Ski Lifts and Set Lists (3 Things They Have In Common)

In my opinion, riding a ski lift is loads of fun.  I’m not sure what I enjoy more, the beautiful view from the 40 feet elevation or the rush of adrenaline from knowing how easy it would be to fall those 40 feet to the ground.  Whatever the reason is, it’s an enjoyable experience.

Lately, I’ve reflected on the similarities between ski lifts and the set lists we use in corporate worship.  I’m not sure why, though, because I haven’t been skiing in over 15 years!  Nonetheless, here are a few of the things they share in common.

1. No One Goes Skiing for the Ski Lifts.
Imagine having coffee with a friend who just returned from a week long ski trip.  Upon inquiring about their trip you learn that all they did was ride the ski lift up and down the mountain for a week.  Your thought in that moment? What a waste!

Why?  Because no one takes off of work and spends hundreds of dollars to simply ride up and down a mountain in a gondola.

Unlike our fictitious friend, no one goes skiing for the ski lifts.  They go skiing for the exhilarating experience of racing down powder-packed mountains at 20+ mph.  Not to mention the breathtaking views from the mountain tops.

Similarly, whether they realize it or not, most people don’t come to our churches to sing our set lists.  As great as they are, I’m sure, they are looking for something much more substantial.

They come for the exhilarating experience of encountering God in a fulfilling, transforming and empowering way and for the breathtaking views of His glory and truth.  They come hoping to lay hold of the joy, strength, pleasure, peace, comfort, encouragement, healing etc… that can only be found in His presence.

2. A Ski Lift Is a Vehicle.
The whole purpose of the ski lift is to get people somewhere.  Technically, it’s not even necessary.  Before ski lifts were used people “simply” hiked up the mountain.  Thankfully, however, some really nice people invented ski lifts to expedite the process for the rest of us non-Bear Grylls types.

Likewise, the whole purpose of a set list is to get people somewhere.  And yes, just like the ski lift, it’s really not necessary.  However, a group of “filled and skilled” musicians with a good set list sure can expedite the process of getting a large room full of people up the mountain of worship.

3. There Comes a Time to Get Off of the Lift.
It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve ridden a ski lift, the “dismount” at the top of the mountain still feels a bit awkward to me.  But, if I’m going to ski down the mountain, I’m going to have to push through the awkwardness and just do it.  Otherwise, I’ll have to ride the lift down and catch up with my friends later.

Similarly, there are many times in worship when, in order to really go somewhere and find that exhilarating God-encounter, we need to “get off of the lift.”

As worship leaders, this means moving beyond the boundaries of the planned set list.  This may look like repeating a part of the song, a moment of silence, an unplanned song, musical space for the congregation to pour out their hearts using their own words, responding to a prophetic word, a spontaneous song, reading a Scripture etc…

I imagine some of you are like me in that getting off of the lift/moving beyond the plan can feel a bit awkward at times.  The reward, however, makes it so worth it.

In conclusion, let’s keep doing the work of preparing engaging, truth-filled set lists for those we serve.  But let’s fix our eyes on and lead our communities to what lies beyond them:  exhilarating experiences of encountering God’s fulfilling, transforming and empowering presence.

 PHOTO:  Lifting by Chris Martino

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3 Lessons from the Wildest Worship Leader That Ever Lived

You could say that John the Baptist was the wildest worship leader that ever lived.  To our knowledge, he wasn’t wielding an electric guitar in the wilderness but, in my opinion, musical skill isn’t the most important attribute of a worship leader.  What defines a worship leader has more to do with the heart than the hands.

Without a doubt, John the Baptist had the heart of a worship leader.  The following are three of the many lessons I’ve learned from the life of this wild worship leader.

1. Make His Joy Your Joy.
The main reason I view John the Baptist as a worship leader is because of what drove him.  This drive is revealed in John 3:29, “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is complete.  He must increase, but I must decrease.”

In first century Jewish culture the friend of the bridegroom (akin to our “best man”) notified the bride of the bridegroom’s coming when it was time for the wedding.  His joy was to facilitate the much anticipated coming together of the bride and the bridegroom.

John the Baptist’s deepest passion and highest joy was in facilitating the coming together of Jesus and His bride.  His personal joy was tied into Jesus’ joy as the bridegroom coming for His bride.  When they did come together, John, much like the friend of the bridegroom, backed out of the spotlight.

A worship leader is someone who desires to facilitate the joining together of Jesus and His people and knows when to take himself/herself out of the picture as it begins to happen.

2. Straighten the Path.
Since the coming together of Jesus and His bride was John’s ultimate goal, it was in his heart to see that every obstacle was removed from the path.

John used Isaiah 40:3 to explain to the inquiring Pharisees who he was, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1:23).

John boiled his purpose down to this:  make it as easy as possible for Jesus and His people to come together.  The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  His aim was to straighten the path.

The majority of the obstacles between God and His people were in their heads.  Their minds were filled with inaccurate views of what God was like.  This always leads to impure hearts and unclean hands.  This is why John’s message was one of repentance which simply means, “get rid of your stinkin’ thinkin’.”

A worship leader is someone who works to make it as easy as possible (not to be confused with as cheap as possible) for God’s people to encounter Him.

3. Hold People Loosely.
John was concerned with promoting Jesus’ name and ministry, not his own.  He did this even to the point of frustrating the religious leaders.  After answering their inquiries into who he was by only telling them who he wasn’t he finally gave them this answer:  I am a voice.  Not a face, not a name, just a voice.  (see John 1:19-23).

The only name John was concerned with was Jesus’.

It’s amazing to me that John’s disciples didn’t even get this.  They found Jesus’ increasing influence and John’s decreasing influence to be alarming.  Their insecurity led them to warn John of what was happening (John 3:26) to which he beautifully replied,  “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”

John was secure.  Because of this, he held people loosely.  He even encouraged his disciples to leave him and follow Jesus (John 1:35-37).  John knew that if losing his followers was a win for Jesus, it was a win for him too.

A secure worship leader holds his/her team members and congregation loosely because they know that God’s “River” is much, much bigger than their little tributary (i.e. church/ministry).

These are just three of a number of lessons I’ve learned from, who I believe, was the wildest worship leader that ever lived.

 


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The Absence of These 2 Things Will Derail Any Corporate Worship Experience

When I was a kid loved walking along the railroad tracks behind my grandfather’s house. My brothers and I would search for loose railroad spikes that could easily be pulled off the rails and kept as souvenirs. Little did we know that our “treasure hunt” was not only illegal but extremely dangerous. Those little iron spikes were some of the only things holding those tracks intact. Needless to say, without sound tracks, a train might not make it to its destination on time. Or in one piece.

Corporate worship is like a train. When God’s people come together to seek His face and declare His praise, we “go” somewhere together. As the author of Hebrews put it, we “draw near to the throne of grace” (4:16). Worship is a journey into the heart of God. It’s a dynamic activity, not a static one.

Just as a train needs two rails to reach its destination, so does corporate worship. I call these two rails “acceptability” and “accessibility.”

ACCEPTABILITY.
Above all, worship must be acceptable to God. His word makes clear what kind of worship is acceptable to Him. Here are two characteristics of this kind of worship.

1. Worship That Is True. Jesus said in John 4:24 that God is Spirit and those who worship Him must do so in truth. We must worship Him in accordance with who He is, how Scripture reveals Him to be, not in accordance with how we simply think He is or how we think He should be. To do the latter would be to worship a fabricated version of the true God and not the true God Himself.

Therefore, the content of our corporate worship must consist of truth and nothing but the truth.

2. Worship That Is Consistent. God offered a pretty brutal and honest critique of His people’s worship in Amos 5:21-23. Here are a few of the “highlights.”

“I hate…your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies…Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.”

Ouch. What was the reason for God’s utter contempt of their worship? Were the harps out of tune? No, verse 24 gives us the answer: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

The problem with Israel’s worship is that it was completely incongruent with their actual lives. They drew near with their lips but their hearts (and lives) were far from Him (Is. 29:13).

It’s not that our lives have to be perfect. There’s plenty of room around God’s throne of grace for weak and imperfect people. We are all on a journey towards becoming like Jesus. Therefore, we aren’t hypocrites if the songs we sing and prayers we pray are inconsistent with what we have attained thus far in our journey with Jesus. However, we are in danger of being hypocrites if the songs we sing and prayers we pray are inconsistent with what we are pursuing.

Consequently, let’s sing and pray boldly of the things we’ve yet to attain but do so from hearts and lives that are in pursuit of them.

ACCESSIBILITY.
Not only must corporate worship be acceptable to God, but He makes it clear in His word that it must be accessible to others.

The ultimate example of worship that is inaccessible, and God’s heart towards this matter, can be seen in John 2:13-17.

The time was Passover. The Jewish feast when all of God’s people were required to go on pilgrimage to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. This was a literal worship journey.

As His people made the difficult trek from the four corners of the nation, carrying their gifts and preparing their hearts by singing the songs of ascent (Psalm 120-134), they finally arrived at their destination only to find a roadblock right outside of the temple devised by the religious spirit of the day.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had set up an extortion ring under the guise of concern for proper worship.

Many of the pilgrims had a long journey and in lieu of bringing their own sacrifices, they brought money to purchase animals for sacrifice when they got to Jerusalem. These animals could be conveniently purchased right outside of the Temple. For an exorbitant price.

Not only were the prices of the animals inflated, but your Roman denarius wasn’t acceptable. You would first have to exchange it for the Jewish shekel. The money changers were more than happy to assist you with this. However, the exchange rate was horrible. (Sort of like a store that is “cash only” and conveniently has an ATM in the corner with a $5 usage fee!)

Needless to say, this road block made Jesus livid. You probably know the rest of the story.

I believe this story reveals Jesus’ heart for accessible worship so clearly. Paul shared His heart to a degree as we see in his dealing with the Corinthian’s inaccessible worship practices (1 Cor. 14).

How do we as worship leaders create worship experiences that are accessible? Here are just a few ways.

1. Remember Why We’re Here. First, I often find it’s important to remind myself that first and foremost my role is about serving others. Like King David (2 Samuel 5:12) I realize that God has put me where I am for the sake of others, not just myself. Remembering this puts me in the right mindset to make good decisions. Often when considering a new song or direction I’ll ask, “Is this going to help people worship?”

2. Content That’s Intelligible. Are the songs we write and choose to use clearly understood? Good poetry is incredibly valuable in our songs but not when it’s at the expense of clarity, in my (hopefully) humble opinion.

3. Content That’s Familiar. Scripture commands us to sing new songs and yet a good dose of familiarity will go a long way in corporate worship.

4. Leadership That’s Followable. Do I run off on my own adventure when leading worship or do I bring people along? Does my musical skill provide a solid foundation for people to run on? Am I so inconsistent and unpredictable in my actions that people feel a little unsure about how to join in?

5. Leadership That’s Inviting. Is my demeanor warm and inviting or cold and commanding? Do I help people feel at home through my words and eye contact or do they feel like they are guests in someone else’s house?

What are your thoughts regarding acceptability and accesibility?

3 Things Incredibly Effective Worship Leaders Do

One of my deepest desires as a worship leader is that others would find it easy, effortless even, to encounter God in the worship environments I create.  The following are 3 things worship leaders can do, by the grace of God, to help others more easily encounter God in worship.

1. AWAKEN HUNGER.

It was the thirsty Jesus invited to come and drink (John 7:37).  It is those who hunger and thirst for righteousness that will be filled (Matthew 5:6).  Hunger is essential if we want to encounter God.  However, it’s not just hunger that’s required, it’s conscious hunger.

Jesus’ grievance with the Laodicean church in Revelation 3 wasn’t that they weren’t hungry but that they weren’t conscious of their hunger.  They were starving to death but by binging on “worldly junk food” they had convinced themselves they were full!

We are all hungry for God’s presence but we aren’t always conscious of it.  Here are a couple ways we can awaken hunger in ourselves and in those we lead.

Pray for it.  Conscious spiritual hunger is a gift from God that we can ask for.  Pray for your spiritual community that the Father would awaken hunger.  Ask Him to show them (yourself included!) their true state.

How many times did you think you weren’t hungry until you saw someone else eating?  The mere sight and smell of food awakened your body to its true state.  Likewise, spiritual hunger can be awakened by the sight and aroma of true spiritual food.

Declaring the hunger-satisfying attributes of God in our prayers, declarations, and songs can awaken hearts to hunger in worship as we lead.

2. INCREASE FAITH.

Scripture makes it clear that, in general, faith is prerequisite to encountering God.  Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the case where Jesus returned to his hometown.  Mark 6:5 records that because of the corporate unbelief, “he could do no mighty work there.”

Conscious hunger is not enough.  We must have faith as well.  If the starving man is ignorant of the lavish banquet spread out for him in the other room, he will go on hungry.

One of our jobs as worship leaders is simply calling attention to the feast that’s been laid out for God’s hungry people.  Here are a few ways we can do this.

“Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  According to Romans 10:17, God’s word is one of the primary instruments He uses to kindle faith in human hearts.  Therefore, it behooves us as worship leaders to fill our corporate worship times with the truth of His word.

Similar to the patriarch Jacob who said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:17) we are susceptible to going unawares when His presence is at hand.  One of the most powerful things a worship leader can do is look others in the eye and declare that God is in the very room and He’s here to speak and engage with us.

For one, this declaration is always true anytime Jesus followers are gathered together in His name (Matt. 18:20).  Secondly, this declaration can increase faith in the room for what God wants to do, thus, positioning our hearts to receive.

3. RESTORE CONFIDENCE.

As essential as conscious hunger and faith are to meeting with God, sometimes these two are not enough.  If our starving friend from the earlier example is aware of both his hunger and the lavish banquet in the other room, his feelings of unworthiness could prevent him from approaching the table.

The author of Hebrews was cognizant of this and wrote, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (4:16).

Often God’s people need to have their confidence restored before they can run into the throne room and climb into Daddy’s lap.  More often than not their lack of confidence is based on a lie.  After all, we have an accuser who does not relent 24/7 (Rev. 12:10).

As worship leaders, we often need to remind our fellow brothers and sisters that our confidence to enter the holy place is not based on how we did last week but on how Jesus did 2000 years ago when he shed His blood for us.  “We have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Heb. 10:19).

Awaken hunger, increase faith and restore confidence.  I encourage you to make a conscious effort to do one of these things the next time you are privileged to lead God’s people in worship.  And let me know how it goes!

Now You See Me, Now You Don’t: Satan’s Oldest Trick In the Book

Isn’t nature fascinating?  Along with millions of others, my wife and I love watching the Planet Earth series.  We feel so moved to worship by the display of God’s creativity, wisdom and power.

A particular phenomenon in nature that has always intrigued me is mimicry.  Simply put, this is when one organism mimics another in appearance or behavior in order to ensure it’s survival.

The classic example of an organism that depends on mimicry for survival is the walking stick.  Another example is the harmless milk snake that mimics the appearance of the venomous coral snake.   Whether the goal is to go unnoticed like the walking stick or appear dangerous like the milk snake, the end goal is protection and survival.  Mimicry is pretty effective.

It’s interesting to me that the phenomenon of mimicry is not isolated to the animal kingdom but can be seen in the “spiritual kingdom” as well.  Matter of fact, you could say that mimicry is Satan’s oldest trick in the book.  Literally.

Satan is first introduced in the human narrative in Genesis 3.  How did he first appear to Eve?  As a force of darkness (Eph. 6:12)?  A devouring lion (1 Pet. 5:8)?  Certainly not.  He appeared to Eve as a concerned citizen.  He disguised himself as one of God creatures and seemed to be truly concerned for Eve’s wellbeing.  Like a contemporary Life Coach, he appeared to really want to help Eve reach her full potential and fulfillment.

Similar to the many animals that depend on mimicry for survival, Satan depended on his ability to appear as something other than he was in order to protect and propagate his agenda of death and destruction.  Unfortunately for the human race, he was successful.

Someone once said that instead of telling Adam and Eve not to eat the apple, God should have told them not to eat the snake.  Think about it.

Not only was mimicry Satan’s strategy that day in the garden, but it seems to be his modus operandi to this day.  In Paul’s attempt to expose the agents of Satan who had infiltrated the Corinthian community by disguising themselves as apostles, he reminds them that Satan often mimics an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).

This should concern anyone who is serious about following Jesus.  The most dangerous enemy is the one we can’t see.  Like Paul, we want to be fully aware of our enemies schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11).  There is far too much at stake.

Here is a short list of ways I’ve observed in my own life the enemy’s mimicry:

There is a fear that takes on the appearance of sound wisdom, a denial that takes the form of faith, a tolerance of sin that disguises as love and acceptance, an insecurity that disguises as a defender of truth, a self-righteousness that disguises as holiness, a fear of rejection that takes the form of open-mindedness among others who don’t share our beliefs…

The danger is that we will staunchly defend these demons in our lives.

Lest this post incites a navel-gazing “witch hunt” within any of its readers, I leave you with this:  Jesus is more committed to exposing Satan’s mimicry in our lives than we are.  He is super good at it.  Like Paul (1 Corinthians 4:3-5), I’ve realized how horrible I am at judging myself and have decided to leave it up to Jesus.  However, let’s ask him to expose every demonically inspired belief or practice that has disguised itself in us.

Worship Is Only As Powerful As It Is True

I love corporate worship.  There’s nothing like it.  It’s where the hearts of God and His beloved converge.  Where Creator and created meet, Wholeness and brokenness collide, thirst and Everlasting Fulfillment come together and so on.

It’s so much more than a nice time of singing.  Don’t you long for the day when worship on earth better resembles the worship in heaven:  lightning, thunder, brilliant lights, fire, awe-mingled intimacy, unreserved abandon (Revelation 4)…?  I know I do.

There are many reasons why corporate worship is so powerful.  One of the prominent reasons is the Holy Spirit’s love of and commitment to truth.  A number of times Jesus referred to Him as the Spirit of Truth (John 14:17).  The New Testament’s description of the Holy Spirit’s ministry and activity could be summarized in these words: revealing and confirming truth with power.

John 14-16 undoubtedly contains more teaching on the Holy Spirit’s ministry than any other part of Scripture.  In this section we find statements like, “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (14:26),” “He will bear witness about me (15:26),” “He will convict the world (16:8),” “He will guide you into all truth (16:13),” “He will take what is mine and declare it to you (16:14).”

Aren’t you thankful for Him?  I love the Holy Spirit so much.  The only reason the Church has lasted thousands of years after Jesus’ ascension is that He didn’t leave us as orphans, but came to us through the person of the Spirit (John 14:18).

Not only does the Holy Spirit reveal and confirm the truth, but He does so with power.  He does this in two ways: internally and externally.

When He reveals and confirms truth internally, i.e. in our “hearts,” we often refer to it as “revelation” (Eph 1:17) or “conviction” (John 16:8) etc…  A good example of this is when the gathered multitude was “cut to the heart” in response to Peter’s prophetic preaching in Acts 2.  Their response to his message didn’t result from “good reasoning” but from the Holy Spirit confirming the truth in Peter’s message with power in their hearts.

When the Holy Spirit reveals and confirms truth externally, we often refer to it as “signs and wonders” (Acts. 14:3), “miracles,” or “gifts of the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12) etc…

The point is this:  Whether edifying the believer or convicting the unbeliever, the Holy Spirit is committed to revealing and confirming truth with His power, both internally and externally.  In a world swirling with different ideas, opinions, beliefs, lies, voices, etc… the confirming power of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that will shine a light on the true path, saying, “This is the way!  Walk in it!”

Back to worship.  There’s power on and in our worship when the Holy Spirit is active among us, revealing and confirming with power the truths we are singing, declaring, and praying.  Corporate worship is the place where doctrine becomes experience.  We believe we are forgiven of sin, but when we come together and sing about the cross and God’s forgiveness, the Holy Spirit releases His power on those truths and we can actually experience forgiveness in our hearts.

Worship is only as powerful as it is true.

Worship leaders, how much truth does the Holy Spirit have to work with in the worship experiences we design?  Is there room for more?

4 Ways “You Can All Prophesy” In Worship

The Apostle Paul makes an incredible statement in the fourteenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church: “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and be encouraged” (v. 31). Wow. All really does means all.

So, how do we all prophesy when we come together? I’m sure there are hundreds of answers to this question but I’ll share four here.

However, before doing so it may be necessary to explain my use of the word “prophesy” in this post.

The word “prophesy” and it’s derivatives are used hundreds of times in the Bible. The “container” and the “content” of a prophecy in the Bible varies from use to use.

For instance, as far as a prophecy’s “container,” sometimes it’s sung, spoken, written and sometimes even acted out. Sometimes it’s straight prose and other times it’s in poetic form.

As far as “content” goes, sometimes it’s correction, prediction, direction, encouragement, comfort, praise and so on.

Regardless of its “container” or “content,” I believe all prophecy boils down to this: God-inspired communication.

Now on to the four ways we can all prophesy in worship.

1. Sing the Script.

To the extent that our worship songs are full of truth and our hearts are full of faith in those truths, we are prophesying when we sing them.

For instance, if we are singing the words “You are good, good ohhhhh” (John Mark McMillan’s “King of My Heart”) and we’re singing them from hearts that have experienced God’s goodness, it’s prophecy.

Jesus said, “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him” (Matthew 11:27). According to Jesus, the only reason we can sing the truth of God’s goodness from hearts that know and believe in His goodness is because Jesus has revealed His goodness to us. Us singing that song is “God-inspired communication.”

Similarly, if we are declaring Jesus’ lordship through a song like “Great Are You Lord” (All Sons and Daughters) from hearts that believe He truly is Lord, we are prophesying. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 12:3 that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” In other words, we are incapable of declaring Jesus’ lordship from believing hearts without the Holy Spirit having first revealed this truth us. Thus, “God-inspired communication.”

May this reality spur us worship leaders and songwriters on to ensuring that the worship “scripts” we provide for God’s people are chock-full of God’s truth.

2. Go Off-Roading.

The next way we can prophesy in worship is by occasionally leaving the “beaten path” of the song we’re singing and do a little “off-roading.” As wonderful as worship songs are, I like to think of them as “conversation starters.”

Using our “King of My Heart” example, declaring generalities about God’s goodness is powerful but it’s even more powerful when, in addition to this, we move into a place of declaring specificities of ways we’ve seen His goodness.

We can do this by singing our own words, making declarations etc… The goal is simply to bring the Lord something out of the storehouse of our own hearts.

The book of Psalms is actually a collection of David’s (and it’s other contributors) “off-roading” adventures. Those songs came out of his own heart and in response to his own personal revelations of God. These “adventures” were recognized as prophecies by the apostles and as a matter of fact, no other Old Testament book is quoted more as prophecy in the New Testament. (Someone smarter than me calculated the following: Psalms has 79 quotations & 333 allusions in the NT. Isaiah comes in second with 66 quotations & 348 allusions).

As worship leaders, we can both model this as we lead as well as provide “space” (through vamps, instrumentals, silence…) during our worship times for worshipers to leave the beaten path.

The great thing about these first two ways is that you can do these regardless of what type of worship tradition or context you find yourself in.

3. Dare to Share.

One of my favorite things about small group worship is the opportunity to hear everyone. Prayers, spontaneous songs, scriptures, encouragements, declarations etc… can all be interjected at various times and everyone can hear them and be encouraged.

With a group of 100 or more and a full band with a sound system makes this a bit more difficult and requires a bit more coordination though it is possible.

Next time you are in a small group time of worship, or in a large group time of worship where there’s space for such contributions, and you experience revelations and responses bubbling up within your heart, express your heart to the Lord in a way that others can hear and agree and thus, be encouraged as well.

As worship leaders, we can create space and invite people to pray aloud or share at various times during worship.

“I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the congregation!” (David in Psalm 40:10)

4. Pray for Someone.

A fourth way we can prophesy during the worship portion of our gathering is to ask the Lord to show us someone we can pray for right then and there. Or, just go find someone. Depending on who it is, it might be necessary to ask permission or at least inform them of what you’re about to do.

Just begin by thanking God for them and praying whatever comes to mind. I find that when I take steps of faith like this the Lord meets me with specific Scriptures or “words” to share with them. It can be really quick it doesn’t have to be too long. I can almost guarantee that they’ll be encouraged.

I’m sure there are many other ways we can “all prophesy” in worship but these are a few for you to press into if you aren’t already doing so. Please share additional ways in the comments section if you have some!

The Glue of Spirit-filled Communities

Oftentimes the “prophet of God” is portrayed as an old, hairy man living alone in a cave on a mountaintop.  Or, maybe in a van down by the river.  You get the idea.

There is some merit to this portrayal.  However, what we see in the Old Testament’s company/sons of prophets is different and, I believe, closer to what we see in the New Testament.

Within Samuel’s company of prophets, and Elisha’s sons of prophets, we don’t see a collection of independent prophets but a community of interdependent prophets.  They ministered together (1 Samuel 10:10), ate together (2 Kings 4:38), worked together (2 Kings 6:2), and at times, even lived together (2 Kings 6:2).  They were in community.  There was the mutual submission to each other that makes community possible.  They weren’t “just me and God” lone rangers.

I love this.  Not only was their mutual submission to one another but there was also submission to leadership  (1 Samuel 19:20, Samuel was “standing as head over them.”)  This submission to leadership can also be seen in how the sons of the prophets dwelled “under the charge” of Elisha (2 Kings 6:1).

As seen here, I believe prophetic communities thrive when there is a culture of submission.  This is not to be confused with a culture of control where instead of submission being a gift we offer each other, it’s something people are forced into.  That’s yuck.

Once again, it shouldn’t surprise us to find this idea of mutual submission to each other and leadership in the New Testament.  There are many verses we could look at but the ones that interest me the most are the ones that relate to the cultivation of prophetic environments.

In Ephesians 5:18-21 Paul gives instructions to the prophetic community (i.e. the church) of Ephesus about the cultivation of prophetic environments.  I’m sure most of us are familiar with this passage.  It’s a favorite among us worship leaders.  Paul names a few of the ingredients that best cultivate and sustain a Spirit-filled environment.

He mentions singing to one another, singing to the Lord, overflowing with gratitude to the Father and lastly, submitting to one another.  Mutual submission is the glue that holds a community together.  In its absence, even prophetic, Spirit-filled communities do not stand a chance of surviving.

The entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 14 consists of Paul giving the prophetic community of Corinth practical instructions on how to mutually submit to one another in the context of a prophetic environment.

He teaches them how to worship and prophesy in a way that is mindful not only of one’s own preferences and desires, but of the needs of others as well (vv. 16-17).

He encourages them to “weigh what is said” (v. 29) when a prophetic word is given.  The backside of this instruction is that the giver of the prophetic word needs to be “cool” with his word being weighed and possibly corrected.

And then comes his statement in v. 32, that “the spirit of prophets are subject to prophets.”  Whether he’s referring to individuals controlling themselves, submitting to the community or the leadership, a submissive heart is the idea here.

Friends, a culture of honor and submission is essential to the health of prophetic communities.  How can we better cultivate this in our own hearts and communities?  I’m so thankful, though at times I have to choose to be so, for the blessing and safety that comes when I am submitted to my leaders, others in my community and even those I have been entrusted to lead.

God has called us, the New Covenant Church, to be a company of prophets under His leadership that cultivate Holy Spirit-filled prophetic environments in the context of community defined by mutual love and submission.  Stay thirsty my friends!

5000 Reasons You Have What It Takes

“O the joy of feeling utterly incompetent.”-No One

I think it would be safe to say that most of us have a hate-hate relationship with failure.  Nothing has caused me to drag my feet in the direction of obedience like the fear of failure.  I’ve spent enough time with the fear of failure to learn a thing or two, one of which is that there are few things in life as costly.

Thankfully, the God who created the human psyche also understands it far better than any behavioral specialist could, and knows just how to address and disarm this disabling fear.  Matthew 14 records a time when Jesus did this very thing with His disciples.

The feeding of the 5000 is a story that we are undoubtedly very, if not overly, familiar with.  Familiarity, however, doesn’t only breed contempt, it can breed shallow interpretation as well.

I’d like to submit a couple of observations and conclusions about this passage that will hopefully help us dig a little deeper into it and mine its precious truths.

The first observation is that it seems to me that this miracle wasn’t necessary.  More often than not, a desperate situation of some kind was the occasion of Jesus’ miraculous intervention: someone was on their deathbed or had an illness beyond the help of medical care etc..  However, on this occasion, no one was dying or in danger of dying.  Sure,  it was late and the crowd was hungry, but they were well within walking distance of a village where they could buy food (v. 15).

So why did Jesus perform this miracle if it wasn’t necessary for the 5000?  I believe Jesus performed this miracle because it was necessary for His disciples.

The second observation is that out of the approximately thirty-seven miracles of Jesus that are recorded in Scripture, this is the only one that appears in each of the 4 gospels.

This observation leads me to believe that of all Jesus’ miracles, this one left the biggest impact on His disciples.

Why was this experience so necessary for Jesus’ disciples and why did it leave such a huge impact on them?  Here’s a stab at answering these questions and figuring out what it means for us.

You see, Jesus came declaring that heaven was standing right outside earth’s door.  A new day was dawning where God was going to dwell on earth with mankind.  Not only did He declare it in word but in works of power as well.

Jesus was just about to pass the baton off to His eleven disciples, sending them out to do exactly what He had been doing: proclaiming the message of the kingdom, demonstrating its power and calling people to follow Him etc…  They weren’t to worry about food and clothing and oh yeah, everyone was going to hate them.

They were going to lead a massive movement and develop its future leaders etc…  Being common men, I think it would be safe to say their mission was a bit out of their natural reach.  It was crucial that they knew that what they had was indeed enough.  This, I believe, is what Jesus was teaching His disciples through this miracle.

If they weren’t convinced that what they had was enough, they wouldn’t have made it through the first day on the job.  There was too much at stake:  the world was at stake, God’s plan was at stake, we were at stake, their coming into who God created them to be was at stake.

This is what Jesus was teaching HIs disciples.  He was saying in essence, if You follow me, every day you get out of bed there are going to be 5000 plus hungry mouths to feed and you’re going to have only 5 loaves of bread.  What are you going to do?  Take those loaves, lift them up to the Father and thank Him for what You do have and then start feeding the masses.  Wait and see what happens next.

What does this have to do with us?  Everything.  The baton that the eleven carried has been passed on to us.  We all have different roles God has given us but our purpose is the same.  What roles has God given to you?  Or, where is He leading you?  Are you convinced that you have enough?    If you aren’t, then you are going to pass through life never really “showing up.”  But guess what, that’s not an option.  There’s too much at stake.

It’s not really about what you have.  It’s about what He can do with what you have.

(Image:  “Roko naktys” by Zoi Koraki is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / Derivative of original)

Worship Jewels from a Moody Prophet

As mentioned in previous posts, I admit to a slight fascination with the seemingly obscure group referred to as the “company of prophets” or “sons of prophets” in the Old Testament.

We first meet this group in 1 Samuel 10 where the prophet Samuel dismisses the young and future king, Saul, telling him that on his journey home he’s going to meet “a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them” (1 Samuel 10:5).

Whenever I used to read this I would ask myself, why the music?  I mean, I love music as much as the next guy but what role, if any, did the music play in their prophesying?  Was the role of the musicians simply to make the passing of time on their journey more enjoyable, similar to a car stereo?  Or, was there something “magical” in the music that empowered their prophecies?  Maybe, but I don’t think so.  I’m sure we could keep guessing and come up with some great theories.

However, I’d much rather look for an explanation in Scripture.  Not that Scripture always explains everything but when it does, it has more weight to me than a good theory.  So, does Scripture offer any insight regarding their use of music in their prophesying?  I believe it does and that it is incredibly relevant today.  But first, we need to fast forward a couple hundred of years.

A reading of the first thirteen chapters of 2 Kings will show that when Elijah the Prophet’s young padawan, Elisha, replaced him in his prophetic office he also took on the role of leader of the “sons of the prophets”.  Elisha was undoubtedly very familiar with the practices of the group.

In chapter 3, the kings of Judah and Israel seek Elisha’s prophetic insight regarding a matter of war they had found themselves in.  When Elisha sees the king of Israel approaching, he is instantly filled with disgust and tells him to go away (3:13).  (Cue “Bad Blood” by Taylor Swift).  Despite Elisha’s lack of warm fuzzies towards Israel’s King, he has huge respect for the king of Judah so he agrees to seek God’s word on their behalf.  What happens next is very interesting.

Upon yielding to their request, Elisha requests that a musician is brought to him (3:15).  As soon as the musician begins playing, the hand of the Lord (i.e. Spirit of God) comes upon him and he gives the prophetic word.  What’s interesting to me about this scenario is that there are many other times when Elisha gave a prophetic word without seeming to need a musician (e.g. 4:16).

What was unique about this situation?  The unique thing about this situation was that the man of God was in a pretty foul mood.  Have you ever been asked to pray for someone or offer encouragement when you were in a bad mood?  It’s a bit more difficult wouldn’t you say?  Familiar with the practices of the sons of the prophets, Elisha understood the ability music had to bring one’s mood back into “alignment” with God and thus, into a posture of receiving.

Similar to Elisha and the sons of the prophets, we don’t require music to worship or prophesy but we do need to acknowledge it has powerful properties that can help us do these things more easily.  We shouldn’t be surprised to see that music is mentioned in the New Testament as an essential part of our worship and cultivation of prophetic environments  (e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:15, 26; Ephesians 4:19; Colossians 3:16; James 5:14; Revelation 5:8; etc…).

Music is God’s gift to us.  He designed it to affect human hearts the way it does.  Worship leaders, we are architects of environments and music is one of the most powerful tools we have in our belt.  Let us thank Him for it and use it to His glory and to the edification of His people.