"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.
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.
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.