Are you questioning?

In these days when people are questioning their faith and turning toward a self-directed philosophy, we need to recognize that being a part of a worship team or simply being attuned to worship of God is not enough to keep us stable in our faith.

God created us to be infused, permeated, and saturated with His Spirit. He provided not just the experience of the new birth by the Holy Spirit, but also a revelation of who He is, how He acts, and what are His thoughts and directives. God reveals Himself in the Bible.

We need to have a real understanding of the Bible in general and of the core concepts of what it means to be a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15 NASB

It’s vital that we know what Jesus has said to us. We should be asking ourselves challenging questions such as, “When was the last time I read the Gospel of John and got to know my Lord and Savior?”, “Do I spend as much time getting to know Him as I do following someone’s social media posts?”, and “Do I want my life to be a reflection of His life and Spirit in me?”

When we do not have a solid understanding of the Bible embedded in our hearts, we will not be able to view life the way God sees it. I’ve often said that when we take our experiences and superimpose them on the Bible, interpreting the Bible through the view of what we’ve seen, heard, and experienced, we will incorrectly interpret who God is and what He says. Instead, we should search the Bible and learn from it, then take that understanding and superimpose it onto our daily lives and the challenges we face. We should be looking at our lives and saying, “What does God say about this?”

Of course, if you don’t want an absolute moral authority in your life, then don’t read your Bible.

I was talking to someone the other day who is not a Christian and he told me that in his search to become the best version of himself, he took what he thought was the best of all religions and applied them to his life. In that case, he is the self-determined moral authority in his life. When a believer—a follower of Jesus—does that, confusion occurs and faith is shaken.

Have you noticed that the subject of many worship songs usually focuses on human experiences rather than on who God is? Songwriters are so busy looking at themselves and writing about their own experiences instead of writing about who God is and what He has done. If you truly know God from studying your Bible, and you write and sing songs about the revelation of who He is which is found in His Word to you, then worship will be an expression of true revelation of Him, not simply a song about your experience or perspective.

Let’s take the focus off of ourselves and put it on God. He is faithful and unshakable, and He is in you.

Making your vocals smooth Part 2

If you find that throat is sore after speaking or singing, or your jaw hurts after a day of talking, you may be creating a strain on your voice and jaw by pushing your chin forward when you speak or sing. The tension that occurs in your throat and jaw also affects the tone of your voice.

In part one of Making your vocals smooth, I wrote about opening your throat to create a rich tone. As you’re becoming more comfortable with speaking and singing with an open throat, you’ll want to avoid tension in your jaw and strain on your voice. Let’s add this next component to your skills.

Relax your jaw.

When there is tension in your jaw, that beautiful tone you’re creating will be distorted. Forcing your jaw forward while singing or speaking creates tension. I recommend that you place your index and middle fingers of one hand on your chin to remind yourself to relax your jaw. Now sing something simple like Allelujah.

Keeping your fingers on your chin, sing something more challenging. Focus on relaxing your jaw and opening your throat at the same time.

You’re creating a warm tone with your throat, you’re avoiding tension in your jaw and throat, and you’re now going to allow that amazing sound to come out fully. You’ve worked hard to produce something beautiful, so let it out. Open your mouth.

When your jaw is relaxed, it’s easier to open your mouth. Relax your lips now and place two fingers in your mouth. Turn your hand so your fingers are not flat in your mouth but your hand is positioned so your fingers are vertically stacked in your mouth to force it to be more open. The point of this exercise is to get to know the feeling of having your mouth fully open.

With your fingers in your mouth, sing Allelujah. It won’t be possible to create the consonants, but go ahead and sing the vowels. Remember to relax your jaw and open your throat.

Consistently achieving a full, open feeling in your throat, face, jaw, and mouth when you speak and sing requires practice, but with time and attention you’ll succeed.

You’re on your way to making your vocals smooth.

Making Your Vocals Smooth Part 1

Have you ever heard a vocalist whose tone is so warm and pure that you could listen to them all day? I had a voice teacher whose voice reminded me of honey—warm and rich. Listening to her was a pleasure whether she was singing or speaking.

There are things that you can do to achieve depth in your vocal tone. We’ll look at one of them in this blog, and we’ll look at others in future blogs.

Open your throat when you speak or sing.

If you’ve ever been in one of my worship clinics, you remember the fun we had while yawning. We didn’t yawn because the topic was boring, we yawned as an exercise and learning experience.

You can learn how to open your throat by yawning and focusing on the open feeling in your throat that happens when your soft palate (muscle tissue) in the back of your throat lifts up and your larynx relaxes and opens more fully. Very simply stated, your larynx connects your throat to your trachea (your windpipe). Your vocal chords are located in your larynx.

To develop a warm rich tone as you speak or sing, you will want to begin by developing an awareness of what it feels like to open your throat. You can do this with the following exercise.

Please yawn for a moment now and pay attention to what your throat feels like when you yawn. Feel your soft palate lift up and your larynx relax with the sensation of opening outward or downward. Now yawn and say, “Ah” at the same time. You’ll hear a difference in the sound of your voice.

Now try to open your throat so it feels like you’re yawning, and say “Ah see lah” so you can hear the open vowel sounds and feel the openness even when you use two consonants as well.

Try it again, and focus on relaxing your throat.

You want to avoid pushing the sound through your nose, so just relax your throat and your shoulders and allow the sound to come out easily. You don’t have to push or strain. The back of your throat should feel open and relaxed.

I like to do this in the morning as I’m getting ready for my day. I take a deep breath, open my throat and my mouth fully, and say a few sentences about what a great day I’m going to have. Then when it’s time for me to prepare to sing, I will do some vocal exercises while concentrating on keeping my throat open.

The difference in the sound of my voice is amazing when my throat is fully open compared to when it is simply at rest. That open, warm, rich tone has allowed me to sing and speak professionally in a way where the audience can enjoy the sound. It’s not harsh or nasal in tone.

In the next few blogs we’ll look at other things that will protect your voice and help you to sustain that amazing tone that you’re developing.

Where does worship of God begin?

I was listening to a song while driving the other day. The words of the chorus were simple, “You are holy, holy. Holy is the Lord.” As I sang along with the song, my spirit was so stirred, and once again I was reminded that God is real and is so worthy of adoration of His character.

In a world full of compromise and subjective morality, there is an absolute. God is holy. He is moral, pure, and light in which no darkness exists.

Think about that.

We tend to want to shape God into our image instead of truly looking at Him and seeing that He is more. He is more of everything that is strong, beautiful, worthy, and wise. He is the source of health and life, the designer of opportunities, the creator of intricate nature, the orchestrator of a plan that transcends time. He is more.

The revelation of who God is is the inspiration of worship. When we actually look at Him, at who He is, we will truly worship Him.

Everything is put into perspective when you worship and your focus is actually on God. You realize that not everything is about you, but you’re a part of a great design and a community that is connected through Jesus Christ, one which has the privilege and pleasure of relationship with someone who is the definition of all that is good, just, righteous, holy, faithful, and so much more.

Stop for a moment, put the distractions aside, and just worship Him. If all you say or sing is “You are holy” it will remind you of His purity and power—His character that is above all that is around you. Focus on Him. Bless Him with your recognition of who He is. That is true worship.

Finding that place

There’s a sweet spot in the presence of God. A place where it seems as if you cease to exist and it’s all just Him. A place of such comfort and rest that you are refreshed. A place where you’re sensitive to Him. A place where hearing from Him, sensing His prompting, is easy.

How do we get there?

It happens in your personal worship time when you shut down the noise and distractions. It’s when you open yourself to Him, being authentic and abandoned. It isn’t the time when you are crying out to Him for the answer to a question or praying that a situation would be resolved. This is a time where you’re only focusing on Him and expressing your love and appreciation for Him.

It’s a place of simplicity.

It’s not in the midst of production or presentation. It’s a simple expression of your relationship with God. Real, meaningful, heartfelt worship starts at home. It’s you giving Him the adoration He deserves. It’s you saying, “God, You’re more than enough. You’re stronger than any other. You’re always faithful. You never lie. You’re the One True God.”

It’s you appreciating the depth of His character.

We’re quick to vent to each other about problems and challenges we face. We’re quick to try to produce worship services that are structured, slick, and perfect. We’re quick to try to live our lives and do the ministry with our own strength and wisdom. But God never intended that we live our lives or minister that way. He wants us to rely on His wisdom, His direction, His strength, and the refreshing that comes from being with Him where He is the center of our attention.

That sweet spot of connection with God in personal worship is the basis for worship-leading in the church. When it’s important to you to spend time with God, it will show. Your worship-leading at church will be grounded in that sweet place of relationship. It starts at home.

How to write a worship song Part 2

There are some practical, musical components that you will need to create when you write a worship song. The experience doesn’t have to be frustrating if you follow a simple process.

Here are my suggestions for you when you start to write a worship song.

  1. Write the words first.

    Ensure that the words are meaningful. A common way to write the words is to focus on the chorus first and express the theme of the song in the chorus. Then write the verses to support the theme that is found in the chorus. The verses can be more specific, possibly stating the why or the reason for the thought found in the chorus.

    Here’s an example from a song I wrote titled None Like You.

    The chorus states the general theme of the song, which is that Jesus is above all: “And Your Name will be exalted, the Word of God who is victorious. Lord of lords You rule in power. You are glorious. Seated high above the heavens with the Father in all glory, You will reign with Him forever for your Kingdom has no end.”

    Verse 1 gives specifics on the theme: “In all the world there is none like You. The only One who’s faithful and true. Worthy to be honored and adored, Jesus, You alone are Lord. You are the only blessed Son who was sent to make God’s Kingdom come, and on earth His will to be done. Jesus, You’re the Holy One.” © 2002 Melody Lavin / ASCAP / CCLI #4028963

    All verses should have the same rhythm and melody structure to create consistency in the song. You also can write a bridge and/or a pre-chorus, both of which provide musical interest and can augment the song. A bridge can express the thoughts found in the chorus in a different way, or it can add an additional thought that augments our understanding of the main theme of the song. A bridge usually has a slightly different musical feel and group of chords. A pre-chorus can be a line or two of words and melody that create musical and thought movement from a verse into the chorus.

    Examples of a pre-chorus and a great bridge are found in the song More Than Amazing by Lincoln Brewster and Mia Fieldes. (Click the song title to listen in YouTube.)

  2. Create a lead line—a melody line—for the words.

    The melody should be singable by people who don’t have trained voices. You want the congregation to be able to sing it easily. Select a key in which the congregation can sing the song. Some songs have melody lines that are written in two octaves, and while a trained tenor or soprano can sing them, the congregation may wonder what notes to sing if they can’t hit the notes that the worship leader is singing. Be thoughtful when choosing the melody line.

    A musician friend of mine once said that we often write lyrically and musically in the styles that we know or are comfortable with. I do agree that when we’re looking for a lead line or chord progression and we’re using our naturally-developed musical skill we’ll tend to lean to our musical knowledge and experience. However, I find that when I’m just privately worshiping God, I’ll hear lead lines and chord progressions in my spirit, not in my mind. If I write those down and use them as the basis for the song, they are more powerful than what I can create from my mind and musical experience. They came from my spirit, and there is a spiritual depth and connection when they are played.

  3. Create a basic chord structure that supports the melody line.

    If you start with simple chords that work with the melody, when the song is roughly finished, you can go back and rework those chords, substituting the simple chords with some that are more rich and complex in their structure. This will create musical interest within the song. If you aren’t comfortable or skilled in doing that, you can ask another musician to help you.

  4. Establish the rhythm and tempo.

    Choose a rhythm style that expresses the meaning of the song. Also, your culture, your church and its vision, and your personal preference for the song’s rhythmic feel can all be powerful influences when you select a rhythm style.

    Choose a tempo for the song. You may have thought that you wanted to write an uptempo song; however, if you’ve written verses that have a lot of words, you may need to slow the song’s tempo. Since the words are more important in a worship song than the music (because it’s worship to and of God which is defined by the words), then you want to ensure that the congregation can sing the words and engage with their meaning. This doesn’t mean that worship songs all need to be slow. It means that you should be musically thoughtful.

    A song of praise or worship of God will focus on Him, but it also will give you a way in which you can be uninhibited before God. The song will provide a way through which you can release and express the joy and love within you toward Him.

    I encourage you to evaluate the musical components of your song. When you’ve chosen your chords and rhythm, ask yourself this question: Is the music manipulating my body or my soul? Determine if the song allows your spirit to rejoice or if the music is simply inspiring you to want to dance because the song has a great rhythm. Ask yourself if the musical lead line is so plaintive, so melancholy, that it affects your emotions. Ask yourself why you chose that structure or chord progression. Be thoughtful and focus on being inspired and sensitive to what will bless God and give people a great vehicle through which they can praise and worship Him.

  5. Play the song for trusted friends and other worship leaders.

    Ask them what they think about the song—the words, the melody, the rhythm, and the chord structure. Be open to hear what they have to say. They’ll have suggestions that may make the song better and stronger. Try to avoid being defensive when they give their suggestions. The way to do that is to remember that other people may have exactly what you need to augment what you’ve written and created.

  6. Enjoy the process.

    I love the process of writing music. I love music. Even more, I enjoy spending time with God to discover what will please and honor Him. I’m blessed in the development of the songs.

    When I look back at the songs I wrote years ago, I see my musical and spiritual immaturity. Those songs helped people to worship God, and I grew in the process while writing them, but I understand more now. When I write, it’s a connection with God combined with the desire to give something to other Christians—a meaningful way to express their adoration of God.

How to write a worship song Part 1

Music is powerful, and it can be used in worship either to inspire your heart (spirit) to worship God or to manipulate your emotions and appeal to your body.

When we write worship songs, we have the opportunity to create something that blesses God and provides people with a vehicle through which they can release the love and adoration that they have for God.

It’s vital to first understand the spiritual component of writing a worship song.

Many songwriters begin by writing from their past life experiences and their journey with God. They write about what they’ve been through and how God has helped them, but they are the primary focus of the song. For example, “I am weak. I’ve been through this. When I am crushed…, etc.” I am in no way diminishing the struggles and challenges that we face; however, if it’s worship of God given to Him, then the focus of the song should be on Him and who He is.

Why would you write a song about your experience or pain, call it a worship song, and ask other people to sing about something that they didn’t experience or can’t relate to, and the song itself doesn’t exalt God in any substantive way?

True worship comes from your spirit.

Your spirit worships God. Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24 NASB God is looking for true worshipers—people who genuinely have the nature of a worshiper of God—people who have placed Him first in their lives and focus on blessing Him with their lives and their words.

A worship song should focus on God. After all, it’s worship of God and to God. It will come from your spirit where you are connected to Him. The words of worship will be about Him and to Him.

Jesus also said in John 14:26, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” NASB And in verse 17, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and that He abides with you and will be in you. The Holy Spirit prompts you to write words of worship and praise that glorify God and are aligned with God’s Word.

When you write a song, you reveal the depth of your spiritual life.

As you’re writing worship songs. you will reveal both your knowledge and your ignorance of the Scriptures. The words you choose for the song will reveal what you know about God and don’t know, and what you know about who you are in Christ and what you don’t know. It’s vital that you read the Bible and study who God is and who you are in Him.

I find that my best songs come after a time of prayer and worship. I’m fully focusing on God at that point. I am able to sense the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and I’m inspired to exalt God in the words that I write.

Here’s a quick test that you can use when evaluating the worship song words that you’ve written. Count how many references you make to yourself where you’ve written the words: I, me, or my. Then count the number of references you make to God where you’ve written the words: You are, You have, Your.

When I write a song that is worship of God and to Him, I diligently avoid writing about myself. If I find that I’ve taken the focus of the song away from Him and put it on myself, I will rewrite that section.

Worship isn’t about glorifying what I’ve been through or how I feel or what I think. Worship is about how amazing God is, who He is in His character and nature, and how He expresses who He is.

Here’s something to think about. Instead of trying to get people to connect to what you’ve experienced, give them a revelation of who God is and let them see Him, His strength, His wisdom, His love, His faithfulness, His joy, and more. That will take their focus off of themselves and where they are, and it will put their focus on the One who is our source, who is greater than anything, and who is more than enough.

The danger of competition

We’ve all done it—compared ourselves to someone else, or compared our team to another band.

We’ve heard someone else play or we’ve seen a worship band on tour, and we’ve thought, we are better than they are, or, we are terrible compared to them. The results of that comparison are destructive.

If we think that we’re better than someone else, we can become arrogant. Arrogance keeps us from living a life that demonstrates humility and the selfless love of Jesus—what we are instructed by Him to do.

If we think that someone else is better than we are, we can become discouraged. That could lead us to feel like we want to quit, or to ask the question, “Why would God ever want to use me? I’m not as good as they are.”

If we think that we’re as good as the other team, but we envy them and wonder why they are famous or have more opportunities than we do, we will see ourselves in competition with them. That causes us to miss the point of working together as the Church—the Body of Christ.

The temptation to compare yourself to someone else is always there. Giving in to that temptation or those thoughts can indicate that you’re not sure that you should be where you are. You may feel in adequate either because you haven’t been able to increase your skills or because your type of talent isn’t the same as someone else’s.

We can be balanced in our perspective when we remember that we are not all called to be in the same church, and we aren’t all called to minister to the same types of congregations. God did not create us to be alike in musical style, personal temperament, or area of outreach. There is beauty in that difference.

We look at the lives of the apostles and see that they ministered in different areas with different people groups. They weren’t all called to be in Jerusalem at a church of 10,000. They went where God sent them and they did what He instructed to the best of their ability, which He then augmented by His power.

At the core foundation of our faith, we know that God united us as believers through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:11-22). He wants us to work together to demonstrate that unity. If we are comparing ourselves to others and becoming dissatisfied or arrogant, we are denying the work that God has done in us.

Unity is the opposite of competition.

Remember that we are united in Christ, and that every one of us has unique and important contributions to make. We are to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV

It’s God’s ministry, and He places us where we need to be so we can be the most effective on His behalf. If God has inspired you to be in a specific place at this time, then rest in that and allow your creativity to flow in that commitment. Enjoy being in the right place at the right time.

Appreciate what others can do, and thank God for the opportunity to be who you are where He places you. There can be intense satisfaction and joy in that.

Lead out of the overflow

When our ministry in the church is to lead worship, at times we may forget to worship at home for the pure joy of worshiping.

There are certain people that I really like to hang out with, but I don’t want to be with them all the time. That’s not the case with God. I want to stay connected to Him—talking to Him, listening for His prompting, and worshiping Him—every day all day. It may sound simplistic to say, but I like Him better than I like anyone else. The more time I spend getting to know Him and His character, the more I am inspired to worship Him. He really is worthy of worship.

Starting the day by telling God how amazing He is and thanking Him for His faithfulness puts our attention on Him, and it reminds us that we’re not alone. It’s a decision to go beyond how we feel or what we see and to pay attention to our relationship with Him—the relationship that sustains us.

When we choose to live life continually in God’s presence, we will experience joy that cannot be contained. Psalm 16:11 says, “You will make known to me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” NASB

To avoid making worship-leading a performance or just an obligation, we need to make worship an integral part of our day.

Great worship-leading is the overflow of a strong, personal worship life.

Paul the apostle wrote about his desire to have a deep relationship with God saying, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord . . . . that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection.” Philippians 3:8,10 NASB

I recently wrote in my book, Do Not Attempt This At Home & Other Myths About Worship, that “Paul wasn’t writing about a simple acquaintance-type of relationship. He wanted to have a full, experience-based knowledge of God; the kind of relationship that is a result of walking through life together, experiencing everything together. When you know God at that level, you see Him for who He really is, and you can’t help but worship Him. Your worship will be of a depth that taps the core of who you are.”

So let’s remember to spend today praising and worshiping the One who never leaves us. And as we lead worship, let’s express the joy that results from being with God every day all day. Lead out of the overflow.

Respecting each other

I’m often asked if worship team members should be allowed to sing or play during a service if they consistently miss coming to rehearsals or if they come late to rehearsals or services. My response is always a question. Do they miss rehearsals or come late because of family issues, because their car doesn’t work, or for another compelling reason? If their excuse is not reasonable, and if their tardiness or avoidance is chronic, then the person is not respecting the team, and they are not being a good steward of the time that God has given them.

As team members, we show each other respect through our actions, our words, and our attitudes. If someone is chronically late or frequently missing rehearsals, then they’re not respecting God, His ministry, the team, and the church people. They also are being arrogant, showing everyone that they are not willing to commit, submit, or prepare. These are character issues.

By allowing someone to participate on the worship team when they have not consistently attended rehearsals or they are chronically late—without compelling reasons—we are saying that worship ministry is something to be handled lightly. I don’t see that laziness and complacency are characteristics that the Bible condones.

Additionally, some worship leaders have said that their band members are so skilled that they don’t need to practice with the singers. I disagree. Rehearsal time should be more than a time where we just practice the music. It’s a time where we connect with each other, and more importantly, where we learn to flow as a team, and where we listen to what God wants to do through us in the coming service. Worship ministry is not just about musical skill or professionalism. It is ministry, and there is a difference between performance ability and the ability to be sensitive to what will bless God in worship.

We should be asking ourselves questions that make us evaluate our attitudes, actions, and character. Questions such as, what are the things I do that disrespect God and my team members? In what ways have I valued the gifts that God has given me? And, do I respect the congregation enough to be prepared for what He has inspired me to do in the church?

It all comes down to respect for people, for the ministry, and for God.