This is the 15th post of a series. I started out telling a chronological story, but got derailed before I could get past August of 2012. I’ve addressed the derailing tangent to death. I’m tired of talking about something I wasn’t even talking about. I’m skipping WAY ahead in my story. Maybe I’ll get back to explaining how God brought me to where I am today, maybe not. Today, I’m cutting to the chase. And I can see another tangent coming at me already, so I’m hoping an acknowledgement will help me nip that in the bud. (If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.)
I’m going to say hard things. I’ve spent a week writing this particular post and I’ve prayed about it for hours. and hours. and hours. and HOURS. Hard. Things. I promise you I’m saying them in a spirit of edification.
HERE’S MY POINT:
THERE. IS. MORE.
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Christ came that we may have life, and have it abundantly, in all its fullness.
Not abundant blessings or stuff.
Abundant life isn’t a state of existence to be pursued or attained. It isn’t a level of success or a degree of spirituality. It is an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and it leads to a dependance on Him that can’t be met through or in or by ANYthing else.
Without Christ, I can accomplish NOTHING of eternal significance. Without Christ, I have NOTHING. Without Christ, I am NOTHING.
And before I say another word, I need to acknowledge something:
I know there are people in my church who understand what I’m saying.
I need to say that LOUDER:
I know there are people in my church who understand what I’m saying.
But there are so. many. people in my church who have no idea what I’m talking about.
There are people in my church who don’t want what I’m talking about.
There are people in my church who don’t give a flyin flip what I’m talking about.
And to beat a dead horse – I am not only referring to people who haven’t yet accepted Christ.
This is NOT about evangelism.
I am primarily referring to people who have accepted Christ.
I accepted Christ 28 years ago and up until 2007, I wouldn’t have known what I was talking about if I explained it to me. (good luck following that.)
There are born-again Christians in my church who have never experienced abundant life in Christ through an intimate, no holds barred relationship with him, who have no idea what I mean by that, who flat out don’t want it and/or don’t think there’s any need for it.
And if the Christians aren’t witnesses to what Christ has done and is doing in our lives and in our church, how will the non-Christians – both the people seeking God and the people who think they are Christian but have never accepted Christ – ever see evidence that a life transformed by faith in Christ is any different from their own?
There are so. many. people. – Christians and non-Christians – at my church who don’t see any need for an intimate relationship with Christ. They don’t even know that what they are missing even exists.
And that realization causes me to grieve for my church. and to pray. persistently.
Because as much as God desires an intimate relationship with us, He won’t force us into it.
The father let the prodigal son leave,
The king invited people to the wedding banquet for his son, but he didn’t force them to come,
He stands at the door and knocks, but he doesn’t bust it down and come barreling in if we don’t open it.
My church is not a Christ-centered church. The gospel is not the foundation of all we say and do.
My church has gone off on our own to accomplish good and reasonable things in the world.
My church is so focused on working for God it doesn’t even occur to us to come to the banquet and spend time with God.
My church isn’t refusing to open the door, we just can’t hear Him knocking over all the activity in the house.
There’s nothing I can do or say to bring revival to my church. There’s nothing anyone can do or say to bring revival to my church. Not even the pastor. A Christ-centered sermon here or there won’t do it. A compelling sermon won’t “convince” us to desire revival. Because revival doesn’t come from an intellectual decision to initiate it.
Only the Holy Spirit can bring revival.
Yes, the Holy Spirit can anoint a pastor and use a 20 minute sermon to draw people to Christ. But if God were to move and stir revival in my church, He wouldn’t limit Himself to that 20 minutes. He would saturate the culture of the church in a foundational dependence on Christ that results in a consuming passion to worship Him, an underlying peace that comes from an unwavering trust in Him and JOY that trumps any unhappiness or trial we might face.
“We depend on God to help us.”
no. we don’t.
“Yes we do.”
no. we really don’t.
For all the things we do at my church, all the programs and classes and service and ministries and sermons and worship sets, we don’t – as a unified body of believers – acknowledge that without Christ at the center of all we say and do, we can’t accomplish ANYTHING of eternal significance.
At my church, we link arms and stand strong together;
we would kick butt in a game of Red Rover.
At my church, we know how to follow instructions;
we would be champions at a Simon Says tournament.
At my church, we are more loyal to each other
than the Robertson Family.
At my church, if we had a box of dominoes, we would
line them up in nice, neat, reasonable, sensible rows
(I know a few who would prefer a game of Mexican train).
We – as a unified body of believers – do NOT openly and consistently acknowledge that we are completely incapable of accomplishing anything on our own.
And there goes the first domino.
The second? Because we – as a unified body of believers – don’t acknowledge that the Holy Spirit – given to us freely through our faith in Christ – is the source of our strength and abilities, because we don’t approach EVERYthing we do – programs, classes, service, ministry and every aspect of our weekly services – with a openly shared understanding that we desperately need the Holy Spirit to equip us for these pursuits, we don’t make prayer our first step – our first priority – and humbly ask Him to do the equipping.
We don’t even ask Him if the things we are trying to do are within His will.
when the dominoes come tumbling down?
We set ‘em up again.
We brainstorm and research and study and benchmark and make decisions based on good ideas and bad. We think and reason and rationalize and plan and execute – all without STOPPING. And spending “unreasonable” amounts of time in prayer asking God if these “things” we are planning are things He even wants us to do in the first place. As a unified body of believers, we don’t beg God to reveal to us our motivations and guide us to fruitfulness.
We are afraid to sincerely offer ourselves up and ask God to prune us. Why? Because we know He will?
But we need it. Because we are dragging the ground, covered in mud. Weak. Unfruitful.
We as a congregation need a clear understanding of what our church believes, what our values are, what our mission is, because without a clear understanding what we believe and why we believe it, we have nothing upon which to measure when it comes to evaluating whether or not all this stuff we’re doing supports those values.
And Christ should be at the center. Everything should branch off from that Vine.
We do good and reasonable things.
We do things because we’ve always done them.
We do things because they are efficient.
We do things because they make sense.
We do things to make people comfortable.
We do things so people won’t leave.
We don’t even consider the possibility that God might have something completely different in mind.
Something better than we ever thought or imagined.
Something we can’t accomplish without Him.
Something that would give Him all the glory.
Instead, we are…reasonable. and appropriate.
We don’t ask people to tell us how they came to faith in Christ.
Instead, we ask them how they came to our church.
Baptisms are for new babies, new members and new confirmands.
Professions of faith? new members and confirmands.
If someone comes to faith in Christ outside the schedule of a new member or confirmation class, what do they do?
Who do they tell?
How do we celebrate?
Is genuine worship something we as a body of Christ are confident we experience every week?
Or are there (too many?) times when “congregational singing” would be a better description?
How many of us wake up and go to church because that’s just what we do on Sunday morning?
How many of us wake up and go to church because we look forward to spending time with friends and family?
How many of us wake up and look forward to church because we know we will encounter the manifest presence of God?
This is what I pray for my church:
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
“The gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
That’s not a church we can build on our own power. It’s a church only Christ can build.
But we have to realize we need the Father. And come home to Him empty handed.
We have to come to the banquet and spend time with Him.
We have to open the door and let Him in.
How do we get to that place? The place where we want to go home, want to spend time with him and want to open the door?
I’m praying desperately and persistently, that my church – as the body of CHRIST – would be profoundly dissatisfied with being nice people who do good things in pursuit of a “good Christian life.”
I’m praying desperately and persistently, that – as the body of CHRIST – we would dedicate ourselves to prayer and relentlessly ask Christ to draw us into an intimate relationship with Him that leads us to experience abundant life in Him.
THERE. IS. MORE.
“All the hearts who are content, And all who feel unworthy.
And all who hurt with nothing left, Will know that You are holy
And all will sing out, Hallelujah. And we will cry out, Hallelujah
Shout it, Go on scream it from the mountains
Go on and tell it to the masses, That He is God”
“We committed ourselves to unapologetic preaching, unashamed worship, unceasing prayer, and unafraid witness. And God began to reveal His glory slowly at first but increasingly over time.”
Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be by James MacDonald
CLICK HERE to read the next post in this series, entitled: Vertical Church: a clarification. and a survey.
This is the 15th post of a series. If you need to catch up or review, CLICK HERE to view a page listing all the posts in the series.
“Your choice must be a deliberate determination—it is not something into which you will automatically drift. And everything else in your life will be held in temporary suspension until you make a decision. The proposal is between you and God—do not “confer with flesh and blood” about it (Galatians 1:16). With every new proposal, the people around us seem to become more and more isolated, and that is where the tension develops. God allows the opinion of His other saints to matter to you, and yet you become less and less certain that others really understand the step you are taking. You have no business trying to find out where God is leading—the only thing God will explain to you is Himself.
Openly declare to Him, “I will be faithful.” But remember that as soon as you choose to be faithful to Jesus Christ, “You are witnesses against yourselves . . .” (Joshua 24:22). Don’t consult with other Christians, but simply and freely declare before Him, “I will serve You. ”Will to be faithful—and give other people credit for being faithful too.”
My Utmost for His Highest, Updated Edition by Oswald Chambers
Lord, I will be faithful. I will serve You. Please equip me to be a witness for your grace and glory. Please bless me with wisdom. Please bless me with courage. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26
…choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…
Joshua 24:15 (NASB)
“Let not conscience make you linger, Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry til you’re better, You will never come at all.
You will never come at all.”
I asked God to provide an opportunity for a conversation about faith and that He would equip me for it.
Be careful what you pray for. Because I am in WAY over my head.
I knew I would be in the company of an atheist. I know his family. I have genuine respect and affection for this family. That’s an understatement.
God is good.
also an understatement.
Because the opportunity was blatantly obvious. I can’t help but think of John Bender right now. “I couldn’t ignore it if I tried.”
Somehow, in a house full of people, we found ourselves engaged in an isolated one on one conversation. I discovered a surprising background in Christian music. And then. I discovered a surprising common ground: Acceptance of Christ as a personal Savior and Lord.
The atheist used to sing and play Christian music? The atheist was a born-again Christian?
I think a double-take is required here.
The atheist used to sing and play Christian music? The atheist was a born-again Christian?
I had to know more. How? When? Why?
Thankfully, AtypicalAtheist is willing to continue the conversation via email. And has agreed to allow me to post our conversations on my blog. (Notice the pseudonym. I’m going to respect the pseudonym.)
this will NOT be boring.
Intimate communication with Christ through prayer can be the foundation of everything in your life: every thought you think, every idea that opens your mind, every choice you make. But when we relegate prayer to certain times and places in our lives, we limit that communication – and its influence on our thoughts, ideas and choices. We quench the Holy Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18 tells us to “pray continually” and that it is “God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” These instructions aren’t directed at monks, they are for everyone who has accepted Christ. It’s possible to pray anywhere, anytime because God is with you, everywhere, all the time. It’s possible for prayer to saturate your moments and your days.
Did I just morph into that Jesus Freak with whom you avoid eye contact and cross the street to escape? Have you already tuned me out, thinking, “meh, she’s not talking to me. I don’t need to change anything. I’m fine.”
The most heinous of four letter words. Saturated in mediocrity. Reeking of average. Riding the edge of dissatisfaction and discouragement. More comfortable than a recliner and a bowl of chips in front of a 60 inch flat screen. There are some people who live their entire lives feeling fine about everything they do. There are people live their entire lives feeling fine about their relationship with God.
Fine is not what I’m going for. I. want. more.
I’ve discovered that I can have as much of God as I want, and I want more. I want Christ in every nook and cranny of my mind and heart and soul, every day of the week because when He’s not? My pursuits are just pointless exercises in ladder climbing and stuff collecting. I want my relationship with Christ to be at the center of my marriage, my relationship with my kids, family and friends, my career, my ministry.
If that makes me a Jesus Freak, go ahead and call me one, under your breath or to my face, I’m okay with the label. I’ve found the ultimate source of passion in life and I can’t keep it to myself. I’m compelled to share it. It fuels me. My relationship with Christ makes the routine meaningful, the lows bearable and the highs incomparable. God’s grace is more amazing than any song could describe, His love is illogically unconditional, His patience is unimaginably endless, His blessings are undeserved and abundant and His peace obliterates worry and fear. This is the “more” I’m talking about and there’s plenty of it to go around.
It all stems from prayer, intimate no-holds barred prayer. Naked prayer. The kind of prayer you pray when you are unashamed and want to tell God everything. The kind of intimate communion Adam and Eve experienced with God in the Garden before they were deceived. I’m writing this book because I want you to want more. To have more. More of God.
Not more from God, more of God.
“God can do anything.”
Luke 1:37 (NIV)
Lord, I pray for revival, filled with doubt that You will stir it. Not because You can’t, but because You won’t. I believe You can do anything. But I also know You don’t force yourself on anyone. And the people I’m praying for are very comfortable right where they are. They see no need to change. They see nothing wrong except for this Jesus Freak who’s rocking the boat.
So I ask you Lord, not for anything specific, because I have no flippin idea what to ask for. You know. You know exactly what is needed and exactly when. Your plan is perfect. Your timing is perfect. I know You don’t need me, but pray that You can and will use me. I’m asking You – I’m begging You – to move. Move in the hearts and minds of individuals. I pray that they will be DISsatisfied with an assumption of Christ. I pray that they will, from their soul, cry out for Jesus. I pray they won’t be able to stomach any substitute.
Almighty God, I’m begging you for a miracle, no matter what it looks like. No matter how much it hurts. Because You are my comfort, my peace, my strength and my hope. I trust You, even when I don’t understand what You are doing.
“He [God] specializes in solutions that have no explanation other than Him.
Don’t get discouraged by the long, unyielding situations in your life. God has solutions for them. He may not have revealed those solutions yet – He let many people in Scripture endure long periods that required faith and patience – but He is never late with His answers. Wait, believe and hope. Nothing is impossible with Him.”
The One Year Experiencing God’s Presence Devotional: 365 Daily Encounters to Bring You Closer to Him
by Chris Tiegreen
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself…When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?””
Luke 24:27, 30-32 (NIV)
Lord, please open my eyes. Please open the Scriptures to me. Please teach me how to encounter Christ in every corner of the Bible. I can’t do it on my own. I desperately need your Holy Spirit to help me decipher what I read, but I also need teachers and books and other resources to point me to Christ in every measure of your Word. PLEASE Lord, don’t ever let me passively use or numbly accept others use of Your Word only as supporting material for moral living or motivation for charitable service – without an unmistakable declaration that apart from Jesus Christ, moral living and charitable service are empty, temporal pursuits. Please Lord, never let me settle for an assumption of Jesus. My desperate prayer is that I would never forget that JESUS is the single common thread that runs through every book of the Bible. Lord, never let me forget that without JESUS, the Bible is just a historical document. I want to see Jesus in Scripture where I’ve never recognized Him before. Jesus, please show me YOU. Please help me point others to You.
“ABOVE ALL, PREACH CHRIST…I got lost in the details of the text and didn’t have time for the most important part. In the mail came a letter from this lady saying, ‘I could have heard that message in a mosque.’ Ouch. Sometimes the best input doesn’t come in the easiest packages, but she was right. Nobody needs preaching that gives the testimony of God but doesn’t scope down to the Son of God and the gospel. That’s gotta be in our messages somewhere every week, that God loves fallen people, that they can be saved from their sins and find the hope of eternal life through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. If I never get tired of preaching it, God’s people will not wear of rejoicing in it.”
Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be.
by James MacDonald
“Chains be broken. Lives be healed. Eyes be opened. Christ is revealed.”
You’ll Come by Hillsong United
Then Moses said to Him “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
Exodus 33:15-16 (NIV)
Lord, I don’t want to go – or STAY – anywhere if you aren’t there. I pray your forgiveness for finding long lasting delusion and comfort in places that only hold the appearance of dedication to You. Forgive me Lord, for being satisfied with serving others instead of abandoning my will and my ideas of what service looks like and allowing YOU to use me – however you see fit. Please forgive me for settling for appropriate and acceptable instead of wholeheartedly and unashamedly living out my faith in Christ, even when others see my thoughts, feelings and ideas as inappropriate, insufferable or naively dismissive of cultural norms. Forgive me Lord, for allowing the disapproval of people who don’t know me to dampen my enthusiasm and derail my dedication to live a life examined through the filter of Your Word. Forgive me Lord, for allowing so much time to pass before I found the courage and motivation to honestly face and process the reality of my surroundings and circumstances. My affinity for your people blinded me to the growing undeniable evidence that You are more an icon than THE reason we exist and gather. I want to be where You are. Please God, lead me to that place.
“Whether you are 15 people around a candle and a coffee table or 150 people in a tired building trying to turn it around or 1500 people on the rise with plans for another service – regardless of size: if you don’t have the thing that makes us distinct, you have nothing, no matter what you have. And if you do have it – what we were made to long for; what makes us a true church of the one true God – you have everything you need, no matter what you lack.”
Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs for. What Every Church Can Be.
by James MacDonald
“I don’t want to go somewhere, if I know that You’re not there. ‘Cause I know that me without You is a lie. And I don’t want to walk that road, be a million miles from home. ‘Cause my heart needs to be where You are. So I don’t want to go.”
I Don’t Want To Go by Avalon
In Kari Jobe’s album version of Revelation Song, the fourth verse builds and the word “mystery” is held for about 18 seconds. (It starts at the 4 minute mark)
I couldn’t do it.
And I really, really wanted to do it. For over a year, the worship leader didn’t even go near it. Then, one night at rehearsal, when I didn’t know it was coming, we held it out the extra beats.
I was hooked.
I rehearsed the rest of the week, and that Sunday, just before we were supposed to lead Revelation Song, the pastor lost track of the fact that we had one more song to do and began speaking.
It was scheduled again on a week with a guest worship leader. It took me THREE breaths to get through it. THREE.
I had taken it to my vocal coach and worked on it for weeks. No matter how hard I worked, no matter how many times I vocalized and repeated those particular voice lessons along with a CD, I couldn’t master those stupid 18 seconds. I achieved a whopping 50% success rate. On a good day.
Time and time again, I ran out of air after 15 seconds. If not sooner.
I took Revelation Song to the recording studio and was relentless. In the end, I was able to hold it every time, but only by holding my hands straight up in the air as far as I could reach. Whether it was physical or psychological, I seemed to make room for more air that way. But I held it. Made me lightheaded every time. And it had no building power. It actually got softer.
A thought occurred to me and I pushed it aside. For two weeks, I ignored what I believe now was God trying to tell me something.
Finally, two days ago, I told God that if I was trying to hold “mystery” out of pride, I wanted to fail.
Haven’t held it since.
Of course it’s possible that I’m freaking myself out. But more likely this is an ego smackdown straight from God. This is one of those failures I can’t overcome by working harder. Have to let it go. Counter-intuitive.
I told two other people on the worship team this ugly little truth and one of them immediately came back with this verse:
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”
Colossians 3:5 (NIV)
ouch. That’s kinda harsh, dontcha think?
I like this one better:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.
Isn’t that prettier? I told my husband that it kinda felt like putting lipstick on a pig. His response?
“It’s a cop out if you ask me.”
Ugly but true.
Colossians 3:23 is a goal. Something to strive for. Colossians 3:5 is about acknowledging sin. Big, fat, ugly, lipstick covered sin. And who wants to see that? I certainly didn’t.
So ugly I didn’t even want to put that pig picture on this post.
But there it is.
I’m leading Revelation Song on Sunday. And I’m planning on taking a breath in the middle of those 18 seconds. If God doesn’t think I’ve been humbled enough, I asking him to make me need TWO.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:29-32 (NIV)
Lord, there’s something liberating about an unresolvable situation. It forces me to remember that on my own, I can do nothing. YOU can do anything. So, when I reach an impasse with another person, when I face the undeniable fact that there’s absolutely nothing I can do to resolve a situation, the only thing I’m left with is prayer. Thank you for helping me realize and accept that all my own human efforts will pale in comparison to what YOU can do. If you choose to. Talk and actions may result in temporary manipulation, but long-lasting, fundamental change will come when YOU speak and move. Thank you for reminding me that while Romans 8:28 promises you will work all things for good, sometimes, in my own life, that looks like failure. Thank you for helping me accept that sometimes, in my own life, giving grace means walking away, even if it means walking away from something I love. Please comfort me as I let go. Please encourage me as I seek your will to fill the void this loss will create.
“Jesus washes our feet for two reasons. The first is to give us mercy; the second is to give us a message, and that message is simply this: Jesus offers unconditional grace; we are to offer unconditional grace. The mercy of Christ preceded our mistakes; our mercy must precede the mistakes of others.”
JUST LIKE JESUS by Max Lucado
“So who says he’ll forgive you? And says that he’ll miss you? And dream of your sweet memory? God does. But I don’t. God will. But I won’t. And that’s the difference between God and me.” (what? cut me a break, I’m still working on it…is this better?)
God Will by Lyle Lovett
“Well I find that I’m just not agile enough, to balance the weight of all of this stuff. It’s a cumbersome task that demands too much and it’s gettin’ me nowhere fast…As far as the east is from the west, these are the things that I must forget. I’ll lay down my anger before the sun sets, I will forgive. I will forget. I will remember not, I will forgive. These things that tear my heart, I will forget. I will forget.
Remember Not by Susan Ashton (click HERE to listen)
“If it was easy, everyone would do it” is one of my mantras.
I say it to my kids when they struggle with ANYthing and I see discouragement or frustration start to set in. I say it to my husband, friends, clients and sometimes, even strangers.
I say it to myself.
When I’m supposed to be writing and find myself staring at the screen, fingers atrophied over the keyboard.
When I spend two hours writing, proofread what I’ve written and immediately want to start over.
When I’m trying to curl a 15 pound dumbbell for the 12th time in my second set.
When I’m 2 minutes and 20 seconds into my 2 minute, 30 second forearm plank.
When I’m trying not to fly off the back of the treadmill during my HIIT walking program.
When I drag myself off the couch to pick up that stupid dumbbell or put on my walking shoes.
When I’m 3 seconds short of an 18 second note I’ve been trying to hold out. For the 100th time.
When my voice breaks on that high note I’m trying to hit in full voice. After two years of voice lessons.
When I’m vocalizing for the third time in a day in an attempt to get the “right” technique to become second nature.
Just a few weeks ago, during a break in a recording session, I mentioned something about needing to work on something with my voice teacher. The sound technician said, “YOU have a voice teacher!?” I responded with a big “Heck, YEAH!” He paused for a moment and then said, “It just seems more like you would teach voice lessons, not take them.” I quickly and firmly told him that I will never be too good for voice lessons.
But that exchange emphasized a very common misconception: The things people are good at just come naturally to them.
SO not true.
And the persistence of that mindset devalues the accomplishment, no matter what it is. The persistence of that mindset liberates other people from trying. It turns a potential mentor into someone to be resented and berated. Instead of being viewed as someone who met a goal as a result of hard work, they are instead viewed as “lucky.” Rather than inspiring someone else to take their own steps toward better and stronger, they become a discouragement to others. Because the perception is that whatever the goal, it’s not achievable by anyone but the lucky ones.
The book, Talent Is Overrated claimed, “One factor, and only one factor, predicted how musically accomplished the students were, and that was how much they practiced.”
The fact is that excellence isn’t easy. It doesn’t happen without work. Usually hard work. Developing a skill takes time. and repetition.
Experience is a teacher in and of itself.
What most people don’t realize is that mediocrity is only one short day of slackin away. Just because I do something well, doesn’t mean I’ve finished learning or practicing.
The fact that I was in a writing zone yesterday doesn’t insure against writer’s block tomorrow.
Being satisfied with today’s writing doesn’t mean I won’t be filled with doubt and repulsion about tomorrow’s.
The ability to lift a 15 pound dumbbell today doesn’t mean I won’t have to opt for 10 pounds tomorrow.
Making it through a 2 minute, 30 second plank today doesn’t mean I won’t collapse at 2 minutes the next day.
Finishing the 30 minute HIIT treadmill program today is no guarantee that I won’t wimp out the next time.
The fact that extracted myself from the couch today doesn’t mean won’t stay curled up on it tomorrow.
As I’ve discovered, holding a note for 18 seconds one time, does NOT mean I can now do it any time I want.
The same is true for that high note – once does not mean always.
Even after spending hundreds of hours practicing the “right” way to sing, I still drift into old habits . . .
For me, excellence isn’t a destination I’ll ever arrive at and rest comfortably. Because of my relentless determination to be a good steward of all that God has blessed me with, the striving for excellence is a lifetime journey.
To find out why I’m so obsessed with striving for excellence, check out this post: I. Want. More.
This post was originally published on March 9, 2011. I was reminded of it yesterday.
Went to bed thinking about the elements of an atmosphere conducive to worship.
Woke up thinking about what I can do to help a congregation experience deep worship and praise.
Something’s been on my mind. While rehearsing a song for praise team, someone referred to it as a “solo.”
Oxford defines “solo” as:
noun – a piece of music, song, or dance for one performer
adjective – for or done by one person
It’s been nagging at me.
From the depth of everything I am, that’s the last thing I want to do on Sunday morning when I sing with the praise team.
I always call it that. Not praise band or worship band, but praise team. Sometimes worship team.
Oxford defines “team” as:
noun – two or more people working together.
verb – come together as a team to achieve a common goal.
That’s the way I think about it. We’re a team. We have a team leader, and it ain’t me. I follow the direction of our worship leader and when it comes to serving with him on the team, I trust his judgment, respect his decisions and sing harmony when he’s singing melody. Even so, sometimes I sing the lead on a song. Doesn’t make me the team leader, just means I’m singing the melody on a particular song.
When that happens, I refer to it as leading a song.
I’ve never referred to it as singing a solo.
Oxford defines “lead” this way:
verb – cause (a person or animal) to go with one, especially by drawing them along or by preceding them to a destination.
noun – the initiative in an action: others followed our lead.
Some might say I’m splitting hairs; that it’s just a subtle difference in terminology, a tomato/tomahto kind of thing.
I view it as a HUGE difference, especially as it relates to my attitude and motivation. When I’m leading a song, my primary goal is to lead the congregation in worship. I want to facilitate a shift from the distractions and overwhelming challenges of every day life to a focus on the hope and peace and joy of worshiping God. My primary goal every Sunday morning is to bring each individual person in the congregation with me as I focus my heart and mind on worship. My consistent prayer is that the Lord would bless my service and help me to reach that goal for Him.
The word is still nagging at me.
I don’t want to sing a solo.
Driving on a long straight road, more than a few miles faster than the highest posted speed limit. All the windows had to be down, the sunroof open. I would consciously make the decision NOT to tie up my hair even though I knew the result would be too many tangles to brush out. Washing and conditioner would be the only remedy.
No radio. It had to be my own choice of music – no commercials. no talking.
The music had to be LOUD. And I had to know all the words, because I needed to sing. At the top of my lungs, like nobody was listening.
Today, logic and finances and a lack of a sunroof or movable windows in my minivan, dictate no fast and aimless night drives.
But I have the house to myself during the day. The music is so loud I can’t hear the doorbell or the phone. And the cats paw at the sliding door because they want to escape to the back porch, where the sound is only minutely softer.
And that mini-van isn’t soundproof either.
I really need to clear my head. It’s a mess in there.
“Maybe it’s just my quest for creativity and difference. I’m not sure. But God is shaking me. God is stirring me.
Why? To place me in a new situation so that I have to trust Him fully. When I have my comfortable caged life, I know the parameters. I know my life. I know what will happen and what won’t. I can insulate myself from interacting with others. I can play it entirely safe. I can trust in me, not God.”
Some of you know I record once a month. The deadline to submit my accompaniment track and lyrics is usually the week before the recording session. The problem is, I’ve been recording for nearly two years, and I’m running out of “good” tracks. Lately, it’s been a real struggle to get my track in on time because I’ve been having trouble picking songs. If I do find a song I like, more often than not,
a track doesn’t exist (tracks are made for POPULAR songs only)
the only track that does exist is one I can’t get a license for,
the track isn’t in a good key for my range
the track sounds like Ross from Friends recorded it using only a synthesizer
the track has absolutely no dynamics and/or the tempo would put a hyperactive child to sleep
the track sounds too much like the original recording (I want to cover a song, not mimic a song.)
the arrangement is too “busy.” (I like me some acoustic guitar.)
When I really get stuck picking a song, I cheat and look at the praise team set list for the Sunday following the recording sessions (which are usually scheduled on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon). If I pick a praise team song to record the same week the praise team is leading it, I figure at the very least, I’m getting in some extra rehearsal on one of the songs for that week.
Combine my recent song selection challenges with all that I’ve been dealing with this month, (Check out last week’s post entitled “taut-adjective-emotionally-or-mentally-strained-or-tense” to see what I’m talking about), you can probably understand why I hadn’t scheduled myself to record in February.
It would have been the first time I had missed a month since I began recording. I knew I was available for the recording session itself (the first weekend in February), but I honestly didn’t think I had time to prepare for it in the weeks prior. Then, in the middle of last week, I got a call asking if I could fill an open recording session on Saturday from 5pm to 9pm.
I said yes. Sometimes singing in a recording studio for hours is like free therapy.
The only problem was that I had absoflipinlutly NO idea what I was going to sing. The days ticked by. nothin. I’m desperate, so I check the praise team set list for the weeks near the recording session. My next praise team lead is “O the Blood” – which I just recorded in November. So, that won’t work. I check the next week’s set list. Not up yet. Every day, I check the set list. Not up yet.
No easy way out this time.
Finally, I ran out of time. The track and lyrics were due last night, this morning at the latest. And I had to be downtown on client site at 9:30am, so I had to get this DONE before I left house. I went to bed last night with no song selected. I had no plan. I was praying that God would smack me in the head with a song title.
So, this morning, my alarm went off and the very first thing I heard was the introduction to Natalie Grant’s “Your Great Name” which I absolutely LOVE and have been wanting to learn. But seriously. It’s NATALIE GRANT. Have you heard this song!? The ending needs POWER.
Me, arguing with God before I even get out of bed: “no. way.”
God: “Trust me.”
Me: “I can’t do it.”
God: “I can.”
Me: “I have no doubt that YOU can, but I don’t have time to nail that bridge – and that last chorus – AND the harmony AND the background vocals. In FIVE days. It’s too much, too fast. I can’t do it.”
I laid there in bed listening to every. little. detail. of the song, thinking: “No. I can’t do it. Not in FIVE days. Not if I’m gonna do it right. My expectations of how I want it to turn out are too high for FIVE days. It’s too hard to learn in five days. And I don’t want to record it before it’s ready.”
I could almost hear God say, “okay. Then do this:”
And the VERY next song was Mighty to Save.
I came in on the wrong note, but it fit, until midway into the verse, then it was glaringly obvious I was off.
Let the season of doubt begin.
After that, I had no confidence that I could come in on the right note. How could I have started on the wrong note and not even realized it? What if I did it again? How do I recover the song if I come in on the wrong note during worship? The music director offered to play my note on the flute for me. It got to the point where I believed I couldn’t do it without her.
I hated that.
I was determined to break my need for this crutch. I bought the Hillsong version of the song, with the guitar intro. I completely stopped listening to the piano version, even going to the extreme of turning off the radio if it began playing.
I was able to begin on the correct note without the flute playing it in the background. I led the song multiple times over the next few months without a problem.
So what was different about the last time I sang it?
After I came in so effortlessly at the beginning of the pre-service rehearsal, we added keyboard to the intro and rehearsed it again after everyone else had gotten there.
I couldn’t find the note. Actually, I have no idea if I could or couldn’t find the note, because I didn’t try. I just said, “I don’t have it.”
Me and “Mighty to Save.” We have a little history.
Nonetheless, after I got the kids off to school, I sat down at the computer and searched all my “go-to” track making companies. piano. piano. piano. piano. huge band. overwhelming electric guitar . . . and something new. An acoustic arrangement. It had an extra bridge and two extra choruses at the end, but the arrangement was good. Then the company’s website decided to hang on the payment screen. 20 minutes later I abandoned the purchase and looked for it on a third party seller site. Score. At 9:05am, I called my client and told them I would be late, took another 20 minutes to pick a key, uploaded the track, emailed the lyrics and I was DONE.
Drove all the way to the client site doubting my choice.
Of course, when I got home and checked the praise team set list for the following week, you know what was on the list.
Mighty to Save.
I have no idea if I can get the intro right without wasting everyone’s time in the recording session. But God can. And now he has a week of intensified rehearsals to do it.
Now I have to pick a song to record in March. Wonder if it will be “Your Great Name.”
Just took another – this time underhanded – hit from satan, so I’m thinking he deserves a little reality grounded in smack talk:
What’s the matter? Am I doing something you don’t like? Get used to it. I may be tired. and I may be stressed, but I have a renewable source of strength from an all powerful, all knowing, ever present God.
You? you got nuthin. not even an initial cap in your sorry name. I’m covered in the blood of Jesus Christ. You have no power over me. move along.”
So, last night, at praise team rehearsal, the sound guy asked me if I remembered the complaints about my voice being “piercing.”
Me, laughing: “no….I hadn’t heard that. It seems that information was filtered from me.”
SoundGuy: “Well, when you hit a certain frequency – 3.5 kHz – your voice gets really loud and piercing. You don’t do anything different, it just happens on it’s own. I put a filter in your profile at 3.5 kHz, so it doesn’t happen anymore.”
I look at my son, who also runs sound. He confirmed, “I’ve heard it too.”
Me, to my son: “pshhh. why didn’t you ever tell me?”
My son: “Cause it’s fixed.”
(can’t fault him. he’s pragmatic too. if it’s fixed, it’s over, so what’s the point of talking about it?)
Me, suspecting: “Is there a particular song where it happens?”
SoundGuy: “Well, definitely the bridge on ‘No Sweeter Name’. . .
Me, interrupting: “I KNEW it!! That bridge does NOT feel right!”
SoundGuy, continuing: “I don’t remember what else. But it’s fixed. It doesn’t happen anymore.”
Me: “Still. This is SO cool! I’ve gotta ask my voice teacher if she’s ever heard of it. THANK YOU for fixing it! And, really, THANKS for figuring it out! (pause) How did you figure it out?”
SoundGuy: “wahh, wahh, wahh, wahh, wahh, wahh…” (something about watching a gauge while I sang and applying a filter at 3.5 kHz – seriously, there’s a reason I don’t run sound.)
Me: “I’m an anomaly!”
Skip to the next day (today). I’ve already scheduled a voice lesson. If it’s possible for me to control this phenomenon, I’ve got some work to do!
But I’m curious, so today I Google: “voice piercing 3.5 khz”
This is SO cool (emphasis added):
“Twang is the bright, brassy, ringing voice quality commonly heard in country-western singing, witch cackling, a child’s ‘‘nya, nya’’ taunt, and is equated often with duck quacking. Physiologically, twang is produced by narrowing the epilarynx via constriction of the aryepiglottic sphincter. The acoustic outcome of narrowing this laryngeal vestibule is a clustering of the third, fourth, and fifth formants resulting in a higher amplitude of all vowel spectra in the vicinity of 3.0 kHz. Perceptually, the voice is amplified with piercing intensity because this increase in energy between 2.8 and 4.3 kHz corresponds with the resonant frequency of the external auditory meatus; as a result, fundamental frequencies below 1.0 kHz receive a boost of 15–20 dB in sound transmitted to the middle ear without an increase in vocal effort by the speaker. This production has been exploited by expert speakers and singers to boost vocal resonance or ‘‘squillo’’ and is referred to as the speaker’s ring or singer’s formant.” (from A Novel Treatment for Hypophonic Voice: Twang Therapy)
I can learn to EXPLOIT this?!?! I can’t wait for my voice lesson!
Proof that song selection is NOT the only defining characteristic of “contemporary Christian music.”
I couldn’t make it through the first time – and this is the SHORT version. Just the highlights. FavoriteSon watched the entire thing, cracking up and he sucked me in.
WHY would anyone do this? why? Why? WHY?
fragments: F250, toxic levels of NO!, lunchbox, photo that never dies, business distraction, thinking chair, strep, grilled cheese & the learning curve of a cat.
August 29, 2011
(FirstHusband was out of town and my car needed to go into the shop.)
“I’ll be driving the Ford F250 this week, but in addition to the water it needs to be fed every day, FirstHubs says it needs oil. I’ll be dragging a step ladder out to do that because there is NO WAY I can reach while standing on the ground.”
(didn’t drive the F250. Called dibs on FavoriteSon’s car instead. I can just see it, a Ford F250 with the hood up, next to an empty stepladder – and my legs hanging out of the engine because I fell in)
August 30, 2011
Dear Tuesday, August 30th: you have exceeded your daily limit of the word “no.”
Did some new hire computer training today – I LOVE it when I can show someone how to make their job easier and their work more efficient – at the SAME time! Ultimately, it helps to lower their stress level, increase their job satisfaction and build their confidence. And I LOVE it when I train someone who’s enthusiastic about learning!
August 31, 2011
I spy . . . a forgotten lunch box on the kitchen counter. dang it.
I was supposed to get a new driver’s license Tuesday morning.
Text from FirstHusband in Utah: “Any luck on the driver’s license front?”
Me: “you. are. a. nag.”
1stHubs: “I waited more than 24 hours after you said you would be there. Besides, I’m waiting on something. I’m bored.”
Me: “Had to get PinkGirl to school 45 minutes early because we only had one car. This photo will follow me for 10 years.”
1stHubs: “What? I’m confident your natural beauty will shine through. You are being too modest.”
pshhh. He IS bored.
Trying to write. I knew avoidance was imminent.
random word search on youtube: “business”
I’m confident there is an answer to this problem. Just haven’t figured it out yet. If only I had $199. What? I said I was avoiding. I just shifted from youtube to ebay. (click HERE for the Thinking Chair eBay auction)
September 1, 2011
FavoriteSon home from school today. His self-diagnosis? Strep. 11:30 appointment at the doctor to confirm.
FavoriteSon’s self-diagnosis is confirmed. He is “strep throat boy.” Now we try and prevent him from morphing into “CONTAGIOUS strep throat boy”
FavoriteSon: “Mom, will you make me a grilled cheese sandwich?”
Me: “It’s 9 o’clock at night. I bought you soup.”
FavSon: “You can’t eat soup without grilled cheese.”
Me: “yes you can. I’ve seen it done.”
FirstHusband, overhearing all this over the phone: “you don’t love your son enough to make him a grilled cheese sandwich?”
It’s a grilled cheese conspiracy.
10:21pm – I caved. he really is pitiful when he’s sick.
September 2, 2011 at 1:07pm
Bob the Cat is dumber than dirt. I must have thrown him (gently) off my desk 30 times in the last hour and a half. Trying to get some work done and he’s seriously throwing off my groove!
1:16pm – 31
1:17pm – 32
“Praying that God would use the music & the lyrics to draw the “sound guys” closer to Him. That the Lord would bless my voice & the session. That the people who will be listening to & working on the recording over the next few weeks will come to an undeniable awareness of the the presence of the Holy Spirit.”
I’ve been recording once a month for almost two years and due to multiple obstacles (professional mixing, funds for licensing, duplication and distribution), I haven’t been able to do anything with the music. It appears that God is teaching me patience.
But it’s also possible that the ministry of this music is centered on the recording sessions themselves.
Every session – every MONTH, I’m blessed with a rare opportunity: To sing powerful Christian lyrics in the willing presence of 4 to 7 non-Christians – for nearly FOUR hours! The sessions are totally vocal – no band, no other vocalists, just me, singing the lyrics to the same song over and over and over again. They usually need three or four complete melody tracks and three or four tracks of each harmony. I always prepare at least two harmonies, usually more. And you can bet I don’t ever get it right the first time around, so there are lots of “punch-ins” where I have to fix a line or a word here and there. This means I sing those lyrics so many times during the session that the sound guys can pretty much memorize them. Then, they listen to the music again and again over a number of weeks as they work on mixing the song. Then the next month, I get to do it all over again, with an entirely new group of people.
How cool is that!?
I pray about every song selection, that God would lead me to choose a song that at least ONE of those people NEEDS to hear at that time in their life. I pray for the people who will be at the session, that my offering can be of some use to God as He moves in their lives.
Last month, the Lord allowed me to see (or actually, hear) that I planted a seed.
It was a late night session, from 9pm to 1am and midway through, my voice was showing signs of fatigue. We broke for 30 minutes and I drove across the street to 7-11 for some warm coffee. As I was getting out of my van, I looked two cars over and saw four of the sound guys getting out of another vehicle. One started singing my song and the others joined in.
They had the song stuck in their head and the month of mixing hadn’t even begun!
That’s a seed.
I’ve been praying that it grows.
Now I’m also praying – even if I don’t get to see any evidence of it – that my session this Friday night will result in more seeds being planted.