If you’re a worship leader in the weekly grind like me (whether you’re on staff, part of the team/ensemble of musicians, a choir member, or someone who leads spoken elements in a worship service), you know how regularly your mind flies from this to that during a worship service. In fact, I’ve often taught young worship leaders just starting out that part of our sacrifice in being a “director” who pulls everything together is that we have the responsibility to attend to the sometimes crazy-making details of a worship service precisely so everyone else doesn’t have to. It’s part of how we offer up a sacrifice of praise in accordance with our gifts.
In the hyperactivity of leading a worship service, I’ve found a couple of practices that are both centering for me and powerful for the people of God. It’s an unspoken, largely unseen ministry that we can engage in while we are in the moment of the worship service. It’s a pastoral duty, and it’s the simple act of praying for the people of God directly and sincerely.
Yesterday at Coral Ridge
At Coral Ridge, for instance, we celebrate the Lord’s Supper by singing our way through it. Yesterday, we sang three songs, one of them being a fabulous modern invitation song based on an old hymn called, “Come to Me” ( YouTube | iTunes ) by Michael Bleecker and a few others, over at The Village Church. Its chorus sings:
There is freedom, taste and see
Hear the call: “Come to Me”
Run into His arms of grace
Your burden carried, He will take
I was reflecting with our choir before the service on what the Lord’s Supper is and the unique opportunity it presents for people to truly “taste and see” that He is good. And when we were singing that song, there was a strong sense that the Holy Spirit was prompting me (and us) to pray for people as they came forward. Another singer was leading the song, and it gave me a chance to simply play guitar, sing off the mic, and look at the people of God as they approached the Table. The choir and I began, in our hearts, praying for people, that they would be encouraged, strengthened, nourished, and fed.
Praying Over the People of God in the Moment
That moment reminded me of just how much it has become a subconscious practice of mine during musical pauses and sometimes even while I’m singing and leading. I look out at the people of God, some of whom I’ve had lunch or coffee with the week prior and heard their stories of terror and triumph, suffering and success. I know that the guy over there is absolutely addicted to pornography. I know that the woman over there despises her husband. I know that the college student over there is burnt out from the pressures of final exams and “what’s next?” I know that the homeless man over there is just plain hungry. I know that my co-pastor is struggling with discouragement in ministry. I know that one of my singers is wrestling with the difficulties of her children. And as I see them, the Spirit prompts me to pray, in the moment, that God would meet them there, minister to them and help them to not merely go through the motions of a given song, prayer, or element of worship.
When God Stirs Up the Worship Mojo
I also realized that I could extend this ministry of prayer to others who help lead in worship, particularly the choir. So, before the service, I encouraged the choir to engage in this practice of “praying over” the people of God during key moments in the service. I can’t tell you what a difference it made.
But I can tell you that stuff like this doesn’t happen every week and sometimes feels largely contingent on the factors of God’s pure yet inscrutable will and our brokenness and receptivity. When it does happen, though, it’s magnificent, and I can’t help but think that it had something to do with our faulty prayers, lifted up and perfected through Jesus’ and the Spirit’s prayers before the Father in heaven. Yesterday, the gospel was palpable, felt, and enlivening. People were singing more, and there was an “edge” in the room. My charismatic brothers and sisters will often call that “God showing up,” and I agree. God showed up. That may not be a neat and tidy theological statement, but it is a perfectly descriptive existential one. Many of us felt it. Many of us wished it could last longer. “Stay with us, Jesus, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over…just a little bit longer, Lord” (Luke 24:29).
There are times in ministry where God graciously reminds us of the basics–that He has ordained certain means to accomplish His will and purposes. One of the primary means through which God chooses to act is the prayers of His people. It’s not that our prayers force God’s hand, like rubbing the lamp of a genie. It’s more profound and complex than that. It’s that, in many of His acts, God has chosen to accomplish them through the prayers He prompts His people to pray. For us, it many times feels like its unprompted and spontaneous, but we need to remember that God’s providence is so meticulous that He master-plans everything, including our prayer. And thank God for that.
So I commend the practice of active prayer for your people right smack dab in the middle of the worship service. It’s predicated upon the fact that, though worship is ritual, and though ritual is powerful and formative in and of itself, it is a moment of actual encounter with the living God. It’s not mere playacting. It is interacting.