I received this question from a deeply frustrated worship leader: “How do you lead worship when you’re feeling down and discouraged and your heart feels like a brick even when you’ve spent the whole week praying for a change and your brain rebels and refuses to stay focused on God and keeps reverting to your insecurities and fears and even though you’ve practiced until your fingers have permanent ridges and the songs run through your head like an endless soundtrack and things still don’t happen the way you practiced them?”
I love questions like that. Raw. Unfinished. Passionate. Real. I asked her to take a shot at answering her question. And she did! I’m sharing her answer with you because it too is raw, unfinished, passionate, and real. This isn’t a “here’s what I learned when I went through this.” It’s a “this is how I’m getting through this, and I’m not sure where I’m going to end up.” We need more people to speak up before the resolution comes, before the breakthrough, while they’re still in the desert. Because even though their perspectives may not be complete, they give voice to the yearnings inside all of us and help us to find a path forward. I hope you’re encouraged by her vulnerability. She wrote:
I am a farmer, a gardener, a groundskeeper. I am not a worship leader. I love music and I love God. But how can I lead a congregation to worship God when I cannot enter into worshiping Him myself? How can I worship when my heart feels as cold and hard as the ground beneath my feet?
Under the ice, under the snow, just below the surface of the concrete soil are shoots of green, thoughts of flowers and memories of riotous colors waiting... waiting.
Do they know? Do they know of lengthening daylight hours? Of, the robin’s twittering return to the firethorn bush? Do they know of the slight swelling of the forsythia buds? How can they know, buried as they are under heavy mantles of icy winter? I snowshoe through the frozen hush of wooded trails. Asking, “Why God? Why can’t I feel You? Where were You when I called out to You? ‘Help me worship, help me lead, help me sing my heart! Make my heart soft and warm so I can worship You!’?” I am not a worship leader. I am a farmer, a gardener, a groundskeeper who loves music and loves God. There is a church on the edge of the woods, and in a grove of trees, silent and deserted, are thirteen stations. Stations of the cross. The suffering and crucifixion of my Savior, etched in tile, mounted on wooden posts. Trudging from tile to tile, I review the familiar story, rendered new by the perspective of gray, washed-out sunlight on frigid snow, where bare, black branches forlornly clawing at a single and elusive ray of warmth. At the final station, a plastic Jesus, over death-triumphant, stands with hands spread wide. But no one seems to care. No one is there. Just me and a tangle of limbs bowed and broken by the weight of the ice. I am a groundskeeper. I long to pick up and make things neat but loathe to disturb the wild whiteness, the ironic loneliness. “How can I worship You, Jesus, with an icy cold heart? Why do you not remove my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh? ‘I wish I could love You more, my God and my King!’” (Robin Mark) I led that song last Sunday. I sang it, and I meant it, but I could not feel it.
Maybe if I were a better person, less selfish, less proud, more loving, less me...maybe I would have felt Your presence. Maybe if I were less introverted, less intimidated, less anxious, more skilled, less me... maybe You would have opened my ears to hear Your voice.
The problem...the problem surely lies with me. For You are faithful, always. Your Word says so, and I believe Your Word, for I have seen Your faithfulness. Just as I know that beneath the snow are blades of green, orbs of gold, petals of shimmery purple, and more hues than can be named lying in wait for spring’s thaw. Maybe... there is a whisper in the stillness...maybe the problem is not who I am or who I am not. Maybe the problem lies with my expectations, my internal competitions.
There are times when worship is sacrifice. A sacrifice of praise when the heart feels winter. But always there is the knowledge of kaleidoscope colors of praises just beneath the frozen surface.
God sees and knows.
A broken and contrite heart, He will not despise. A bruised reed He will not break. Sometimes we worship, not from the present, but from the past and from the future.
Do I believe that God is the God of the winter, just as He is in my memories of blazing autumn and hope, no, my certainty, of a future, glorious spring? Can I trust that He sees the colors of worship flickering in me underneath the melancholy grip of ice and snow? Could it be that He is less disappointed in me than I am? He knows that I am grass, sometimes too quickly withered by the harsh north wind. He knows my spirit is willing, but my flesh is so weak. Can I trust that my less than perfect, faltering sacrifice of praise sounds just as sweet to His ears as the most professional choir in the world? Can I trust? Will I trust? That God’s Spirit will work in and through me to fulfill His purposes within the congregation and within me despite my weakness and shortcomings? For I am a farmer, a gardener, a groundskeeper, who loves God and loves music and, through the grace of God, I am a worship leader.