Tag Archives: worship

Nuggets of Hope 28 – Gotta Serve Somebody

In 1979, Bob Dylan surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. References to the Bible, Jesus, and God’s Kingdom began to appear in his concerts. His conversion was marked with a new freshness in his music and the release of a new album, Slow Train Coming. The track “Gotta Serve Somebody” became Dylan’s first hit in three years.

I had not been a huge fan of Dylan up to this point, but I loved this album and this song. It was hard-hitting, fresh, and focussed, with this repetitive, driving refrain :

It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, even with the partial lifting of lockdown restrictions, everybody’s life is affected. Whatever the details of our circumstances, we can easily become slaves to the pandemic. It can start to dominate our thinking.

I have found that to navigate these times, I need to step back, get perspective, and remind myself of who I am and where I am going. The COVID-19 pandemic is a circumstance that I cannot control, but I can choose how I am going to look at life. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I do not live without hope, direction or focus. I have a purpose. I am living for the Kingdom of God.

This morning I started my day with a walk around my neighbourhood. I prayed the ancient words of the Lord’s Prayer. I asked the Father to show me what it would mean for His name to be hallowed in my life. I prayed for His Kingdom to come on earth. I prayed for my neighbours and myself to hunger and thirst for His righteous rule in our lives. I thanked God for His daily provision, His forgiveness and His deliverance from evil.

I wasn’t made to live for myself. I was created to belong to the One who made me. I have been redeemed – set free at a high cost – so that I might serve Him and give Him glory with my life. In fact, living for yourself is an illusion – a costly mirage that leads to sorrow, emptiness, death and eternal loss. As Dylan wrote back in 1979,

It may be the devil, or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Over many years of learning to follow Jesus, I have found that living as His servant and friend has given me a liberty that I did not have when I was trying to set my own direction and have my own way.

If you already know what I am talking about, let me encourage you to remember the Lord and reset your focus on Him today and every day. If you don’t know the freedom of belonging to Jesus, but want to talk about it, leave me a comment and I’ll contact you.

God bless you.

 

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Nuggets of Hope 19 – At All Times

Do you praise the Lord at all times?

That’s what David vowed to do after God rescued him from the crafty Abimilech.

I will bless [praise] the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord ;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
Psalm 34:1-2

Twenty-eight years ago today my daughter Bethany was born. It was a day of great rejoicing. Marion and I had not planned on a fourth child but God saw fit to intervene. We had also not expected to have a daughter. I remember the Holy Spirit speaking to me and telling me that He was giving me what I had desired but had not asked for. I was overwhelmed with gratitude and praised the Lord.

Five years ago today my daughter-in-law Carmen lost almost all of her small bowel. I will never forget the phone call from my son Joe telling me that she was about to have surgery and might not survive. I left my desk, went for a long walk and prayed as I have seldom prayed before. I knew that Carmen’s life was ultimately in the hands of the Lord.  That was a hard day, but God has shown himself faithful. I don’t say this only because she survived – although I am very thankful that she not only survived but is now thriving. Even if she had been taken from us, God would have shown himself faithful. He is always faithful to His good, eternal purposes. That is who He is.

We don’t praise the Lord only or primarily to get things from Him, although praise does release God’s blessings into our lives in a powerful way. We praise Him because He is worthy of our attention, worthy of being the primary focus of our lives. There is no-one else more worthy of our loving, appreciative, thankful attention. But we also praise and worship God because we need to.  It’s good for us. Praising and worshipping God has a wonderful way of putting things into perspective for us. As we lay down our concerns and forget ourselves in praising and worshipping Him, everything else takes its place.

Not many months after surrendering my life to the Lord and going through my first series of severe tests after coming to faith, I remember being at a Christian family camp where Harold Harding was ministering in teaching and personal prophecy. I do remember some of what he said – in fact his personal prophetic word to me had a profound impact on me – but what had the greatest impact was his habit of pacing up and down the platform, praying over and over again “Thank you Lord” as he waited for prophetic words to come. I saw in him qualities of perseverance, constancy and steadiness that had developed over a lifetime of both blessings and trials. He looked for the hand of God in both, and so his life remained stable and fruitful until the day he passed into the presence of Jesus.

There’s something very stabilizing about praise. At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is shaking the nations, and we can all feel its impact in multiple ways, one of the best things we can do is to turn our attention to God and praise Him. When we turn our attention away from ourselves and our concerns, and away from the opinions, judgments, mistakes, achievements and social media pronouncements of others, and fix our attention on the Maker of the Universe, we soon begin to realize how very small people are and how very big God is.

Paul wrote to the young church in Corinth during a time when they needed a dose of encouragement due to a crisis in their life together. He reminded them of their foundations.

Now it is God who makes both us and you
stand firm in Christ. He anointed us,
set his seal of ownership on us,
and put his Spirit in our hearts
as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22

When we turn our attention to Him and surrender to His good work in our lives, God puts a firm foundation under our feet, and He anoints us and seals us with His Spirit – the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and empowered Him for his ministry. None of this is from us. It’s all from God. He redeems us from the pit and gives us stability and hope, He gives us the power to live a new life, and He gives us the promise that His good work in us will be completed and that we will get to share in His eternal inheritance if we remain faithful.

It’s good for us, sometimes, to be reminded of the losses that others have suffered. It was good for me today to be reminded of the pain that Carmen has been through and the grief, sorrow and travail that so many of us experienced as we were waiting anxiously for news about her first and second surgeries during that horrible period of testing five years ago. It’s also good to remember our joys, as Marion and I take delight in remembering Bethany’s birth twenty-eight years ago today. But it’s even better, having revisited both past joys and past sorrows, and having taken stock of present challenges like the current pandemic, to turn our faces and our hearts to the God of the universe who alone is worthy to be worshipped and praised.

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One Day in Your Courts

Love is at the core of every special day. Think back to some of the best days of your life—days marked by joy and excitement. If you scratch beneath the surface of those days, you will find love at…

Source: One Day in Your Courts

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Every nation, tribe, people and language

The Book of Revelation is punctuated by a series of powerful images of the heavenly world and the Age to Come. In one of my favourite episodes from this amazing hope-filled book, the apostle John is given a preview of the Throne Room of the Great King after the Great Tribulation. He sees a crowd of worshippers from every nation, tribe, people and language, giving praise to the Lamb who has redeemed them.

Last night Marion and I, along with about a hundred other worshippers, were given a small but rich and delightful foretaste of this wonderful heavenly reality. We were treated to a cross-cultural worship experience at Eglise le Sentier, a French-language Baptist church in Gatineau.

The evening was sponsored by CASE2, a diverse team of Christian musicians from the Ottawa/Gatineau area. Of the nine musicians who comprise this group, four are active participants in All Nations Ottawa, our home church. We had attended a previous concert by CASE2 – a fund-raiser for a 2011 mission trip to Burundi – so we knew we were in for a treat.

The performance was energetic and passionate. The band was clearly well-rehearsed but their musical presentation was spontaneous and fresh. The songs – all original – represented a variety of musical styles. The lyrics were strong, addressing a wide range of human experience and always leading the worshippers to Jesus.

As the child of immigrant parents, having grown up with three languages, I understand and appreciate cultural diversity. I also find myself increasingly aware of the wide variety of languages, cultures and theological flavours represented within the Body of Christ, not only world-wide, but in the National Capital region. Last night’s concert was a microcosm of some of this richness. The nine current members of CASE2 are active participants in a variety of churches in Ottawa/Gatineau, ranging from Evangelical Baptist to non-denominational charismatic. Two of the nine are French-Canadians while seven are immigrants to this country – six from Africa and one from Belgium. They represent at least three continents and several native languages.

None of the musicians have English as a first language, yet they had intentionally crafted a bilingual repertoire, with some songs in English and some in French. Even the testimonies and song introductions were presented in both languages.

Several of the musicians had contributed songs to the repertoire, and many of the songs were prefaced with a brief comment by the composer. This gave the band members an opportunity to tell their story. They spoke of how faith in Jesus had changed their lives, and gave strong encouragement to those present to trust the Lord and walk closely with Him. Several of the musicians have had the experience of being refugees from a war-torn nation. At least one has been a missionary in a foreign continent and has been shot at by terrorists. Many of them have lost a great deal, but every one of them testifies that in Christ they have found even greater riches.

Towards the end of the evening I found myself reflecting on what I was experiencing. My faith was being encouraged by new friends from a wide variety of backgrounds. They had bridged several cultural divides – the divide between French- and English-speaking Canadians, the divide between evangelicals and charismatics, the divide between African immigrants and white North Americans.  They were not only singing songs, they were sharing their life experience. The audience, too, was diverse. It was probably about half white and half African. English-speakers were definitely in the minority, but Marion and I were far from the only ones, and not for a moment did we feel unwelcome on “the other side”. And that is as it should be. After all, we were among friends – we were among God’s people. But it has not always been that way among those who name Jesus Christ as Lord.

This experience has left me grateful for the many excellent friends that God has given me. I have been blessed with friends from many nations, tribes and languages – friends who have known what it is like to suffer great injustice, yet who live a life of gratitude without a trace of bitterness – friends who are true servants, who encourage my faith, who challenge me by their testimony, who enrich the Body of Christ by sharing their gifts and their love so freely. I will be sharing eternity with these friends. God has called us to live and work in partnership as one family. I am grateful that He is giving me an opportunity to get to know, love and appreciate some of them on this side of eternity.

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Thirteen

Thirteen friends filled our living room last night. That may not seem like a huge number, but we have a small living room. They spilled over into the hallway and the dining room.

Since the start of the year, Marion and I have set aside Thursday evenings to worship Jesus and pray for our neighbourhood and city,

There have been a couple of occasions when Father, Son, Holy Spirit and the angels were our only companions. God has used those times to test and shape our hearts by reminding us Who we are doing this for. One of Jesus’ complaints about the Pharisees (religious leaders of his day whom he considered to be hypocrites) was that everything they did was done for people to see. They wanted to be noticed. They craved recognition, approval, attention. The times when no-one else is present have trained the eyes of my heart to focus on Jesus, and seek to bring Him pleasure simply because He is worthy.

That’s a process that is not yet complete. But Father in his kindness and mercy also gives us times with friends to encourage us. Last night was one of those times. Our house was full of friends new and old.

Some were from our wonderful church family at All Nations Ottawa. Some were from The Village, a little church in our neighbourhood of Vanier where Marion and I served for several months last year. Some were from Love Ottawa. Some were brothers and sisters from other parts of Ottawa with a vision to see local houses of prayer birthed across our city.

They came to worship and pray with us. They also came to hear from Jill and Kirk Weber of Greater Ontario House of Prayer in Hamilton, who brought much encouragement by sharing stories and insights from their journey as pioneers in the contemporary Canadian prayer movement. The presence of the Lord was sweet and our hearts were refreshed.

I don’t know where all this is going. I am learning to simply take one step at a time as Marion and I seek to obey Jesus. For now, we will simply keep doing what we are doing, until He shows us new steps of faith. But two truths were lodged in my heart last night.

One of these truths is that, in the Psalmist’s words, for me, it is good to be near God. I don’t know any other way to live anymore. Loving Jesus has become my identity, and being a man of prayer isn’t just something I do, it’s who I am and who I am becoming.

The second of these truths is that seeking the Lord is not meant to be a solitary occupation. Although we need to keep our eyes on Jesus when no-one is around, and although both Marion and I place high value on times of solitude when we can be alone with the One who knows us better than anyone else, we have also learned that truly God sets the lonely in families. We were made to give and receive love. We were made to share life with others.

Living in community is part of the heart and soul of a genuine life with Jesus. Learning to love others strips away our fear, our pride, our self-preoccupation. It teaches us to cultivate genuine humility and gratitude. While we do need the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, we also need the encouragement of fellow travellers who are seeking to walk the same road of faith, hope and loving obedience.

Last night I received a fresh dose of both kinds of encouragement. For that, I am grateful.

 

 

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Stirring Up Desire in the House of Prayer

We had a wonderful time together as the House of Prayer gathered on Thursday evening. We sang love songs to Jesus and asked Him to increase our desire for Him. We also prayed for the people of God, for the Bride to have her love and desire for the Bridegroom greatly increased. And we prayed for those not yet saved and for those caught in various forms of sin and bondage. that they would have eyes opened to see the glory and goodness of God and they would find desire for Him rising up in their hearts.

Over the past few weeks we have settled into a simple pattern of Harp and Bowl worship and prayer that works for us. On a typical Thursday evening we will have one devotional and two intercessory cycles, organized loosely around a common theme. We begin our first Harp and Bowl cycle shortly after 7 pm by reading a few verses of Scripture to focus our thoughts, and we usually have a time of conversational sharing after concluding our third prayer cycle. Our aim is to wrap up by 9 pm, although this past Thursday evening we spilled over a little bit.

Numbers have varied greatly. This past Thursday evening our living room was full. Some nights there have been as few as three of us (Marion and I being two of those three).  The Lord has settled it in our hearts that we are doing this for Him, not for the acclaim of people, so we are going to worship and pray on Thursday evenings no matter who shows up, as long as the Lord gives us strength and grace.

Anyone with a desire to grow in love for Jesus and to present the needs of others before His throne is welcome to join us as we pray for the people of God, for the city where we live, and for the world that Jesus died for.  Thursdays, 7:00 pm, in our living room in Vanier.

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Fresh vision for the House of Prayer

Marion and I would like to thank all those who have been praying for us over the past few weeks. God has been at work in our lives in many ways.

Sometimes to really hear clearly from the Lord, we need to take some time to step back from our commitments and just be quiet with Him. As Marion and I took time to do this, we realized that the Lord was telling us to lay some things down because they were getting in the way of our primary calling.

Our first calling is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. That is the heartbeat of the House of Prayer that Jesus is so passionate about.

As Marion and I have repented of letting secondary things take too big a place in our lives, and laid down other commitments in order to refocus on loving God first, we have received fresh vision for the House of Prayer that He wants us to birth here in Vanier. The Holy Spirit has been showing us a very simple, flexible model that is suited to our capacities and our situation.

Starting in January, we will host weekly meetings for worship and prayer in our home. We will spend a good chunk of our time simply loving God with our songs of worship, drawing near to Jesus and sitting at His feet. The worship style will be simple, acoustic and meditative. We will also pray for our community, using faith-filled Scriptural prayers, following a simple pattern in which we pray week by week through a cycle of four overall themes. We believe that as we lift up Jesus in our worship and our prayers, the Light of the World will become more and more visible and evident in this neighbourhood that we call home and that Jesus died to save.

In addition to the weekly prayer and worship gatherings, we will conduct prayer walks on an occasional basis (probably monthly) once spring comes and the weather improves.

As we considered what would happen when there are too many people to fit into our living room, we sensed the Lord saying that this would be the sign to launch another prayer cell. So, for us, the House of Prayer that we are called to birth will not be housed in a particular building, but in the hearts and lives of the people of God scattered throughout the city. Though it may start in Vanier, it need not be limited to Vanier. New prayer cells can be birthed anywhere that there are people with a vision to do so. Our hope and desire is that these prayer cells would stay linked to each other in a flexible network that would come together for larger gatherings as the Lord grants space and grace.

Although this prayer network is obviously an expression of the Body of Christ, it is not a substitute for the local church. We do not see ourselves as starting a new church in the usual sense of that word. Rather, we want to serve, partner with and bless the existing churches in the community. One of our main prayer themes will be to pray for God’s blessing on the churches and pastors in our community.

If this vision finds an echo in your heart, consider this post your invitation to come and join us in worship and prayer. If you can’t come every week, come when you can. We’ll be here as long as the Lord grants us health, strength and grace to worship and seek Him.

Re-Launch Details
Date      Thursday January 9, 2014
Time      7:00 pm
Place     283 Ste Cecile, Vanier, Ontario

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Life on the beach – or on the farm?

Over the years I have had many conversations with colleagues at work about their goals in life.

I remember one man in particular who made it quite clear what he wanted. His goal was to build up a nice financial nest egg so that he could retire, relax, and enjoy life. As he saw it, the good life is “life on the beach”, or “life at the cottage”, or some other form of permanent vacation, and the purpose of work is to build up enough wealth so that we can spend the rest of our days doing exactly as we please, with no-one to answer to but ourselves.

More recently I had a conversation with another colleague. In addition to working as an IT consultant, she and her husband own and operate a small farm where they raise goats, beef cattle and horses. Marion and I like buying meat from her because we know it’s not laced with antibiotics and hormones. This colleague told me recently that she had considered giving up farming but she couldn’t do it, because she doesn’t want to live without a purpose. For her, farming is a way of life that embodies purposeful and therefore satisfying activity. She enjoys finding cost-effective and inventive ways of meeting the challenge of raising animals organically. Her dream isn’t “life on the beach”, it’s “life on the farm”. She does want to have sufficient freedom to be able to take a vacation with her husband every now and then (a challenge for many farmers) but she can’t stand living without a purpose.

Life on the beach – or on the farm? A permanent vacation – or a life of purposeful activity? Serving yourself, or serving others? Which would you choose?

I’d pick life on the farm any day.

Let me be clear. I love vacations. I know I need rest. It was great to go to Florida for a week last year, and Marion and I loved our holiday at a cottage on Drummond Island with children and grandchildren the year before. I thoroughly enjoy weekends with their (somewhat) more relaxed pace. But I can’t stand the thought of living without any purpose but to satisfy my own desires. That kind of life would kill me. The beach is great for a break from the farm, but give me the farm over the beach for a satisfying life that’s well-lived.

No, I’m not considering another career change, nor a change of location. I am now thoroughly and happily transplanted from my former life in rural Russell Township to my current life in inner-city Vanier, and I have no regrets about the change. Although I do have a small garden, I have no plans to take up farming. I know that I am exactly where God wants me to be.

But like my farming colleague, I don’t want to live without a purpose. And like her, I see myself as a type of farmer. I’m not raising hay, grain, goats and cattle. I’m tending people’s hearts. The farm isn’t mine, it’s God’s. But I am one of his sharecroppers. Other servants have planted the seed of His saving, lifegiving truth in many hearts, and my job is to tend and nurture the seeds that have sprouted into young, growing plants.

On God’s farm there are lots of jobs to be done. Some people do more planting than anything else. These are the ones who love telling complete strangers – everyone they can find – about Jesus. Others spend more of their time fertilizing and watering the crops. These are the ones who love to help others understand the word of God and how it applies to their life. Some people spend most of their time feeding and looking after the other workers. That’s just as important. There are other jobs as well. Like on most farms, everyone does a bit of everything at times, but some people specialize more in some areas than in others.

In my years of working on God’s farm I’ve planted seeds, and I’ve also watered and fertilized them. But what I love to do most is to make sure that the young plants can see the Son. That, to me, is what the ministry of worship and prayer is all about. Plants don’t grow if they can’t see the light. Believers need to be able to see the Son so that they can become like Him. God has an enemy who is constantly planting weeds in the midst of His good crops. Sometimes those weeds threaten to choke the life out of the crops that God’s servants have planted. Sometimes the weeds seem to get so thick that it’s hard to see the Son. When that happens, the ministry of worship and prayer has a wonderful way of clearing spaces in the undergrowth so that we can see the light of His face. In fact, the more we worship, the more the weeds seem to just disappear, and the crops of God’s planting begin to flourish and thrive and reproduce. It’s amazing.

All workers need rest. I’m glad that on God’s farm there are refreshing streams and green pastures where his servants can be renewed and restored. But I’m so glad that God has made me for fruitful labour in his fields.

The day of harvest is coming. When that day comes, I want to be found faithful in the labour to which He has assigned me.

 

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Neighbourhood Worship Nights

As Marion and I have sought to listen to the Holy Spirit, we sense that the time has come to open our home every second Tuesday for an evening of worship.

Our living room is not all that large, and we anticipate that eventually the Lord will move us to another space, but for now we are starting with what is available to us, and trusting that Father will draw those He wants to add to this worshipping community. We are also trusting that as we are faithful, He will provide a larger and more public space at the right time.

Some may say, “There are so many hurting people in Vanier. Couldn’t you do something more practical? Why waste time worshipping Jesus when people have so many needs?”

It is precisely because people are so broken and needy that we need to worship Jesus. When Jesus was in the Temple just a few days prior to his crucifixion, the blind and lame came to him in the Temple and he healed them. This was a profoundly prophetic act. Under the Covenant of Moses, a priest who was blind or lame could not draw near to the holy God to offer sacrifices because of his imperfection. When Jesus healed the blind and the lame in the Temple, he was declaring that from now on, because of the price He paid, everyone is qualified. The only requirements are faith and love towards Him. Everyone is qualified to draw near, everyone is qualified to offer sacrifices of praise, everyone is qualified to come into His presence and be changed by His glory, everyone is qualified to be an agent of transformation in the lives of others.

True worship is about drawing near to the Father, coming in to the Holy Place to see His glory and feel the power of His love, and pouring out our love to Him in return. Far from being an escape from reality, as we worship our eyes are unveiled so that we can catch a glimpse of things as they really are – as they will be when the City of God comes down from heaven to on earth and every tear is wiped away. Jesus shed his blood so that we could have an advance taste of the unspeakably glorious joy of being in the Father’s presence without fear.

In this present age, we cannot fully appreciate the glory of fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but we do get a foretaste of the glories to come. As we encounter the Holy Spirit and see the glory of the Lord, we are changed as the love of God is poured into our hearts. This is what Jesus referred to when He spoke about the true worshippers who worship in Spirit and in truth.

Intimacy with God truly is the wellspring of transformation. Drawing near to God has a huge impact on our ability to love others. As our hearts are softened and humbled we receive grace to see others through God’s eyes and to love them as He does.

Our desire is simple. We want to provide an atmosphere in which it is easy for hurting, needy people to draw near to God. David prayed, One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek … to behold the beauty of the Lord. By His death on the cross Jesus has made it possible for this desire to be fulfilled. From time spent in the presence of the Lord, I believe much transforming grace and power will flow into our lives and the lives of others.

The musical style of these worship evenings will be simple and unsophisticated. We are not superstars, just people who want to love Jesus with our simple songs of love.

So listen to the nudges of the Holy Spirit and if He is prompting you to come, then come and join us. If you’re not sure, come and see, taste what it is like and then decide.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him.

Where : 283 Ste Cecile, Vanier

When: 7:00 pm, Tuesday June 25, 2013 (and every 2nd Tuesday)

What : Worship, prayer, simple teaching focussing on intimacy with Jesus.

If you have questions, leave a comment.

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Why we worship

A few months ago, I began to get that restless feeling in my spirit that I have come to recognize as preparation for a significant change – usually a new ministry assignment. As I talked with Marion and sought to discern the Lord’s leading, we eventually realized that we were being reassigned to a little neighbourhood church here in Vanier known as The Village.

The Village is pastored by a wonderful couple who live just one block from our house, and our initial assignment was simply to come alongside them and provide friendship, encouragement and prayer support. However, as this relationship has developed, Marion and I have also been invited to assist in strengthening the Village’s ministry of sung worship.

This is an excellent fit for us on a musical level. As a worship leader my style is very simple and unsophisticated. I play my acoustic guitar and sing. No band; no lights; no smoke machines; no mosh pit; no screaming fans; no gear beyond a very basic sound system with a microphone and a pickup to amplify my guitar. Not that I’m against any of that other stuff, but for me they have never seemed necessary (although I have to admit, having a bass player would be a great blessing). I’ve always led worship in very small settings – small groups and home churches. The Village is not a home church, but it is a very simple church, so a simple approach to sung worship fits right in.

As for Marion, the simplicity of the musical culture at the Village has provided a perfect context for the djembe (African hand drum) that I gave her a few years ago, and it has been a delight to see her gaining confidence as a hand drummer. Acoustic guitar and djembe make a very good combo, and her playing helps to keep me anchored with a solid rhythmic base that adds some punch to our musical offering.

The simplicity of music and worship at this new place of assignment is also a good fit on another level. It is a constant reminder that worship is not a show, but an offering of love.

I’ve had seven years to re-learn this lesson. From the spring of 2006 until this recent shift to The Village, Marion and I had been part of two mid-size churches. Both these churches were blessed with plenty of talented musicians, and despite my love for worshipping the Lord in song, I knew that the Holy Spirit was restraining me from joining the praise and worship team at either church. At the time, I didn’t think of it as a sabbatical, but I now realize that the time span of seven years was no accident.

The lack of involvement in worship ministry was a big change for me, as prior to this I had been the main worship leader as well as the pastor and teacher in our house church for many years. But with the subtle pressure of the Holy Spirit keeping me from joining the public worship ministry of either City Church or All Nations, I played my guitar and sang my songs of worship in my basement, in my small group, at prayer meetings with a handful of intercessors. It felt strange at first to be restricted to using my gift in such a limited way, but I knew that God was pruning me, testing my heart to see if I would still choose to be a worshipper when He was the only one watching or listening.

About two years into this seven-year sabbatical, I was introduced to the worship coming out of International House of Prayer in Kansas City, and spent many hours letting my heart be changed  in the fragrant atmosphere of devotion that flows from the IHOP Global Prayer Room.

Now that I am stepping back into a more public role as a worship leader at The Village, I am constantly reminded that this is a priestly function. When I am leading worship, I am not serving myself or my own need for attention. My entire focus needs to be on helping the people of God to be true worshippers who bring a pleasing offering to God. To do this, I need to first of all be a true worshipper myself. And so, I have been asking myself some old questions, and finding that the answers to those questions – though I have known them for many years – are reaching my heart in a fresh way.

Why worship? What is the point? Why does God value worship? Specifically, why do we worship with songs?

Those are very big questions, and a single blog post is far too short for adequate answers, but here are a few thoughts.

We don’t worship to entertain God, to impress him. Though the simple worship songs offered by a tiny church in Vanier may seem unimpressive even by human standards, the best worship band on earth pales in comparison to the worship offered in the heavens. Nothing we bring could ever compete with the sights, sounds and smells of the worship in the heavenly throne room. And so, humility is called for. We need to get over ourselves. Even with the most skilled singers and musicians, the latest and most anointed songs, a world-class sound system, lights, smoke, and thousands of people – we’re not that impressive. Beloved, yes – amazing, yes – but only because we are the handiwork of an amazing God. He is the one who is truly impressive.

Nor do we worship to make God like us, or to convince him of how devoted we are. God has no illusions about us, and His love for us isn’t dependent on how well we sing our songs or play our instruments. Our hearts are transparent to Him – he sees right through to the core of who we are. He sees our love for Him and our sincere desire to please him, but he also sees our fears, our pride, our judgments, our preoccupation with ourselves, and much else besides. Nothing we do in worship can change that, nor should we even try. After all, God hates pretense. His favour is attracted only by a broken and contrite heart with no deceit.

So why do we worship?

God is worthy
First, we worship because God is worthy. He is before all things, all things come from Him, and everything exists for His pleasure and glory. Any created thing that we consider to be beautiful or good or true is only good because it comes from His hand. True worship is not about us but about God. It is a declaration of His supreme worth, a declaration that He is the reason why we live. In the words of the apostle Paul, in Him we live and move and have our being.

But God is not only worthy of praise because He created us. He is worthy of praise because of His self-giving, sacrificial love. We bow in wonder before the One who took on human form and allowed himself to be broken and crushed on the cross. We are in awe of the One who took away our guilt, washed us clean and gave us a new heart so that we could stand before Him without fear in His presence as beloved sons and daughters. We are amazed at the prospect of sharing in resurrection life with Him forever in His Kingdom that will have no end.

Love
And so we worship not only because God is worthy. We worship God because we love Him. His amazing generosity towards us causes love to flow from our hearts in response. We love because He first loved us. Love for God is the first and greatest commandment.

Now, if we are honest, we would have to admit that we don’t always feel love towards God. Although we have passed from death to life and from darkness to light, our minds and hearts are still in the process of being renewed, and much of our life in this age is still preoccupied with our own concerns. It’s only by the Holy Spirit’s power that we are able to love God at all.

Invited into intimacy
God is better to us than we know. He is fully aware that we are not capable of loving him with our whole being. And that is precisely why He has given us the Holy Spirit, and commanded us to worship him with songs. When we sing songs of praise and thanks and adoration towards God, the Holy Spirit takes our own words and uses them to change our hearts, and we find that our thoughts towards God begin to line up with the words we are singing. The Holy Spirit reminds us of how much He loves us, and our hearts begin to engage with God’s heart, and we find that we are once again in awe of His goodness.

And so, although worship is first of all for God – it is a way of honouring Him and expressing His worth – it is also very much for us. It is a gift that God in His mercy has given us so that we can draw near to Him and our hearts can be transformed in His presence.

One of the most wonderful truths about God’s character is that He delights in our love for Him. The King sees us, He is moved by our love for Him, He invites us into His chambers. This intimacy with the Holy God is one of the amazing paradoxes of worship. Though the Lord is on high, yet he looks with affectionate love on those who humble themselves and seek Him with sincerity.

Why do we worship? Because God has commanded it; because He is worthy; but also because He loves us, and we are invited into intimacy with Him. What an amazing privilege, to come into the experienced presence of the King of Kings for an advance taste of the glories that will be ours forever when His Kingdom comes fully on earth as it is in heaven.

And so, as a worship leader, I want to be careful to keep my focus on Jesus; to remember His goodness and mercy and His supreme worth; and to remember the price He paid and the value He sets on the precious ones whom it is my privilege to lead into His presence every time I offer my songs of worship before God’s throne in the presence of His people. What an amazing and humbling privilege. To God be the glory.

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