What I’ve Learned as a Worship Leader

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6, NRSV)

Recently our congregation had a small group meeting with the title Re-imaging Worship.  The purpose of this short Bible study was to find out more about what worship is.  Out of the discussions came the following conclusions from the gathered group of believers:

  • we worship God because he is awesome
  • God is worthy of praise
  • No matter what is going on in us or around us we are always capable of worship
  • we are made to worship – if we aren’t worshiping God, we are worshiping something else

What is this worship I speak of?  Webster’s Dictionary defines worship as the act of showing respect and love for a god especially by praying with other people who believe in the same god: the act of worshiping God or a god.  So anytime, anyplace you show love or respect for God or his creations I would say you are engaging in worship.  It doesn’t have to take place in a sanctuary, but most of the time when we think of worshipping we think of it in the corporal sense that takes place in our congregations on Sunday mornings.

For the past four years I have served as a worship leader in our small congregation.  I vividly remember the first Sunday that I filled this role.  It was a Sunday that did not have a piano player, so I had to lead songs from the front step, by myself, with no musical accompaniment.    This is fairly normal for a Mennonite church, a denomination with a rich history of a capella singing, but for a former catholic girl brought up singing hymns with an organ, let’s just say that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with this prospect.  Since I had accepted the request to lead that Sunday, I decided to make the best of the situation, determined to do a nice job my first time out.  I consulted with the pastor about what songs would be good choices to pick for that Sunday, and he offered me suggestions of songs that he felt would be fairly familiar to our congregation.  Easy peasy right?  Not so much.  Turns out that the songs that our pastor felt would be old, familiar favorites weren’t all that familiar.  I learned the very powerful lesson that day as I stood up there on that step trying to lead songs I didn’t know to people who didn’t know them either that each and every congregation, regardless of denomination, had their own set of favorites.  So what was familiar to our pastor, who was new to our congregation, turned out to be an epic fail for me.  By the grace of God I hung in there until the last lines of the songs had been stumbled over.  Fortunately the congregation was incredibly supportive and good sports about the whole thing.

Thus started my walk as a worship and praise leader.   It was a humbling experience, but probably one of the best ways to begin.  It made me fearless when trying new things, because I couldn’t possibly fail any worse than I did the first Sunday.  Since then I have had some really great worship experiences as well as some that were just ok.  During this journey the twists and bends in the road have helped me to draw some conclusions about the nature of worship in congregations.  Conversations with worship leaders in other congregations seem to point in the same direction.  These conclusions may not apply to everyone, but I would say in general the overall congregation population struggles with one or all of these.   It is the humanity in us.  Fortunately for us with lots of prayer and trust, our father in heaven can help us through if we are dealing with any of these.

People have worship preferences.  Let me say that again.  People have worship preferences.  Fear of redundancy is the only reason why I am not making that statement a third time.  In fact, saying that people have strong worship preferences would be an understatement!  We all have ideas of what is acceptable forms of worship and what is not.  We criticise those who have practices that differ from ours.  At times we might even feel smug and superior to those whose worship we feel just doesn’t measure up.

People don’t like change.  Whether the piece of the service that is changing is something major, like changing from a traditional service to a contemporary service, or something minor, such as moving the place in the service where the offering is taken, changes are not welcomed in general.  Maybe this is because the thought of the awesomeness of a God above who was willing to sacrifice his son to redeem humanity can be over powering, possibly uncomfortable depending upon our guilt levels.  So doing what we have always done is more comfortable.  We cling to the familiar when showing our thanks and praising our gracious heavenly father.

People take the music used in worship very seriously, and it is totally personal.  It has been my experience that the method and music styles that were learned as children at church tends to be our preferred style of music for worshiping today.  Music comes in all shapes, sizes, and varieties.  Some incredibly rich in melodic accompaniment, others the simple harmonies found in a capella.  We hesitate to incorporate new types of music into our worship services for fear of using music that is not christian or is displeasing to God.  Psalm 98: 4-6 tells us Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.  Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.  With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord (NRSV).  Could it be possible that all musical endeavors that are used to bring praise and worship to God are pleasing to his ear?  After all, he gave us the gifts to create all of the endless musical options out there.

Regardless of the format or order of service, it is a great privilege and honor to be called by God and your congregation to serve as a worship leader.  You can actually feel the current of the Spirit moving through the sanctuary when true worship clicks on within the congregation.  Feeling that presence is incredible and awesome!

Surprisingly, being a worship leader has brought me more blessings than I ever would have imagined.  In leading others into worship, it has helped me worship deeper and more fully in ways I had never been able to worship before.  At times the task of leading can be overwhelming.  Some Sundays you feel overwhelmed by life and just don’t even know where to begin to even start to worship because you just don’t feel like it.  However, when I step into my place on the step in the sanctuary, all of my troubles disappear and I am transported to that place where true worship can occur.

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” (Romans 14:11, NRSV)

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Change in Progress

Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

(Isaiah 43: 18-19, NRSV)

 

Since the dawn of creation, beginning with Adam and Eve, people have hated change.  Perhaps the opening of our eyes with the original sin has caused us to fear change, sometimes more than anything else.  No change could ever be greater than going from living a life in perfect harmony with our heavenly father, to living a life of darkness and pain cast away from him.

I think that to many of us change means we are relinquishing our control over a situation or thing, possibly leaving our dreams and ambitions hanging in the balance, unable to help influence what will come next.  Above all else we seek to be in control;  in control of our finances, in control of our health, in control of our emotions, in control of our destinies.  It takes a great deal of trust before we are willing to allow others to even get a glimpse into these areas of our lives, let alone give them the power to make decisions on those things for us.

Along with losing control, we fear the unknown that comes with change.  We are happiest when the road before us is stretching out in a flat, straight line so that we can see ahead of us for miles into the distance and can clearly see what is coming at us.  Of course the weather as we are traveling on that road with perfect visibility is pleasant and full of good light and sunshine.  What lies around the sudden bend we come upon makes us hesitate, possibly even put the brakes on and come to a complete stop, unwilling to drive around that bend.  We fear what is to come because we can’t see what is waiting on the other side of the bend and have no idea how we will need to react to it.

Sometimes we continue on in the same patterns, living our lives as we always have, because it is just more comfortable and familiar.  It is the reason we hang onto favorite shirts or pairs of jeans that have long since faded and started to fray.  We are willing to still wear these garments, despite the weaker material and holes that are coming through, because we are creatures of habit and we like the way they fit us.  We hesitate to get rid of these items for fear that we will never have it this comfortable again.  So we live with the holes, content to not wonder about what we are missing if we were to slip into something new.

For the past several months I have struggled, knowing that I need to make some changes in my schedule that will free me up to more fully pursue my writings.  The only way this is going to happen is if I step away from something else but  I have been unwilling to let anything go.  It isn’t an option to stop going to my regular job, as Max likes having a roof over his head and food on the table, and for some reason he thinks that food should appear on the table several times a day every single day!  So the areas in my life that I need to make changes in will have to come from my hours after work, a lot of which have been taken up with church commitments the past four years or so.

It finally hit me why I am so reluctant to let any of these things go. It is not because I don’t trust in God to show me the way to go on  a new path, not because I am afraid of the unknown, not because it is more comfortable to stay put, but because I don’t won’t to let go of the tasks that have memories of people attached to them.  I have worked with some gifted and talented people who have mentored me along my way.  Through their mentoring I have learned a lot about myself, developed a deeper relationship with God, and learned the pure joy that it is to help lead God’s children into worship.  In a way,  I have been very reluctant to give up pieces of the ministries that I have helped with over the last few years because hanging onto them helped me hang onto the good memories of friendships made while I served.

So having realized what was tripping me up, I once more prayed for guidance on what to let go and what to take on.  Knowing what my hang ups and reluctance were coming from it made it a whole lot easier to hear the answers coming from my ever-present cheerleader above.  Decisions have finally been made and time to write is on my horizon!  With each new step I take I am feeling his calming presence, and my soul is filled with peace.  People will come and go in this life, but there is One who will be by my side every step of the way.

And he will hold my hand and continue to guide me, one change at a time.

 

The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17, NRSV)

Stressed by the Happiest Place on Earth

For several years now I have been promising Mr. Max that we would go to Disney World.  I thought we would be able to pull it off and a few years back I began the process of planning our dream vacation to the Magic Kingdom.  Then life happened and our finances that have always been spread pretty thin were pushed to their limits and I had to tell Max that our trip just wouldn’t be possible yet.

Fast forward to this past spring.  I received a bonus for a job well done at work and thought at last our time had come!  I once again began to look into planning a dream vacation, but it came to a screeching halt when I realize that the cost for the total trip package had gone up by about $1000!  There was no way I could justify that!  It would take the entire bonus and a whole lot more.

I accepted the fact that we just might not ever have the means necessary to ever go to Disney World.  I wrestled with guilt and self-loathing.  How could we not afford this, just one time?  My husband and I both work full-time jobs and try very hard to live within our means.  Frustration set in as the cost of living, groceries, and gas continued to go up but our pay increases just can’t keep up.

I took stock of our situation, realized we are better off than a lot of people, and in the same boat as many other people. Our circumstances are not unique.   So I pulled myself up out of the depths of despair (thank you very much for that fantastic phrase Anne of Green Gables) and gave thanks and praise for the good times we do get to enjoy together as a family closer to home.

All of a sudden out of the clear blue sky my boss offered me the chance to attend a conference for work in November of this year.  Any guesses where the conference would be taking place?  That’s right, Orlando, Florida at the Disney World Resort!  Best of all, I could bring my bring my family along and they could share my room with me.  While I am in sessions all day, Max will get to enjoy the magic with his Dad.  I will get to join them in the evenings.

It is the opportunity of a lifetime.  Never again will we have the opportunity to go to Disney World and not have to pay for lodging.  Many people have affirmed our decision to take the husband and Max with me, and have told us that there is no way we could pass up this once in a lifetime opportunity.

However;

THE HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH IS STRESSING ME OUT TO THE MAX!!!!!!!!! (No pun intended!)

We are discovering that even with the advantage of having some of the costs covered because it is a business trip, the remaining costs are mounting rapidly;  plane fare, park tickets, dog kennelling, dog vaccinations updated so they can go to the kennel. Then  there are the anticipated expenses to come; tolls, airport parking, meals for the husband and Max, and any souvenirs.  Everything added together will take care of maxing out my one small credit card.

Is it worth all this stress?  Am I the only soul on planet Earth that is feeling sick and incredibly worried about how to make this trip happen and take care of all of the extra expenses and still manage to pay the bills on time? In the back of my mind are looming the upcoming expenses of putting heating oil in the tank and Christmas that is just around the corner.

Does anyone else feel like this before a vacation?  Why are we as parents willing to go to such great lengths to create these special memories for our children?  Am I nuts to go through with this?  Right, wrong, or indifferent I am hoping for the best.  Hoping that my heavenly father will take pity on me and my stupidity and help me pull this off.  Even if that means we are having roman noodles for dinner every night in November not spent at Walt Disney World.

Even if we struggle for a few months, the time spent together will be worth it.  It really, truly is a one time thing, and we will treasure the memories always.  Right?

 

No Room For Doubts

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, NRSV)

Have you ever heard anyway say you should do what you love and love what you do?  How about  they work for a living, but live to do something else?  Lately the latter has been true for me, and I can’t honestly say that I have ever really felt the first one.

There have been two major employment type phases in my life; seven and a half years in the food service industry as a fast food manager and twelve years in an office setting in an accounting position of one type or another.  During my fast food years I couldn’t wait to get into the professional field, and now that I have been in the professional field I wish I could be in more of a creative position.  It would be pure heaven to be in a job role that required me to read all day!  Does anyone know where I might find one of those?

Is it human nature to never be satisfied?  I excelled in the restaurant industry because I can multi-task, have a pleasant people pleasing attitude, and a sense of urgency.  I also do well in the accounting realm because my brain likes the logical side of it and enjoys digging down into the details of things to see how they come together to make the financial picture as a whole.  However I am not convinced that I would ever be completely satisfied in either of these fields.

I miss the simplicity of fast food.  Sure the hours weren’t the greatest and holidays weren’t paid days off, but it was nice to clock out and not take work home with me.  I enjoy the perks of challenging my brain with reconciliations and being home nights and weekends, but the stress levels are much higher and I definitely take work home with me.

Do I feel dissatisfied because I feel my most current callings have been in more creative veins these past few years?  Music is something that is a great pleasure for me.  Writing has been a scary and intimidating road to start down, but there is satisfaction in seeing my words spilling from my head onto the computer screen as my fingers fly across the keyboard.  There is no simple answer to this.

Perhaps there is a divine plan in all of this.  Each step along my career path has been preparing me for the future that has yet to unfold itself.  God blesses us each with multiple gifts and talents, and wants us to use them all for his glory.  We are all kingdom workers and have the awesome privilege of working for the ultimate provider.

So how do we cheerfully perform the tasks that don’t excite or invigorate us, but are necessary and useful even if they are mundane?  Prayers, lots and lots of prayers!  I find myself praying for strength, and for wisdom in performing every task to the best of my ability, and patience to endure while doing what has to be done until the tasks are finished.

Lately I have found myself praying that God will help me to become more content with my lot in life.  Visions of grandeur may be clouding my perceptions and leading me astray.  Satan will hurl darts at us, and each dart is custom tailored for the person he takes aim at.  He is looking to sow seeds of doubt and dissatisfaction.  His goal is to distract us from the kingdom works of our hands.    So daily I must ask God to provide me with the proper armour needed to protect myself from the evil darts with my name on them.

Like any good and loving father, he will provide each of us with exactly what we need if we ask him to.

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.  If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.  But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:2-8, NRSV)

 

If We But Open Our Eyes To See

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O most high; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.  For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;  at the works of your hands I sing for joy.  (Psalm 92:1-4, NRSV)

Tonight my husband and I said goodbye to another dear face who has gone on to take up residence with his Lord and Savior.  A face I will greatly miss  that belonged to a sweet gentleman who enjoyed life here on this earth for  a little over 90 years and always added a bright light to my day when ever I had the pleasure of seeing him.  That seems like a long time in our human time reference frame, but to the heavenly realms it is really just the blink of an eye.

As children we spend our days wishing they would go faster so that we could be “old enough” for whatever our hearts desire was.  Old enough to go to school, old enough to sit in the front seat, old enough to drive, old enough to graduate.  These milestones seem to take an eternity to get to us and we wish that we could push a button that would speed time up.

Before we know it though, we are graduated from our childhoods and beginning the adult phase of our lives.  Managing careers, starting and raising families, and taking care of our homes become the focus of our days.  We get caught up in the rush of busy schedules and juggling finances trying to provide as best we can for the loved ones in our lives.  The days start to fly by in a frenzied blur making it hard to catch a breath as we careen down the road our life journey is traveling.  That is the stage that I am currently in.  As the days whirl by faster and faster I wish there was a button I could hit to slow time down.

I have been told by many that I need to treasure these crazy days because they will be passed before I know it and I will miss them.  Things like empty nests, retirement options, and end of life care decisions will need to be made.  Sweet memories of earlier times will provide warmth and comfort in our twilight years and are the blessed remains of our existence that help keep us warm as we reflect over the trials and tribulations we have experienced all the years of our lives.

Through all these stages of life, we have a willing constant companion who gives us unconditional love, unconditional guidance, and the promise of life to come.  We have access to all of this  if we choose to have a relationship with our creator and to be saved by accepting his son, Jesus, who was the ultimate sacrifice, into our hearts and lives.  We need to always remember that our loving God created us to live with joy and he wants us to take the time to savor and enjoy  all of his wonderful creations.

In the busyness of life, the mundane of everyday, we need to make sure we find the time to nurture this precious relationship with our Father above.   It is important to slow down and treasure all that we have been blessed with.  We need to give God thanksgiving and praise for all that he has done in our lives and in the world around us.  It is never too late to start!

How bright the light that brightens up our days!

We revel in such beauty, and give praise

To him who caused these wondrous things to be,

If we but open up our eyes to see.

The sunset comes with all its majesty

And may we in holy reverence be free

To see the darkness come, and without fear

As we lay down the things we held so dear.

And so, before the dawn we must have night

As we look forward to the wondrous sight.

By faith we go on in our trusting way,

And so we enter our eternal day.

– Eber S. Martin