Life Lessons from the Congregational Songwriting Process

3 things I’ve learned from the process of writing congregational music…

I love that I get to do this!

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Go with the Flow

New things arrive unexpectedly… go with the flow and powerful stuff will come forth.

Two of my best congregational songs in 2018 came when I wasn’t intending on writing. The first was when one of my co-writers and I came to songwriting session tired and worn. So instead of pushing through, we acknowledged our weakness, and spent the time in prayer. “Creator God” was birthed out of that time. The topic was not one consciously brainstormed, but came forth out of a time of simply being with God. This is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written, as it flowed from my soul’s interaction with the incredible images shared in Scripture.

The second came when I told God I planned to just support my co-writers for a while, rather than writing new material. I thought I needed a break. But what I needed was a reminder of why I’m doing this. I went to our church website and read through our culture code and our Pastor’s blog posts attached. I began to grasp a value I never understood before: “Risk the Ocean.” I started to take it to heart… and I started to write. I poured out based on my lived experience of risking the ocean, connecting it with powerful Scriptural stories. This was a song expressing my learned journey in recent years… and a song that I believe our people need to sing. “On the Water” grew from this.

My words of 2019 are “surrender” and “explore.” I am learning to go with the flow of the Spirit, surrender to God’s will, and explore new things… because life is an adventure!

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Always Grow

I’ve written probably around 100 songs by now, have developed my craft for over half my life, and have studied under some award-winning songwriters. But I’ve grown SO much over the past year through writing with other people, for our congregation! Critiques on “Be at Rest” helped me consider the balance between creative expression and helping a congregation easily understand a concept. Critiques on “Even Now” helped me see varied chords I could choose from in songwriting. Critiques on “You Led Me” helped me learn how to shift my singer-songwriter melodies to be more singable.  I love that I am seeing obvious growth through this process, and I am committed to continuous growth as a songwriter and as a person. Like the songs we’re writing, I want to be a better version of myself than I was the last time we met.

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Don’t Just Tell, Show It

When I joined a musicians’ academy, Daniel Ornellas said I am a story-teller. I found that funny at first because I’m not great at verbally sharing stories! But since then, I’ve really stepped into that identity, as I feel like it flows naturally in my songwriting.

My Worship Pastor, Andrew, recently chatted with a well-known worship music producer. He asked direction worship music is going and what songs the church needs. The producer said story-telling songs: testimonies of where God has brought us. Well… as Andrew alluded, this is a perfect fit for me!

As I’ve listened to a wide variety of songs, I’ve noticed the best ones to me tend to be where God is displaying His power through interactions between His story and our stories. I feel like this is a metaphor for life… that rather than just talking about who God is, people will be set free when we allow God to display His power (made perfect in weakness) in our lives.

As St. Francis of Assisi put it, “Preach the gospel always; when necessary, use words.”

I just started an Instagram account where I’m sharing my music journey and stories/testimonies within. One thing that’s been on my heart is to “live my lyrics.” My lyrics tell a story, and I want it to be a true story of my life.

What do you want your story to be? Let’s encourage each other to live it out!

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Clearly Passionate: A Look Inside One Worshipper’s Heart

I’ve Never Seen…

“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
    the things God has prepared for those who love him.

(1 Corinthians 2:9b, NIV)

Recently a friend of mine said “I’ve never seen anyone worship as hard as you.” I didn’t quite know what he meant, so another friend reworded it to “passionate.” Although I’ve heard other people commenting about how my worship encourages them, (that’s great!) I still wasn’t quite sure how to respond in the moment. So I thought I’d write a post that sheds some light, hopefully in a way that will encourage you!

First I will say, I have not always worshipped this way.

I grew up in a Lutheran Church. It was a great foundation for my faith that I am so thankful for. But the most expression I saw there was in children’s VBS hand-motions, and some folks (like my Dad) closing his eyes as he sang a favorite song. I’m not saying anything about the passion or the heart in worship (which was probably sincere and full of love for God in many people), but just what I saw while singing hymns or praise songs. As a kid, my childish mind translated this as religious duty, more so than a life-giving relationship with GOD. These days I understand enough to worship with passion in just about any context, but back then, it was hard. 

Since those years, I’ve been in a WIDE variety of worship contexts. It may be a surprise to hear, but I am not the most passionate worshipper I’ve ever seen. Other worshippers have called me up in this, and continue to do so. I love how God is growing us together in this, because the more passionately (and the more often) I worship, the more my heart gets right before God and creates space for Him to do His thing… which is way better and way more adventurous than me doing my thing. (You know, Jesus said, I am the way…” [John 14:6a]).

LOVING GOD

The first and most important commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30, NIV). If we don’t get this right… what’s the point? Without this, it’s just religion… An empty, life-draining, meaningless chore. From what I’ve experienced, I believe Jesus when he said that it’s the most important commandment, because when I love God fully (as best as my human heart can, with Jesus empowering me), everything else falls into place.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jesus in John 10:10b).

How do we grow to love an invisible God? I could write another full post on this… but just think, how do we grow to love anyone? Spending quality time together, giving and receiving care, talking and listening to each other… (God speaks, how well do you know His voice? Jesus said his people will know His voice! [John 10:27])

There’s a story in Scripture (Luke 7) of a woman who was doing all sorts of weird passionate things out of love for Jesus. (Have we been willing to look a little weird in order to love Jesus with our actions/worship?) She’s behind Jesus at a meal, when she starts bawling her eyes out so hard that her tears literally wash Jesus’ feet. She then uses her hair to wipe his feet, kisses his feet, and pours expensive perfume on them. This isn’t some religious person… she’s well known as a “very sinful woman.” The other people expected Jesus to reject her. But Jesus instead highlights her loving actions as beautiful. He forgives her sins, and says that those who are forgiven much will love much.

Do we realize how much we’ve been forgiven? God is holy and perfect… that is the standard, yet we are far from that. We are far from God without Jesus. (Being a good person, or doing more good than bad, doesn’t earn God’s forgiveness needed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.) So we need Jesus’ to forgive a whole lot.

GENUINE PASSION

I am definitely NOT a performer. You can read me like an open book. (This is why I need to stay super-focused on Jesus as a worship leader… if I struggle on my instrument you’ll see it on my face!) My nature is to connect with people, and express what’s inside me. No performance in this. So as I worship, it’s a true expression of my heart to God. In my most natural, free state, my heart comes out through my feet!

As I learn more about who God is, experience Him more, and remember all He has done in my life, I am growing in my passion for the Lord.  There are a lot of reasons why I pour out passionately to God. I’ve experienced God as my relationship-restorer… as my provider… as my hope and purpose… as my faithful friend… as my guiding Father… as my joy and peace… as my miraculous healer… as my literal life-saver… and so much more… Walk a mile in my shoes and you’ll see why I worship this way.

How have I been able to get to know God in these ways?

I accept His pursuit of me. 

With God’s help, I try not to go about my day in my own way, but to live in the reality that God is near to His own. My goal is to communicate with God throughout the day: I talk to Him or write to Him, I read His Word and listen for His voice (which comes in many forms). We can’t know someone without communicating. Jesus sent His Holy Spirit so we can hear what He has to say (John 16:13-15). This is an amazing gift that more people need to embrace! If you want to learn how to hear God’s voice more, I’d be happy to share how I do.

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Something that has helped me to go deeper into worship is to ask myself: Do I believe the words I sing in church? I mean really believe them? Like willing to stake my life on them? There are some INCREDIBLE claims being sung in churches… knowing myself, the day I go back to stone-faced singing is the day that I need to check my heart. If I’m not completely believing a Scripture-based truth sung in worship, I think it’s worth digging deeper in the Word, and struggling with God in prayer about it.

Here’s an experiment for you: Take a song you know and look up the lyrics. These should contain life-changing theological truths that are worthy of genuine celebration of how good God is. Pray over it. Let God examine your heart. Let Him speak to you about where your heart is at in response to these truths, and where it should be. Hint: It’s probably farther than you would assess on your own!

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

(John 6:68-69, NIV)

CHILD-LIKE EXPRESSION

So thinking back to what my friend said: Hard/passionate worship, I think translates to visual expression of what’s going on in my heart.  

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How do we celebrate in life? — When our favorite sports team scored a goal? When we’re at a wedding? At a concert? Does it show on our faces? Do we smile, laugh, and cheer? Do we clap, jump a bit, and maybe even dance?

In these moments, we forget about civility. We just embrace LIFE and the relationships around us. The JOYS. The CELEBRATION. The FUN! (Did you know God laughs with us?)

Before you say, “Not in church!” I’ll ask, how did our joyful Heavenly Father who delights in His children  become completely stone-faced to you? We can still respect our Father while expressing our love to Him. Think of your interactions with your spouse, parents, or children… How is similar or different to your interactions with God, the intimate lover of our souls?

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV)

dance1How do children tell their parents they need them? Do they reach their hands up for their daddy to pick them up? Do they open their hands to receive gifts? Do they cry out, tell them what’s wrong, and ask for help?

I do likewise in worship. Expressing my heart to God by lifting my voice and moving my body in expressive ways actually helps me focus and connect with God more. I know my Heavenly Daddy likes to see my heart, and I know it can minister to others as I’m free in my worship.

“Then he said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.’” (Matthew 18:3-4, NLT)

Little children don’t hold back their emotions. They don’t worry about social expectations or being respectable. They just connect with their parents and express themselves.

My love for Jesus and gratitude as a child of God outweighs my need to act like a civil adult. I have no shame in letting my love for Him shine through.

I’m ok with some people thinking I’m weird if it means that they see that an incredible, life-changing relationship with God is possible! 

Loving People

Expressing my heart visually in worship is one way that I love not only God, but the people around me. I try not to be distracting (and I do hold back some in certain contexts if I feel like it will help the people around me more), but I’m guessing if someone is near me they probably see my passion coming out visually… which I pray God uses to draw people closer to himself. What better way to love people during worship?

Worship blesses the heart of God, our own hearts, AND it is built to encourage the people around us as well. It’s not just about me and God… but us and God. 

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18b-20)

So, I want to LOVE the people around me by pointing to Christ, rather than caring what they think of me. I’m always going to be too much for some people, and not enough for others… what I care about is what God thinks. He is my Creator, the ultimate Judge, and the one who cares about me more than any other person does. With each passing year, I am set free more and more in my life and in my worship!

BUT HOW?

Growing up in dance classes, I have learned to express myself through the art form of movement. This carries over into worship, as I express what’s in my heart through my body. So this is probably why my worship is a bit more visual than most–besides the fact that I’m pretty passionate about Jesus–when the beat drops, my heart comes out through my feet! I’m SO grateful to be part of a church community that is cool with this. 

But movement in worship isn’t just for dancers. The Israelites (God’s first chosen people) worshipped in all sorts of visual ways. They had community dances.  King David was seen leaping and dancing before the Lord when the ark of the covenant (sign of God’s presence) was returned (2 Samuel 6).

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Before you write off visual expression of worship as “for Stefanie” and “not for me,” let’s talk about what Scripture says worship should look like.

Note: These aren’t just suggestions. These are God’s WORD! All of God’s Word is good for us. It’s not empty commands, but things that will help us live abundantly. And hey… I think you’re gonna like what you see here! A whole lot more fun than what you thought church to be!

So many of the original Biblical Hebrew words related to worship/rejoicing actually have a movement implied (ie. nathar: to jump, giul: to spin, dalag: to spring, raqud: to stamp, barak: to kneel, karar: to whirl, schachah: to lay before, halikah: to march [Min. Gail G. Faust]). It’s all over Scripture…

 Praise the Lord.

Sing to the Lord a new song,

   his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.

 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;

   let the people of Zion be glad in their King.

 Let them praise his name with dancing

   and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

 For the Lord takes delight in his people;

   he crowns the humble with victory.

 Let his faithful people rejoice in this honor

   and sing for joy on their beds.

(Psalm 149:1-5, NIV)

So… God likes a party! It’s not for church, but for the One who brought us from death to life–from an eternity separated from God (and all things good) to an eternity of joy and love. 

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:7)

His rescue is worth a BIG party! Think of every person you believe to be in heaven with Jesus right now… aren’t you glad Jesus died so they can be? That because He died and rose again, we will too? That someday we’ll all be together again? I know I am.

Sometimes the joy of the Lord in me just bursts out… into dancing, jumping, clapping, or shouting victoriously!

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” (Psalm 47:1, NIV)

Let’s get a little loud now…

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” (Psalm 95:6, NIV)

When we realize God is in the room… who can stand? Even the angels fall down on their faces before the living God! (Revelation 7:11) It’s only because of Jesus that will we stand in the end!

Sometimes I feel God’s presence and power in the room so strongly, that I can’t help but bow down. I feel the “weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17) causing me to submit to Him.

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A Confession; A Plea

Something you may not know about me, is that I have battled with intense life-altering pains in various parts of my body.

But I have never wanted to let it hinder me in worship. 

There have been times that I’ve come into worship in so much pain that I could barely stand. But I worshipped passionately from my chair, standing as able.

There have been times in worship where I’ve jumped around with so much joy, but then went through weeks of battling worsened pain afterwards as a result. I don’t let that stop me from doing it the next time I feel led to.

Am I doing what I can to care for my body and get strong again so I hopefully have fewer struggles down the road? Absolutely. But I refuse to dull my worship in the waiting.

I don’t share these things for you to pity me or admire me, but to say: This is how much I believe our worship matters.

Will you join me in sacrificing a little so people can see God more clearly?

WHAT’S THE POINT?

Let’s talk about worship. Why do I think it matters so much? What is it?

Worship is adoration.

It’s telling God He’s worth our time and affection and devotion. Because if you truly know God, you know that He is.

LOOK at Him. He is the most beautiful. He is incredibly glorious. And SO GOOD.

If you are unsure of this… take time to get to know Him more and more. I promise it will be the best decision you’ve ever made in your life. (Why else would an otherwise normal person from Hilton, NY be writing this post? Yeah… knowing God more changed my life, and still is changing it.)

Worship is entering more fully into God’s presence through Jesus.

WHAT?! Just take a moment to let that soak in. HOLY GOD… CREATOR… OVER ALL… He lets us come near through Jesus.

“But you are holy, O you that inhabit the praises of Israel.” (Psalm 22:3, KJ2000)

This isn’t some casual thing. We don’t say “Hey what’s up?” to a King in a glorious throne room. You better bet we come in full of awe and even a bit of fear because of His power.

When we come before the King, we bow down. We beg for mercy and grace… but it looks like we’re not good enough for that.

But then, Jesus steps in.

The King takes one look at Jesus, who says, “We know each other.”

The King calls us to rise and receive what we asked for. He welcomes us in as His own, because of Jesus.

With a sigh of relief, we thank Jesus and the King profusely. We celebrate (laugh, smile, jump, shout, dance…) in this moment when we realize who he is and how much he loves us. He LOVES us so sweetly!

Let the party begin.

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Worship is also a way to BATTLE.

Do we treat it as such?  As we sing songs from our souls to God, the spiritual atmosphere changes. People are SET FREE in Jesus’ name. His people are VICTORIOUS against dark forces in the spiritual realm. In Scripture, we see that the worshippers actually led the way into battles… and God miraculously gave them victory. (For example, 2 Chronicles 20).

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 6:12, NIV).

So let’s think…

How do warriors go into battle? They don’t casually stroll in, monotone voice, shyly saying “hey enemies, can you just like give up?” NO… With authority and power, they CHARGE in, fiercely SHOUTING, every ounce of their bodies and minds ready to FIGHT until VICTORIOUS.

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The only difference is, we battle from a place of inner PEACE and JOY, knowing that the victory has already been won by Jesus. So, I might battle in worship with shouts and stomps… or I might battle in still surrender to the Holy Spirit, standing firm in the armor of God, knowing the angels are fighting for us… or I might battle with leaping and dancing as David did, knowing victory is already ours!

Worship is a lifestyle

I am the Lord your God, who brought you […] out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

(Exodus 2:2-3, NIV)

This is the first commandment God gave to His people. If we don’t get this right, and just focus on “being a good person” then we’re totally missing it. TOTALLY! Our culture says being a good person is enough for heaven. But that’s NOT what God says! God says faith in Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection is the way. We can only get to that point of faith if we start with the Exodus passage quoted above: “No other gods before me.”

“Other gods” in this passage refers to–

  • Love: Anything we give all our love to, getting in the way of loving God the most. 
  • Obsessions: Anything we can’t stop thinking about, or we want with all our hearts.
  • Priorities: Anything we put before God.

In our context, these could be good things! But if how much we focus on them hinders us from loving God the most, then we have other gods before GOD. And that’s not good.

Examples:

  • Addictions (It could be drugs/alcohol, or it could be to food, sex, social media, games, even exercise.)
  • Money & Consumerism
  • Career & Dreams
  • Food
  • Friends
  • Having Nice Things
  • Health & Beauty
  • Home
  • Family
  • Happiness & Fun

People trust these things for abundant life. But Jesus came to give us true abundant life (John 10:10).

A test: How much time do we spend on these things listed above? How much energy? How much of our day-to-day thoughts go them? How much of our resources are devoted to them?

Is God getting the leftovers? Or none at all?

For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

(Romans 11:36 – 12:2, NIV)

On Sunday, I sacrifice a desire to be a civil, respectable adult in order to worship God with my heart, soul, mind, and the strength of my body.  A real heart test is to see if I am doing the same “true and proper worship” on Monday through Saturday… (not just when I play worship songs on Pandora, or read Scripture or pray) — to sacrifice my body out of love for God, for my life to be changed for the better because God’s Word has renewed my mind so much that I’m living in God’s will.

This reminds me of a song that has resurfaced in my life recently: “Clear the Stage” by (proud Aggie – WHOOP!) Jimmy Needham. (Watch the powerful lyric video here.)

You can sing all you want to
 and still get it wrong

Worship is more than a song

(Jimmy Needham, “Clear the Stage”)

This doesn’t mean I’m living perfectly, but moment by moment I can approach God’s throne for mercy and grace to live a life “worthy of the calling” (Ephesians 4:1) — full of a Christ-focused, others-loving, Spirit-led hope and compassion. I can’t earn my way to heaven, and I can’t earn a heaven-filled life here.

For we do not have a high priest [referring to Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

(Hebrews 4:15-16, NIV)

When We Worship

What does worship do?

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

1 Samuel 16:7b

I hope by now you’re getting the picture that God looks at our hearts. Not the outward appearance. Showing up to church and going through the motions doesn’t do a whole lot.

“These people honor me with their lips,

    but their hearts are far from me.

They worship me in vain;

    their teachings are merely human rules.”

(Matthew 15:8-9, NIV)

I could dance my little heart out in church, fall on my knees, raise my hands, shout, clap… but if these actions aren’t an overflow of my heart, a true expression of my love for God, then it’s all meaningless.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV)

Love matters. Worship matters.

[Jesus said,] “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

(John 4:23-24, NRSV)

When we worship God truly from our very spirit, here’s a small portion of things that take place:

We enter more fully into THE CREATOR’s presence through Jesus.

Our hearts and lives become more aligned with God’s.

God’s heart is blessed, and He rejoices over us! (Zephaniah 3:17)

We join all of creation and the angels in celebrating God. (NOW THAT’S A PARTY!)

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
    for ever and ever!”

The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.(Revelation 5:11-14, NIV)

We experience the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. (God in charge… all things new… all things beautiful.)

People around us are encouraged, and lives are changed for eternity. 

Salvations, healings, miracles can happen. 

We battle our way to victory, and people are set free! –set free from death… from purposeless living… from addictions… from physical and mental illnesses… from shame… from sin… from whatever kept us in bondage before…

Check this out:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

(Acts 16:25-31)

What?! This is the power available when we worship!

Kind of makes me want to sing a little louder…

MY FINAL RESPONSE

So here we are… let’s go back to the start, where my friend said, “I’ve never seen anyone worship as hard as you.”

My response is, let’s change that.

I’ll say it again: Let’s change that!

Let’s call ourselves and each other up to another level of passion for the Lord. Passion that overflows every day of the week.

On Sundays, let’s stop being thermometers, and start being thermostats: setting the temperature of the room to be on fire for God’s presence! Let’s go into church believing God has more for us to experience than rote religious tradition… because He does! I’ve experienced so much more of Him than I could imagine years ago. It’s amazing! Let’s listen with expectation that we will hear what God is saying. Let’s worship with expectation that God will move mightily. 

Let’s help each other create an atmosphere of freedom that allows people to be themselves before God. Think about how we can be the most honest before God and each other. This creates true spiritual connections. If you need to submit to God, it might help you to bow down physically until your heart follows. If you’re feeling broken, it’s ok to cry to the Lord and ask the person next to you for prayer. If you’re feeling grateful, let it out in whatever way comes natural to you!

In a worship service, I have personally witnessed (otherwise civil) GROWN MEN dancing with all their might before the Lord, and laying down before Him, in worship.

So go ahead, do what you gotta do to be honest and get right with God. (You won’t be able to hide in the end anyways.)

I’m not saying if you’re a quiet type that you have to get rowdy… just join me in growing to love God more fully each day, and growing to be the same people inside church that we are outside of church (and vice versa). But… I bet in heaven you will get a little rowdy. I believe everyone will in some way. We’ll be pretty excited when we’ve seen all God has done for us, our loved ones, and the whole world. So why not get used to it now? It’s gonna be LOUD!

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.

[…] I heard what sounded like the ROAR of a great multitude in heaven shouting:

“Hallelujah!

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God…”

(Revelation 7:9a & 19:1, NIV)

Who am I in this picture? Just another worshipper loved intimately by God… an introvert with a quiet voice that tends to get lost in the background.

But in WORSHIP…!!!  

He’s worth it.

Music, Emotions, & Worship

Recently a friend raised a question about emotionalism in worship music. We want to make sure we’re actually responding to God in worship, and not just responding to music.  I’ve been at this for a long time, and have learned from worship leaders in a variety of denominations and settings… so here’s my take on it as a worship leader.

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Exposed two photos together to make an inspiring image for myself. – Photography Class 2004 –

Music, emotions, and worship are closely connected. My wedding songs, for example, flood my mind with emotion-filled memories, stirring affections and emotional connection with my husband… I can let these feelings lead me to worship my husband or worship the God who gave me my husband.

So is it misleading to respond emotionally in worship to God? Not necessarily. God wants us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength… emotions and stirring affections are definitely part of that!

A test I’ve used for myself is to assess whether I’m still stirring affections for God and declaring God’s worth (worship) in my everyday life, through words and actions… no matter if there’s worship music playing, and no matter who’s around. If I’m not, then yeah… I’m probably more responding to the music than to my God.

LEADING WORSHIP: Worshipping through Playing/Singing

As a worship leader and songwriter, I choose lyrics that help stir our affections for God, to help us respond to him in awe, reverence, gratitude, faith, love, etc.  I choose music that and melodies that help us connect with God through these creative elements.

As a musician, I worship God through my voice and guitar, in a way that hopefully leads other people deeper into worship.  For example, as I hear the Holy Spirit emphasizing the power of God, I might crank up my overdrive and strum a big power chord, or I might yell out in spiritual warfare.  This connects the Spiritual atmosphere to the physical atmosphere… helping us hear and feel the Spiritual realities of a powerful God with us.

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As I hear the Spirit emphasizing the tender affection of God, I might use a warm tone and play light picking that seems to surround us with sound like a lullaby, or I might sing gently, reminding us of the nearness of God.  As I hear the Spirit emphasizing the beauty of God, I might add some reverb and delay and play some nice swelling notes, or I might sing extended phrases that add some flair to a song. I’m basically communicating through my instruments what the Spirit is saying.

blog1Playing/singing from an attitude of worship can help us hear what the Spirit is saying through the atmosphere set by the music.  As I play, I picture the sounds going straight to heaven in adoration of who God is and all He’s done for me. My emotions are stirred, and my heart grows in affection for God. And I pray it’s contagious.

I even believe emotional stirring through music helps in our commitment to the way of Jesus…

as we respond to God, we worship;

as we worship, our love for God grows;

as our love for God grows, our love for people grows;

as our love for people grows, we’re more likely to obey God in our everyday life;

as we obey God, we live a lifestyle of worship… daily stirring affections for God and living out his calling to join Him in restoring the world with hearts full of love, peace, and joy!

12 Keys to Freedom: Unlocking Peace and Joy

If you’ve ever seen me in a worship context, some of the descriptions of me that might come to mind are: freedom… joy…

Well, I wasn’t always this way.

I remember a few years back attending a marriage conference, and we had time to reflect on areas we needed growth in. It was hard for me to realize that I was sorely lacking in peace and joy.

I spent a significant amount of time on psychotropics and in therapy for anxiety and panic attacks, being imprisoned by my own fears.  I was bound in chains by my mind and emotions, and kept from living fully.

I was writing songs of love, and yet not fully experiencing it. My mental health suffered.

The medication and counseling helped some, but it wasn’t those approaches that set me free. It was actually through abundant grace in seasons of suffering that Jesus brought me to a place of PEACE, JOY, and FREEDOM! During the marriage conference, I had prayed for an increase in those, and God has been faithful to do so… although the journey was difficult and only something that only God could do.

Mental health, anxiety, depression, personality disorders… all these are things that people inside and outside of the Church struggle with. Counseling is almost always a good idea… no matter where you’re at in the journey.  If you feel you need medication to calm your body and brain connections while you walk toward freedom, there is no shame in that either! There is no shame with me, or with Jesus. Come as you are, so we can talk about it openly, and walk together toward victory and freedom. 

I had a couple of HARD years, yet God has given me more peace and true joy (not just happiness) than I’ve ever known before.

Everything inside of me is ROARING like a lion to set you free! BUT, my wisdom can’t do that. 

HOWEVER, “If the son sets free, you will be free indeed!” (John 8:36)

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Here are 12 keys* I’ve learned from Him in the journey to my freedom. I hope you will seek His guidance to freedom as well! Maybe take one key each day for the next two weeks to consider and pray about. 

1. Peace and joy are fruits of the Holy Spirit. Build your relationship with God, ask to be filled with the Spirit, and for wisdom to overcome fear and hopelessness.

2. Remember Scripture calls fear a spirit: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). We who are in Christ have authority over spirits! You can command him away in Jesus’ name. Replace that spirit by asking the Holy Spirit to fill that void.

3. Forgive yourself, forgive others. Allow Christ to forgive you and others through you. Love them. Ongoing forgiveness leads to true freedom on so many levels! Think specific. (For example: “Forgive this filmmaker that made this disturbing scene that is opening up a gate in my mind for fear to come in.” “Forgive me for not remembering that I am a beloved daughter of the King and so allowing fear of people’s thoughts about me to bring shame into my life.” “Forgive my parent for not speaking hope into me as a child in this instance […].” “Forgive this leader in my life for not leading me from a place of security and joy.”)

4. Worship… not just on Sundays, but in every moment. Focus on how God loves you and has been good to you. Love others out of this love. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18a).

5. Don’t fear suffering. Remember God works all things for good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), grace is sufficient for weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9), and mercies are new every morning:

I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:19-26 (NIV)

 

6. Remember how God faithfully led you in the past, and trust He will continue in the future. As you depend on God, He will give you enough strength for just what He’s calling you to do in each season. (Let the rest go.)

7. Fix your spiritual eyes on Christ. Meditate on Scripture. Ask God to keep showing you the good way to go.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV)

8. Allow yourself to live… allow yourself to let go… allow yourself to have sabbath rest. Cast your cares on God. You can’t control it all, and you can’t solve all the world’s problems. 

9. Take authority in Christ. Claim victory in Jesus; don’t live as a victim in defeat. Remember that angels are fighting for us. 

This is the last thing I want to say: Be strong with the Lord’s strength. Put on the things God gives you to fight with. Then you will not fall into the traps of the devil. Our fight is not with people. It is against the leaders and the powers and the spirits of darkness in this world. It is against the demon world that works in the heavens. Because of this, put on all the things God gives you to fight with. Then you will be able to stand in that sinful day. When it is all over, you will still be standing. 

So stand up and do not be moved. Wear a belt of truth around your body. Wear a piece of iron over your chest which is being right with God. Wear shoes on your feet which are the Good News of peace. Most important of all, you need a covering of faith in front of you. This is to put out the fire-arrows of the devil. The covering for your head is that you have been saved from the punishment of sin. Take the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

You must pray at all times as the Holy Spirit leads you to pray. Pray for the things that are needed. You must watch and keep on praying. Remember to pray for all Christians.

Ephesians 6:10-18 (NLV)

10. Live in the moment. Pay attention to things, big and small, that are beautiful to you. Thank God for them. “Gratitude breeds joy.”

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV)

11. Surround yourself with life-giving people who are full of the Holy Spirit. Connection helps everything.

12. Remember the ultimate hope is the reign of God on earth and in heaven… someday ALL will be made new!  Ultimately we cannot work our way to freedom. Freedom is a gift… receive it as such!

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

*One important disclaimer: These are all keys… but NOT the door.

Jesus said:

 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

John 10:9-10 (NKJV)

Principles don’t save us; Jesus does.  All of these keys are simply relationship builders to help us trust the one who can give us an abundant life filled with peace and joy. So above all, we seek to know and love Him as a person, and we simply receive the mental, emotional, and spiritual freedom that He offers us.

But we don’t do this alone. I pray as you walk toward freedom, you take others along on the journey as well!

Much love.

Learning to Co-Write Life

I try to hear what God is saying in each season, so I can continue learning and growing. Then I like to pass on those lessons to whomever will receive them.

Co-Writing Songs, Co-Writing Life

Recently, I’ve been growing in community. Here are three things I’ve learned through working with others as a songwriter and a family member. 

Prune and Pursue

Be willing to let some things go to pursue better things.

John 15:2b “[…] every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

“I could choose… but I choose you. You’re worth it all.” (I Choose)

songwriting teamIn January, my church’s songwriting team looked back on 2018 and found we had almost 40 songs available to develop or finalize. But in the whole year, only 1 was used, and about 5-7 songs were in the production process. Part of this was because excellent songwriting takes time, but we also had to figure out what was most worth pursuing. In our first 2019 meeting, we had to humble ourselves to sideline a lot of songs. As hard as it was to let go, this allowed us to focus on developing our strongest few songs (the ones right for our congregation now) into the best songs they could be. Personally, this helped me edit two songs in one week!

sandyAround this time, I had a choice to make: I could be concerned about getting Sandy, my cellist, in to record her final two songs before moving to Seattle, OR I could live my lyrics. After 4 years of preparing to record, I finally was able to start… but then my Grandpa began the dying process late-January, up in Rochester. As I was praying about what to do, the phrase “ministry of presence” came to mind. I knew God wanted me to go. My cellist affirmed it, reminding me that it’s good to live my lyrics. As hard as it was to let go of the recording goal, I was glad to obey… knowing I was in the center of God’s will for me gave me peace, and I had joy that I was able to show love to my Grandpa and my family by setting aside my everyday life in order to help in his care. This has been a fruitful time in so many ways. I’m trusting even more fruit will come from this time, and from the music because I allowed the pruning, and pursued the better.

Iron Sharpens Iron

Better things come from collaboration.

Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

“We’ve all got a lot to say… but who’s gonna listen?” (Heartbeat)

I brought in a song. With a few minor tweaks, we all thought it was basically done. But then, little by little, more tweaks came… until it became a very different song altogether. Bekah noticed something didn’t quite flow. Ryan noticed the concept could use some developing in consistency. Josh suggested simplifying the verses. Bekah suggested a couple melody shifts. Each of these critiques not only improved the song, but challenged me to dig deeper to figure out what God really wanted to say through the song. The concept went from simple declarations of trust, to exploring the purpose of God calling us out into hard places. I’ve learned a lot about this by experience, and, looking back at the process, I believe God wanted me to share these Scripture-based insights through this song, so people can know Him better. Had I not opened this song up to serious critique from my church family, and just left it at the initial feedback, I never would have written the very thing that I needed to share through this song.  

togetherMy first night in caring for my dying Grandpa was a bit rough. I had only been there a couple days and was just getting the hang of his needs. But I felt ready to do what I had come here to do. My Uncle slept in the chair next to Grandpa. I was on the other side, praying I’d be awake when Grandpa had a need. There were a few times when I tried to do something, but my Uncle either questioned my choice or told me after how I could’ve done it better. I could’ve gotten defensive and angry, allowing my pride at being grown and an experienced caregiver to dictate my response. Instead, realizing his heart for Grandpa to receive the best care possible, God helped me choose to listen and respect his correction for next time. Following that night, it got a lot smoother.

Beauty of the Body

We all play our part.

1 Corinthians 12:14 “Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.”

“You’re not good enough, and I’m not good enough… but love can make a way.” (Love Can Make a Way)

chordEven though we all go to the same church, and we’re writing for the same church, our songs are as diverse as the people on the team. Cultural background, church history, theological understanding, music interest, and passions all play a part in bringing a unique song. Ryan’s songs sometimes have a bit of an Irish flavor, and he is incredible at writing modern hymns. In editing, he’s been my chord variation and lyric critique guy. Bekah’s songs have been great at portraying profound truth in simple phrasing. She’s my melody critique. My songs tend to be filled with story and imagery. I mostly help with lyric improvements and making songs more congregational-friendly. Other team members have written differently and added editing value in unique ways. Critiques are all done with love for each other and our city, and a commitment to excellence that reflects how incredible our God is. Once a song goes through our team, it might have a slightly different flavor than the writer brought, but it’s usually a much better version in the end. If any of our teammates are missing from the process, we feel it, and the song suffers. BUT when everyone comes together, it’s a beautiful thing, with powerful results! The variety of songs that are developing is a picture of the body of Christ at work; the diverse work will reach way more people that one person could alone!

Mom BumpaIn caring for my dying Grandpa, the beauty of a family (and community) coming together is unmistakable. We could all focus on saying our goodbyes to Grandpa, the family home, and generations of memories within, because of everyone doing their part. My sister took care of chores at Mom’s house, and I stayed at Grandpa’s to do “night shift” care. My mom came between bus runs, led medical care, and stayed some nights. My Aunt Sue came in from Florida to help, my Uncle Kerry took a leave of absence from work in order to spend nights (and days) with him, and my cousin Craig and his wife Emilee spent almost every day helping. Family members and friends came evenings and weekends. North Greece ambulance brought oxygen tanks when our power went out, and our community provided abundant meals to us throughout the process. Hospice care tried discouraging our family from taking on Grandpa’s care at home, but we have lived like the body of Christ, each doing our part to honor our Grandpa’s wishes and give him loving care at home in his final days this side of heaven.

Just like songwriting, life is done better together, isn’t it?

Reminders through a Music Binder

Recently I went through years of music stuff to reorganize and consolidate a bit. As I went through this worship leading binder, I couldn’t help but reflect on God’s faithfulness.

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This was a night God wanted me to see songs that I’ve led/sung through the years that have each brought my faith to the next level… at St Paul, Naz, Basileia, Cru, RWC, Honduras, Camp Cherith, Chili Pres, Dominican Republic, MSW fellowship, First Church in CT, Fellowship Church in TX, ARBC, Brookhaven, and now Awaken… the song styles have changed tremendously, but the spirit and truth has remained the same. This is why I keep these songs…

With each song, I see an unchanging God, faithful in every step. 

  • I remember connecting with God as a child when my Dad had us lead “Here I Am, Lord” in church.
  • When I see “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever,” I remember being taught what it was to truly be a worship leader at Basiliea.
  • I’m reminded of when my hubby first taught me a worship song (“Light the Fire”) as new friends at Cru, and how much I’ve loved ministering alongside him over the years.
  • “Your Love Never Fails” brings me back to my hubby, sis, and me first really connecting as worshippers, and how hubby and I got to lead this song at sis’s wedding.
  • I remember learning “Never Once” when we first moved to Texas, and how “never once did we ever walk alone;” God showed Himself so faithful in our Texas journey!
  • I’m reminded of stepping out in faith to move to Charleston after learning “Oceans,” and how God led us all the way (<my new song in the works!>).

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This is just a glimpse of my story of God’s faithfulness. 

I’ve come so far in my faith, worship, and worship leading. But sometimes I need these reminders of how far God has brought me. Today was one of those days. When I remember how the Lord led me all the way, hope builds in me again for the future. I do not have to prove myself to any person or push any timing. God made me to be a worship leader through the creative arts, and He is writing my story.

Are you allowing Him to write yours?