by John Chisum
What's a lifestyle of worship all about? It starts with loving God on the inside - then reaching others on the outside.
I internalize things much too often. As a sensitive person with a somewhat artistic temperament, I tend to be the kind of guy who gets up in the morning and the first person I see I say "Good morning! How am I doing today?" Instead of making sure that my identity is fully anchored in who and what God says I am, all too often I can fall into the trap of letting everyone and everything else around me begin to define my feelings about who and how I am. Not good. Not good at all.
Now, I know that I might be a psychoanalyst's dream client. Someone of that goodly profession may readily enjoy picking apart my childhood, the good, the bad, and the awful. But I'm not so sure that I want to spend my time and money there just yet, especially since my congregation already analyzes me every Sunday. I mean, these people know when I'm having a bad day. They can tell when I'm tired, hungry, angry, lonely or bored. They sense when I've lost my connection with God and when I'm up there dropping my guitar picks and fumbling around searching for something to say between songs. They have built-in radar for when I've started a song in the wrong key or when I've forgotten how many times we've sung the chorus and I'm just sure they know when I've had a fight with my wife right before church. Oh, they can tell all right. Congregations just know these things.
Worship leading is a challenging proposition, to say the least. It requires the delicate balance of gifts and abilities, of strengths and sensitivities. It requires that we know how to perform well, but choose not to have a "performance spirit." It asks us to pick songs that everyone can enter into yet not have a "man-pleasing spirit." We have to submit to the stylistic desires of our Senior Pastors but attempt to be an innovative leader with our music and worship. We have to have the kind of personality that's able to gain control and win people's confidence yet turn all the control over to the Holy Spirit and take no credit for anything. If the service goes well, it was God's doing. If it doesn't, then it was our fault. In other words, worship leadership can seem kind of like juggling teacups with your hands, spinning hoops with your knees, balancing a poodle on your head and gargling - all at the same time.
While we claim that we "just want the Holy Spirit to use us," the fact is that He is using us. He doesn't miraculously transform us into Michael W. Smith or Matt Redman or Ron Kenoly. He doesn't usually materialize as a cloud in the center of the Sanctuary, though He certainly did that for the Israelites. He uses us, warts and all! If you're like me, you've probably heard some of the greatest testimonies on some of your worst Sundays.
Take this past Sunday at my church, for instance. I wasn't in the greatest of moods to begin with. We're in a temporary facility, so I'm at church by 7 a.m. every Sunday to roll out sound systems and keyboards from storage into our generic meeting place. That's enough to make me feel like complaining, even if I've arrived that day in a half-decent state of mind. After nearly two hours of set-up and checking cables and mics, my accompanist and almost all of the praise team arrived nearly thirty minutes late. Church begins at 10:15 and it was now past 9:30. By the time everyone was settled in and ready to play, we had barely rehearsed the first song. How was I feeling, you might ask? Oh, just peachy!
Needless to say, I didn't begin that service with great confidence. As we began to sing, I looked out in the congregation and my eyes seemed to focus on the people who were not visibly engaged in worship. One lady looked like she had just walked out of a wind tunnel. A group of teens were laughing and pointing at my tie, I think, and one man looked liked he had just been baptized in pickle juice! Others just seemed totally disinterested in what we were doing, dreaming perhaps of the day's lunch still to come.
By the time I looked through the congregation, I was ready to storm angrily down the center aisle and out the door and never come back! Thankfully, God gave me great grace and I just stood my ground, lifted my song to the Lord and prayed in faith that He would do what He does so well by touching all of our hearts once again with His love.
After the service, several people came up to me and spoke sincerely of how deeply God had ministered to their needs during the worship time. Amazing. Throughout this week no less than a half dozen people have called or spoken to me at the church office and have expressed the same thing. I felt lousy, but God showed up and met these people in their deepest hearts through their own sacrifice of praise. Okay, Lord. I get the message - it's not about me at all, is it?
I seem to need to learn that lesson again and again. It's not about me. It's all about Jesus and making sure that He's exalted in our hearts through our sincere praise. That's no excuse for laziness in preparation or prayer on my part, but the focus of true worship isn't on my worship plan - it's on Jesus Himself. Whether or not we execute a flawless musical rendition of every song on the list is immaterial to the ultimate outcome: an encounter with God.
The anxiousness I tend to feel on Sundays is a direct result of my heart's desires being out of focus. That internal drive that compels me to get all the ducks in a row, all the details set just right so that I can feel good about the job I've done doesn't glorify God, but glorifies me. Don't misunderstand - we need to be excellent about the details of worship. What I'm describing here is the bane of every worship leader's existence, that subtle difference between faith and works, between self-service and self-sacrifice, and between true worship and dead religion. Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference on the outside, but we always know what's happening on the inside. We know when our hearts are pure before the Lord and when we're going through the motions for other reasons.
In Ezekiel 44, the Lord outlines His specifications for priestly service in His temple. In verses 17-18 it reads, "When they enter the gates of the inner court, they are to wear linen clothes; they must not wear any woolen garment while ministering at the gates of the inner court or inside the temple. They are to wear linen turbans and linen undergarments around their waists. They must not wear anything that makes them perspire." If you study the context of these verses you see that there were two kinds of priests God allowed to serve in His temple. The first group of priests served the people outwardly in the outer court, but did not serve God inwardly with their hearts.
The second group, to which the above verses were directed, served God first from their hearts and the people secondly from the overflow of God's presence. The two ministries coexist. Only you and God know the difference. Linen underwear is invisible to the crowd, but God sees. God knows. Ultimately, that's what worship leading and a lifestyle of worship are all about - loving the Lord first and ministering to others out of the abundance of His presence in our lives. So, show me your Hanes!
John Chisum is a pastor and worship leader in Mobile, Alabama. Information on his workshop, concert, and worship leading ministry is available on the web at www.johnchisum.net