I’m Not Playing Around
Maybe it sounds a bit cheeky. Perhaps it sounds like overextending an idea’s reach or, worse, a justification for sloth. However, I think there’s a very good theological reason why we worship leaders often find ourselves pillow-side on Sunday afternoons. For me, it’s very personal and autobiographical.
I began thinking about all this over the last few months as our church is picking up the pieces of a major tragedy. Since the news hit our church family several months ago, I’ve found myself more exhausted on Sunday afternoons. I began to take inventory. Was I getting up earlier than usual on Sunday mornings? Was I staying up too late on Saturdays? Was I putting together more demanding and difficult music? Were our liturgies more complex, requiring additional brain power and on-the-ball concentration? Was it my thyroid? Did my wife just have another baby? Am I just getting older?
No, not really.
The Center of the Ring
Scripture tells us that worship is a fierce battleground. When the people of God gather for praise, prayer, confession, lamentation, and hope–when we gather around the gospel–God, in real time, sets up a heavenly outpost smack dab in the middle of the prince of darkness’s territory. In military terms, worship is the “red zone” of Christ’s war against Satan. How do we know this?
Remember that key moment at the beginning of the ministry of Christ when, after being filled with the Holy Spirit, He was sent into the wilderness and tempted by Satan. It was, for Jesus, the place where the King of Kings would first face off against the prince of this world, to claim, in effect, “Your days are numbered, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Recall, though, Jesus’ final temptation:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (Matt 4:9, ESV)
What Satan wants more than anything else is worship, adoration, adulation. The devil seeks to be God, and he is literally hell-bent on deceiving this world into believing that God really isn’t God. Satan, more than anything else, longs to rob Christ of the worship He is rightfully due.
So when the Scriptures tell us that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12, ESV), make no mistake that worship is the center of that wrestling ring.
Jesus, as King (with the ancient concept of King in mind), is the chief Warrior. “Lord Sabaoth” (i.e. the Lord of Hosts, the God of Angel Armies), is His Name. He has “King of kings and Lord of lords” tattooed on His thigh (Rev 19:16).
We worship leaders stand behind our King as one of the War Generals, leading the battle of praise each Sunday. We operate on the front lines, wielding the weapons of prayer, song, and especially the Word of God. Spiritually and physically (the two are not as so easily divisible as some philosophers want you to believe), it is hard work.
People often speak of worship as a “recharging” and “refueling.” This is very true. For in worship, the Son of Man comes to serve, not be served. We receive the blessings of Christ by Christ. Still, we can equally say that when we are engaged in worship, and when the people of God are engaged, worship is an exhausting enterprise. You may look around the room, and it may appear to be just another average Sunday–the mixed crowd of yawners, phone-checkers, hand-raisers, and weepers. But make no mistake, the spiritual realm is bustling with life, frenzied activity, and, yes, war.
And as is the case with many hard efforts, you often don’t realize how exhausting it is until after it is over. Worship, as warfare, is physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually exhausting. Filled with the Spirit, it is lighter labor and an easy yoke, but it is nevertheless still work.
So, while there may be other good reasons to take a nap on Sunday afternoons (including the fact that it is the Christian’s day of rest), remember that worship is war, and war is wearisome. Therefore, worship leader, in the deepest sense, when worship is over, rest in peace.
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Shameless plug: This is an area of exploration in my forthcoming book, The Worship Pastor, due out with Zondervan in Fall 2016. I have an entire chapter devoted to “The Worship Pastor as War General.” Read more about the book here.