One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple…at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. - Psalm 27:4, 6b
This is the appropriate pursuit – first and foremost for all who bear the name “Child of God,” and at a very close second, for those who lead the Body in worship. Dwelling in the presence of God, seeking to see His glory. This should be the desire of our hearts every time we’re given a platform or a microphone. Is that always the case? Of course not! We’re broken self-lovers whose sinful natures daily resist the Spirit who is working to make us holy.
The voice of the world is loud, tempting us to find our worth, our joy, our purpose in being praised for our giftedness. And it’s tempting! It feels really good to be admired. For a moment it almost seems like it will satisfy us forever. But if you’ve been leading worship longer than a day, you know that affirmation from others is never enough. Our hearts aren’t designed to be fulfilled by anything other than the glory of the One who made it.
So, rather than give in to our inclinations to self-glory in its various shades, we are given the opportunity – the “way of escape” (1 Cor. 10:13) – to turn from temptation and choose the Psalm 27 pursuit. I’d like to share with you how I wasted several years doing the very opposite, and then a few practical ways the Lord and His people have taught me to abandon self-glorification for something better.
The Identity Crisis
I’ve been leading worship for 15 years now, and I’m grieved looking back on how I viewed my role for many of those years. To be clear, I always wanted God to be glorified – I knew that was essential. The problem came when I also wanted to be glorified along with Him. Without recognizing it, I was living for man’s praise. But the Bible makes one thing (among others) perfectly clear: God doesn’t share his glory (Isa. 42:8).
Because of the way our culture celebrates talent, I became convinced from a pretty early age that my most valuable trait was my voice – not just to people, but to God. I thought, “this is what I was made for!,” and I lived and led with that mentality. But none of us were madefor worship leading. We were made for worship. Period. Not singing songs about God in front of people, but delighting in Him with our hearts day-by-day-by-day…no matter who is, or isn’t, watching.
I spent most of my time onstage completely focused on myself. How do I sound? Do my hands look weird? Did anyone hear my voice crack just now? Am I better than the other girl singing today? It was a waste of energy and a detriment to my own walk with Jesus. I was missing out on the opportunity to engage with him, the freedom of self-abandonment, and the joy in knowing I didn’t have to earn acceptance. I was exchanging the treasure of my identity in Christ for garbage.
But by His kindness, I was slowly but surely led to repentance (Rom. 2:4). It took time because I was blind to my distorted view of worship and my identity. I had to be broken in order to be brought to my knees and taught to reckon with my sin. I started to see that comparison, selfishness, pride, and fear were robbing me of joy and God of glory. And they were nasty.
I’d love to tell you that I don’t struggle with any of it anymore, but I do. That’s why I call it a battle! Just because I know it’s sin doesn’t mean my flesh has stopped craving man’s praise. I just thank God that my appetite has become more interested in seeking Jesus than self-glorification. This change has only come by the work of the Holy Spirit, who I plead with often for growth in this area. As I do, He is teaching me how to fight.
There are certainly more ways than I know to fight the inherent desire to be affirmed by others, and I hope I’ll continue to learn them as long as God lets me go on serving Him this way. But there are a few things that have changed the course of my life and have become essential disciplines for me as a worship leader:
1. Abide. There is nothing more capable of both humbling and satisfying us than time spent at the feet of Jesus. We look at His holiness and it brings us low; we experience His love and it fills us up. Because He is our daily bread, our living water, our all-in-all, our Good Shepherd, our priceless treasure, our loving Father – all of our wants and our failings are met in Him. Little by little we don’t feel the need to look elsewhere for life, and we certainly aren’t confused about who is and is not worthy of praise. This is forever our best tool for every struggle, self-glorification included.
2. Redirect. We are likely to receive words of affirmation and encouragement when we use our gifts, and we will be tempted to dwell on those words when they come. Or, we will become desperately insecure when they do not. We cannot control our inclinations, but we can choose to redirect our thoughts when they depart from what is God-honoring. We’re allowed to be built up by encouragement (this is good!), but at the moment we receive it, we have a choice: 1) let the words echo in our minds until we believe we’ve earned something by our own strength, or 2) turn our joy into worship: Thank you, Jesus, for using me! Thank you for the gift of music that moves people’s hearts. Thank you for letting me serve the Church in spite of my brokenness. Be glorified!
3. Serve. Do something that won’t be seen. Step away from the microphone or put down the instrument and find a way to serve that will get you absolutely no attention. Maybe that’s cleaning the green room after a Sunday; maybe it’s serving behind the scenes once-a-month with your friends on the tech team; maybe it’s giving an elderly church member rides to-and-from church every week. It could be anything! If you think it’s beneath you – even better, because it is a chance to remember that the servant is not greater than the Master (John 15:20). There are two beautiful things that happen when we serve without recognition: 1) we are humbled by the reminder that we are not more important or valuable than the next person just because we’re good at music – we learn to see ourselves as the right size, and 2) we are reminded of who we ultimately serve – God alone. That’s just as true when we’re in front of hundreds or thousands of people, and sometimes we need to step off the stage to realize it. God is glorified in our servanthood.
My prayer is that we who lead our congregations in singing would become single-minded leaders, seeking after one thing; that we would be content to disappear as mere reflections of the radiant beauty of the God we sing about; that we would delight to meet with Him alone in our homes first, and humbly before the Body second; and that we would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He alone is worthy of praise.
Questions For Reflection
1. What areas in your life are you most tempted towards self-glorification? Have you confessed them to the Lord, to your community, and asked for help to change?
2. Are you more prone to minimize compliments "oh it was nothing really. it was no big deal." etc., than you are to redirecting your thoughts towards gratefulness to God? Look for 3 opportunities this week to do this.
3. What ways of serving seem beneath you? Why? Take this opportunity to confess your pride to the Lord, and then look for practical ways to serve that aren't your preference.
4. What steps can you take to cultivate greater intimacy with Christ? Is it more time in prayer? Study? Service? He draws near to those who draw near to Him.