Embracing the Journey: My Story of Worship

12646960_10153722486724792_5977741419506715930_n

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.

 

#allin worship

“In one moment we find ourselves rejoicing in the dance, arms raised with heads lifted high. In the next we are bowed low, not because someone suggested it would be an appropriate response, but because the fear of God has filled the room.” – Bill Johnson

Processed with Rookie

Here’s a story: King David made a mistake (he made quite a few of them I’ve noticed). There was a consequence to this mistake and lots of people were dying. You can read about it in 1 Chronicles 21. There’s this huge angel waiting to destroy Jerusalem and it stops at a bit of land owned by a guy called Araunah the Jebusite. David realises his mistake and gets instruction from a prophet to go and build an altar on the land where the angel has stopped. Simple. When David gets to the land, he offers to pay it in full. However, Araunah says that David can have it for free! Not just that – the king can have whatever he likes for the offering too… oxen, threshing-sledges (lucky Dave) and wheat… whatever he needs! David’s response is remarkable: “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that cost me nothing.

I will not offer something that has cost me nothing.

What does a life of #allin worship look like? It involves cost. David was not prepared to bring something before the Lord that had not cost him. Throughout Scripture we see other people doing the same:

  • Abraham obediently takes his promised son (the son on which all the other promises stood) to offer him to God as he realised that worshipping God was a bigger priority than pursuing the promises that he had received. He was willing to give it all (Hebrews 11:17-19).
  • Joshua lingers in the presence of God, long after Moses has left, sacrificing his time to be with his Creator (Exodus 33:11).
  • David dances and leaps (pretty much in his underwear) before the ark of the Lord in such an undignified manner that it offends one of his wives (2 Samuel 6:14-16).
  • A woman comes to Jesus with a bottle of an incredibly expensive perfume, pours it all over Him and wipes His feet with her tears… much to the scorn of the onlookers that label the act as an extravagant waste.

Whether it is family, promises, time, prestige or expensive gifts, the Bible is full of examples of extravagant displays of worship. Worship is more than singing. It is more than Sunday morning. There is something about the presence of God which draws people in to a place of wholehearted abandonment. There is an invitation to go deeper, to go further, no matter the cost.

Psalm 73:25-26 contains such a simple yet incomprehensible statement, which the band Loud Harp summed up in their song ‘The Nearness of You’: “My flesh, my heart my fail – whom have I but You?” WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?! What a stupid, stupid, stupid, ridiculous thing to say. Yet it has captivated my heart. My flesh – my very body – may fail! My heart – that vitally important organ pumping that vitally important liquid around my vitally important body – may fail! But God is my strength. He is my portion. Whom do I have but Him? Essentially, I may well be dead, but God is more than enough. He is everything. More than being alive. Where else would I go? Ridiculous. Yet captivating.

#allin or nothing.

I began 2014 with a desire to explore what would life look like to go #allin. I knew there was something more than my current level of thinking; I knew there was something more than what I was experiencing. Is this desire not the foundation of what the Psalmist is talking about? Moment by moment I’ve glimpsed it. I don’t even think I am close to knowing it. I don’t think I am close at all. But there is something drawing me in… I have to dance and I don’t care what I look like. I have to let go and I have to flail and move around to the rhythm of His heart. I must give Him everything I can. I have to bow down. I have to lay before the Creator of the entire universe and not know if I’ll get up. I have to shout. I have to laugh. I have to cry. I have to give everything I physically can and I know there are consequences. I know people have looked at me and said I look ridiculous. I’ve heard people say that I’m over emotional. I’ve felt the disdain and the embarrassment when people say my laughing or crying is stupid. I’ve poured out, I’ve exhausted myself. In public, in private… something has captured my heart and I cannot turn back. I am desperate for a life of #allin worship.

The Heart Response.

The truth is that the physical is just a fraction of what I could offer in my heart. All the examples above only happened because of an initial heart response. Indeed, it’s easy to the do the physical out of compulsion, out of obligation, out of routine. This is not my intention. I don’t care if you laugh or cry. I don’t care if you sing loud or dance wild. I don’t care if you kneel or raise your hand. David would not give to the Lord something that belonged to someone else. Your journey will look different. It will cost in different ways. I don’t care what your extravagant expression will look like. All I care about is the invitation from the most loving of Dads who created every single thing and actually holds us together right now. He is inviting us to join in the great dance: Father, Son, Holy Spirit and you. He says that we are significant to the point where He gave Himself for us. He gave everything so He could be united with us forever. It is from that place that I have to give everything. I have to go #allin. Nothing else can satisfy.

There have been times where I don’t want to worship. I’ve lived in hopelessness. I’ve lived in the place of no dreams. I’ve lived in the place of loneliness. I’ve not seen healing in my life or the life of my family. People around me have gone through devastation. I’ve cried out for the promises God has spoken over my life yet still lived in emptiness. Sometimes when they’ve come, they’ve disappeared just as quickly. I’ve not been able to pay the bills. I’ve had an empty house and an empty heart. I’ve feared the consequences of giving everything. I’ve worshipped when I’ve not felt anything. I’ve had more reasons that I don’t want to worship than fingers to count. But His extravagant love is so clearly displayed in Jesus and Him crucified that I have to keep making the choice. This is the heart of worship. There is a cost. It demands everything. It demands an extravagant response. It demands #allin worship. It demands our whole hearts. But it is oh so worth it.

“I’m coming to You with a bottle of perfume / and I will pour it out no matter what the cost.”

Will you go the distance?

Will you take the plunge?

Will you jump?

Will you give everything?

Will you risk your life, what people think of you, your material possessions?

Will you let go of fear and abandon your whole heart?

Will you be reckless?

Will you go #allin?

Will you go #allin in the pain of life?

Will you go #allin in the abundance of His graceful provision?

My flesh, my heart may fail – whom have I but You?

#allin.


I believe that this blog concludes the #allin series. Maybe I started where I finished, but my heart is forever changed. If you’d like to read a few other moments from this adventure that will last a lifetime then please follow these links:

– #allin or nothing (Jan 2014) –
– #allin love, #allin compassion (Apr 2014) –
– #allin surrender (June 2014) –
– #allin resurrection (August 2014) –