Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. Exodus 20:12
Sitting (as an honored guest) on a stump in the shade of a giant acacia tree was the most humbling and one of the most moving experiences of my life. We were in Zimbabwe attending “church” at a Ndebele tribal village. The 25 or so people in attendance wore their finest modern clothes and lounged on the dirt, unconcerned that there was no roof, floor, podium, padded pews, or worship band. They told us of their great appreciation for the man who allowed them to hold services under the leaves of his tree — which stood next to his one-room thatched home. (The “facilities”, standing 20 yards away, consisted of rusted tin walls about five feet high, no roof and two holes in the ground!)
Shy smiles and fleeting eye contact were the most many of them could manage, so intimidated were they to meet Americans. Their tribal pastor prayed, officially welcomed our small group, and then delivered a rousing sermon. As the worship began, these people (mostly women) were soon on their feet — at least those who were physically able. Shoes are a scarce commodity, making foot ailments and deformity common.
A transformation took place before our eyes as they smiled with their entire faces, sang, and danced for the Lord. “Rock out” has never been better demonstrated and “passion” doesn’t begin to describe the depth of emotion and energy they invested in their praise and celebration of God. Soon our little band of traditional, white church-goers was dancing, singing, and laughing along with our African brothers and sisters. Even if we didn’t understand the words, the Spirit united us in worship as we followed Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
The sentiments they conveyed to God were not “gimme” prayers (gimme health, wealth, and happiness), in spite of the great need and the obvious lack of the first two. What these sweet people clearly expressed was their love of Jesus and their deep gratitude for what He provided them; grace. This was a living picture of Psalms 22:3, “God inhabits the praises of His people.”
I may have more stuff and fewer life-or-death burdens but they have an abundance that I lack. Pure unadulterated faith, hope, and love — for one another, the Lord, and life itself. No load is too heavy to weigh down their joy. No obstacle is too big to diminish their communion. The focus was entirely upwardly-focused, not on the circumstances surrounding them.
The lesson I learned that day has remained embedded in my soul, but while it is first nature to these tribal folks to cast all their cares away and be delightfully free in their time of worship, I still have to work at it.
“Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” Psalm 55:22 (NASB)
Do you, or have you ever worshipped God with such complete abandon? Do life’s difficulties sometimes suppress your ability to experience joy? Can creature comforts be a curse as well as a blessing? What are you willing to do to gain the free spirit our Ndebele friends showed us?
Sunday afternoon conversations with my family inevitably drift to what took place as the church met that morning. We might cover impacting points from the sermon, prayer needs, guests we met, unusual happenings in the children’s ministry, and of course, the “worship.”
Was the mix good? How about the song selection? Were the songs arranged well? Did the transitions make sense? Were there any dead spots? Was anyone emotionally moved?
Such are the questions that arise in a family where the patriarch has been involved in music ministry for over forty years. Of course, we all know (or at least we should know) that worship is meant to be an all-of-life response to who God is for us in Christ (Romans 12:1; John 4:21–26). Just like breathing, worship can’t be limited to one portion of our day or one day of our week. We’re always doing it.
“Be as passionate about glorifying God in your relationships as you are up front on Sundays.”
The same can be said of our leading. Leading worship starts and ends with the way I live my life, not what I do on a public platform. Encouraging others to glory in Jesus Christ is an activity that extends far beyond the twenty to thirty minutes I give to it on Sunday mornings.
But how do we realign our hearts and thoughts to that reality?
1. See your preparation as worship.
Most weeks I spend about six hours planning and rehearsing for the Sunday gathering. Some leaders I know invest even more time. All those hours of planning, preparation, and practice are meant to be worship too. Jesus is no less on his throne before the meeting as he is during the meeting. He’s no less of a Savior. The lyrics to the songs we’re going to sing are no less true. And God wants my attitudes to reflect a grateful response to the gospel, even as I “prepare” to worship.
That means that even as I plan, I can allow the significance of the lyrics we’ll be singing and the Scriptures we’ll be reading on Sunday to affect me. I can glorify God by serving band members when I communicate with them in a timely fashion. I can pause during rehearsal to remind myself and the other musicians why specific truths we’re singing are so important. I can do all my preparation with faith and joy, knowing that the Holy Spirit is just as present with me before the meeting as he will be when we gather.
2. Don’t let your daily life contradict your public worship.
“My spouse, kids, musicians, and friends aren’t interruptions to my ministry; they are my ministry.”
In both the Old and New Testaments, God rebukes those who proclaim his praise in the assembly, but sin against him through their thoughts, words, and deeds at other times (Matthew 15:7–9; Isaiah 1:12–17; Amos 5:21–24; Psalm 50:16–21). Consistency matters for God’s people, and it certainly matters for those who lead them.
No amount of passionate singing on Sunday makes up for passionate sinning on other days. Of course, if we confess our sins and trust in the substitutionary death of Jesus for forgiveness, we have every reason to sing. But we don’t sing because Jesus excuses our sins. We sing because he has freed us from them.
3. Be as passionate about glorifying God in your relationships as you are up front on Sundays.
My spouse, kids, musicians, and friends aren’t interruptions to my ministry — they are my ministry. God intends my relationships to bring him glory even more than my songs (Romans 15:5–6). Those closest to me should be able to see a connection between the way I speak and act in front of people on a Sunday morning and the way I interact with them at other times.
Am I insensitive or caring? Am I unapproachable or inviting? Is the faith I exude on the platform evident when I’m going through a challenging season? Is my public passion for God’s glory reflected in my private acts of purity, humility, and generosity? If not, my view of leading worship is not only narrow, but dangerous.
4. Be ready in season and out of season.
A significant part of my job these days is training younger leaders. I often don’t give them much lead time when I ask them to sing or play. I want them to recognize that life is preparation for what we do in front of others.
Of course, we want to know chords, melody lines, lyrics, and good ways to transition between songs. But our leading is meant to be the overflow of the glory of Christ we’ve been pursuing all week: in our devotions, at our jobs or schools, and in our free time. That’s why David exclaims,
“We don’t sing because Jesus excuses our sins. We sing because he has freed us from them.”I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together! (Psalm 34:1–3)
I will bless the Lord at all times, not just on Sunday mornings. May that be our prayer and practice even as we give ourselves fully to leading God’s people every week.
Worship with Your Whole Heart
I will cry to God Most High, Who performs on my behalf and rewards me [Who brings to pass His purposes for me and surely completes them]! (Psalm 57:2 Amplified Bible)
Great worship leaders know to come into the presence of God with their entire being, prepared to give thanks and praise (see Deuteronomy 10:12). They don’t just roll out of bed, throw water on their face, and run a comb through their hair before church. They know that the anointing comes from a sincere pursuit of loving God with their whole heart.
Likewise, as you approach God in the morning, come to Him with a heart full of worship, expressing your awe of Him for His faithfulness toward you. He promises that He will never forsake you, but will be with you all day long (see Joshua 1:5).
Find Quiet Time
The [reverent] fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even than much fine gold; they are sweeter also than honey and drippings from the honeycomb. (Psalms 19:9-10 Amplified Bible)
Sometimes I set aside the entire day just to be with God. I stop everything and seek Him. I know I am not going to hear from God if I don’t get quiet on purpose by that time set aside for Him.
It is so important to have some “down time” to be alone and just sit quietly. You may think you don’t have time, but if somebody was giving out thousand-dollar bills at the mall, you would find time to get there. Don’t use the time to try to figure out something; just be still and available to the Lord’s attention.
Increase Your Days
Behold, the Lord’s eye is upon those who fear Him [who revere and worship Him with awe], who wait for Him and hope in His mercy and loving-kindness, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. (Psalms 33:18-19Amplified Bible)
When I talk about seeking God early, many people think they will have to get up at three o’clock in the morning! I am not trying to tell you how to do it. I am not even suggesting that you pray for an hour. I am just saying that some way, somehow, if you want to start your whole day right, you must find time to seek God’s wisdom in the morning.
Time with God adds years to your life! God is eager to give us insight and understanding. His Word says, “For by me [Wisdom from God] your days shall be multiplied, and the years of your life shall be increased.” (Proverbs 9:11, Amplified Bible)