I recently lead worship at church and wasn't completely satisfied with how things went. Our rehearsal time before the gathering was strained. Not only were we short on our rehearsal time, but we were also missing our cues and forgetting our parts. We were having an all-round difficult time getting it together. Frustrations arose and some of us (myself included) even began to shut down emotionally. At one point I was quite rude and short with one of our elders when he came and asked for some help while we were trying to rehearse. To put it one-way: If the Gallagher Brothers were there, they (of all people) would have told us that we were a dysfunctional group of musicians.
After our rehearsal we met to pray. We prayed for God to move in spite of us. We prayed that his bride, the church, would be edified. We prayed that as a band we would worship Christ in spirit and truth. We prayed for salvation. We prayed all of the things you would pray for any church gathering.
The gathering time came and it went fairly well all things considered. There were a few missed cues, some wrong notes, and a couple slides out of order. But guess what? God still moved. We saw people intentionally engaging in worship. We saw people singing and proclaiming the earth-shaking truths of our risen God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We saw people praying with and for each other. I told myself God still moved. Happy ending? Not yet.
The gathering was over. The building emptied out. The lights were turned off. My wife and I were just arriving home when a fellow church staff texted me asking how I felt about the gathering. My response included "definitely a few hiccups, but God moved in spite of us". It seems like an okay thing to say, doesn't it? It kind of sounds like a good, God honouring response, right?
As I continued reflecting that evening, something really started to bother me about my response to that text. I felt the Holy Spirit convicting me of holding a small view of God and his work in light of the gathering. God revealed to me that I was functioning as though his work hinged upon my performance: I believed an "out of the park" performance wouldn't require God to move. Instead, we would move for him with our awesome stage presence and slick music; however, a poor performance would necessitate God to move in spite of us. Essentially, the absence of "hiccups" would guarantee God's work. This is a troublesome thought because it reveals a belief that God's presence is something to be wielded instead of something to be yielded unto. Messed up, right?
Wield Vs. Yield
As worship leaders on stage we do not wield the presence of God. We yield to it. Neither do we “usher people into the throne room”. Through the finished work of the cross, Jesus has come to us. In leading worship, we simply give the best of our skill and talent to point people to Jesus and invite them to join us in worshipping Him. But it is impossible to invite people to join you in worship of Jesus when you're busy worshipping yourself, which I was doing.
2 Corinthians 5:18 says "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation". Notice that it says that God gave us the ministry. Why would God give us this ministry of reconciliation? Is it because our charisma, our talent, and our righteousness have qualified us for it? Not even a little bit. Jesus gives us HIS ministry because of HIS goodness and HIS grace all for the sake of HIS great name. Throughout the entire Old Testament we see that God calls and uses flawed, sinful, and downright messed up people. He does this to show that HE is the hero of the story. Not us.
The truth is that God ALWAYS moves in spite of us. If we perform poorly, he moves in spite of us. If we perform exceptionally, he moves in spite of us. Romans 5:8 tells us that "… God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us". This shows us that we did not earn any of God's love. Quite the opposite really: we deserve his wrath. But he first loved us. In spite of us. This applies to our work in ministry as well. God moves. God saves. God changes people. All in spite of our worst and (maybe more importantly) our best efforts.
Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast."