An Unsustainable Pace

Today I was having a conversation with a college student in a grassy area outside the community college here in town. While we were conversing several children ran around playing tag and rolling in the grass. At first, it became annoying and distracting from the conversation that was taking place… but then a question began to nag in my mind. That question was: How are you doing with your playtime?

I couldn’t shake it? The question seemed silly! I’m an adult… I don’t “play.” But as I have thought about it all day the idea has started to unfold and I think there is an underlying importance within that simple question.

How are you doing with your playtime?

Not sure you should even have a playtime? Are you too grown up and mature for downtime, rest, and even… play? Well, maybe this is part of what you’re missing in life, and you like me are beginning to pay the price for the mindset of false productivity.

Research conducted by Dr. Stuart Brown, psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and founder of the National Institute for Play, reveals that a lack of downtime leads to lower work productivity, social isolation, and even depression. In “Dare to Lead” Brown says,

The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression

Through extensive studies, Dr. Brown and his institute have discovered that play increases empathy, creativity and innovation. It actually impacts our brain waves by creating a “cool down” from the frenetic pace of synapses permitting neurons to pass electrical or chemical signals to other neurons.

So in layman’s terms… if you want to be more productive at work, become intentional about cultivating play and sleep!

Dr. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, puts it this way,

We have to let go of exhaustion, busyness, and productivity as status symbols and measures of self-worth. We are impressing no one.

Practically speaking, this means many of us need to make some lifestyle and mindset changes. We need to establish boundaries by shutting off email and social media at a set time in order to focus on our families and our spiritual and emotional health. We need to stop celebrating people who work eighty-hours per week and stop bragging about how we’re tethered to our work responsibilities, as though that somehow makes us important.

Are you living at an unsustainable pace? If so… you are opening yourself up to some dangerous side effects of depression, anxiety, and burnout. And you are continuing to feed a culture of workaholic competitiveness in which no one wins.

Jesus’ solution was simple. In Mark 6:31 He said,

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Go with Jesus. Find a quiet place. Get some rest for your own sake!

Sometimes I am woke up at night with the worries and schedule of tomorrow. Sometimes I can’t “shut off my brain” as I try to think through a problem at work or in my life… sometimes they are even problems I have created in my mind or things I have no control over! Sometimes I find the joy leaking out and depression and anxiety rushing in to take its place. When these things happen, I realize that my work place and life pace has overtaken my faith, and I need to go away with Jesus, find a quiet place, and get some rest. And sometimes that even includes… play.

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“Consider Your Ways”

As a young person I have sat in numerous churches and looked around wondering, “where are all my peers?” Sometimes going to church and spotting another person my age is like a real life game of “Where’s Waldo.”

There is a plethora of articles online about how the millennial generation has turned their backs on church and are “unreachable” or rebellious. This is not another one of those articles.

But… according to a Barna study on church growth and church attendance amongst millennials (22-35 year olds) given in in 2016 church attendance and impressions of the church are the lowest in recent history.

  • Only 2 in 10 Americans under 30 believe attending a church is important or worthwhile (an all-time low).
  • 59 percent of millennials raised in a church have dropped out.
  • 35 percent of millennials have an anti-church stance, believing the church does more harm than good.
  • Millennials are the least likely age group of anyone to attend church (by far).

These numbers are staggering! What is going on! Where have we as a church fallen short and failed to reach, disciple, and keep young people in our congregations?

Haggai 1:1-11 says,

In the second year of Darius the king, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.”

What do we know about the Jewish people discussed in Haggai?

  • Years earlier they had been conquered and exiled from their land and homes.
  • They had been taken to a foreign land to serve under a foreign king.
  • They were brought out of exile and returned to their ruined land and homes.

The prophet Haggai recorded his messages to the Jewish people of Jerusalem in 520 BC, eighteen years after their return from exile in Babylon (538 BC). Haggai’s prophecy came at a time when the people of Judah were extremely vulnerable. They had been humbled by their exile to Babylon, given hope in their return to their Promised Land, and then discouraged by the reality of what they found.

You might be asking… what does this have to do with college students and young adults? And to that I would respond with, “everything.” Who else is at a more vulnerable time of their life than a teenager transitioning out into adulthood? Who else struggles with schedules, priorities, and agendas more than someone who has just spent the last 18 years of their life being told what to do and when to do it? Who steps out into the world “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” only to be crushed by the reality of life that is ahead of them?

In a lot of ways our young generations are like those Jews returning from their exile in Babylon.

The book of Haggai records the prophet expressing God’s opinion of the people’s negligence in building his house. In verse 5 he calls them to,

“Consider your ways!”

Don’t get me wrong they were working hard, busy with life and commerce, but they were lacking something… neglecting something… missing the point. They were earning money and resources for themselves and their own agendas and houses and neglecting the house of the Lord and the Kingdom of God as a whole. Think about the relation to our younger generations… these Jews were trying to create “something” from “nothing!” They had been in exile for years and were starting over… the same way our younger generations have to “jumpstart” their lives when entering into adulthood.

But… why were they lacking? Well quite simply they had neglected the divine agenda of “building up” the Lord’s house. The people of Judah had simply neglected what was of first importance and God frustrated their labors. Verse 9 says,

You look for much, but behold it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away. Why?’ Declares the LORD of hosts, ‘because of my house which lies desolate, while each of you runs to his own house.

We have in the days of Haggai a very similar scenario to what we face today. People are busy. Through the day-to-day life filled with the day-to-day tasks and agendas often the pursuit of personal advancement is promoted to a position of preeminence. And as a result the agenda of God and His will for his people gets sacrificed on the altar of personal pursuits.

This is where we the people of God come in… the church.

After thousands of years, the book of Haggai remains unique among the books of Old Testament prophets for one key reason: the people of Judah actually listened! Haggai’s message to rebuild the temple was passionate, simple, and straightforward. No one could mistake whether or not his direction had been followed because the results would be evident for all the people to see. Through the physical act of rebuilding the temple, the people began to indicate a shift in their spiritual lives: from devotion to self toward devotion to God.

Haggai had an important message for the Jews who had recently returned from exile. They had forgotten their God, choosing instead to focus on their own interests, so it was time for them to “consider their ways.” Nothing was more important for the Jews than to show that the Lord was at the center of their thoughts and actions, so Haggai directed them to finish rebuilding God’s temple.

However, rather than leaving them alone with the task of rebuilding, Haggai continued to preach to the Jews, encouraging them with the hope of future glory in the temple and a victory to come over the enemies of God’s people (seen in Haggai 2:7–9, 21–22). According to Haggai’s message, if the people would place God at the center of their lives, they would realize the future blessings that God had in store for His people.

How can we as the church draw our youth back? How can we be like the Prophet Haggai?

So many times we say that we are too busy…too busy for people, too busy for ministry, too busy for personal Bible reading/devotion, too busy to pray, too busy to meditate, too busy to whatever…to this God says, “Consider your ways!”

 

Helping Your Congregation Break Out of Its Comfort Zone

I recently watched the NBA finals and in Game 4 Steph Curry stepped up to the free throw line and knocked down 2 shots without batting an eye. He was in his comfort zone! In fact, throughout the finals he made 95% of the free throws he attempted. Steph Curry’s comfort zone is watching the ball go through the hoop.

What’s your comfort zone?

A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress. In this zone, a steady level of performance is possible.

As a Worship Pastor, comfort zones may be one of the things I wrestle with the most! I take the story of Moses as an example and am encouraged that God is in the business of stretching the comfort zones of His followers. Moses, as most of you know, did not consider himself a great speaker… some would even theorize and say that he might have had a speech impediment, but God called him to go and plead with Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. God called a person who was uncomfortable with their speaking abilities to be the voice of a nation, a voice of reason, and the audible voice of God.

We see a similar charge to Abram, when in Genesis 12 God tells him to “leave his country and Father’s house to a land that he will show you.” Even though it doesn’t say here, I’m sure Abram was hesitant at first. Leaving the land that he had known his whole life for a place that hadn’t even been given to him yet. A land that he didn’t know and couldn’t see!

So, Because of these stories I know that as a Pastor challenging my congregation to step out of their comfort zones is important and Biblical. But how do I do that? It seems every time I start to think on this topic so many more questions come up. What is the current comfort level at? How do we stretch without breaking people? How fast do we move? Am I stepping out of my comfort zone? How do we develop a method? Do we move with our church or as a separate entity?

All of these questions must be carefully weighed and thought out before deciding what stepping out of a comfort zone looks like for your individual ministry.

I have been on staff as a Worship Pastor at New Hope Community church for three and a half years now. I have learned a lot, and have seen God move in ways I couldn’t ever imagine! How can we come along our congregations and encourage the “fearful” steps out of the comfort zone? Let’s think together!


Find Your DNA

One of the most dangerous things I have seen over and over again with Pastors entering into new “home bases” is imparting their home church, or favorite “model” church, into the direct vision and end goal of the church they are in.

Now don’t hear me say that it is wrong to take things that healthy churches are doing and trying to implement them into the life of your church. That’s not it at all! The problem is when you try to make another church’s DNA your own!

Ministry takes a lot of time to figure out what the church’s “DNA” is. By that I simply mean what is natural and comfortable for them. For me I have to explore and find out if there is there a song that has been the church’s anthem that everyone raises his or her hands to? Is there a mash up that has helped bridge the gap in styles? The DNA is made up of these unwritten rules, and what the church is passionate about as a whole.

I remember the first time I led a song that “flopped.” It was within my first three months here and it was almost as if the other vocalists and I were the only ones singing along with it. I quickly realized that at that current time that song was too far outside of the norm for the church.

So… what did I do? Did I force that song down their throats? No! I stopped singing that song, and songs like it, for a time while I figured out what our DNA was. Interestingly enough, as the church moved and grew and developed a trust in me (we will discuss that shortly) I was able to reintroduce that song with great success!

You have to find what has been done, what has worked, what was forced, and what was taken away that should have remained.

For some churches their DNA is in their direct community; for others it may be younger families, older families, singles, multi-ethnic, middle class, upper class, lower class, etc. Neither is better or worse, it is simply the door God has opened for you and caused your congregation to become passionate about.

Effective ministers find out what the church is passionate about and integrate it into the service and life of the church.


Earn Trust

My wife and I love the outdoors and love adventure even more! We love to hike and climb/ shimmy into places that others might not want to go. Now imagine that you want to do an exploration in a remote and dangerous area. You have money to find a guide and you get several ads and read through them trying to pick your guide. Are you going to choose the “new guy” or the guy that has led numerous successful explorations in the exact area in which you plan to go?

On the other hand, imagine that you need brain surgery. Do you want the surgeon who barely got through med school or do you want the guy who was at the top of his class and has done hundreds of brain surgeries?

Before people are willing to go somewhere new with you they must know that you won’t abuse their willingness and trust. To earn their trust, you must let them know that even in stretching them, they will not be forgotten or misrepresented.

In the story I told about the song that “flopped” why do you think the song went over better the second time a year or so later? Did the musical taste of the entire church change? Probably not. The congregation trusted me more.

How do you earn trust? You do life with the congregation. You get to know their DNA and become part of that DNA. You meet people where they are at, because that is how God treats us.


Go With Them

I remember the first time I went hiking with my wife. If you know Alaina then you know that she is all legs… and that became painfully obvious when we reached our first hill! Now that I have grown accustomed to hiking at her pace we both have to be mindful of our speed when we walk/ hike with others.

As an artist I have to be mindful of the pace of my artistry and creativity. It is so easy for my ministry to seemingly move faster than the rest of the church. I can do this by updating our song selection and modernizing our sound, our stage design or our atmosphere. All of these are valuable tools and should be developed, but if they are leaving the rest of our congregation in the dust what are we gaining?

I like the idea of meeting people at their comfort zones and taking them one step further.

In fact, that is the way Jesus modeled discipleship. Jesus didn’t point people where to go without going with them, or call them from a place far away telling people to find their way to Him. Jesus’ ministry was based around walking with people, teaching as they went.

Jesus led people to places he was going himself or had already been to! As a leader are you trying to lead from afar?


Keep a Clear Focus

Lastly, if we are going to ask and challenge our congregation to take a step with us, we need to be stepping out in ways as well.

Stepping out of your comfort zone demands that you yourself are constantly moving forward in your own walk with Christ. We must be showing the congregation that we are moving forward as well as worshiping in ways that are outside of our preferences or comfort zone.

That comes from being transparent through the process of stepping out of our comfort zones both from the stage and personally in conversations.

Be real with people. If you aren’t a naturally expressive person, show your congregation that you are trying to move outside your comfort zone by raising your hands in worship. If you aren’t comfortable singing, then sing. If you aren’t comfortable with leading a prayer out loud, then pray for all to hear. Show your congregation that you are stepping out with them.

It is healthy for us to worship in ways we are not comfortable with!

If we practice worshiping in ways we aren’t comfortable with then we will get more comfortable stretching our comfort zones in all aspects of our life.


But change, stepping out of your comfort zone, isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon made up of consistent steps forward.

Meet people at their comfort zone and take them one step further.

Heart Check

Recently my wife and I moved to a new house. If you’ve ever experienced the “joy” of moving, you know it can be a long and stressful process. All the boxes, the packing, and the aimless strolling through your home every morning to find the box that contains your socks and underwear… it can add up to pure madness. I know that I personally have doubled the amount of gray hair in my head over the past two months.

Packing up a house can also reveal unwanted surprises. Like when we moved our couch for the first time in two years only to find a variety of bullets in varying calibers (you have to understand my home for this to make sense), a plethora of candy wrappers, and a very questionable half-eaten Chick-fil-A fry. During our move, I constantly was asking myself, “Are we really this messy?”

Then comes the worst part… when everything is out of the house and all that’s left is cleaning up the aftermath. After scrubbing and sweeping with the help of extended family a realization finally set in: with more maintenance, the house would have been in much better condition. Now don’t get me wrong! I’m a tidy person! I like things to be clean and in place… but when you live in a space long enough all of those hard to get places get gross and you even become used to a certain level of mess.

As we transitioned into our new home I immediately felt the urgency (maybe even a little too much) to maintain our home and its cleanliness. I vowed to be intentional on a daily basis to faithfully steward our home, even in the things that aren’t visible. Mowing the grass, sweeping, mopping the floors, and dusting are now a regular thing that I treat as preventive maintenance, so that maybe next time we are moving and things get shuffled around we aren’t left standing in a messy room asking ourselves, “how did things get this bad?”

This same illustration can be applied to the heart of a Christian. Intentionality is important in maintaining the health of your own heart! There’s a reason Jesus stresses the importance of the heart so much in the Scriptures, because it’s the life and breath behind everything you do. Sadly, you may be able to fake things on the outside with the right answers or charisma but I believe that the Christian whose heart is far from God is of no value to the kingdom.

Take a moment to ask yourself a few questions:

  • What is your life like underneath the surface?
  • If you stripped away the surface, would your life reveal a heart that has a zeal and passion for God?

Nothing is more vital for our churches, our families, our spouses, the people we serve, and ourselves than for our hearts to be healthy. Here are four vital practices we must have in order to make sure our hearts are constantly chasing after God. These disciplines may seem simple, but they are crucial if we’re to avoid the pitfall of “talking the talk” without “walking the walk.” Matthew 15:8 puts it this way,

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

Let’s think together!


Drink from the Well

Psalm 119:105 says,

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

Be in the Word daily! While this discipline seems to be a no-brainer, it’s often overlooked amongst the many tasks, emails, jobs, and chores we have on our daily plate. In the hustle and bustle of your work life and home life often the importance and value of a daily intake of Scripture is lost.

To have any strength and maturity in your walk with Christ, our days have to start with the self-care of being in the Word. It’s truly that simple. The inspired Word of God is “living and active”

Hebrews 4:12 says,

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Daily Scripture gives us a constant and consistent reminder of who Jesus is, and what He’s done for us. Run to his Word daily, and drink from the well that never runs dry.


Sit at His Feet

When is the last time you stopped and just meditated on the Lord? If you are like me then you might struggle to recall when it last was. Sometimes we can get so caught up in serving the Lord and “working out our salvation” that we lose sight of what it is to be a Child of God all together.

We see a story that portrays this exact thought in Luke.

Luke 10:39 says,

And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.

Most of us know the context of this story of Mary and Martha. Jesus enters the house of Martha and while she is consumed with serving, Mary just wants to sit at Jesus’ feet. It’s a familiar passage to most people but it’s easy to overlook the simple concept that sitting at the feet of Jesus through prayer is everything!

While God certainly calls us to do good works, he wants us to remember that we are his sons and daughters first. He wants us to spend time with him; he wants us to know and rely on him more. One of the ways we can pastor our own hearts away from self-reliance is by spending time with him through his Word and through prayer.


Stop and Listen

Exodus 20:8 says,

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

One of the greatest detriments to our ministries and the people we lead is failing to rest from our work. I remember early in ministry I felt like I needed to be “on” at all times, even the weekends. This drove my wife insane and certainly didn’t help out our relationship or even my relationship with the Lord. Taking a Sabbath day for rest each week is not only a good practice but is a command of Scripture. You must have it… God designed it to be this way!

Use this day of rest to disengage from “work” and to refocus your heart and soul back on the Lord. Take time to stop and listen. This day of rest will recharge you, and remind your heart that whatever ministry tasks you have are under the sovereign hand of God. Pastor your heart well by obeying the regular rhythm to Sabbath.


Be in Biblical Community

Galatians 6:2 says,

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

One of the best ways to grow as a believer is by being in a solid Biblical community. This may look different in your context, but you need to surround yourself with people who will walk alongside you in the Christian life. This includes people who you give permission to call out sin in your life and see your blind spots. Being in Biblical community is about being with people who know everything about you… your strengths, weaknesses, sin struggles, and pitfalls. It’s about constantly being “gospeled” by other people so that you’re growing in Christ-likeness. Take care of your heart by surrounding yourself with godly people and living in Biblical community.


While this is not an exhaustive list, these four practices will help to maintain a healthy heart and prevent the cobwebs that apathy and neglect create. Our churches need Christians who are diligent in pastoring their own hearts. May we be Believers who strive toward these disciplines with hearts aimed towards glorifying the risen Christ.

Set the Table

A couple of months ago my wife and I got to do a couple of longer hikes in the Rocky Mountains. To save money and time, we decided to pick up Subway sandwiches on our way each day and eat them in the car before hitting the trails. It was so much fun eating sandwiches and other, primarily unhealthy, snacks picnic-style because there was fresh air, a beautiful view, my wife, and no real expectations or civilized rules regarding how or what I ate. I didn’t have to eat my sandwich before my gummy bears, keep my elbows off the table, or use my forks in the correct order… I mean how many forks can a person possibly need to eat a meal?

Another memorable meal was when I was in college. As a Public Relations class heading towards graduation we went to a conference to rub elbows with some possible future employers, and “professionals” in the field. After that conference there was an elaborate meal with waiters, multiple courses, fine dishware, and tons of utensils. The etiquette and expectations were high and completely different than my previous example.

As a kid we didn’t get out the classy dishware often, probably because my mom was afraid we would break it, and we would, or maybe because we didn’t have any? I’m not sure… but both of those examples paint a picture of my point, the way the table is set can determine the expectations for the meal.

Think about it! The dishware is not the reason you sat down at the table… the food was! But the place settings can determine the context and direction the meal will take.

As worship leaders, we set the mood for what is expected for the worship experience for the majority of the congregation. Obviously, there will always be those who are bold or mature in their faith who we don’t need to bring to the throne because they are already there. But for the majority of the church, we set the table and the layout for what is generally expected during a worship service. We can be the examples of what kind of worshipers we are called to be. I know that a meal with fine china versus a picnic will have two different moods… both are fine and enjoyable, but different. In the same way, a small group setting with an acoustic guitar has a much different feel than a Sunday morning service with a full band. Both are great and both can be incredibly powerful times of worship, but they are different styles. The table for each scenario is set differently.

As Pastors and leaders we are called to do the prep work through prayer, devotion, study, and thought to find out what message we want to convey to our congregation, what place setting and context we want to put before them. I once heard a quote that went like this,

Worship ministry is not about telling people where to go, but about leading them as you go there yourself.

Every week I try to encourage this mindset in the way our team leads. Whether the position is deserved or not, if you are onstage or have a role on the worship team, you are seen as a leader. What you do dictates to the majority of the congregation what is acceptable or inappropriate for the service.

However, as worship leaders, we can’t make the congregation do anything they don’t want to do. Just like a table-setter or host of a meal, I can bring you the finest dishes and cups, decorate the table extravagantly with candles, and set out fancy silverware, but I can’t make you eat the food or even like it, and I shouldn’t try to… that is not my job. If our goal is to lead people to worship and we begin to judge our services based on how many people raise their hands, we will become very effective manipulators. If we take a close look at Scripture, however, we can see that isn’t our job. In Psalm 23, God Himself does nothing more than prepare a table for David in the presence of his enemies, and it is David’s choice whether or not he will partake in the “meal.”

That Psalm says,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

 

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

What good is an elaborate meal with a way to eat it? Table-setting is about giving people the tools to eat the meal. Likewise, it is our job to prepare the setting for worship and then get out of the way.

I imagine that our experiences are often like Moses’s after he came down from Mount Sinai in Exodus 19.

Exodus 19:7-17 says,

So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.  And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

 

When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

 

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain.

In Exodus 19 Moses had a literal mountaintop experience with God and was told to go down and tell the people to prepare themselves for worship… to prepare to have an experience with the Almighty God. Then on the third day, he led them up on the mountain so they might worship God.

Do we realize that when we worship we do so standing before an Almighty God?

One time I was exploring an old train tunnel with a buddy and once we got inside we were immersed in total darkness. As we trudged through the mud and water trying to catch a glimpse of the light emerging from the other side time seemed to drag on and on. After an hour or so I asked, “Have you been here before?” My trust had wavered over time and my primary concern was that he was experienced in the path we decided to take.

As many worship leaders, Pastors, or “creatives” do, we put a lot of time, prayer, and effort into our weekly services. We map out the flow of the songs so there aren’t any distractions, and we tie them together with the topic or theme we are trying to convey. As Moses did, we lead people up the mountain. But do you think the Israelites would have trusted Moses and followed him up the mount had he not gone before them already? He was experienced… he had been there before!

I highly doubt that Moses would have held the trust of the Israelites had he not first been to the mountain himself and stood before God. You cannot lead someone where you have not been yourself.

It is easy to gauge a service by how well the band played, how the tech team did, and if the congregation sang loudly or only a few people raised their hands. I fall victim to this mentality quite often, but leading worship is centered around trust in God. Craig Groeschel once said,

If we blame ourselves when things go poorly, then we will be tempted to credit ourselves when things go right.

The act of table-setting can be scary.

But we can do nothing more than that. So as you plan your service this week, think about what table you are trying to set. We lead our congregation to the table, not by pointing a finger, but by saying, “Come alongside me as we go together.”

Selah

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There is something magical that happens when you crest the top of a ridge only to see the landscape outstretch before you. It’s breathtaking, overwhelming, consuming, and rejuvenating. It makes you want to take it all in, to know all of its beauty. It’s impossible to convey in words and capture in an image. All you can do is pause and try to take it in.

There is something wonderful that happens when you walk into a bakery or a coffee shop. The sounds, smells, and atmosphere invade your senses with such delightful goodness. You usually stop to catch up and adjust to the tidal wave of feelings and sensations that pour upon you.

What do these moments have in common? I believe that what they have in common is that to be truly appreciated we have to pause for even just a moment to allow or thoughts, sensations, and emotions to catch up and synchronize.

These pauses are meant for us to understand the beauty of life unfolding around us. These pauses are meant for us to digest the information alerting our minds and hearts. These pauses are meant for us to consume the moment in its fullness. These pauses are known as “Selah.”

“Selah” is part of God’s Word and it surrounds lyrics in Israel’s worship material. Being a follower of Jesus who is trained in music, I was excited to find out all I could about the word. To have a Selah can mean to have a pause, a musical pause, or a moment to understand. It can be brief or it can be forever. This pause occurs 74 times in Scripture (71 in Psalms, and 3 in Habakkuk).

In the Old Testament “Selah” is uses twice as often as “Amen” and three times more than “Hallelujah.” But all around the world, those two Hebrew words have become common terms… all while “Selah” is little known, used, or understood although being used three times as much in the Old Testament as “Amen” and “Hallelujah!”

Proverbs 30:5 says,

Every word of God is flawless.

It is safe to say that “Selah” is definitely a word worth understanding! 

To take a pause… Selah puts our focus on the things God wants us to think about. Selah gives our Spirit time to catch up, to understand the power and beauty of God and His Word.

Psalm 24:10 says,

He is the King of glory. Selah.

Biblical scholars suggest other possible meanings of “Selah” to include: silence, pause, interruption, accentuate, exalt, or end. Reflecting on those words and putting them into action can help us to take a “Selah” moment to pause and worship God during the day.

To have a Selah is to take an account of the wonder and heavenly impact of the moment.

As worship leaders and Christians in general, we need to be aware of these moments as we lead and interact with people.

We need to provide the space necessary for wisdom and revelation to sink in and take root in the lives and hearts of the people. As we sing truth, this truth has to be heard, understood, and absorbed into the spirits of all those worshipping in order for true change to occur. When David wrote the Psalms, he included these moments not only for musical breaks, but for divine cultivation to happen in the people and in himself.

Psalm 46:10, says,

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.

Sometimes we move so quickly from one song to the next, from one conversation to the next, or from one moment to the next, that the seed of truth is lost in the stampede of the messages. So slow down. Pause. Be intentional. Allow the truth to take root, and allow the Holy Spirit to water it so that growth can happen. 

Selah.

Leading without Music… Off the Stage

Anytime someone asks me what my job is I almost dread to tell him or her that I am a full-time Worship Pastor. The reason for that is that I consistently get the response, “so you get to play music one day a week as your job?” Sometimes it isn’t worth the explanation and I just smile and respond with, “I guess you could say that.”

Being a Worship Pastor isn’t just for those with exceptional musical talent. Being a Worship Pastor takes exactly that… being a pastor.

In my opinion a worship ministry is very limited without the presence of a pastoral figure. Hear me out! People may worship along with that ministry… individually, but without someone nurturing them, protecting them, and caring for them we truly are just giving them a song to sing. A true Pastor watches over his flock to see that they grow spiritually. A Worship Pastor wants to see his congregation and team grow as worshipers. The term “Worship Leader” seems to place the emphasis on leading a service (which we do). “Worship Pastor” takes the emphasis off of the service and places it onto the people… the sheep.

Do you lead the singing portion of the service or do you lead people?

As a “music person” do you spend more of your time worrying about the songs or the message? The arrangement or the people? I come from a musical background and it would be really easy for me to focus in on the musical portion of my job and push the limits of what we are currently doing, but with what price?

I do ministry different than many “Worship Pastors” or “Worship Leaders” do, I actually spend more time pastoring the people than I do listening to the newest and most “relevant” song. Now don’t jump to conclusions… I do spend TONS of time finding, writing, rehearsing, and planning songs. My team has a routine and knows when they can expect new songs, worship plans, and when to be at church for rehearsals. I approach our music with Biblical excellence, but a couple of years ago I had a revelation that went a little bit like this: “Do our people even care about how good the music Sunday was, and are they looking forward to singing next Sunday?” Then, it dawned on me. I need to be thinking about my people throughout the week, and thinking about what they are thinking about throughout the week! The only way I can Pastor them well throughout the week is to be with them throughout the week and to live as they do… alongside them.

Below I want to briefly discuss three things that have been goals and good reminders for me to make sure I’m shepherding the people I lead on a Sundays on a weekly basis. Let’s think together.


  • Know the People

As a Worship Pastor or Leader do you get off the platform?

Do you truly know the people you lead on a weekly basis? Who is that lady on the right hand side of the third row? What is her story? What are her spiritual gifts?

Something about knowing the people makes leading them that much easier and that much more impactful. At the church in which I serve there are all kinds of people in need of things… some need physical healing, others need finances to pay their bills at the end of the month, some have children who have strayed or spouses that have died, the list goes on and on… but I know them and they trust me with their stories. That makes the singing of songs that declare God’s faithfulness and goodness super powerful and real. It brings the worship to a whole new level when you know what people are declaring and what that truly means in their life at the current moment.

After every worship service that I lead, I try to get off the platform and speak with the people, pray with the people, and get to know the people. You can’t possibly expect to nurture them if you don’t know who they are or what they need.

  • Be Visible and Available

As a Worship Pastor it is really easy to become isolated. In an artistic ministry we can spend as much time as we want in our particular area and we will never run out of things to do or things to practice. To truly Pastor we must fight this mentality… we have to get out of our area and be visible and available for people to see and interact with.

I personally try to be at events that our church puts on that have nothing to do with my ministry area… worship. For instance, just a few weeks ago our kids ministry put on a Harvest Festival. To be honest, as a guy with no children I really did not want to go… but my wife and I ended up going anyways and what I noticed was that it connected me with people from our church that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Being involved in the life of the church outside you ministry is healthy because it allows the people within your church to see you in an element outside of leading them in worship. It provides opportunity to have conversations and build relationships. So, if there are any events that your church puts on, try to be there and get to know your people outside of something you’re having to lead at or oversee.

  • Live with the Sheep

True discipleship and pastoring takes place up close… on a personal level.

John 10:11-14 says,

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.

I have found it interesting that the word pastor is derived from Latin where it literally means “shepherd” and relates to the Latin verb “pascere” which means, “to lead to pasture, set to grazing, cause to eat.” Shepherds in Biblical times lived amongst their flock. They consistently worked with them and taught them the best way to go. The sheep responded to the voice of their shepherd and trusted that he would not lead them astray. At night a shepherd would gather their flock into a pen or cave and sleep across the entrance in order to protect their sheep from predators that lurked around in the night. Shepherds cared for their sheep, and they demonstrated that caring by being there beside them and tending to their needs.

Are we being pastors? Are we being shepherds? If roles were reversed and you were in another person’s shoes would you trust YOUR “sheep” to you?

Proverbs 27:23 says,

Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds.

How can we truly know our flocks condition if we aren’t living alongside them? A Worship Leader who is a Pastor doesn’t have a one-way ministry. He’s not exclusively in the music department, but is involved in the body life of the church… he’s in touch with the congregation as a whole. I think that’s important on a number of levels. Shepherds know their sheep. They’re aware of the needs of the sheep. I think that’s going to be really important when it comes to song selection, but also in terms of how you love the flock well. I don’t want to see a guy just hanging out in the green room not being involved in the life of the church. With that, I would encourage the Worship Leader who is a Pastor to be accessible. Don’t allow yourself to be viewed as inaccessible, as someone on a platform, a rock star, etc. We should be seen out there mingling with the people.


I believe all these things are very important and very vital for us as Worship Pastors because it allows us to lead without a guitar on our back and a microphone in front of our face. It takes us from the stage and into the flock.

Sheer musical talents and abilities won’t cut it. Let’s set out to be Pastors together. We want to bring more than a song. Let us pray together for the compassion and patience it takes to shepherd God’s people. Let us pray for wisdom and the ability to carry each other’s burdens. Let us pray for sensitivity, and most importantly let us pray for change.

The Opportunities within the “Moment.”

If you are a regular attendee of New Hope Community Church, where I serve on staff and worship, then you are aware that compared to many other houses of worship the services seem… different. Some say it’s the music, others say it’s the preaching or our congregational prayer time, and still others have no clue what is going on but many will recognize that it is indeed… different. What’s the difference? Let me share with you what the I believe the biggest difference is, it is following the Holy Spirit’s leading for each and every segment of our corporate gatherings.

You might be saying, “Hey, my church worships the same as yours and any other church.” You may be correct, but I would ask what you mean by worship.

The ever-popular English etymology (history of the word) of worship can be described as “worth-ship,” or ascribing worth to another. But the Bible’s own language presents a more complex picture that can be organized in three word-groups.

The first word-group is the Hebrew word of hishtakhavah and the Greek word proskuneo. These words used in substitute for worship stress submission to another. Translated by the term “worship” in our English Bibles, they describe “bowing down” before another who is worshiped. This represents an ancient way of showing one’s vulnerability and, therefore, submission to the one worshiped. Those who bow down in “worship” indicate that they are consciously stating to God that He is in control of all things that relate to their life.

A second larger word-group presents worship as service or obedience to another, where the worshiper performs what God asks of him or her. Worship as service grows directly out of worship as submission. If I submit to another’s rule, then I am responsible to fulfill the wishes of the one whom I worship. Here we begin to see the unity between worship as “lifestyle” and worship as “praise” for both are ways in which I am doing what God asks of me. In Romans 12:1 Paul says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

This idea of worship stresses how one honors God in all things. Therefore, my worship is how I fulfill God’s desires for my life in every aspect and fulfill my responsibilities as outlined in the covenant He has made with me. This idea of worship focuses on a relationship founded on obedience. All of life reflects my worship of God. So I worship through both submission and service/ obedience.

The third word-group is often overlooked in worship studies: it is a word group that can be summed up as “remember.” The Old Testament Hebrew word zakar focused on God’s promises for his people in their worship. Every festival, sacrifice, and memorial was designed to promote the worship of God and was instituted as a “memorial.” The idea of a “memorial” is ultimately to “remember” something. We can view the Passover as Israel’s quintessential act of “remembering.” It repeatedly affirmed God’s unique act of covenant whereby he created Israel as a distinct people for himself.

Now these “definitions” or word groups mean nothing if we can’t relate them to today and how we worship… and most importantly how we follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in our worship. We must realize that some people have differing opinions about worship services and what they should look like, sound like, and accomplish. But… whatever we think our worship should be should be firmly backed up with Scripture. We all have opinions on how we should worship, what we should be doing and sometimes, we just aren’t going to agree. Rather than using our own opinions to shape our beliefs and our worship, we must see what Scripture has to say on how we should live, what we should be doing, how we should worship, and what we should believe.

When it comes to the Holy Spirit, most evangelicals fall into one of two extremes. Some seem obsessed, relating to Him in strange, mystical ways. Their experiences with the Spirit always seem to coincide with an emotionally ecstatic moment created by an atmosphere or soundscape. Other Christians neglect the ministry of the Holy Spirit altogether. They believe in the Holy Spirit, but they think of Him the same way many of us think about gravity. They acknowledge it is a thing and it is always present, they would never choose to lose it… but they don’t really interact with it. For these Christians, the Holy Spirit is not a moving, dynamic person. He’s more of a theory.

But… we know that isn’t even scraping the tip of the iceberg for what the Sprit is to us! In John 16:7 Jesus makes His disciples an astounding promise about the Holy Spirit. In fact, I believe many of us overlook it because it seems so ridiculous.

John 16:7 says,

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

In this passage Jesus says that it is to His disciples advantage that He return to heaven if it meant they receive the Holy Spirit for themselves!

If you ask Christians whether they would rather have Jesus beside them or the Spirit inside them, which do you think most would choose?

So because of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit as a Helper! Why would we not “tap” into that Helper in the leading of His people in worship? Worship that includes: submission, obedience, ascribing worth, and remembering?

The Holy Spirit appears 59 times in the book of Acts, and in 36 of those appearances he is speaking. “But wait,” some say, “we can’t use Acts as a pattern for our time! The apostles were a unique group.” And I understand that Acts represents a special epoch of apostolic history. But you cannot convince me that the only book God gave us with examples of how the church walks with the Spirit is filled with stories that have nothing in common with our own. John Newton put it this way,

Is it really true that that which the early church so depended on—the leadership of the Spirit—is irrelevant to us today?

So… what happens when we follow His leading in our leading and worship? What opportunities are we presented with in our following? Let’s think together!


  • An Opportunity for Guidance

The Holy Spirit guides us. We’re really helpless in getting accurate guidance and direction unless the Spirit works within us. The Spirit is active and present in all junctures of our life. Again and again, Scripture suggests to us that when we open ourselves to God, the Spirit works in us with power and we can rest in His creative work.

Romans 8:26  says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Why is worship different when it is Spirit-led? There are many reasons… but I think one of the primary reasons it is different is because it’s not about us. It’s not about what we want to do, our time frame, our comfort. I have been asked what we have planned during the service and the answer always is the songs, the announcements, and the message. You might be saying, “well isn’t that it?” It might seem like everything is planned… but I believe the goal is to plan with room for the Spirit to manipulate your ideas for what the service is supposed to be.

In my particular case I have a loose 35-minute time frame to play with and I only plan 4 songs the way they are written. I know more… the band knows more… we are capable of playing more. But, we wait for the moment to follow the Sprit’s leading. Our Scripture reading (for the most part), prayers, and speaking that happens in the songs or between songs, are not planned; it is totally Spirit-led. We aren’t challenging or manipulating the Sprit to move, we are merely inviting and waiting. If the service comes where we play 4 songs exactly the way they are written and we have following the Spirit’s leading for the service then it can be deemed a success, on the other hand, if the service comes where we play 2 songs and an extended chorus totally unplanned and in obedience then it too can be deemed equally as successful.

There needs to come a time where we stop to listen and evaluate to make sure we aren’t just singing songs just to sing songs.

  • An Opportunity for Freedom

If we claim to live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

Preparation should never breed self-reliance. A secular artist or performer can prepare a wonderful show, but our worship through singing has to be different. What’s the difference? It’s Spirit-led.

A true worship pastor does not walk to the microphone with a polished setlist to perform for the entertainment of the congregation. A true pastor and leader must take the microphone expecting God to work, expecting the Word of God to go forth with power, and praying earnestly for the Holy Spirit do what preparation cannot do… work with power in the lives of sinners to bring about salvation and sanctification. To bring about true life changing Spirit led worship.

Sometimes, it can be a little nerve wracking. There are times where it just seems like the pieces fall together and the will of the Spirit is like a 4 lane interstate that is easy to cruise right down, other times I think the Lord likes to take us down the quiet back roads that wind and bend treacherously. But the road is worth following! Take the opportunity for freedom in your worship!

Galatians 5:16  says,

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

Don Potter was quoted saying,

I have been asked by praise leaders and musicians from various churches how they might obtain more freedom in their congregational praise times. “More freedom” usually means playing music longer, playing what they feel should be played, prophesying with song, or playing instrumentally when led by the Spirit, etc. This is a good question because we are told in II Corinthians that, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (3:17 NAS).

If we want the Holy Spirit to be in our worship services, there must be liberty, but all true liberty has boundaries and is gained by our becoming mature and responsible enough to use it rightly.

  • An Opportunity to Respond and Grow

Romans 8:14  says,

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

In our churches often people want to sit and observe, or just sit back and not participate. Following in the Spirit can help us to move past ourselves and begin to grow in His leading. We must allow ourselves to be stretched. Some of us aren’t always going to be comfortable with what is happening even though it is Biblical.

Remember, we are called to be believers and pursue Jesus more than we are any denomination.

Water amazes me. The way it moves and can find it’s way through the smallest cracks and crevices. Water, although unassuming, is POWERFUL. We have recently witnessed hurricanes and flooding, and to imagine the fact that water can over time cut through rock makes my head want to explode!

When you put an obstacle in waters path, it blocks it and the water has to change flow and go around it. Anything that is static in a rivers path, not moving or flowing with the river, is an obstacle to it. When enough obstacles are laid down, it totally blocks the flow of the river, causing a dam. When a dam is built, the flow stops.

Sometimes our unwillingness to respond and follow the Spirit causes an obstacle to His flow.

Since the gifting of the Spirit people have continually stood in the way of the flow of the Holy Spirit by not responding to Him. Some people who think they are being “very spiritual” or “respectful” by not responding to the Holy Spirit are actually being very carnal and standing in the way. Seems ridiculous that our unwillingness to cooperate could cause an issue, but we know that Jesus did all His works by the anointing of the Spirit. Acts 10:38 says that,

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

With that in mind we can take a look at a story out of Mark where we see that the Spirit’s work can be blocked or impacted by our unwillingness. Mark 6:1-6 says,

Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.”
Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.

Here we see that He could do no mighty works. In other words He was prevented or blocked from doing them. This means the Holy Spirit could not do what He wanted to do.

We have to be willing to respond as we are led.

Notice that I said: respond. We don’t initiate the move… instead we should desire to be like a life in a stream that flows where the water takes it. Just like there are different rivers, with different strengths and flows, so there is diversity in the Holy Spirit. There can be different streams that come together and make up a river. The Holy Spirit is diverse. There are multitudes of ways in which the Spirit can move.

What do I mean by respond?

Well it is simple really. If a move of the Holy Spirit comes in in worship, and we all just sit there and look at each other, we are not responding! Not responding is to be as a rock that stands in the path of a river that is trying to flow. The rock becomes an obstacle and the river either has to go around it or is stopped by it.

There are times that we can get so into “our scheduled program” and routine that the Holy Spirit is limited in what He can do. I am not saying don’t have a program, but make sure you have the flexibility to allow Him to change it. If the program says it’s time to sing the last worship song, then have the announcements; and while we are singing an anointing to Praise comes in, then we have a choice: Go with the program or respond to Him.

Flowing with the Spirit can bring greater blessing than just sticking to your program or service schedule.

As a side note:

Don’t hear me saying that we have to be over spiritual and ecstatic extravagant worshippers. Often people only have learned one way to respond to Him so no matter what they sense they respond that one way. Some have learned to shout, so if the Spirit moves in soberness… they shout. If He moves in healing or in revelation… they shout. Because they are limited in their scope of understanding and expressing what He is doing. On the other hand, some have learned to sit in silence, very still and very quiet. There is defiantly a place for this, but if the Holy Spirit is moving in joy and loud praise, that is NOT the time for it! When God told the people to march around Jericho, there was a time He commanded them to shout! If they had stood in silence then, they would have been missing God.


Many people only know, or are confortable with, one response to the Holy Spirit and they have only learned to yield in that way, so every time they sense Him they think that’s how they are supposed to respond. No, there are many ways to respond depending upon what is right according to what He is doing. If the Holy Spirit is moving in peace and intimate worship, then responding with joy and shouting is the wrong response in the same way that sitting in silence during a time of jubilee would be.

We need to be able to tell what He is doing and flow with that! Going a direction He is not going is like trying to paddle your boat upstream instead of flowing with the direction the river is going.

The key is knowing what is right at what time. That takes discernment and learning to understand the way the Spirit moves, interacts, and works amidst His people. This takes developing sensitivity to His flow. It takes spending time with Him in prayer, developing closeness of fellowship and relationship.


To prepare ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities the Spirit provides in the “moment” we must worship through the week. We must pursue God each day and allow Him to speak into our lives. When we seek God through the week, Sunday will mean that much more to us, and on Sundays we must come expecting and believing God to do an incredible thing!

Need Inspiration?

Do you ever feel like you need to be inspired. Like life is going by at 100 miles per hour and you are being left behind?

We have all felt that way at one point or another. I know I personally go through seasons of inspiration with writing. Sometimes it seems like every thought that comes to my mind is a start to a blog or even a song… and other times I have to struggle to squeeze out even the worst idea to write or sing about. I also go through the same cycles in the gym. Sometimes I just HAVE to go every day, and other times I dread the thought of leaving the couch and getting sweaty.

Maybe you are like me and go through seasons of easy inspiration and seasons of having to fight for purpose and motivation? Maybe you have lost motivation and inspiration at work, or in a relationship, or maybe in your faith?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said,

If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.

Do you want to be more? Do you want motivation and inspiration to drive your purpose? Is it possible to cultivate inspiration?

Yes, I do believe we can. Let’s think together.


  • Listen

Have you ever been speaking to someone and come to the realization that they aren’t hearing a word of what you are saying?

Has a parent or teacher ever look at you and said, “Are you listening?” I’m sure my mom can think back to times in my childhood where she told me to do things and I turned my “selective hearing” on and didn’t hear a word that she said. I’m sure she knew that my hearing was fine, but that the problem was I wasn’t motivated to actually listen to what she said.

David Mathis on DesiringGod.com said,

Listening is one of the easiest things you’ll ever do, and one of the hardest.

In a sense, listening is easy — or hearing is easy. It doesn’t demand the initiative and energy required in speaking. That’s why “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The point is that hearing is easy, and faith is not an expression of our activity, but our receiving the activity of another. It is “hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:2, 5) that accents the achievements of Christ and thus is the channel of grace that starts and sustains the Christian life.

But despite this ease — or perhaps precisely because of it — we often fight against it. In our sin, we’d rather trust in ourselves than another, amass our own righteousness than receive another’s, speak our thoughts than listen to someone else. True, sustained, active listening is a great act of faith, and a great means of grace, both for ourselves and for others in the fellowship.

Listening to God is like listening to anyone else, before we can hear Him, we must be ready to listen. Just as in a conversation, we cannot hear the other person if we are talking or if our mind is distracted. So it is with God! If we want to hear Him speak, we must be quiet and we must be focused on what He is saying. Regular conversation with God can transform your life! Think about a close friend, family member, or spouse and how you can almost finish their sentences. That didn’t happen immediately… it happened through a relationship grown by listening to them and understanding what they were saying. We must continually listen to God and we will begin to not only hear His voice… but also to know His heart.

We don’t consciously and deliberately disobey God… we simply don’t listen to Him.

Some of us prefer to hear the Lord’s voice only when we are in need of an answer or response. But a disciple trains to listen all the time. A consistent, daily prayer life and Bible intake are of paramount importance in this regard. So is learning to be comfortable with silence. The more we learn to listen, the more we will hear God and recognize His voice. Listening to God requires a deliberate choice to shut out the chaos around us and focus on Him and His Word. We live in a world of noise. Almost everywhere we go, we find sounds competing with our minds, keeping us from letting our thoughts get below the surface level. Hearing God’s voice means not listening to the noise of the world around us. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

Do you want to hear God speak to you? Listening to God requires regular Bible reading, since the Bible is the Word of God.

A WORD OF CAUTION: Sometimes Christians will use phrases like “God told me…” or “God inspired me to…” haphazardly. Everything out of their mouths seems, to them, to be personal, direct revelations of what God has supposedly told them. I don’t doubt for a minute that God speaks to us… but just be careful. Before you say, “God told me…” you’d better be sure, because if you’re claiming God said something when He didn’t, you are speaking untruth about Him. This underscores the importance of thinking carefully about how to listen for and discern God’s voice.


  • Yield

We all have seen those pesky yield signs along the roadway… and we have all seen people that have no clue what they mean! When we yield in our cars we stop or slow down in order to allow another “driving force” to overtake us.

Like yielding to other vehicles is the mark of a good and safe driver, the mark of a born-again Christian is measured in their yielding to the will of God and allowing it to “overtake” their lives. Obedience to God is required for all Christians, and the mark of obedience is yielding.

Yield in the Greek means to persuade; to make friends of, to win one’s favor, gain one’s good will, or to seek to win one, strive to please one; to be persuaded, to allow one’s self to be persuaded; to believe; to listen to, obey, yield to, comply with; to trust, have confidence, be confident.

In fact “yielding” is a verb, it is an action word and as such, when we yield, it is a conscious choice we make; whether it is a free choice or a choice we have forced upon us. But…we must be clear that God is not in the business of forcing His will upon us. Instead He makes His will known to us, and allows us the opportunity and choice to follow Him. God allows us the opportunity to yield to Him in obedience, or to reject Him.

We all yield to something. It might be a habit, and addiction, a person, rules, etc… if you are a Believer then you have to an extent yielded to God.

Romans 6:13 tells us,

Do not yield your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but yield yourselves to God, as one alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.

Romans 6:16 says,

Do you not know that to whom you yield yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves to him whom you obey; whether it is of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness.”

When we yield to something, we will soon realize the tremendous control it has over us. Even though we might say, “Oh, I can give up that habit whenever I like,” we will ultimately know that we can’t. We will find that the habit absolutely dominates us because at some point we willingly yielded to it.

The first thing we must be willing to admit when we begin to examine what controls and dominates us is that we are the ones responsible for having yielded ourselves to whatever it may be. If we are slaves to our desires, and ourselves then we are to blame because somewhere in the past we yielded to ourselves. Likewise, if we obey God we do so because at some point in our lives we yielded ourselves to Him.

Yielding to Jesus can break every kind of slavery in any person’s life!

When you were saved you told God, in some way or another, that your life is now His to do as He wills. We are yielding ourselves to obedience. Yielding is a continual, daily process of submitting to the Lord. It’s He who forms our heart, transforms our lives, and leads us in ministry. It is so easy to lose sight of this truth, especially when everything around us seems to fall into place. We can be lulled into thinking that we have it all under our control and that we are in charge. That’s why we need to constantly remind ourselves that without the Holy Spirit we are nothing but broken and empty vessels that need to keep turning back to Him.

Psalm 40:8 says,

I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.

If we live each day with the attitude of that Psalm, and the willingness to yield to God in our everyday lives then inspiration from God will be soon to follow!


  • Follow

Sometimes our lack of inspiration comes from our lack of pursuit for the Lord. I’m not saying we have drifted or “fallen away” I’m just saying that if you are like me sometimes you grow complacent and stagnant in whatever place you are. It’s hard to be spiritually inspired when you are spiritually standing still!

We se this cool story begin to unfold in Genesis 12:1 where it says,

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.”

God didn’t give Abram, later called Abraham, a detailed map or even show him the exact final destination. He basically said, “Abram, leave your comfort zone and go where I will show you.” However, God also added that he would bless Abram and his descendants if Abram obeyed him. Abram didn’t know where he would end up, but he knew and trusted God’s character, so he obeyed anyway. Abram’s obedience happened one step at a time. With each step, Abram heard a little more and received inspiration from God.

Have you ever had to walk by faith?

Getting uncomfortable without a backup plan is a scary thing! I personally like routine. I like schedules. Lack of routine and schedules throws me for a loop! But… how is God wrecking your schedule?

We are given a commandment to “go” in the much-quoted Great Commission… but we do a lot of spiritual “standing still.” Abram was able to trust God in the not knowing and the continual going because he believed that God was with him. We also have that assurance. Matthew 28:19-20 says,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

So what is our excuse?

What if God’s plan isn’t our plan? Or our churches plan? Or the way our family has always believed? Can we change? Can we accept God’s plan if it’s different than what we currently believe? Somehow we must lay aside our preconceived notions and keep an open mind to what God wants for us, regardless of what we think or want.

Napoleon Hill once said,

Do not wait; the time will never be “just right.” Start where you stand.

Want inspiration? Get started! Begin moving and obeying… following God’s voice in your life! God’s not asking you to take a step that is five miles up the road, He is asking you to follow… one step at a time.


Need inspiration in your life? Need motivation to keep pursuing holiness and the things of God? Well begin to listen, yield to what He says, and follow out of obedience.

 

Why Music Speaks.

When Christians get together to worship there’s almost always music. In fact, the very term “worship” often takes a person’s thoughts directly to the musical portion of a church service, or is considered a “genre” of music. There are choruses, psalms, interludes, free-worship, songs, hymns, and spiritual songs that seem to speak right into our heart and soul, and meet us right where we are in any given situation.

Ephesians 5:19-20 even says that we are to sing together! Those verses say,

Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ

In fact, musical worship is so ubiquitous and feels so “natural” that we need to keep reminding ourselves that worship is more than the congregational singing we do in a church service. So, what is it about our music that makes it so right for worship?

I believe that music, like language, is one of the few universal human cultural activities. It transcends religion, economics, social or economical class, and ethnicity like few other activities can. Think about it… there are very few universal activities! Some sports get close… but in reality they fall far short. Music is found in the most primitive isolated jungle tribes and the most advanced, wealthiest and congested cities. It’s woven into the everyday fabric of life of every human culture throughout history.

Try walking into a shop without hearing some sort of tune playing softly in the background… it is impossible!

Music is popular, but also powerful. Our most important personal, or communal events nearly always employ the power of music. Every wedding, funeral, celebration, or party uses music to evoke certain feelings or actions. Music has and is used in entertainment, sports, war… and in worship.

When I think about it the only thought that comes to my mind is “Why?”

Let’s think about the universality of music, and why music speaks to humans together!


  • Music is Emotional

Martin Luther once said,

Whether you wish to comfort the sad, to terrify the happy, to encourage the despairing, to humble the proud, to calm the passionate, or to appease those full of hate… what more effective means than music could you find?

It’s true that nothing affects us quite like music does. Music is powerful, and obviously when God created music, He knew its power, He called it good, and He instructed us to use it to worship Him. 

First and foremost, music is powerful because it is emotional. This doesn’t mean that music is about emotions, but that it expresses and engages the emotional life. Psychology and neuroscience would agree, with studies showing both creating and listening to music engage the emotional centers of the brain. And it is not that music evokes the emotions it expresses (after all, why would we like sad songs if all they did was make us sad) but that it evokes a heightened emotional state. And as emotional creatures, we like that.

God created us as emotional beings.

In Mark 12:29-30 Jesus says,

The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

After reading the passage out of Mark I would say that part of loving God with our whole heart must include our emotions. Think about it… emotions are the outlet for displaying what the heart feels! We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” This is a command to worship God with every human faculty we have, including both our intellect and our emotions! To worship God with our intellect only or our emotions only is to love God with less than all of our faculties. Our intellect and our emotions need to be equally engaged in worship. 

Colossians 1:16 says,

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.

Music is a gift from God that simultaneously engages our intellect and our emotions. Rich lyrics need to be coupled with rich music. When this happens, our worship songs engage all of us and we sense the delight it is to worship God in song. Next time you’re in a worship service, love the Lord your God by singing with as much thought and passion as you can!

  • Music is Physical

In her book, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, Anne Lamott wrote,

Music is about as physical as it gets: your essential rhythm is your heartbeat; your essential sound, the breath. We’re walking temples of noise, and when you add tender hearts to this mix, it somehow lets us meet in places we couldn’t get to any other way.

The rhythm of music resonates with the body in spontaneous foot-tapping, finger drumming, clapping and dancing. This reveals a subtle but important link. Music is an auditory experience that the mind seeks to echo and express physically. And it’s not just the rhythm. How many times have you found yourself absolutely shredding a guitar solo on your air guitar or beating your steering wheel to death like a mistreated snare drum? If you are like me then don’t worry about answering!

Music evokes a physical response!

Music can motivate you and make it easier to start moving, walking, dancing, or any other type of exercise that you enjoy. Why do you think everyone jams their favorite songs while at the gym slinging heavy weights around? Music can make exercise feel more like recreation and less like work! Furthermore, music enhances athletic performance.

Musical rhythm has the remarkable ability to move our bodies. Because we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” I believe the physical way that music speaks to and moves us is important to note!

Think about the physical responses that worship evokes… hand raising, clapping, jumping, dancing, etc… We even can look in Scripture and find David dancing in worship before the Lord. Music speaks on many levels!

  • Music is Social

Ever wonder why singing is the dominant art form or artistic expression in churches? I believe the answer to that question is simple… singing is social and is the easiest way to unify a large group of people.

People sing together in all kinds of places including church. We sing together in different scenarios and for different purposes… but it always unites a group of people for a sole purpose or with the same words. Singing together binds us together. When we sing corporately it provides a way for numerous people from all races, backgrounds, social and economic classes, and ages to express the same thoughts and passions together.

Music is social!

As powerful and as meaningful as all the other aspects of music are to us individually, they are magnified when shared and experienced with others. Shared melodies, lyrics and rhythms have the power to unify a crowd around a deeply felt cultural moment. Think of the national anthem or football songs that fill a stadium. And when that happens, each one of us brings all of our individual experiences of music, merging them together into a captivating corporate experience.

What is more encouraging than standing amongst your peers, your brothers and sisters in Christ, when you are at your highest high or lowest low and hearing them sing praises to God? James 5:13 says,

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.

Not everyone is in the same spiritual, or emotional place on Sunday mornings when we gather… but yet we still do. It is encouraging to sing, and it is encouraging to hear other’s sing to our God. When Paul and Silas were in prison what did they do? They prayed and sang… that should say something.

Acts 16:25,

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

At a loss for words? Have nothing in common with the person in the pew or seat next to you other than salvation? Good. Sing together.

  • Music is Healing

It’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t feel a strong connection to music. Even if you can’t carry a tune or play an instrument, you can probably reel off a list of songs that evoke happy memories and raise your spirits. Surgeons have long played their favorite music to relieve stress in the operating room, and extending music to patients has been linked to improved surgical outcomes. In the past few decades, music therapy has played an increasing role in all facets of healing.

Harvard studies have shown music has healing effects in: easing anxiety and discomfort during procedures, restoring lost speech, restoring memory, reducing side effects of cancer therapy, helping with physical therapy and rehabilitation, aiding in pain relief, and improving quality of life for people with dementia. But those are just the physical healing properties of music. Often in worship we deal with spiritual and emotional healing.

Just yesterday I was speaking to a woman from church about our services on Sunday. She started to explain to me how on Sunday we were singing about the love of God in a semi-spontaneous way, just bouncing around different sections of a song, and how the enemy began to work on her and disrupt her worship with annoyance to the repetition of certain parts and lines. Then suddenly the last time through she had a breakthrough and discovered a whole new meaning or relation to the words we were singing. She was “overwhelmed” with the healing love of Christ that we were singing about.

Music heals. It bandages deep wounds and scars that we have hidden from others. It can uncover and relieve us of baggage from our past. The weight and power of words expressed in song seem to be much heavier and pack a bigger punch than those just spoken.

Allow music to speak to you. Allow it to bring you to the One who can heal you.

  • Musical is Intellectual

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to recall the words of songs you haven’t heard for a numerous amount of years? Some would refer to this as the “Mozart Effect.”

In earlier years it was thought that listening to classical music, particularly Mozart, enhanced performance on cognitive tests. However, there are findings that show that listening to any personally enjoyable music has positive effects on cognition. Basically meaning that music improves memory performance! That’s great news for people like me!

The idea that music makes you smarter received considerable attention from scientists and the media. Listening to music or playing an instrument can actually make you learn better. And research confirms this. Studies show that music has the power to enhance some kinds of higher brain function such as, reading and literacy skills, spatial-temporal reasoning, and mathematical abilities.

The power of music to affect memory is quite interesting to me. Mozart and other music from the Baroque period, with a 60 beats per minute beat pattern, activates the left and right parts of the brain. The simultaneous left and right brain action maximizes learning and retention of information. The information being studied activates the left brain, while the music activates the right brain. Also, activities that engage both sides of the brain at the same time, such as playing an instrument or singing, cause the brain to be more capable of processing information.

Listening to music facilitates the recall of information. Researchers have shown that certain types of music are a great “keys” for recalling memories. Information learned while listening to a particular song can often be recalled simply by “playing” the songs mentally.

We remember songs much better than words alone. In Deuteronomy 31:19-22 we see a particular passage in which God uses music to help his people remember his words. In this passage we see Moses commissioned by the Lord to write a song for the people of Israel so that they can easily remember God’s words.

“Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.” So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel.

It is crazy that even in the Word we can see the fact that music has incredible memorization power for humans acknowledged. Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly…singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Therefore, we can see that songs whose lyrics expound on the person, work, and glory of Christ tend to stay with us long after we’ve forgotten the main points of a sermon.

Music speaks because it communicates to our brains in a more holistic way than other sources!


All of this all gives us a clue to the connection between music and worship. As believers, we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And music uniquely has the power to engage the entirety of who I am in that moment of expressing my devotion to God. When I sing in worship I am engaged emotionally, physically and intellectually. It’s like “all of me” is caught up in one single act of appreciation and love.

It’s music that makes this happen.

In song I am holistically engaged, the words I sing are expressions of all that is in my heart to say, but for which mere spoken words seem insufficient.

But music is even more than all of that! In song it’s not just me who is having the experience. The person next to me is too! And our experiences are in unison! The same words, the same rhythm, the same melody, the same emotions, the same truth, the same everything. We are here together, in one voice, around one cause, focusing all of who we are in a holistic outpouring of affection and devotion to the Faher.

Times of corporate worship are one of those moments when “we” can truly become “one.”

And it’s music that makes that happen. Music speaks.