Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit While Practicing

Listening in Two Directions: Preparation
Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit
Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit While Planning
Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

The idea of listening to the Spirit during practice may seem silly. After all, you’re simply figuring out who plays what, when, and making sure everything will go smoothly when it’s time for the real deal.

But practice is more than rote learning, or getting our musical ducks in a row (if only we all had musical ducks!). It’s also a moment of confirmation and adjustment. Either practice confirms that I’m following the Spirit’s voice or it is another opportunity for the Spirit to interrupt the “me-show” and re-align my plans with his calling and purpose.

We may have planned well and thoroughly, and tried our best to listen as we did so, but sometimes our sin-selves still get in the way. As we, with prayer, enact the prayer-soaked plans we made, we hear we feel the places that are “not quite right.” The spots where my pride, or my agenda, or my selfishness got in the way of my service to the Spirit.

Listening during practice is also essential because it is at this point we invite others to enter our conversation with the Spirit, adding richness and diversity. It is often in practice that I realize someone else should lead a certain song. Sometimes a band member will offer a Scripture passage that completes a transition – or a band member’s sharing of their spiritual journey through the week will subtly and beautifully transform the shape and flow of the service. Sometimes it becomes very apparent that a certain song simply does not work, or needs to be placed elsewhere.

Again, there is no set way in which the Spirit speaks during practice: except that your practice should lead you (and your band, if you have one) to Jesus. If that happens, you can assume you have heard the voice of the Spirit. If that happens, you can assume that you are serving this part of your “audience” well. That you are offering a gift to the Spirit by joining in his work.

The Fruit of Lent (week 2): Forbearance

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

Week 1: Peace

You are a God of deep forbearance, and you desire your people to be a people of forbearance.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have been impatient and unkind. Forgive us for our thoughtless busyness that allows us to push others aside in favour of our own agenda. Forgive us for simply dismissing those who have stood in opposition to us, rather than taking the time to know them. Spirit, teach us how to bear with each other, especially when it hurts. Help us to refuse retaliation in favour of kindness.

Sung Response:      Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.


Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit While Planning

Listening in Two Directions: Preparation
Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit
Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

It is sometimes assumed that spontaneity (interpreted as a complete lack of planning) is the only way to be truly dependent on the voice of God as we lead. This assumption, however, is not an accurate reflection of God’s movement throughout Scripture.

It’s a strange leap of logic, at best, to assert that the God who planned out the tabernacle in intricate detail and provided complex plans for tabernacle worship would want us to lead his people in worship of him with absolutely no planning or forethought.

New Testament worship also seems to have been quite structured and thoughtfully planned. While we don’t have a lot of details regarding  the planning of gathered worship in the early church, many of Paul’s instructions (including some of his most troublesome and debated instructions) are concerned with order in gathered worship, and reflect a thoughtful working through of what gathered worship should and shouldn’t look like. So I would suggest that we need to employ the same level of thought as the early church – we need to plan carefully but we need to do so while actively listening for the Spirit’s voice.

Setting that debate aside, however, even those who argue for complete spontaneity in worship at least recognize the need for prayer as preparation. And prayer is the primary means of listening to the Spirit during planning, so that you can serve the Spirit as you lead.

So whether you like to plan every detail, or whether you prefer to leave things loose – pray. And don’t fill your prayer up with words, either. It’s the Spirit’s job to point us to Jesus – so ask the Spirit to point you to Jesus in the text or, if there is no text, in the topic for the week. When you begin to see Jesus in that text/topic, ask what needs to happen in order for you to point the congregation toward Jesus. What needs to happen for them to be prepared to see Jesus in the week’s text/topic. How will they need to respond to Jesus when they find him there? Spend time in silence. Read the text. Ask the Spirit to speak to you, be silent again, then re-read the text. Keep praying as you choose songs, as you order them, as you consider your transitions.

I realize that this isn’t earth-shattering advice. But it’s very, very easy, even tempting, to rush ahead and “get planning” without silence, without cocking your head and tilting your ear.

The Fruit of Lent (week 1): Peace

Ash Wednesday. Photo Credit: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, Flickr Creative Commons

Ash Wednesday. Photo Credit: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto, Flickr Creative Commons

Today is Ash Wednesday. Christians all over the world will bow their heads today, and receive a smudged sign of the cross on their foreheads – will be reminded of their own mortality. That death comes to all. That death dwells in all of us. That this world is still, in many ways, captive to sin and darkness. And they will each decide to forgo some pleasure during this time: limiting consumption of meat or sweets; forgoing screen time; eschewing social media. Other Christians, all over the world, find these practices strange and stiff. They wonder what it’s all about. But they, too, although they will not walk through their day with ash marking their foreheads, will feel the pull, the heaviness of Lent in their limbs, in their days, as we begin the long march with Christ toward the cross.

Lent is a time of confession and fasting and waiting in darkness. But this year I want to acknowledge something else – it is also a time of fruiting. Even as we recognize our mortality, as we confess our sin, as we realize anew how difficult it is to control our desires, hope is born afresh in each of us. Because we know how this story ends. We know that our recognition of our mortality will become a celebration of our resurrection. We know that we have received help for our difficult desires, and that one day they will be conquered in full. We know that even as we confess our sin, we are forgiven.

So this year, our church is walking through the fruit of the Spirit during Lent (Galatians 5). We will confess our failure. But we will also embrace forgiveness, and recognize the fruit that Lent is bearing in each of us, and in us as a community.

I invite you to join us. Below is the reading for our first Sunday of Lent – I will post a new prayer every Wednesday. The sung portion is the chorus of Steve Merkel’s “Lord Have Mercy” – a version of which I have posted below. The bold print is to be read/sung by the congregation, and we will also be lighting a Lent candle each week (with the candles lined up in cruciform) as we receive forgiveness. I was helped, in writing these liturgies, by Gordon D. Fee’s excellent work Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Feel free to use these prayers in your your own congregation or in your personal devotions – if you do the latter, simply change the language to first person singular, and I would suggest praying the prayer morning and evening as a kind of bookend to each day.

What will you give up this Lent? And what will you harvest?

Fruit of the Spirit

Fruit of the Spirit

The Fruit of Lent, Week 1: PEACE

You are the God of Peace, and you desire your people to dwell in that peace.

Forgive us, Jesus, for we have caused divisions, knowingly and unknowingly, seeking our own good rather than the good of our community. Forgive us for any hurtful words we have spoken. Forgive us for our thoughtless gossip, and for the grudges we have held on to. Spirit, teach us to willingly forgive, to value relationship over being right, and to actively seek your peace with each other, and in all of our relationships.

Sung Response:      Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on us. (x2)

Your sin has been crucified with Christ Jesus, and you are forgiven. You are free to walk in the fullness of the life offered to you by the Spirit of God.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.


Review: Lent to Maundy Thursday, Page CXVI

Page CXVI, New Release: "Lent to Maundy Thursday"

Page CXVI, New Release: “Lent to Maundy Thursday”

Today one of my favourite bands, Page CXVI released a new album: Lent to Maundy Thursday. From their website: “Page CXVI is a project started with the idea of making Hymns accessible and known again. They are some of the richest, most meaningful, and moving pieces of music ever written.”

However you define the word “hymn” and whatever you think of the dismally named “worship wars” – whether you wish the church would blow off some cobwebs and communicate more effectively in this generation, or whether you feel current music is vapid and lacks the depth of music that has stood the test of time (I stand, by the way, on both sides of that argument) – Page CXVI is doing beautiful things with the time-worn poetry of the church.

Lent to Maundy Thursday is comprised of 7 tracks:

  • And Can It Be that I Should Gain
  • Before the Throne of God Above
  • Were You There? (which includes pieces of O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus)
  • Fast From, Feast On
  • This Blessed Day
  • Hosanna
  • I Love the Lord

The album, over all, is brighter than I expected. Often, when we think of Lent, we think of darkness – of confession and withholding. What Page CXVI has done here is focus on the often passed-over brightness that Lent contains. We confess, yes, but we do so without despair – knowing that forgiveness is readily available. The album fastens on the concept that Lent is not just about fasting – it is also about feasting. This is captured especially well in my favourite song on the album “Fast From, Feast On.” Fasting is never solely about withholding and taming the passions. We fast so that we can feast on other things that are too often forgotten. So we abstain from something that eats up our time, so that we can instead spend time consuming the word. We fast from sweet things, so that we can meditate on the sweetness of Christ’s sacrifice. There is always a so that. Consider the lyrics of “Fast From, Feed On”:

Fast from the swelling darkness, Feast on the power of his light. Fast from discontentment, Feast on the joy that he brings.

 Sustainer, Protector, the Well of Life. My Helper, My comfort, the bread of life is you.

Fast from the fear that haunts us, Feast on the power of his might. Fast from the trap of judgment, Feast on all that’s been redeemed!

From the sorrow’s shadow to perfect light. From the darkness of our doubt to a cleansing white. From the sorrow’s shadow to perfect light. From the blindness of our sin to healing sight.

It’s a beautiful set of contrasts and it encapsulates Lent with depth and power.

I have one reservation about this album that I should mention, which is Page CXVI’s version of “Were You There?” (which is combined with O the Deep Deep Love of Jesus). Somehow this rendition misses the mark for me. At first I thought the arrangement was too joyful for words like “Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?” But in talking it through with Andrew, I realized it’s something more than this: the music is too light, too frivolous for the depth of the words sung and it creates – for us at least – too grating a juxtaposition. This is a big miss, because the combination of these two songs, lyrically, is brilliant. I wish the music had the same weight.

The rest of the album, however, holds enough beauty and weight to counterbalance this one miss – so don’t let my opinion about one song hold  you back from the album as a whole. I will certainly listen to this album throughout this season of Lent, as a launching pad for my fasting and feasting during this blessed walk through darkness and into light.

Over all this is a beautiful album that I heartily recommend to you. You can listen to the full album here. Buy it on Page CXVI’s website, or on Amazon, or on iTunes. There are also (Praise God!) chord charts provided on their website.

This album was graciously provided to me by Page CXVI for the purpose of review – with the understanding that I was free to express my full opinion regarding the music it contains.

Listening in Two Directions: Listening to the Spirit

Listening in Two Directions: Preparation
Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

Listening in Two Directions. Photo Credit: Mark S. Images, Flickr Creative Commons

I began my series on Listening in Two Directions a couple of weeks ago, with a post about the importance of preparation, and how preparation enables attentiveness during delivery. This week I want to begin talking about the sound toward which our right ear should swivel. If we think about leading worship as serving our two-fold “audience,” God being one part of that audience, what does it look like to serve the Spirit, to listen to the Spirit, through the whole process of worship leading – and what are we missing when we fail to be attentive in this way? Before we dive into the three parts of worship leading – planning, practice, and delivery – I want to offer two caveats and give a general picture of why it is important to listen to the Spirit in every stage of our preparation and delivery.

First caveat: there are no hard and fast rules regarding how the Spirit speaks. In fact, as with all conversations, we each interact with the Spirit differently. So please don’t take the examples I lay out in my next few posts as the one way in which to hear God’s voice while planning and implementing a worship service. The corpus of Scripture shows us, intentionally, a variety of individuals and groups who hear from God in a variety of ways. We should never foist the ways and means of our own relationship with God on someone else.

Second caveat: my underlying assumption in this series is that the Holy Spirit always points beyond Himself. My husband calls the Spirit the shy member of the Trinity – because the Spirit always points to Christ. So, to phrase a complex concept simplistically, we know that we have heard from the Spirit when we are pointed toward Jesus. And we serve the Spirit best by doing the same – by pointing beyond ourselves to Christ.

To some extent, then, the reasons we listen to the Spirit as we lead worship are obvious and hardly need to be stated. Of course we need to pay attention to God – the whole point of worship is to pay attention to God. In fact, everyone should be listening for the voice of the Spirit, not just worship leaders. Worship leaders (and pastors, for that matter) are not super-hero Christians who take people and bring them to God. God always reaches toward us – every one of us – first. Every single one of us needs to be attentive to this reaching. To learn to hear the Spirit’s voice, to see the Spirit pointing toward Jesus as we enter in to gathered worship, and as we worship during the week through our work, in our homes, and through our relationships.

As worship leaders, however, we do have a sacred task to perform. By the power of the Holy Spirit we are invited into the process of God’s constant calling; God’s constant drawing of his people toward himself. If we don’t actively listen for the Spirit’s direction and respond in service to the Spirit we will miss this invitation. Worse, we may become an obstacle to others hearing and responding to that invitation.

The tendency of worship leaders is to drift toward one of our two audiences: God or the congregation. If we fail to listen for the Spirit, we will forget who we worship and our gathered worship will no longer be spiritually formative. If we fail to be attentive to the Spirit then we are leading nowhere and to no one – we will simply follow our own preferences and thoughts and hope that the Spirit will use them. And he very well may use them – but how much deeper, how much richer would the worship of the Church be if worship leaders actively listened for the Spirit’s voice, and joyfully accepted the Spirit’s invitation to join God’s work in his congregation?

Thinking Worship Interviewed on Worship Links

Brad over at Worship Links email-interviewed me recently, and it was posted today. Brad’s intro:

I like to describe Stacey Gleddiesmith as a worship theologian. With a strong academic background in the theology of worship, she shares some excellent insights on worship at her blog, Thinking Worship. Recently, Stacey talked to Worship Links about the lack of theological training in worship ministry, the future of church worship, and how many different keys is too many for one song.

I like to describe myself as a worship theologian too. It’s good to be on the same page! Incidentally, we also discovered that we share a common problem: pet hair.

Here’s the FULL INTERVIEW. What say you – am I off base or on?