Spring, summer, autumn, winter… I love the different seasons we get to experience in the UK. They’re so distinct. You can see the signs of them changing before your very eyes. Promises of things to come, sometimes they’re signed heralding in good changes… some times not so good.
As worship team members we sometimes expect (or are expected) to live pretty much in spring or summer… but what happens when we find ourselves in an autumn, when things start to fade for us, where all the fruit seems to have been recently harvested and we can’t see signs of any more coming right now? What about when we find ourselves in the middle of winter and noting seems to come easy? How do we push on through and serve the Lord in what we’re being asked to do?
There are the familiar verses in Ecclesiastes:
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him. Ecclesiastes 3:1-14 NIV
If our world is built on seasons then is it right for us to expect that in our worship too? Or does entering the throne room take us outside of the earthly restrictions and constraints of these intervals? A lot of the worship songs we sing in our churches have been sung by us for many years, is it time to change our approach to the songs that we introduce, or do the songs of heaven bypass the seasons of earth? I truly believe that something happens when we sing songs about the throne room. ‘Holy, holy, holy’ is being sung day and night, so when we start singing we’re not starting our own song but joining in with what is already going on.
Seasons of the church:
What do we do when we have to lead the church in worship when we’re all walking through some pretty tough stuff? A death of a church family member; a fallen church leader; a serious health diagnosis..? These events can leave people feeling very raw and vulnerable, so having that in mind within our preparation is very important. Can our church members sing the songs we have in mind with integrity? Can we sing “Death where is your sting” when the sting is very raw and real? If the answer is no, then it’s best rethinking the song list. It’s a good idea to really look through the lyrics of very familiar songs, a line can crop up that we’re so used to singing that we don’t actually notice that it may hit a painful nerve on this occasion. Songs that revolve round Jesus’ loving and compassionate nature, lyrics that speak of His unfailing love and faithfulness, those are going to be the ones that safely traverse the choppy waters of human pain.
It may be that once a good foundation of who God truly is has been laid in our worship that we can start to declare our trust in Him in the situations that our church finds themselves. I love the song “God I Look To You”. Beside the fact that is simply a really great song, it can be used in 2 ways: either as a prayer for those lyrics to become truth to us, even if we’re not feeling it at the moment, or as a declaration of that being how we actually feel. But we have to get to this point with sensitivity and compassion for our congregation.
Seasons of the soul:
There is always a careful balance to be walked in our preparation of worship. I’m constantly asking myself “What is for me, what is for the church? What is for now, what is for later?” I’ve had to learn to lean on God and recognise the whispering of the Spirit to guide my preparation. On more than one occasion I’ve questioned myself about whether my own circumstances were effecting the direction of the corporate worship I was preparing… it’s not always an easy balance to get.
I once had to lead worship after some terrible news. It was a big celebratory praise party and I had no idea how I was going to be able to do it. I messaged a friend, who gave me some of the best advice of my worship leading training. She talked me through Psalm 100, where we enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Regardless of how we’re feeling, we can still enter His gates with thanksgiving. Thankfulness is always our starting point. Once we start there, we can move on to praise and come into His courts.
So, what is my conclusion in all this? I imagine that my thinking will continue to be shaped on this question for some time, but for now, I believe that sensitivity to our own and others’ emotional state is a very important factor in our preparation of worship, but that ultimately, God is bigger than our circumstances. Our responsibility is to continually lift our eyes off our situation and onto Jesus, because, whatever the weather, He is worthy to be praised.