A Worship Leaders guide to prepare for worship
For pastors and worship leaders, preparing to lead worship each Sunday is both a holy privilege and a tremendous challenge. Having led worship in the local church for over 30 years, this calling has been both a joy and a constant struggle as Satan continually tries to thwart and undermine our heartfelt worship and joy. And here’s the thing; If something is going to go awry in our lives it’s usually (always!?) Saturday night or early Sunday morning. That’s it, like clockwork somethings going to happen to distract, annoy, or confound us. Do I get an amen from all the brothers and sisters? AMEN!
As Christ’s minsters we are “out front” leading others in worship; bringing our grace gifts, skill set, and maybe most importantly, our weakness and continual need for Christ. We’re in the spotlight so everyone sees our best and our worst. Being out front often reveals what’s inside us motivating us, and transparently displays our outer physical selves. In all this, our epic spiritual battle is most certainly a high and holy calling. It’s a privilege to be God’s servant and one which constrains us to ask several important questions as we prepare to lead others:
How can we can best prepare ourselves for such a unique task and how do we keep our own spiritual walk fresh and dynamic week after week, year after year?
Let me share several verses taken from King David I believe can help shed light on preparing for our important ministry task. The Psalmist writes:
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol,
Nor sworn deceitfully. Psalm 24:3-4
This messianic passage points us to Christ the “sinless Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.” Yet for our conversation concerning worship leaders, this passage may reveal other truths about our readiness to lead others into a holy environment with confidence, faith, and humility.
Of course sinful man cannot ascend the hill of the Lord and or stand in His holy place apart from regeneration by the Holy Spirit. We are sinners! We must be redeemed, and be born again to approach His holy presence! We must be saved with a genuine salvation by faith in Christ alone and possess a firm biblical belief of His sacrifice on the cross for our forgiveness and adoption into His Kingdom.
Brothers and sisters, before leading worship each week we might all take a sober and reflective moment to examine our lives by the holy standards outlined in this passage.
First, begin by bowing your heads in prayer (a sincere act of humility and submission) seeking God. As we approach Him, we remember our Father knows all things so there’s nothing to hide from His omniscient presence. With that knowledge, we come before Him fully transparent. In His presence we experience His holiness and awesome glory and by effect we begin to see our own sin and darkness. When Isaiah “saw the Lord” he soon saw his own sinfulness in the presence of divine holiness and purity. Isaiah confessed his sin in short order and God graciously offered forgiveness and mercy. So our best response is to ultimately agree with Him about ourselves and any sin present in our lives. If we do this, we are positioned to effectively prepare our hearts for worship and to lead others in worship.
Honesty is the best policy; but here it’s the only policy, so bring it all to Him if you’re willing to consecrate your hearts for leading worship! He is all gracious and forgiving.
What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear; What a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer.
We sing this great hymn in worship but do we who help lead others consistently practice it? I hope so!
So…. “Who” may ascend the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place?
How do I do that?
Jesus told a parable about two men who went up to the temple to pray (worship), one sinner and one Pharisee. Jesus described a sinner who would not even lift up his eyes to heaven but beat his breast in genuine sorrow and repentance, this man, Jesus declared, went away justified. This man connected with God on God’s terms of worship. So who may ascend? Only those who are broken, needy, humble, and honest with themselves and God. Who may stand in the holy place? Repentant sinners confessing their sins, that’s who!
Some of you may ask OK, that’s good for me but how do I help elevate my church to “ascend the holy hill to worship God? Again, I start with myself, the person I have the most control over, and strive to live and model a genuine Christian life; praying for myself and others, that’s how to begin.
Clean hands are hands that are untainted by sin and our walk in this world. Clean hands are “godly hands” hands set aside and sanctified for “good works”. Hands that do the will of the Father at the impulse of His bidding.
For our discussion here, our hands may exemplify our “external” life. Pertaining to the external, we see our hands giving and receiving, embracing and letting go, and our day to day hands on ministry serving God and others. Think about it: Our hands and fingers come in contact with: our login to the internet, our smart phones, our banking accounts and pin numbers, TV controllers, the food we eat (amount and quality) and all beverages we consume, etc. This survey reveals a lot about our clean hands and our overall clean life too (or not). Many around us observe the “works of our hands” throughout the week; they see our charity or lack thereof, our living faith or lack thereof, our generosity and good works or lack thereof, our hard work or lack thereof, and our steadfast faithfulness to Christ or lack thereof. So, what have our hands done this past week? As owners of these hands, we get to observe this intimate part of our own external lives up close and personal. Think on these things and strive for clean hands!
The righteous keep moving forward, and those with clean hands become stronger and stronger. Job 17:9 NLT
A pure heart.
A “pure heart” can then be used to examine our “internal” life. We can examine our inner life, our thought life, our purity and devotion to Christ. We survey our inner connection with the Spirit and all things holy and righteous. Are we abiding in Christ? Is there any root of anger or bitterness? Are there unwholesome thoughts and influences? Is my heart a place where the light of Christ shines and no darkness dwells? You see the heart is a place where our real motives, and quite possibly some hidden things (even from those closest to us), are laid fully bare before His holy gaze. The Spirit likewise uncovers our deepest thoughts, fears, and desires and we are naked before Him. The prophet Isaiah declared “Woe is me!” and David said ‘against You and you only have I sinned”. God’s Spirit will seek to (tenderly) convince and convict us of our sin, that’s His manifest divine operation. Yet it doesn’t stop at conviction only. David went on to confess his sin and pray these words of humble petition: “Create in me a clean heart Oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do I have a pure heart? Paul encouraged us with these words:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8
Who has not lifted up his soul to idols.
This phrase immediately makes me think of the first of the ten commandments (Exodus 20). As sinners we are too quick to allow false gods and idols take over our soul’s affections. This commandment is a dire and direct warning that we would not worship (value) anything more than, less than, other than, God Himself. No competing interests for our deepest love and affections, no other Gods before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is a jealous God, jealous for our first and best love!
FYI worshipping other Gods never ended well for the people of Israel and it won’t for us either so let’s not fool ourselves. The Bible demonstrates over and over that the worship of anything other than the one true God of the Bible God leads to despair, darkness, destruction, and death! “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and lose his own soul?” We must be careful to destroy our false gods and idols on the altar of His holiness and offer ourselves up completely as “living sacrifices” wholly acceptable to the Lord. No compromise. Think on these things.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:2-3
Nor sworn deceitfully.
Oh boy here we go. We probably all talk too much, and yet say so very little of importance (Ok, maybe it’s just me). No swearing falsely and certainly no lies or deception. All our conversations should be based on respect for God’s holy name and the dignity of others. We are to constantly strive to speak the truth “in love”. We then consciously avoid conversations, oaths or contracts, where we might speak falsely or swear deceitfully. Instead we seek to walk in our integrity and in the bond of our word to avoid deceit and mistrust. Think on this passage.
“But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; “nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. “Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. Matthew 5:34-47
So there you have it. Clean hands, and a pure heart. A quick and concise guide to worship preparation for today’s worship leader. When we use these model verses for self-evaluation consistently, they will help and guide us in getting “right” before God. But even in all this we will still fall short of the glory of God. We’re not perfect but thankfully He is and has graciously appropriated His holiness to us in exchange for our own sin! Amazing grace! How sweet the sound! Let’s confess our desperate need for Christ and receive His undeserved grace and relief. Think on these things.
One final thought to consider while we’re on this important subject of worship prep. It may be the most important metric. Our preparation should also include reading or listening to the holy WORD of God. I always strive to read or listen to God’s word before I go to lead worship. It’s a course requirement for worship leaders. As you consider the Psalm 24 passage also consider this passage from John Chapter 15.
Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you (John 15:3).
There’s nothing more refreshing and energizing to the believer than being clean. Isaiah said “Here am I, send me” before he knew anything at all about the mission God was calling him to. One minute he was a sinner condemned, unclean the next fully pardoned and forgiven of all unrighteousness! Selah
Of course reading the Word’s not some magic bullet or “holy “formula, but I am certain from this passage that hearing or reading God’s word truly opens our hearts to God’s spirit and voice and has the power to cleanse us for service.
Well known Pastor David Guzik said it this way in his commentary: “The Word of God is a cleansing agent. It condemns sin, it inspires holiness, it promotes growth, it reveals power for victory, and leads us to prayer.
So prepare for worship this Sunday like never before! Ascend the hill of the Lord and help lead others to God!
Richard B. Steele is freelance artist, arranger/composer. He is also full-time Pastor and Minister of Music and has been published in the Church Musician (SBC). January 29,2017