord teaching you right now? What was the last thing that the Lord spoke to you? What season (summer, fall, winter, spring) does this feel like in your life?” Then I just listened. I had learned this lesson from the foolishness of the friends of Job, who, after listening to Job lament, gave him bad advise. John began to talk and relate what the Lord was doing and what God had said to him regarding the season he was in. It was almost like his reality changed or better yet had come into focus. God was at work and He was in control of the times and the seasons of John’s life.
Far too often we get our own eyes focused on the trouble at hand or the harshness of a spiritual winter. We get caught up in believing that we have done something wrong or that we need to try harder. We believe that the winter we are in is because of some sin we have in our lives and while that is sometimes true it is most often NOT the case. The times and seasons we live through are controlled and ordained by God. Now, I am not saying that God caused Job or John to go through the trials that they went through but I am saying that God was always in control and He could have stopped it at anytime. The fact that He did not is a completely different matter. Job teaches us that God is always in control and though we do not understand, God is always good!
In the book of Daniel we learn that God is the one who changes the times and the seasons: 20 Daniel answered and said: Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. 21 He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; 22 he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him (Daniel 2:20-22 ESV) As I sat with John I kept getting this overwhelming sense that he was almost through the winter of this season in his life. I was about to tell him to continue in patiently waiting on the Lord, when he quoted the book of James out of the blue, however it fit in so well only God could have done it. 7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand (James 5:7-8 ESV) John told me “God is the one who causes things to grow. It is only the foolish farmer that plants one day, then goes into the field the next and gets all mad at the crops because they have not produced yet.” Let us make sure that we don’t look or act like the foolish farmer John was talking about. God is the one who changes the times and the seasons. So let us endure in Him whatever season we find ourselves in.
As I was preparing for worship, I found myself not wanting just another song service. I know what it is like to have the spirit of God heavy during worship and what it is like to just sing songs. I sat in my office looking through different songs and listening to different artists hoping for inspiration. The Holy Spirit brought to my mind a passage of scripture, it is found in the book of John chapter 7. I had to reread it to make sure that I had understood it correctly. Jesus was at one of the many feasts the Jewish people had. Now, these feasts can become empty and just another social obligation for most of those in attendance when in the hands of sinful men. At this feast, however, our Lord Jesus Christ was in attendance. As I read this passage, I got the feeling that He came to a point where He could not handle the empty religiosity of it all. On the last day of the feast, He could not handle it, He just had to say something.
John 7:37-39 (ESV) On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit,whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
There comes a point when we all get frustrated and we can not take it any longer. That point where we have got to say something or we will explode. This is the point where the true nature of a person’s heart is shown, the point where they are uncovered. In the scripture we see God’s heart and it is full of love! Jesus gets frustrated and He wants to give living water, He wants to pour out the Holy Spirit. Jesus wants to bring an end to the empty worship service by filling up their worship service with eternal life and the Holy Spirit. In other words, He wants to put God back where He belongs and fill up the empty space.
This was where I was at that very moment, I wanted people to allow God to be the center of their worship but how could I do that? The Lord showed me that it was out of the overflow of His heart that He cried out. He promises that if we come to him that “we will have rivers of living water.” I felt a deep conviction, if I was indeed allowing the river to flow what was in my heart would look just like the Detroit river. I realized that there is a river that flows out of each and every heart but the source is either the Holy Spirit or the flesh. I had to make a choice: was I going to just sing songs out of the flesh or was I going to pursue Jesus and receive the river of living water that came forth from the Holy Spirit? I realized the songs do not really matter, what really mattered was if our worship was from the overflow of the flesh or from the Spirit.
The other day I had a friend that was going through one of those really tough battles in life. For circumstances that were out of his control, he found him self losing his job and his family and well pretty much everything. He came to me and wanted to know what he should do. Have you ever been there, someone is looking to you for answers and you feel like you have nothing to give them. There I was, I did not know what to say. Truth be told, the reality was we both knew that he needed to hear from God and not from me. So I said the christian default statement, “Lets pray about this.” It just so happens that when we bowed our heads and I started to pray God laid upon my heart a scripture. I had not read it in a long time but I could not shake it. We find this story in the book of 2 Chronicles 20 where King Jehoshaphat is in trouble. There is this great army that is made up of several different kingdoms and they all have come to take Judah and Jerusalem. Jehoshaphat calls the people of God together and they pray! Well things get pretty awesome after the people go and seek God. God shows up and speaks prophetically through His people and God says: “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the battle is not yours but God’s!” As I recalled these words, the Lord moved in my heart to actually turn and read to him the rest of the story.
2 Chronicles 20:18-22 (NIV) Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. 19 Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.20 Early in the morning they left for the Desert of Tekoa. As they set out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Listen to me, Judah and people of Jerusalem! Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful.” 21 After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.”22 As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.
I had not remembered the part about the worship of the Lord, just the prayer. I am so glad that the Lord led me to read this passage because not only did it lead my friend and I to worship the Lord right there in my office, it changed my perspective about worship all together. Prayer and Worship are not only important to a church service, but in 2 Chronicles we see that when we put prayer and worship first, the Lord goes ahead of us. It reminds us that the battle is the Lords and we need not be afraid no matter what size the battle might be. Leading people in worship of the Lord allows God to restore their hope in Him, the only One who can deliver us. It is kind of like the story found in Exodus 17 where the people of God are at war against Amalek and while Moses had his hands raised in Worship, the people of God prevailed. When we worship we welcome God’s presence. The Psalmist said it this way “But You are holy, enthroned in the praises of Israel.” When we pray and worship God, He shows up bringing: deliverance, healing, prophetic words, and all other kinds of manifestations of the Holy Spirit. In short, when we pray and worship God, we find that His presence is our victory!