Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Things That Kill Worship: Self-Awareness

Sixth grade was really hard for me. At the beginning of that year, the cruel realities of social order and brand-name clothing came crashing in on me. That reality became more cruel when I quickly realized that I was at the bottom of the social order, and that my clothing style was the example of how not to dress. Everything I enjoyed turned out to be uncool. Like to play the trumpet? Guilty. Uncoordinated and can't dribble a basketball? Guilty. Are you so skinny that no one can tell the difference between your sternum and your spine? Guilty.

At the risk of sounding like a nutcase, I hated my life that year. Not because my school was depressing, although it was. And not because I didn't have many friends, although I didn't. I think I was miserable because I didn't like myself that year. And I think I didn't like myself that year because I thought about myself incessantly. Everything I did or said was filtered through the questions of "how will this appear to them?" or "what will they think of me?" As I think back on that year, I remember it as overcast and cold, always rainy. I would wake up early in the morning, look and the mirror, and just dread going to school. I remember having the thought, "Who is going to be mean to me today?" I tried so hard to be perfect, to make sure everything on my person was in its proper place. That way I wouldn't be a target for anyone. So I was careful that my braided leather belt was straight, and that my brown Eastland loafers were tied just right.

I was drowning in my own self-awareness.

Now my job is to lead people in worship through music. There are lots of people who participate and sing along. But there are lots of other people who just stare back at me with their hands in their pockets and wait for the service to be over. Part of my job is to figure out how I can lead those people to a place where they can experience God in worship. What are their obstacles?

I think one of the things that keeps people from worshiping is the same thing that made me so miserable in the sixth grade: self-awareness. Some people have such a preoccupation with how they appear to others that they can't see God for who He is. And that's where worship has to start: seeing God.

True worshipers are never self aware. At least not primarily. You know this intuitively. You've seen those NFL playoff commercials where people are body-slamming each other, or grown men are jumping up and down hugging, because their team wins the game. That's the absence of self-awareness. Self-awareness fades when you place your mind's attention and your heart's affection on something beautiful. That's when true worship happens. That's when it doesn't matter if you sing on key, or if your posture is different from those around you.

Now, of course, self-awareness has a place in worship. But it's only after we see God for who He is that we can have a healthy self-awareness, a different kind of self-awareness. It's the kind of self-awareness that comes when you're watching a movie with your grandmother and a sex scene comes on. You become aware of something that you normally wouldn't be aware of because you're in the presence of someone better than you.

So maybe you're someone who doesn't really get anything out of a corporate worship time. It's possible that you aren't experiencing anything because you're looking no further than yourself. Lift your eyes, see who God is, and worship Him.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What Is Failure In Leadership?

I lead worship. Have for a long time. The first time I led worship was from behind a Yamaha 56-key synthesizer at FBC Ruston, LA on a Wednesday night when I was 13. The songs included "Sanctuary," "Lord I Lift Your Name on High," and a stirring rendition of Steven Curtis Chapman's "When You Are a Soldier." You only wish you were lucky enough to have been there.

As I think back over the past 17 years of leading worship, I think the greatest challenge I've had to overcome is internal fear. There's always a voice in the back of my mind saying, "What if no one follows you? What if you are completely wrong in the direction you think we should go?"

My fear came true once. It was terrible. "It" happened during my sophomore year of college, in a worship service called "Thursday Night's Together," a gathering of 300-400 college students. Back then we would have an extended worship set each week after the message. This particular week the feel was particularly intimate, and we were finishing up a slow song. I instructed the congregation to spend a few moments in silence, meditating on God's nearness and the truth that we just sang about. And in a moment that I will forever ask "what was I thinking?", I thought it would be a good idea for everyone to shout for joy at what God has done for us. Honestly, I thought it was right. And I thought people would follow. Wrong and wrong. I yelled, "Let's just shout to God!!!!" Then time stood still. An outcry bellowed from my loins, up through my diaphragm, lungs, into my throat. By the time the guttural shriek produced sound, I realized that no one else would be participating in my shoutfest. My scream ended much more quickly than it started, as I tried to play it off. It ended up sounding like part's of Dana Carvey's "Chopping Broccoli." As you can imagine, no one bought it. And I felt like a doofus. The Supreme Doofus.

Was that leadership failure? If that question means "did I make a poor decision?" then the answer is yes. But I don't know that I failed as a leader.

I've been reading in Leviticus, and I came across the Year of Jubilee that Israel was to celebrate once every 49 years. (Chapter 25) On that year, all slaves were freed, and all land went back to the family that it was originally allotted to. The Year of Jubilee would ensure that no one in Israel would ever be stuck in poverty. All bets were off, and people celebrated freedom and forgiveness.

Great idea - but no one followed. We have no record of Israel ever celebrating the Year of Jubilee. God spent all that time, ink, and paper - or chisel and stone - to lay out the call for Israel. But they sat silent. 

Did God fail? Of course not. So maybe success in leadership isn't based on whether or not people follow. The greatest failure in leadership is not leading. It's way better for me to fail, admit it, and move on, than for me to never challenge people to go anywhere.

In worship leadership, the fear can be paralyzing for me. "This is different from what they're used to. What if they don't like it? What if they leave me hanging and I fall flat on my face?" All those questions are still there. But if I'm called by God to lead these people, then I must lead, regardless of their response.

What fears keep you from living out your calling?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Worship As Diligence

The Bible is really clear: as Christians, we are supposed to worship God with our whole life - whether that's at church, work, home, hanging out with friends at the park - it's all worship. Even the most mundane tasks in life can be dedicated to God as acts of worship. The way I spend my time should be an act of worship to God. Let's face it, it's worship to someone (or something) -- myself, my favorite sport, a video game, a reality show, etc.

By giving my time to something, I'm declaring that it has value.

So here's the kicker for me - and it's really not fair. I've found that in my own life, laziness produces laziness, and productivity produces productivity. On weeks that I'm busy, I have all this energy to get stuff done, I exercise. I find that when I finish a task, I don't just want to go sit and do nothing, but start something else. 

But when I have a slow week, I tend to watch more TV, lay on the couch more, and eat more candy. You'd think that in those times I would have more energy to do the small, less important things that are more nagging than stressful. But I don't. When I have more free time, I spend less time in a productive way.

There's a difference between Biblical Rest - the kind that we all desperately need and pleases God - and laziness. One is an act of faith, of dependence, of devotion. The other is an act of selfishness. One pleases God, one insults God. (Compare Leviticus 23:3 and Proverbs 6:6-11)

So how do you spend your time? Do you feel unmotivated? Get up and do something! It'll make you feel better, and it will produce in you more energy to do something else. Turn off the xbox. Get something done. And do it with a heart of worship.