The Tension Between Preparation and Spontaneity

When it comes to worship, preparation is crucial. In my experience I find it more enjoyable to worship God being led by musicians who are skilled at playing their instruments and who know the lyrics to the songs they’re singing. It becomes easier for everyone to encounter God when distracting musical mistakes are eliminated from worship. Mistakes are bound to happen but the worship team that strives for excellence seeks the good of the congregation.

Preparation involves both an individual and team dynamic. If each individual on the worship team puts effort into improving their skill privately it becomes much easier to improve the skill and sound of the team. When we practice and craft our skill we need to realize it’s not only for our good. In seeking excellence we seek the good of our team and the good of the congregation; it is for this reason that God gives us gifts: to serve others.

That’s not to say that God doesn’t anoint a worship service executed by individuals who are still learning and growing as musicians. God is looking for those who will make themselves available to Him and what He wants to do. Once again it’s not about the music; it’s about our hearts connecting with God’s heart. Excellent musicianship only enhances that connection.

Psalm 33:3 says, “Sing to Him a new song; play skillfully and shout for joy.” Playing skillfully does has value. In that respect, being on a worship team is just like any other job, whether it is a mechanic, carpenter or chef. As with any service that is provided we most appreciate those who are efficient, skilled and excellent in their trade. Worship teams need to take the time to practice and improve the excellence of their skill. I believe that as a worship team excels, playing and singing music becomes second nature. We no longer worry about how to play the next part of a song but rather how we can focus on God. When this happens the team becomes free to engage with God and to assist in leading others in the room to God as well. As Bob says, “It’s not worship until we move past the songs and encounter God.”

I also believe the congregation benefits the most when those who lead them into worship are living holy lives. Just as a pastor is expected to, “practice what he preaches,” I believe worship teams are also expected to, “practice what they sing.” They ought to practice the truths they sing of by living out what they believe offstage. When others see that they actually live according to the truths they proclaim in worship I believe it will encourage their hearts and give them an increasing hunger for God. We need to be devoted to pleasing God offstage so that when we’re onstage it is simply a display of how we already live in our private lives.

Bob Sorge is absolutely right: When we prepare for worship it actually equips us to be free and to move with purpose towards the river of God. As we increase the capacity of the songs and styles we have in our repertoire the easier it is to follow the Holy Spirit down the river. Finally, we need to take the moments before a service begins to intercede that the Lord would move and minister to everyone as we worship Him. After all, our goal is not that people would be blown away by our awesome music, but blown away by our awesome God.

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The River vs. The Songlist

A clear distinction can be made between the structured worship service and the spontaneous one. Structured services are often very robotic feeling. They remind me of a church I visited when I was young in which the whole congregation sang a few hymns together in the same monotone voice accompanied by a loud pipe organ. Now that may work for some but for me it seemed too serious and systematic; it lacked a sense of freedom or feeling.

Conversely, spontaneous worship services are lively, free and full of energy. Many times in spontaneous services the congregation is at liberty to respond in whichever way the Spirit is leading them. You might see people dancing or clapping or kneeling or crying. It’s a place of freedom, a place in which many different personalities can come together and approach God in different ways.

When we come together to worship God, not everybody is always going to be on the same page. Some may be happy and others sad, some may be doing really well while others may be struggling. But I think that’s a key characteristic of worship: it’s a place to let go and to express thanksgiving and praise to God regardless of what you’re experiencing in your life. We lift our eyes off our problems and praise His name.

We may all have different life circumstances when we come together but we need to realize that we’re coming together as the Bride of Christ. I think there is power in setting our present circumstances aside to unite as one and fix our eyes on Jesus. Thankfully as believers we all have the same Holy Spirit and He is able to guide us as the body of Christ so that we are of one heart and mind. When the whole community of believers comes together to worship, the Bride is singing to Jesus.

I think the congregation is just as responsible for the flow of a worship service as the worship team. It’s like a large group of friends going white water rafting. Everyone needs to help out in order to make it down the river. We might be in different positions in the raft but we all need each other. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is our guide and is faithful to lead and help us.

Whether we’re members of the worship team or the congregation we need to realize the importance of what we’re doing when we worship together. We are giving praise to the one true living God, thanking Him and singing to Him because He is worthy. We wouldn’t exist if he hadn’t spoken us into being.

I believe that “the ultimate worship experience” is neither by might nor by power or amazing voices or awesome guitar licks or energetic drumbeats et cetera; it is by His Spirit. Through humility, God will use those aforementioned things in us to bring glory to Himself.

When Jesus gave up His life He tore the temple curtain and eliminated all the rituals, procedures and requirements needed in order to approach Him. The new covenant of grace and truth affords us the permission to come freely and boldly before His throne of grace; our worship ought to be the same.

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River Hunting

Corporate worship is a beautiful thing. It can be a powerful experience to gather with so many different people to worship the one true living God. There is a great sense of unity when everyone is singing together and focused on the Creator. But how do we worship God in a way that is pleasing to Him?

In John 4:23 Jesus said that the Father seeks those who worship Him in spirit and in truth. In order to understand true worship that pleases God I think it’s helpful to first look at its opposite form. The opposite of “spirit and truth” is “human effort and falsehood.” The Pharisees were experts at this displeasing form of worship. They actually practiced self-worship, not God worship, praising themselves rather than God. It was all about what they had done and not what God had done.

Mark 7:6-8 is arguably the antithesis of John 4:23. It expounds upon how the Pharisees honored God with their lips but had no relationship with Him. It says that their hearts were far from Him. They valued man’s approval more than God’s. They were more concerned about keeping man-made rules and traditions than they were about obeying God. They were religious, not relational.

God is not seeking those who are trying to impress and who appear to have everything together. He wants the ones who realize their need for Him. James 4:6 says that God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. When we acknowledge Him, recognize our need of Him and thank Him for all He has done, we humble ourselves and bring our hearts close to His.

Corporate worship is a place of agreement with our brothers and sisters where we display openly that God is worthy of our praise. Like any worship service, it needs a leader, but in order for it to have the most impact on God and us it helps that the worship leader be anointed.

I’ve learned recently from my teacher Terri Terry that being an anointed worship leader is not a matter of musicianship but of the condition of our hearts in relationship with God. When the worship leader has a humble burning heart connected to God in their private life they can be used to lead others to the heart of God in their public life, just like King David.

Worship leaders have control over the rudder of the ship that is called “corporate worship.” I believe that the more they follow and listen to God in their private life the easier they can hear the Captain of the ship, the Holy Spirit, and the direction in which He is taking us. When worship leaders (and their team) strip themselves of all reputation and die to themselves, Jesus actually becomes the one who steers the ship through them. When we cast away our pride and humbly come to Him I believe that God is free to direct us into the deep waters of the river of life where His power is released to heal and to fascinate us. May God lead us all into true worship, so we’ll never again leave a worship service unchanged.

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Swimming-Depth Waters

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There is no sensation quite like swimming; the feeling of floating and being surrounded by water. It’s amazing. You can’t walk when you’re surrounded by water; if you want to go somewhere you’re required to swim or simply allow the waves to move you where they will. Either way you must tread water to keep from drowning. It’s a completely different experience from being on land.

In the same way that swimming is different than walking, so our worship of God should be incomparable to the experiences of the world. There should be a distinct difference from the worship of the world and the worship of our God who made us. What would it be like to have the tangible presence of God and His healing power in the room with us as we worship? It would probably be one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling experiences ever in this life. So why aren’t our services like this every time?

I don’t know exactly why the presence and power of God is not experienced every time we worship, but I have my suspicions. I think there are many factors that need to come together so that we don’t get in the way of God moving. One thing that I know can get in the way of God moving is our unbelief and lack of faith. When there is a cloud of unbelief and a lack of faith over a people, God’s influence is hindered.

God does not violate the gift of free will that He has given us. I believe the power of God can only be received by faith; it can’t be forced unto those who refuse it. Jesus experienced this when He went to His hometown in Mark 6:5. It says that He could not do any miracles except lay His hands on a few sick and heal them.

Another important factor is repentance. I think that when a community comes together in unity through repentance that God will come to exalt the humble. In James 5:16 we are encouraged to confess our sins to each other and to pray that we may be healed. We can’t hide sin in our lives; we must be willing to expose the darkness so that we can be healed. When we confess our sins and renounce them like King David, we prosper. This is actually what triggered the Awakening at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, when a student confessed and repented before her classmates. Her act of obedience caused many more to confess areas of compromise in their lives that led to an exposing of the darkness and an outpouring of the joy, power and presence of the Lord upon the community.

Our God desires that we come to Him as we are so that He can heal us. He will help us to get out of whatever mud we’ve gotten ourselves into. He wants us to be submerged in the river of life and cleansed. When we come to Him in worship it blesses Him and it changes us. When we sing the truth unto the Lord it changes the way we think and transforms our heart, which causes us to live a life of love for Him and others. It is my hope that God would move in our hearts as a community to do what needs to be done so that we may access the deep river of His pleasures in corporate worship.

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A Passion For The River

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Throughout my life I have discovered that nothing satisfies me like God does. God is so smart. In His wisdom he designed us in such a way that we can never find true satisfaction in anything but Him. Whenever we turn to other things in our lives to fulfill us, whether good or bad, we will inevitably feel empty.

When Jesus offered living water to the woman at the well in John 4, He was offering her eternal life by the gift of the Holy Spirit that satisfies forever. Thankfully the offer still stands, to everyone who believes in Him. In her own life, the woman at the well was seeking fulfillment and satisfaction in relationships with other men, none of which seemed to work for her. She was thirsty, but she was drinking from the wrong source. Her story is a prime example of the dissatisfaction that the world offers. Only the Holy Spirit of God will sustain us for eternity and keep us fully satisfied. The only way to this living water is through Jesus. He is the one who gives us eternal life when we believe and abide in Him. Unless we turn to our Creator who formed us we will never experience complete satisfaction, specifically eternal life with Him, which He alone offers.

“The ways of God are past finding out.” It’s a real mystery, the way in which God allows us to experience dissatisfaction so that we might turn to Him. He made this world for us, but nothing in it, not even other people (in friendship or marriage) will satisfy our deepest longings. We are designed to be satisfied with the infinite, which God is, not with finite things that waste away with the earth. Our God is a jealous God and He designed us for Himself; we were made to worship Him and give Him glory.

Recently, after meditating on my own life, I experienced an overwhelming dissatisfaction with the world. At first this made me depressed and anxious but soon I realized (as weird as it may sound) that God was actually answering a prayer I had said sometime ago. I had asked Him for a greater hunger for Him and for the things that truly matter in this life. I feel that God in His wisdom is drawing me closer to Him by calling me to the things that matter the most: prayer, worship and reading His word. Nothing else will do; Jesus is my number one priority.

Being faced with the despair and brokenness of the world compels me to cry out, “Come back Jesus.” At the end of the day I believe there is no better prayer than this. Jesus is the solution for everything under the sun: war, hunger, addiction, poverty, injustice, sickness and every kind of evil. I have such a great longing for His power and presence in my life because I realize that my existence has no meaning or purpose without Him.

This is why I thank God for the wonderful reality of His Holy Spirit. What a gift it is that God makes us His dwelling place. He is the river of life within us, our friend who we can talk with at any time. I honestly don’t think I’d be able to make it through most days without Him. I believe that God, in His kindness allows us to be dissatisfied so we’ll realize that we are in fact still thirsty. He shows us that the world doesn’t satisfy us like we thought it did, but that He alone is the answer, the water of life that satisfies forever.

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