Is That Okay?
Inspiring and Facilitating Honest Worship
If the Psalms are God’s inspired hymnal, and a program for Christian worship, then, as songwriters and worship leaders, we have been given permission to explore many spaces that have remained virtually untouched. Emotions that we may feel unworthy or afraid to express. Topics that make us squirm. Places inside us that we are not proud of. For instance, when is the last time you heard a song in church that demands God ruthlessly avenge mistreatment? Check out these lyrics from Psalm 109:
May his children be fatherless
And his wife a widow!
May his children wander about and beg,
Seeking food far from the ruins they inhabit!
May the creditor seize all that he has;
May strangers plunder the fruits of his toil!
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
Nor any to pity his fatherless children!
How about a song about deepest despair?
For my soul is full of troubles,
And my life draws near to Sheol.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
I am a man who has no strength,
Like one set loose among the dead,
Like the slain that lie in the grave,
Like those whom you remember no more,
For they are cut off from your hand.
You have put me in the depths of the pit,
In the regions dark and deep.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
And you overwhelm me with all your waves.
While I’m not specifically advocating revenge hymns or dirges in our corporate gatherings, these oft-neglected types of songs (which comprise a substantial part of the blueprint for worship outlined in Scripture) certainly provide a license for unflinching honesty. The writers don’t doll up or domesticate their feelings or circumstances for public consumption, and we can take direction from that. We are in danger of forfeiting a whole field of intimacy when we edit ourselves in our interactions with God. Richness and depth of relationship, the drawing near and sharing of our hearts; this is what God desires. Much more than the honor that comes from our lips. An honest offering, even when empty-handed, is a treasure to our God.
Two practices have been particularly helpful as I strive to inspire and facilitate honest worship. The first is a “Feelings Check.” I picked this up from the twelve-step tradition and found it to be infinitely useful in being present. First, I ask myself how I’m feeling physically: tired, hungry, jaw clenched, shoulders tight, haven’t taken a deep breath in a while, ears ringing, left knee is sore, hurried. Next, emotionally: glad, lonely, sad, afraid. Last, I check in spiritually: secure and loved, a little disconnected, frustrated, small. This is one of the key ways that I “prepare my heart for worship.”
The second practice helps me to be aware of the people I am leading. Considering these two questions guide me, What do you need? Where does it hurt? We are called to rejoice with the rejoicing and weep with the weeping. To do this, we must have an awareness of what’s going on with those around us. Often when I’m writing songs or choosing songs for a worship set, I have someone from my congregation in mind who I want the music to speak to or for. You can trust that as we lead people to show up to worship with their needs and hurts as offerings, God will gladly and continually meet them there. Asking “What do you need?” or “Where does it hurt?” helps me to take the pulse of my people so that I can offer care accordingly.
May we feel the freedom, and seize the opportunity, to approach God boldly and honestly; and may we worship as God loves us: not as we should be, not as we wish we were, but as we are.
About Greg LaFollette
Greg LaFollette is an artist and spiritual director in Nashville, TN.