(Austin Stone Worship Note: This post is the second in a series developed from content from our Worship Leader Development Program, and the first in a two-part post from Todd on this topic. Part 2 can be found here. The first post in this series can be found here.)
When I was in high school, my class was assigned a how-to paper. You had to write a paper on how to complete a task. I liked to think I was smart and impressive, so I probably chose how to build a laser or something else I knew absolutely nothing about. My best friend wrote a paper on how to build a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I thought he was an idiot. However, unbeknownst to me, he had made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after school every day for 10 years. He knew everything there was to know about PB&J: kinds of bread, thickness of peanut butter, quality of jelly, and how they were all related. He made a 100. I did not.
As a worship leader, it is incredibly important to know the God we are addressing in each song. It is not enough to have met him, but we must be pursuing an active, deepening relationship with Him. By leading musical worship, we are attempting to assist someone in our congregation in declaring their love and affection, exaltation and admiration for God. To do so successfully, I must love Him myself, and must be falling deeper in love with Him each day. So how do we do that? The answer is found in something we don’t usually associate with worship leading: spiritual disciplines.
“If you want to grow in writing songs that will express the wonders of God, immerse yourself in God.” – Tim Hughes
A spiritual discipline is training a habit, a skill, or a space into our lives in order to make ourselves available to God’s word and His working. The classic book on spiritual disciplines is Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth by Richard Foster. Foster says, “The spiritual disciplines place us before God so that God can transform us.” We are choosing to spend time with God and be shaped by Him, believing that what He is going to accomplish in that time is more valuable for our worship than what we were going to do in that time.
James Bryan Smith, who has written a couple of my favorite recent books on disciplines, said, “The spiritual exercises awaken us to the already present God, and at the same time, invite God to shape our minds and souls and bodies.” We are not accomplishing something ourselves. We are not chasing and taking hold of God. We are opening our minds, our hearts, our schedules to His invasion, when He is already there and active. The spiritual disciplines are about believing that God is going to achieve what is needed for Sunday as He shapes us on Tuesday.
Dallas Willard, the author of another amazing book The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, divided them into two groups: disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement.
The disciplines of abstinence are private, personal disciplines which create space in our lives for God to speak and work.
They are generally considered to be:
Solitude is not just being alone, but is separating ourselves from our relationships with others to focus on our relationship with Christ. Likewise, silence is not merely being quiet, but listening. Humility is not simply self-deprecation; it is gazing at the greatness and vastness of God and in so doing, coming to an accurate understanding of who you are. Fasting, frugality, and chastity are all a willingness to forgo something in our lives in honor of Christ, to enable the service of Christ, or to focus on Him. I think the difference in sacrifice is that we already possess whatever we are sacrificing. We are not merely forgoing a pleasure, but we are actively giving up something, sacrificing it to God.
In the next part, I will discuss the disciplines of engagement.
Read part 2 here.