Balancing Act

Modern life is definitely fast paced.  We have cities that never sleep.  We race around until we are about to have a nervous breakdown because we are out of time and energy and there are hardly any items checked off of the to do list.

Why?  Why are we stressing ourselves so much with a multitude of demands on our time?

It most likely comes back to our western culture.  Our values include things such as more is better and survival of the fittest.  We have become so used to the frantic paces of our lives that we struggle to spend any quiet time because it leaves us feeling like we should be busy.  That we are somehow being lazy.  We have forgetten how to engage in sabbath times.  This is greatly affecting our ability to spend quality time in relationship with God.

I have been reading this month a book by Paul E. Miller called A Praying Life, Connecting with God in a Distracting World as part of my reading  assignments for the Fellows Program.  He points out that one of the reasons we fail at prayer is because when we can’t stand to stop long enough:

American culture is probably the hardest place in the world to learn to pray. We are so busy that when we slow down to pray, we find it uncomfortable. We prize accomplishments, production. But prayer is nothing but talking to God. It feels useless, as if we are wasting time. Every bone in our bodies screams, “Get to work.” – pg 15

It pains me to admit it, but I am in this category.  I consistently struggle to find space for consistent prayer times in my life.  I have the best intentions, but still continue to be more of a conversational prayerer more than anything else.

By this I mean that I have little conversations with God throughout the day.  For example when I am in the car driving to or from work.  Or when I am in the latest battle of wills with Mr. Max (my son).  When I lay down in bed at night.

I also frequently do what Mr. Miller refers to as breath prayers, which are quick phrases said in a single breath (pg 68).  So it is not unusual for me to say a quick prayer like, “Lord give me strength” or “Lord help me learn patience” as I go about my day.

However, a quiet time of prayer daily seems to still be eluding me.  I am determined to change this because I can feel the presence of God during these quick times of prayer, and it makes me want to have that feeling more often!  I tend to be a highly emotional person who can be  a little high strung.  How much more effective could I be as a woman of God if I could feel his calming presence more regularly in my days?

So what is keeping me from devoting this time to be in relationship with God each day?  It is my crazy 21st century life.   Even though I have cut back my involvement in things significantly both in my home life and my church life, there are still many responsibilities that have to be attended to:

  • Taking care of my husband and son
  • Taking care of our home
  • Working a full-time job as a department manager for a redistribution company
  • My studies and assignments for the C.S. Lewis Fellows Program
  • Church Ministries I am still part of
  • Exploring the writing nudges God has placed on my heart
  • Exercising and self-care
  • Quiet times for prayer and Bible Study

These areas of my life take up a huge chunk of my time.  I am pretty sure that no matter how hard or how often I pray for it, God will not provide me with more hours in the day!  So that means I am going to have to be more intentional with my time if I want to squeeze it all in.

As the busy season for me at work dies down I am now going to turn my focus to this list of priorities in my life.  They are all important areas of who I am and who God is calling me to be.  So cutting anything from this list isn’t an option.

So what can I do to make these things happen?

To start with, I need to take a look at the distractions in my life.  One important item to cut are the ministries that I am involved with that God is no longer calling me to be a part of.  I have struggled with this greatly these past couple of months.  It has been a hard lesson for me to learn that while all ministry endeavors are good not all of them are part of God’s plan for me at this time in my life.

Have you ever read the poem about people who come into your life?  Some are there for a reason, some for a season, and some are there for life.  I have discovered that this also applies to ministries I am involved with!

Some I have been called to for a reason.  God had a lesson for me to learn there, but now it is time to let the ministry go because I have received the intended lesson.  Others I have been called to for a season and will continue with these areas, like being a worship leader.  And still others I will be a part of for life.  So I have been slowly learning to let go of the areas of church life that I served in for just a reason or a season that has now ended.  These have been some of the hardest lessons I have learned to date.

Through my prayer conversations to and from work I am also realizing that I spend too much precious time watching unnecessary television.  So if I want to find more time for the priorities I have identified above, specifically more consistent quiet times with God through prayer and Bible study and exercising and self-care, then I need to not waste time watching reruns of shows I really could care less about.  Cutting down in this area can help in two ways:

  1. free up time in the evening after dinner to devote to exercise
  2. get me to bed earlier so that I can wake up a little earlier each morning to incorporate the quiet times

In addition to these two items, I realized that I will also need to be more intentional with our weekly meal planning.  I need to be considering healthy meal  choices while also keeping in mind prep times.  This will enable me to quickly take care of meal times for my family but also leave some free space in the evenings.

So there it is.

Most likely I will need to keep coming back and surrendering myself in prayer for the Father’s guiding hands in my life as I plan out how to use the valuable time he has given me each day.  This balancing act has been and will continue to be a struggle for me, but this time I am giving it to God and asking for his help.

I can do all things through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13) when I take the time to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10) and his plans for me are for my welfare and will give me hope for the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

 

 

 

 

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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)