“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.“
Psalm 100:1-2 (NIV)
You know the drill: Sunday morning comes, you go to church, find your favourite seat, greet others in the church, the Pastor/Minister/Vicar opens the service with a Bible verse about the goodness of God or the importance of giving Him our worship. The worship leader (probably wearing a checked shirt) starts strumming away on their guitar, singing songs that you’ve sung 100 times before or, even worse, a song that you’ve never heard of before. So you stand there feeling awkward while the worship team play and sing as if they’re in Wembley Stadium with an audience of 90,000.
Sound at all familiar?
Unfortunately this is all too common a scenario in churches and comes down to our attitude. I remember visiting a church with my parents when I was about 13 and this particular church had a youth band leading the worship. I remember one particular song going on for 15 minutes because the worship leader repeated every verse and every chorus and seemed oblivious to whether the congregation was with him or not, he was in his own little world worshipping God. Have you ever heard a Preacher stop in the middle of a sermon and ask “Are you with me?”. Standing up at the front of the church they can see what everyone is doing, whether they’re listening intently (as we all should be) or whether they’re reading the newsletter or looking at Facebook rather than the Bible verses they’re preaching on. It’s the same for the worship group, you can see every member of the congregation, from those worshipping to those standing uncomfortably at the back with their hands in their pockets.
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.
Not very long ago we took a back seat to two young people who were leading the worship at a youth meeting, we played with them but they led the worship time. We believe it’s important to encourage these gifts so that the next generation of worshippers will be mobilised for Him. During the worship a small group were laughing and making fun of the two on the stage because they had made a couple of mistakes in the music. Ilir lost his temper with them and scolded them for their behaviour, afterwards apologising for doing this publicly but explaining to them why worship is important and that their focus should be on God and not on the musicians.
Why is this story important? Because it highlights that too often the focus is on the performance and musical ability and not on praising God. “The Heart of Worship” is a very popular worship song written by Matt Redman which was inspired by this very problem. Watch the video below to hear how this song came into creation.
In our church worship group we all have very different musical backgrounds. Ilir is a self taught guitarist, although his heart lies with the bass guitar which was his first instrument, with 10 years experience of playing in worship groups, he also translates many of the songs we sing into Albanian (including “Heart of Worship“) . Helen is a classically trained violinist with 15 years of experience of playing in orchestras, singing in choirs and playing in worship groups and now plays the piano and sings, and uses her understanding of music theory to put together the musical arrangements for the group. Flora has no musical training and sings lead vocals in the group. Nathan has been part of a worship group in America and plays bass in the group here. Xaja has been beatboxing for years and uses this natural rhythm to play a variety of percussion instruments. Despite all our different backgrounds we are all equally able to worship God. Whenever someone new joins the group or we lead worship outside our church Ilir will remind us that we might not all be the best musicians but that we can all be worshippers.
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
In a normal week we lead worship 4-5 times, including our Friday night practice, at the main service, youth meeting and prayer meetings. Of course at different times of year we also lead worship at joint services and special services. Sometimes it feels like we’re singing the same few songs over and over again, and on Sunday afternoons it’s not unusual for us to have lost our voices. Have you ever heard a pastor complain that he/she feels exhausted after preaching because they put so much energy into it? That’s the same way that a worship leader feels after leading worship.
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
But do we always feel like worshipping? The honest answer is no. More often than not the things that get us down crop up just before we’re about to lead worship. Sunday mornings are often intensely stressful times when we’ve run out of paper so we can’t print extra copies of the music or we discover someone has “borrowed” the music we need, perhaps the speakers blow up or there’s a power cut, or the computer decides to do an update right before the service starts meaning there’s no time to add the new song to EasyWorship. All these things make us stressed or angry and is the enemy’s way of trying to stop us worshipping God. Sometimes we’ve had a bad week, or we’re ill and want to just curl up in bed. But do we worship anyway? Of course! Because God is worthy of our praise and because we have been called to use our gifts to His glory. We have to rise above the challenges and focus on what we have been called to do.
Does this just apply to worship leaders or the worship group? No! It applies to all of us. Hymn writer Horatio Spafford wrote the famous old hymn “It is well with my soul” after the deaths of all his children in various incidents including a fire and being drowned at sea. Despite his grief Spafford was able to find comfort in worship and the hymn has encouraged generations of people in worship.
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Horatio Spafford, 1876
The author John Bunyan wrote “A Pilgrim’s Progress” while in prison for preaching outside of the established Church of England. Despite his imprisonment, Bunyan managed to write about the goodness of God’s mercy.
“Is there anything more worthy of our tongues and mouths than to speak of the things of God and Heaven?”
A Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan, 1678
We have probably all read about Paul’s time in prison with Silas when the power of prayer and worship caused an earthquake to break their chains and the prison guard subsequently gave his life to Christ. This story is often used as an example of why we should pray in all circumstances but it also demonstrates the importance of worship and that despite our struggles and the pressures of life we can and should always praise the Lord.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.
There are countless quotes and sayings about how life’s trials help to build our character and faith. This is also true for worship, when we don’t feel like worshipping is when we should give our best in worship, whether leading or participating, God deserves our worship in all circumstances. When we push aside our personal problems and turn our attention to God in praise and worship we can be liberated from those problems and make room for God to work in us.