If you’re reading this, you probably have some sort of affinity to music and are well-versed in Christian worship songs. There could have been a moment when a leader in your church or small group asked if you would like to lead worship on some occasions. In such instances, many of us —myself included— immediately attempt to learn from all the mental models of worship-leading we have built, from what we have seen on the platform in our local churches to videos of our favourite global worship leaders. What we have observed and experienced positively very often becomes an example for us to follow, out of a desire to serve the Lord and His people excellently.
And in the pursuit of excellence we sometimes (unconsciously even!) allow our self-identified representations of worship-leading to shape our notions of worshipping the Lord in song. We start to associate it with the right words to say, the best ad-libs, the most appropriate transitions and dynamic ranges, or even with the ‘most anointed’ songs we so love to worship with. All these things are absolutely important in creating an atmosphere of worship in a congregational context. But what if we’ve let the leading of worship influence the meaning of worship?
Worship was never meant to be a culmination of practices and methods, but rather a posture of the heart. Where then, does the Bible talk about the heart of one who plays music unto God? This may come as a surprise to some of us — the Bible does not record any words for ‘worship leader' when it comes to singing songs unto the Lord. There is, however, the term ‘psalmist', which only appears one time in the KJV Bible. In 2 Samuel 23, David is described as the sweet psalmist of Israel. The word for psalmist, zamiyr, denotes the playing of songs in communion with the Lord (Psalm 95:2, Psalm 119:54). If we took a look at David’s life laid out in the Psalms, we’d see a man ever-conscious of the relationship he had with God. The sweet spirit that he carried in the form of a tender willingness to lay down his heart before the Lord became the mark of his life as a psalmist.
Below the outward representations of songs and worshipful atmospheres is the heart of such a psalmist. A heart that longs for the Lord and says “my soul thirsts for You”, just as David penned down. A heart so ready to open its doors to the Lord and to surrender to His love. A heart that acknowledges relationship and closeness with Him. That is worship.
It is one thing to know you have a relationship with someone in your head, but to encounter and experience this relationship in your heart is quite another. Perhaps Isaiah’s prophecy encapsulates the struggle we fall prey to sometimes: drawing near God with our mouths but not our hearts, with our ideas of what it means to worship taught by the commandment of men (Isaiah 29:13). This could be a good time to ask ourselves — how have the teachings and observed ways of men (things we have taught ourselves about the outward forms of worship) shaped our journeys of worshipping God in music and song? Have these things grown to overshadow the posture of raw and honest intimacy with God that our hearts were made to crave for?
Simply put, a psalmist carries a heart that is ever-ready to respond to God's call for a relationship. Even now, He desires intimacy with you and is waiting to pour His affections upon you if you would be willing to receive it. He wants to reveal to you how irresistibly easy it is to yield your heart into His careful loving hands.
We are psalmists before we are worship leaders. Let’s rediscover that pure and simple place of responding to God's love, and fully enjoy the honour of communing with Him through our melodies.