One of my favorite recent songs has been “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. I bet you may have heard it a few too many times, but it’s hard to be unhappy when Happy comes on. It’s an unavoidably effective mood lifter. Even now, writing about it, I can’t get the song out of my head! It isn’t a “worship song” or even a “Christian” song, but it moves me. My own thought is that music, no matter the genre or category, has the potential to be inspired by God. God gave us music and song, and sometimes in the act of writing or singing we touch on the heart or intention of that creation. But that’s just me.
One of my favorite worship leading examples might surprise you. It happened during the seventh inning stretch of a 2012 National League Championship Series game. Tony Bennett came out on the field at AT&T Park in San Francisco to sing God Bless America. I love Tony Bennett. He’s had an amazing life and an incredibly long singing career. The man is 87 years old, and still sounds awesome. The crowd always responds to him well here. After all, he left his heart here. So, Tony started singing. Subdued at first, he seemed respectful of the God he was asking to bless America. His voice rose as he asked God in to bless America in particular places (mountains, prairies, oceans). Then his voice rose in power as he sang God bless America, my home sweet home. He could have continued on singing to complete what was building to be one of those “goose bump” performances. But he took a moment to engage the people, shouting “Everybody”! Then you hear 40,000+ people belt out the last line and high note. I was watching on television, but felt like I should join in too. I believed Tony believed every word he was singing to the very depth of his soul. I’m sure many of the people in the crowd probably didn’t even believe in God, but Tony Bennett did, and he made the most of it. The Giants ended up winning the World Series, but I don’t think God intervened on their behalf. I’m an Oakland A’s fan.
Maybe we won’t have the chance to lead 40,000 people in song, but we can use the chances we do have to do it with the most we have to give. My wife, Linda, has a sign she gives me sometimes when I’m leading worship. With a smile, she’ll tap her heart with her fist, sometimes after a technical band or sound distraction, or something else that has distracted me from engaging with the meaning of a song. It’s a reminder to invest or go deep into the words I’m leading. I have no problem reading her. It doesn’t mean get louder or more emotional. It means to put everything into it. Set aside the distraction. Remember who this is all about. I haven’t always had the ability to do this. But through the years, time spent sitting alone with God, my bible, my notebook and my guitar, has helped me engage in the moment, stay present at a personal level that becomes training for the corporate level. There’s an investment of time spent abiding. You can’t fake depth of meaning for very long without investing in the relationship. You’ll be putting on a performance, which is great for someone who’s performing, but leading people in worship is different. Great skill and talent are awesome tools to have, but the ability to lead others in meaningful worship is about relationship. Relationship with the God we come together to worship.
Check out Tony Bennett. Maybe I’m overstating what he does here, because he really is a hero of mine. Check it out a few times and see what God says to you.