I have spent a lot of my musical life focusing on “excellence.” Thinking back to my days in All-State Band in high school, where ¼ of a point many times would separate first and second chair players. What is the difference between those folks, really? It is such a hard thing to put a finger on. I do know that I made first chair my sophomore year over folks who were older than me and had been there before. How, why? I think it was a perfect storm of drive, talent and the time to prepare/practice.
So, now that I am a Christian, in particular, a Christian who is involved in leading worship each week, what does that mean? Do we put forth a lukewarm effort because “God will make it sound better out front than it does on stage”? I think that is absolutely the wrong way to look at things. I have heard so many folks use excuses to cover their lack of respect for their calling (if indeed they are called to that), and ultimately, their Lord. What happened to the charge to play “skillfully” on your instrument?
Indeed the first mention of worship in the Bible is in Genesis 22, where Abraham and his son, Isaac went to go “worship.” Well, you know the story – Abraham was being obedient to God and would have sacrificed his son Isaac. For our purposes here, it is just interesting to note that the first time worship is mentioned it is in context of a sacrifice. Remember that – we’ll come back to it in a moment.
Paul, when writing his letter to the Hebrews, used some language that the Jews would be familiar with regarding a continual sacrifice. Hebrews 13:15 calls it the “Sacrifice of Praise”, then defines it as “the FRUIT of our lips giving thanks to his name” (emphasis mine). The old testament sacrifices were to be continual, ongoing. Hmm. Interesting.
Okay, so far both Praise and Worship, which are indeed distinct, are both associated with sacrifices. Now you’re looking at me like the lights are on, but nobody’s home…stay with me for a little bit more.
If “praise” is the words of our songs (fruit of our lips, physical or spiritual), or the words of our heart, then “worship” is the less tangible attitude of ascribing to someone or something a “Worth” higher than our own. We flippantly throw around the phrase “We are not worthy!”, but that is exactly what worship is. God created man with the desire to recognize that God is greater than man, but the sinful man takes that desire and tries to satisfy it with false gods, materialism, riotous living, none of which fulfil the promise of satisfaction (yet that is their primary selling point!!).
So, why the “sacrifice” part? This really applies to everyone who is a believer, but specifically we are thinking of this as musician-worshippers. Someone at one point coined the phrase “lead worshippers”, and I think that is appropriate. We should understand this better than anyone. What requirements were put on sacrifices in the Old Testament? God spent some time and some words telling Israel what kind of sacrifices to make. Firstfruits (Ex. 23:19), meat offerings (Lev. 2:11), burnt sacrifice (Lev 1:3, 10, 3:6), and many many other examples. The sacrifice was to be without blemish. The very BEST they had to offer. A lot of us already know much of this already and apply it.
Let’s wrap this up and put a handle on it so you can take it with you. Those of you who believe you are called to this ministry but don’t spend any time making your musicianship better (“nah, I can’t read music”, “I don’t have time to practice”, “how do you finger that chord again?”, “I can’t remember the words”, “I don’t know what notes are in a C minor seven plus eleven flat thirteen chord”, or for some of you, “What do those little ‘bees’ on your music mean?”) are in need of some self-evaluation. What if you discovered your pastor prepared for his sermons like you prepare for your song service? I’m just sayin’!
Praise and Worship is indeed a sacrifice. The criteria for a sacrifice require the best of the best. If the best you have is not cutting it, have your pastor help you find the area of ministry that is better suited for you. For the sake of God, as well as for the sake of you finding what God really intended for you and flourishing in it and living abundantly, get with your mentor or pastor and get it straight. If you have responsibility, don’t just drop it. Confess this to your pastor, do your job and pray for God to bring the person to the forefront to do this that He has provided. For those that KNOW they are called, you also know you have abilities. Learn and stretch. Be prepared to offer a sacrifice of praise and worship without blemish. Not just great music, but the worship part needs to be in place too. Worship is more internal, more in touch with the emotional side of us. The way I look at it is that I can Praise God with my music because it comes from an attitude of worship that starts on the inside. The sacrifice comes in the practice, the preparation, and knowing what I’m doing.
I saw at the National Worship Leader Conference how infectious this style of worship leading can be. Those whom God has called to be a lead worshiper should be infecting their congregations with excellent praise.