I have the privilege of working with a church that grants me study leave. Our church is one of those visionary places that recognizes when its leaders are given (sanctioned) opportunity to unplug, reflect, read, and process, we’re better at what we do. I naturally gravitate toward introverted, cerebral activities, so I purposefully plan aspects of study leave to be connecting with others in my field and learning from them. This past week, I went down to visit some new … Read More
This is impressive. Matt Redman, upon reflection on Scripture, speaks quite candidly about modern worship’s use of romantic love language. He specifically mentions regret over the final line of the chorus of his famous song, “Let My Words Be Few,” which says,
Jesus, I am so in love with you.
The reason this is impressive is because we have a truly humble man who is willing to admit that he’s on a journey of greater depth of knowledge and insight. It is also impressive because Redman is one of the top ten most recognized modern worship leaders and songwriters in the world.
I also just want to say how big a fan I am of Redman, and why. When modern worship was in its “fluff” heyday, which I would place around the mid to late 90s, Redman was carving a different path. You look at his early albums in and just after that era (The Friendship and the Fear, The Heart of Worship), you really do get a sense that here we have a worship leader who reads his Bible. Yes, early Redman was full of the romantic stuff, too, but there was substance. My appraisal is that part of the reason we’re seeing modern worship make a shift toward more biblical literacy, more God-centeredness, more theological depth, is because Redman paved the way. I really can look at the “heavy hitters” of worship in that era, and I don’t see many that were writing as Redman did. Now, many more are.
I haven’t spoken directly about the topic at hand, i.e. modern worship’s penchant for so-called “girliness,” but much ink and HTML have already been spilt over that, so I leave it to my readers’ comments. I just think this video is remarkable. And I thank God for humble public figures like Redman.
I had a most interesting experience yesterday driving to church at around 7:30am. My commute is about 20 minutes, which is just enough time to center myself and prepare my heart and thoughts for stepping into shoes I’m not worthy to fill–being a pastor and worship leader. 3/4 into the drive, a cop pulls up behind me and signals me over. As most people do as they’re being pulled over when they don’t immediately know why, I started to replay the last 5 minutes of driving, but for the life of me I could not figure out why I was being summoned to the roadside spectacle of flashing lights (come to find out later, some of our church family were driving by watching their pastor apprehended by the law). Well, I had expired tags, which I will go to resolve, just after I write this post.
Needless to say, I was upset. I was pounding my fist on the steering wheel, upset at myself for having been negligent with expired tags, upset at God for sovereignly ordaining an encounter which so wonderfully UNprepared my heart for worship. I parked the car at church, muttering at God. I muttered at God from the car to the door. I muttered at God from the door to my office. I plastered on a smile and said “hey!” in a fake, enthusiastic voice to someone I saw in the hall, and then I went into my office to “prepare for worship.” I had set in my heart that my worship preparation this week would consist of telling God how upset I was and how I wouldn’t really be engaged today, thank you very much. I picked up the worship bulletin and was reminded that I needed to spend a few minutes rehearsing the chant that would open our service…it was a setting of Psalm 95. The chant’s refrain was as follows:
Harden not your hearts, as your forbears did in the wilderness.
After about the third time through that refrain, it was obvious that God was talking to me. I’m sure you understand the message I was receiving. That transition state between being angry with God and being humbled by God is an awkward one, but that’s right where I was when I said out loud in the empty choir room, with a nervous and bitter laugh, “God, are You preaching at me?” I didn’t need an answer.
Yesterday, I re-learned a lesson that I am perpetually teaching to my brothers and sisters week-in and week-out: God is worthy of praise, irrespective of our circumstances. His infinite worth demands our best efforts, our most enthusiastic worship, our loftiest thoughts. The simple lesson of “your feelings don’t matter, Zac…I have a summons on your life to gather with my people and worship me” was spoken by God once again, loud and clear.
There is a divine grace in being a pastor and a worship leader. Others can choose to evade God on days like that, but for us, it’s our job to be there. I count that a huge privilege. It’s almost a spiritual discipline. Running from God as a pastor or a worship leader really is futile, because you’re going to have to reckon with Him at least once a week when you stand before His presence in the midst of His people. I’ve learned this lesson before. It was good to learn it again.
Well, off to the DMV.
Here’s a candid moment for you. I continue to wrestle with a tension (that will never go away), which I have experienced from day one of establishing an online presence in preparation for the release of The Glad Sound.
My goal for this album and any future ones (Lord-willing) is much less about promoting my own music and much more about being part of a movement with an agenda. The hymns movement is a grass roots campaign to influence modern worship to regain much of what it has lost—historical rootedness in the biblical depths of ancient hymns. And I believe God is behind this. As I read the Scriptures, I know God desires to be worshiped in reverence and awe. To Him is due the loftiest of thoughts, praises, and admiration. I believe the hymns movement is a necessary piece of the puzzle of modern worship. This is where my heart bleeds, and it is THE reason I’ve produced this record. If I did not think God cared about this movement and the positive impact it would have on His worship, I wouldn’t have wasted my time doing this.
It has been made abundantly clear to me, given the culture I live in, that to achieve these goals, I must “market myself” in a sea of loud voices. This means I must promote myself and continually place my personality, thoughts, and ideas before people. I need to talk about this “great thing” that I’m doing. I need to take pictures. I need to encourage others (individuals, corporations with audiences and media outlets) that who I am and what I’m doing should be appreciated, talked about, and shared with others. I need to convince people that I’m unique and worth people’s time. Need…need…need. “Need” should be in quotes.
At the same time, I’m a follower of Jesus. And He teaches, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). The apostle John reports a similar but even more poignant statement: “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). Elsewhere, Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). One of the most glorious passages of Scripture (which my 4-year old has nearly memorized!), says:
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself…” (Philippians 2:1-11).
How does modern self-promotion and marketing meld with Christian self-denial? There’s a tension here. And it’s the classic “in the world, not of the world” tension. Some would say this is a contradiction: one cannot promote oneself and yet heed Christ’s command to deny oneself. I think it’s less black and white. Promoting oneself is not wrong by necessity. Paul promotes himself (2 Corinthians 12:11…I’m aware that he simultaneously says “I am nothing”). But his self-promotion in that and other instances is for a greater purpose, be it to illustrate a theological point or to set himself up as an example of godly behavior so that others might have a tangible reference point. Ultimately, as with many other issues, this comes down to the heart. What is the motive behind the self-promotion?
I think these things, for honest Christ-followers, start out pretty innocent but that the heart, gone unchecked, reaches an idolatry tipping point, when all the self-promotion goes to one’s head (really, goes to one’s heart). I find myself having to frequently heed the Spirit’s whispers, “Be careful here, Zac.” So, yes, instances like last night where I’m walking around downtown Denver with my friend, posing for shots for my “artist portfolio,” do (and should) make me feel a bit uncomfortable. And I think the discomfort is a divine grace, a heart-check.
For all you Christian artists, business people, authors, and anyone else who, out of cultural necessity, promote yourselves so that God’s kingdom objectives might be achieved, my encouragement is to tread forward, but tread forward as one would traverse a pathway littered with broken glass. Move forward in prayer. Move forward with a team of people from whom you invite regular input, questions, and checks and balances.
I don’t think the tension will ever go away. God help us if it does.