New Era, New Tactics
Updated: Apr 29
As of next week, I'm laying down public worship leadership.
How's that for an intro?
Many who know me have known me in this role. For over 20 years that's been a predominant way of being known, of expressing myself. I never planned it at first, just kind of fell into it in 1999 and this became my way of life. Wherever I went to church, I served in worship ministry, often as a front line leader.
I praise God for this privilege. So often the role kept me on track when I was tempted to veer. So often the obligation I felt to the people that I ministered to and with was the only thing that kept me from making bad decisions--I didn't want to ruin my testimony and/or be a poser onstage Sunday, so I had to figure out a way to change my mind and be okay again, quick. Bad times in marriage; stay and press on to forgive and find peace. Deep depression; sing the truth until it sets you free. Doubt like a hurricane; suspend disbelief and anchor down on what you know for sure. Stay on track, Lori. People are watching. (This logic saved my life more than once. It's such a gift.)
Having to be so public with my faith chased me to prayer, to the Word, to the only place that would get me to see things from the proper perspective: the feet of King Jesus. Worship leadership tore me out of the lie-infested pit of despair countless times, and for this I am going to be forever, desperately grateful. No matter what was going on in my life for the past 20 years, I knew that I was gonna be on that stage soon leading my people to worship so it was an honor to prepare in every way and take the opportunity to heart and give it all I had every single week.
Then suddenly in January 2020, I sensed God asking me to lay it down. He wanted me to clear the schedule so He could fill it with something else. And He got no argument from me; I just didn't feel like doing it anymore. At least, not in the same kind of way. And by saying I didn't feel like doing it anymore, I mean that the idea of leading worship on a stage actually made my stomach hurt.
At first I didn't understand. I thought there was something wrong with me. I'd gone to India on a mission to write worship music with worship leaders from around the world and I came back so different...what had happened? Was I off-track again, needing to bear down and dig back in? Nope. Somehow I knew that this distanced feeling was actually a help from God for me to lay down this sacrifice, and that He was about to show me some things, if I was willing to look.
God always meets us at the point of sacrifice.
People gave to get me to India. There He had shown me just how similar we all are even in our differences. Humans are beautiful everywhere. Worship is wonderful everywhere. He showed me how being with musicians who love Jesus and let the Holy Spirit drive fires me up for the celebration we're going to enjoy for eternity, when every nation, tribe and tongue live in total freedom to worship Jesus, the One who made it all possible for us to be there in God's midst. It made me hungry for the real thing.
During that set apart time, He also showed me how the Western model has set the standard for the whole world Church, for better or worse. There's an awful lot of hype and show. Some displays are better than others, yet they're all very ritualistic. Repeated patterns and themes that encourage Christian beliefs and behavior overlap and literally indoctrinate people with good advice...but don't lead to resurrection life. Real relationship with God and with individual people can be replaced quite easily with constant service and shallow interactions. One can become so busy doing things for God that one never really comes into contact with God. Though one may want this connection desperately, the pace of the life they're used to won't let them. This pace is happening worldwide.
From far away He showed me how the typical church service looks from the outside: Comfortable. Well-funded. Self-serving. Fashionable. Practical. Business-like. Not hungry, not thirsty, not desiring the actual presence of God, not expecting to experience His power. It looks like a puppet show...and I realized that back home, I had been playing a starring role.
Getting outside of my normal life either ruined me or woke me up. With these observations and insights swimming in my mind, I came back to an American church literally about to split into two camps because of some YouTube videos that were going viral. Is Bethel, Hillsong and Elevation music demonic? Is Bill Johnson a deluded heretic who preaches a whole different Jesus?? NO!! Ridiculous claims, both! I saw immediately how this was the work of an evil religious spirit trying to manifest through people prone to legalism. The goal was to cut off some of God's most effective ministries and divide the Body of Christ, all while vilifying some of His most anointed men! So many people worldwide were about to become so confused and scattered if this plan took off.
Within a week, the drama hit close to home. My spirit got really angry when it tried to infect and affect the leaders of my very own church, threatening to limit the list of song choices and my spirit-led freedom in worship leadership! I wanted to cry but knew better; I needed to pray. I did, and I fasted too, alongside a great friend for 21 days, asking the Lord God Almighty to turn the hearts of His people away from falsehood and focus us on His truth. We cried out to know God's all-surpassing power toward those who believe.
In January 2020 God showed me how so many of His people--paid leaders and volunteers alike--were living in a tired, foggy state of knowing a form of godliness while denying its power...and in response, I just wanted the real thing so much that it hurt. I just couldn't play the game anymore, though I truly loved the people I played the game with.
I had to get out of the massive machine that needs to be fed to keep running...one that doesn't necessarily need God's Spirit to empower how it runs, only willing volunteers. With respect, I couldn't ignore what I saw: that our carefully curated programs are gorgeously planned because we love to throw parties, and people love to belong to something bigger than themselves, so we serve, sometimes unto exhaustion. We insist we're doing it for God, but often we're really doing it to uphold our own worth.
It became painful to see how we always pray to God before we start meetings but don't give Him any space to speak a fresh word or really move. We say we want revival but not if it's messy and has issues we think are weird. We like the color-coded doctrines we've studied out and set in stone, and we guard them like Fort Knox. We study to show ourselves approved...but don't sit still long enough to feel His love and ask Him what He thinks. We let traditions of men get between us and God, eclipsing our knowledge of Him, calling it a denominational preference. We hate it when situations defy how we think they ought to look. If it requires an interruption, it messes up the algorithm.
Novel coronavirus Covid-19 entered the world story in February. On March 22, we all stayed home. It's April 27th, and we're still isolated under a mandatory stay-at-home order until May 15. Time out.
Everything has changed. Refocus has definitely happened. Priorities are becoming more well-defined in stark contrast to the past everyday. Petty differences are giving way to more important issues, both in the church and in the world at large.
Hunger, thirst, desiring to know the power of God and truly expecting Him to show Himself in the mix, out of pure desperation--these, I suspect, are conditions of the heart that many more people are going to experience in the weeks, months and years to come.
Wow. I believe the Lord pulled me out to lean me back and let me join Him as He interrupted the show with something really huge. I don't believe in coincidences, so the timing of everything really stands out. He invited me to lay down what I've used as a place holder so many times...right before a global hard stop. He has my attention; I'm listening. He's definitely showing some new things, and I'm asking questions. What is He doing in the midst of this enemy move marked by disease and oppressive control? What will be God's countermove?
In India, God widened my vision for our human purpose. There, the core team kicked off the retreat with free, spirit-led, intentional worship for about an hour before the other 50+ musicians arrived. As our sounds pushed through open windows into the city streets, I understood more than ever how our worship precedes His work. We who believe Jesus for salvation have been given the right to be called the children of God Most High, and in this we've been restored back to our original role: we are to be living announcements of His identity, His victory, His purposes wherever we go. When we lift praises and worship to God with understanding and intention, we herald Creator God's superlative, sovereign position over every entity, seen and unseen, including any principalities or powers holding on in the region. (In Indian Hindu culture swarming with over a million gods, that's saying a lot.) As our human worship goes forth, it is a solvent that breaks down the structural compounds/strongholds of the enemy. As God Most High is made known in the area He inhabits that praise, and the powers of darkness break apart under the pressure of His all-surpassing, greater power. With the air cleared and filled by His glory, His Word and His work set people free. He comes in upon the praises of His people. Our worship invokes the presence of our God. This is what we were made to do...in the midst of a wicked and perverse generation, we are to call upon the Name of the Lord and let Him live in us!
We are His countermove--His awakened children, humans fully alive. The Church is getting a wake up call to start a brand new day that looks different than yesterday. He wants to occupy us with His glory. He wants us to destroy the works of the evil one with His goodness. He wants us to be one with Him so we match perfectly when He comes. He is allowing this cancellation of old cycles in order to wake up a critical hunger/thirst/desire/expectation that must be in place before we're ready to cheer when He comes with awe-inspiring power. This is something that our generation hasn't seen, but will, according to Joel chapter 3!
When we want the real thing so much that it hurts, that's when we'll get it. He said we'll find Him when we seek Him with all of our hearts. When we want Him more than we want church as usual, we will find Him. And when we find Him, we will worship Him and beg Him to do whatever He wants, even if it gets messy, even if it defies our careful definitions and parameters, even if it's kinda wild.
Looking forward, I'm going to worship more intentionally than I ever have--it just might not be in a church building on a stage anymore. He's pulled me out to show me some things, and I believe we're just getting started. He created us for wonderful intentions! I love everyone whom I've had the pleasure and privilege of serving Jesus with along the way. It's time for me to be a free agent apart from the crowd now, but I will always meet you at the feet of Jesus and keep sharing what He shows!