Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Preparation - the key to Success? (or How to Mentally Slap Yourself and feel better)

"Before anything else, preparation is the key to success." - Alexander Graham Bell

Let me begin by saying I know I am my own worst critic. I often spend large amounts of my week mentally slapping myself on the forehead in disbelief at my own stupidity. I suffer frequent out of body experiences where I witness, with perfect court-side seats, often agape in horror, the bile spewing forth from my mouth. Or repeatedly surveying a comic caricature of myself making the same stupid mistakes again and again and again and again…like the bee trying to make his escape through a closed window.

So most of the time the head slapping is justified (my closest friends and especially my wife can testify to that). There are occasions however where my self-berating is wholly uncalled for.

This was made clear to me a couple of weeks ago.

Most of the time, if I am scheduled to lead worship on Sunday morning, I will also be leading worship at our Café Church that same evening. I would generally spend the start of the week preparing for the Thursday night practice – which is primarily for the Sunday morning service. After the Thursday practice is over I would then turn my attention to Café Church – a much more relaxed and informal service.

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I had finished the arrangements for Sunday morning but just kept putting off preparations for Sunday night. It got so bad that 2 hours before the service was to start I still had nothing. Whatever the worship leading equivalent of writers-block is, I had it. Panic set in. I just flicked through my music files and picked a few tunes to take to the sound-check / rehearsal. Why had I left it to the last minute? I should have forced myself to spend time on it, pray about it, read through the sermon a few more times at least pick up the guitar and play something.

Well I took the pieces to the band and they played them well (as they usually do) but it wasn’t right. I knew it wasn’t right. It was far deeper than a gut feeling. I was in no doubt that the Holy Spirit was like “Er…no thanks, what else you got”. So half an hour before the service was to start I found myself in one of the back rooms surrounded by sheet music with my head in my hands praying desperately for some clear guidance.

With a few minutes to spare a new list of songs was put together, unconvincingly distributed to the band and the visuals team and with no time to think we were straight into it.

The musicians God has placed around me are fantastic. Their ability to adapt to the many challenges and changes I throw at them is amazing. I am truly humbled by the trust they have in me as a leader and their faith that God is in control even in the chaos that is Richhill Methodist Worship Team.

Despite my lack of faith in the song choice for that night it could not have gone any better. The car crash I expected never came. God was glorified with shouts of praise, the Holy Spirit moved, God’s word was preached and there was a real encounter with God. Each aspect of the service fitted together perfectly.

Well I was annoyed. My face was tripping me. I was mentally slapping myself once more on the forehead “Why would God want to use a useless, lazy person like me.” or “You don’t deserve for things to go well”.

It then hit me. It was like the light was turned on. It was like I was given a glimpse behind the curtain. The message was clear – I really don’t deserve for things to go well. I don’t deserve any of the blessings God pours out on me daily. But that’s grace. God blesses us freely. There’s no magic formula to receiving God’s blessing. There’s no secret ritual. It’s a gift from God.
(Ephesians 1)

Preparation for worship does not come from spending vast amounts of time churning over sheet music and working on arrangements. It comes from spending time with God. The best preparation for leading worship is to have spent time sitting at God’s feet during the week, praying and meditation on his word. It is only when me know God that we can truly worship God. It is only when we are worshiping God that we can lead others into a place of worship.

Musicians - this Easter week I want to encourage you to think less about the chords for When I Survey the Wondrous Cross and spend time surveying the wondrous cross. Don’t worry about the drum beat in To Be in Your Presence and spend time just resting in God’s presence.

Psalm 27

4 One thing I ask from the LORD,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.
5 For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A Slap in the Face is Worth Two in the Hand (or How Spurgeon is determined to give me sleepless nights)

The iniquities of our public worship, its hypocrisy, formality, lukewarmness, irreverence, wandering of heart and forgetfulness of God, what a full measure have we there! Our work for the Lord, its emulation, selfishness, carelessness, slackness, unbelief, what a mass of defilement is there! Our private devotions, their laxity, coldness, neglect, sleepiness, and vanity, what a mountain of dead earth is there! If we looked more carefully we should find this iniquity to be far greater than appears at first sight. - Spurgeon Morning and Evening (8th Jan)

What a slap in the face. What a cold bucket of water. To know it lingers in the back of your mind is easy to ignore most of the time. We make up nonsensical excuses to explain our shortcomings or just point-blank deny their existence. Its not even a Sunday morning mask, it's much more inherent than that, like a piece of code written into my DNA - The We're Grand Code. Yet to see such a list of shameful motivations and to feel each syllable sting has really taken my breath away. When you look at the maps in shopping centres / Zoos / Theme Parks they have the helpful note on that says "YOU ARE HERE" with a little arrow. Well as I read through Spurgeon's scourging language (written well over a hundred years ago) I am made aware of the big pointy sign which reads "YOU ARE HERE".


Selfishness - ALTON YOU ARE HERE

Carelessness - ALTON YOU ARE HERE etc...

There's a brilliant episode of Family Guy where Peter gets caught lying about something (I can't remember what), but this character then pops up throughout the episode to point at Peter saying "You're a phoney - this guy's a phoney". I spend a lot of time looking over my shoulder waiting for that man to appear and point the finger at me and shout "Phoney - this guys a great big phoney"

I can bluff my way through leading worship - chose the right songs, come up with the right arrangements, say the right things between songs - and yet underneath be this spiritual cripple. No that's not right. I don't know what the crusty stuff on the roof of an old, unwashed microwave is called but that's how I feel sometimes - spiritually like that microwaved crusty stuff.

Yet God still calls me his son. In my weakness his strength is perfected (2 Cor 12 v 9). He picks me up dusts me off and tells me again about how much he loves me. And before I can say the words 'Sorry' out loud his arms are around me.

I hope that The Spirit of God continues to slap me across the face - be it through Spurgeon or anyone else he wishes to use. I don't want to be on autopilot, especially when it comes to worshiping God. I want to be grateful for each breath and when I sing I want to feel each lyric of a song or every rise and fall in the music. I want to lead not by choosing the right songs or arrangements but by being a true worshiper - in Spirit and in Truth (John 4 v 23).