by Toby Manolis
Ask yourself right now, worship leader, worshipper, musician, dancer: Why am I doing this? Why do I lead worship? Why do I write songs? Why do I want to raise money to record an album or film a music video? Why do we have corporate dance? Ask these questions to yourself. Don’t be afraid of your response, even if you know in your heart that the response might not be the best response. Be brutally honest with God. I’ve found that the more brutally honest you are with God about yourself, the more He’ll show you His mercy, love, and all-sufficient grace. Don’t worry, God’s not waiting for you to be perfect in order to use you, but I think Scripture and experience have proved to us time and time again, that God wants a heart that’s His; that is aimed at His desires and not its own. He wants to use a heart that seeks to live out the dream He intended for it.
If I’m going to ask you to be brutally honest, then I’m going to be myself. I’ve been involved in worship in the Messianic community since 2006. It’s been amazing and it’s been difficult. I’ve been encouraged and discouraged. I’ve loved it and I’ve hated it. I’ve had mountaintop experiences, been a part of anointed worship sets, and have helped write songs that were complimented by others and even played by fellow worshippers in the movement. I’ve also had people tell me I wasn’t good at leading worship, have had worship sets fall flat, and have written songs that I’m sure weren’t winners. My wife and I have recorded an album and we’ve sold some CDs. Yet, at times I find myself discouraged. Like sometimes, I get focused on how many CDs we’ve sold; or how little we’ve sold, and why. One moment I’ll love the music we have created, then the next moment I’ll criticize it mercilessly. When I’m off the rollercoaster ride of loving and hating my ability to use my gifting, I hear a familiar voice ask: “Why are you doing this?” It’s in those moments where I realize that the motives of my heart need to be redirected.
A problem is how we as people tend to measure success: numbers/sales, awards, being booked up and busy. Come on. That’s how we tend to measure it. Now, sometimes success is measured by numbers, awards, and being booked up and busy. Sometimes. There’s everything right with God blessing certain musicians and worship leaders with musical careers and albums that sell. Yet, there’s everything wrong with thinking that because that’s not you, that you aren’t doing it right or not making a difference in the Kingdom.
Let’s look at two physical Biblical settings where important things happen: palaces and pastures. When I think of a palace, I think of high rank, honor, visible success. Palaces were at the center of attention. Kings lived in the palaces. Special guests and people who are honored are at the palaces. Special people sit at the table of the king at the palaces. When I think of a pasture, I think of a wide open field. Wilderness. The fringes. No important people gathered around. No important crowds. No important tables to sit at. There’s work to be done. There’s sheep to guide and protect. It’s not glamorous. It’s not luxurious. In my mind, it’s most worship leaders, serving congregations, on the front lines. BUT...the pasture was where Moses was trained and had his fateful encounter with God. It was where David was doing his job when Samuel showed up to his house looking for Israel’s next king.
Psalm 23, one of our most lauded songs, was written against the backdrop of the pasture, with God as the ultimate Shepherd. YES, God Himself is in the pasture. He is the Shepherd, we His sheep (Psalm 100). Yeshua, is the Good Shepherd (John 10). The pasture is just as important as the palace. I’m in no way saying that the idea of “the palace” always symbolizes success, and the pasture always symbolizes failure or the struggle to “make it”. Quite the contrary. Both can be places of great success and great failure. Both can be places to “make it”. Neither one is more important than the other, but the success to be had in both looks very different.
I think if you told David that Psalm 23 would be covered by so many Christian and Messianic artists, he’d be surprised. I don’t think David cared one bit about how successful or popular the song would be. I think he wrote it simply to proclaim who God was to him. God’s ear was the only ear David cared to reach. Earthly success was a far second, if it ever was a thought at all. Ironically, this is what made David the best man to be in the palace. David sought hard after God’s mind, heart, and opinion whether it was among throngs of followers or cluttered herds of sheep. David was a man after GOD’S OWN HEART, not DAVID’S OWN SUCCESS. David relentlessly strived for God, NOT for places of honor and influence. It is for this reason that David was a man who found success in the pasture AND eventually, the palace too.
King Saul, who began his life strong and could have had a great story of his own, instead becomes the infamous antagonist in David’s greater story as well as the textbook example of how success can ruin a man of God. We see Saul begin with a “new heart” and over years, tragically decay into self-glorification, as seen with the monuments he built unto himself, his excuses for his disobedience to God, and his burning jealousy of the unassuming servant-hearted David. Sadly, Saul simply could NOT stomach someone else being successful in his presence, even at the benefit of all Israel. Saul ONLY focused on the numbers to measure success. He couldn’t get over David’s “ten thousands” over his “thousands”. That’s not good, guys. Many of our forefathers in Scripture have allowed their success to rule them to their and others’ detriment. Fortunately, we also have good examples of men such as David and Hezekiah, both visibly successful men of God who struggled under the weight of their success at times but ultimately mastered their vices and ended their time in the palace honorably.
Wow! Sounds like I’m really ragging on visible success. Not at all. I’m simply highlighting the human condition. We like acceptance and affirmation. We like when others like what we do, but sometimes, in our insecurity, it becomes our main focus. Before we know it, what we do lives by the affirmation or dies by the criticism of ourselves or other people. In the realm of music and worship-leading, it’s a snare we need to be aware of.
Desire for visible success in worship ministry is still a good thing. There is no “nay-saying” here. I want to encourage you. Keep your dreams in your heart, just hold on to those dreams loosely. Are you willing to surrender and accept the possibility of God’s dream being different from yours? I promise His is better. He promises He is better. A truth we need to accept is that success isn’t always visible and noticed.
My advice to you is to play to the audience of One. Like David in the pasture, play unto God. If hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, or more show up along the way, so much the better. You get to minister to others and glorify God either way! Is it not enough to have God’s ear? I hope we, myself included, can grasp this revelation. I pray it for the good of the Kingdom! The glory is His. From Him. Through Him. For Him.