I have a story to share. It is a story that began 16 years ago. It is a story that began when I was 10 years old.
It’s funny which moments you remember from childhood but I remember two moments of a certain week in the summer holidays. The first was this: I was at New Wine in one of the children’s groups when Holy Spirit showed up in my life for the first time. It was quite an overwhelming experience – the only other clear memory of that day was my sister who was two years younger came to meet me so we could walk back to our tents together and I basically shouted at her and ran off because I was overwhelmed by what had happened! A hilarious first move for a 10 year old who had just become a Christian. Thankfully my parents explained to me what had happened and encouraged me in the early days of my walk with God.
A few days later the team had invited Scott Underwood, a worship leader, to speak to the children. That, in itself, it turns out was pretty generous as this man was a well known worship leader and author in the Vineyard movement. Anyway, I don’t remember any of the session but I do remember at the end there was an invitation to anyone who felt God might be calling them to lead worship. I was only 10 years old but for whatever reason, I felt compelled to respond. We went forward to the right hand side of the stage and I remember Scott Underwood praying for us.
After the session I recounted to my parents what had happened. Now, my mum has since said that when I told them the story they laughed to themselves – this was a small boy stating he was going to lead worship… a small boy who had never shown any interest in music, had practically failed playing the recorder and couldn’t really sing. They didn’t really think it could happen. I don’t blame them!
The good news is my parents are fantastic and have always invested in us. This time they bought us an electric guitar. The only problem? I didn’t play it. It collected dust in our downstairs hallway. I had a go here and there but never really got into it. To this day, I’ve never really played that guitar.
A few years into secondary school I got significantly stuck into the music scene. I loved music. All my money was spent on CDs. Music spoke to me in a way nothing else did. I was inspired by it and challenged by it. I met God through the lyrics and the sound. It expressed what I felt on the inside but couldn’t find the words to describe. When I was 15 I borrowed an old acoustic classical guitar and taught myself some chords. It was a ridiculously hard guitar to learn on with a really wide neck. I still couldn’t sing but with a small bit of input from an older guy from church I taught myself the basics.
I kept going, never really investing in learning in any meaningful way, but trying to pick up a few songs here and there. I started trying to write some of my own (most are awful). Along the way I found that I could actually sing.
I kept playing in my room. Since I was 10 I always had an intense passion to be in the presence of God. I worshipped my heart out in my room whilst I was at college and then at university. I went through some hard times but I felt close to God when I sang. I poured my heart out before him, strumming and singing to myself. Me and the creator of the universe. Looking back it was like King David in a lonely field. I give Him my all. I learnt to lay down my life before Him with a sacrifice of praise.
I never played in front of people but people who didn’t know me very well kept giving me prophetic words about having a worshipping heart and leading others. I rationalised that this wouldn’t be in a music way as I wasn’t good enough for that kind of thing. I couldn’t sing properly, I couldn’t play guitar properly. It’s a heart thing, I thought.
I did Form (discipleship / leadership year) and ended up involved in our ministries for 18-30s at my church in Sheffield. Somewhere along the way, leaders who I trusted started saying I should lead worship. They were gentle but forceful. They were patient as I was very opposed to any thought of me being at the front of church, let alone playing guitar. I was nowhere near good enough to play the guitar in a church!
My leaders encouraged me and started giving me opportunities. My parents bought me an electro-acoustic guitar. I started leading in small groups with students and young adults. I was asked to sing at a friend’s wedding and played a song I had written. More importantly I kept pouring my heart out before God in my bedroom. I worshipped Him in a quiet and secret place. I wasn’t great at the guitar, I didn’t have the perfect voice but I knew He loved to spend time with me.
The first big opportunity I had to lead was at a worship event called His Presence. The organisers rang me a day before saying the person they had to lead couldn’t make it and could I play. Erm…?! I led with another guitarist (also called Tim) and my sister on keys. It was the first time I had played plugged in. It actually seemed to go well. I still didn’t think I was good enough. I kept putting off joining the worship team at church. Nicole Brown asked me a number of times. I avoided the opportunities. I wasn’t good enough.
Throughout this time I would speak to my mum on the phone and she would always remind me of this prophetic promise that a little boy received at New Wine when he was 10 years old. Every time she spoke of this it sounded as though she was convinced God has spoken. I did not believe in myself but my mum believed in me. More importantly, she had come to believe in the word from a loving Father over my life.
Over the last two years I have had more and more opportunities to lead worship. I finally joined the worship team and Nicole has always been generous in helping me to learn. As everything I’ve learnt was self-taught it has been a steep learning curve! Since September 2015 we have been having Worship Nights at our church and Andy Stone (church leader) has basically forced me to play with him! He saw something in my heart, encouraged me and believed in me.
Since the beginning of this year I’ve had the beautiful opportunity to lead worship with my lovely wife-to-be. Honestly, this is a dream come true. She has a stunning heart and an equally gorgeous voice. Her desire to pour out her praise to Jesus is contagious and inspiring. I have been very fortunate to meet a girl who I get to sing with. I have been very fortunate to meet a girl who believes in me – who sees things written on my heart by God and stands with me to say them come to pass. All praise to Him!
Finally, last Sunday morning – Sunday 28th February 2016 – I led worship at church during our Sunday gathering. 16 years since a boy heard an impossible word. 16 years of getting to know the heart of the Father in an empty bedroom.
Am I an amazing guitarist? NO! I still struggle to play in time! In fact, last Sunday was the first time I had led with a drummer and it was a new challenge. I am still learning. But this is what I have realised: God has given me the heart. I may not have the skills that others do, I may prefer to revert back to the same four chords, I may struggle with tempo, I may not have the best singing range… but I have the heart that God put in me a long time ago. 16 years ago in fact. It’s a heart that grew in a similar way to David, in the quiet places, alone in a bedroom. It’s a heart that has been encouraged by the generosity of my parents and amazing leaders. It’s a heart that was invested in year after year by New Wine. And it’s with that heart that I am able to lead worship.
Let it be a sweet, sweet sound.
I’ve often written about the process of discipleship and I hope that this story encourages you to hold on to the promises God gives you. In this instant culture we expect quick fixes, immediate answers and instant breakthrough. This is not the way of the kingdom: “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” (Mark 4:27) Sometimes (and I’m going to argue more often that not) it is a slow burning journey to the promised land. Patience is a valuable gift. Little seeds take a long time to grow. We can do things to nurture them but it is a mystery how they grow. Some seeds take many years to become tall trees. Make the little decisions along the way that invest in your heart. Get to know His heart. There is no logical reason for me to have ever led worship in a church service. It is all through the grace of God, combined with the little decisions to get to know Him in the secret place.
Last Sunday felt like a culmination of a long journey. It is a time to give thanks for all God has done. But it is a journey that is only just beginning.