Abiding: How to Hear God’s Voice

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.    John 15:1-4
In my home church, Vineyard Concord, we take the month of July for a time we call Summer Sabbath.  We suspend our midweek meetings, along with our kids and youth churches.  Our Sunday mornings together are called “All-In;” and we have a very simple worship time with a couple of activities all ages can do together.    During Summer Sabbath, the worship band is pared down It’s a couple of us on acoustic guitars and maybe someone on box drum.  I ask all of the worship team to serve in one year terms, which start in August. Summer Sabbath is also a time set aside so we can listen to God and decide together if they’re going to sign on for the coming year. We end Summer Sabbath with the whole congregation getting together for a picnic in a local park.
When we first started explaining Summer Sabbath a few years ago, some people got the impression that it was basically a time to give the church staff and leaders a break.  This does happen, but really, for us, Summer Sabbath is a season to abide in the Father and prune back our activities to allow us to bear better fruit in the coming year.  We encourage each other to embrace a rhythm of life where we take time to read, reflect, pray and hear God’s voice, so we can go and do the things we hear Him saying.  My wife, Linda, writes a weekly blog during this time, called Abiding, to help focus our thoughts and prayers.
Other churches we are in relationship with in our valley encourage their congregations to do the same. To join in and embrace Summer Sabbath as a time to intentionally rest in Him.  We may not be able to actually take a vacation or scale back our work schedules, but we intentionally find ways and time to connect with the Father’s heart, which we may neglect when we’re busy with fruit bearing times of our lives.  Our goal is to establish a rhythm in our lives of resting then working to bear fruit.
During the rest of the year, we talk about and encourage everyone to find a rest/work balance within the day, within each week, in every season. Life is not a marathon with a few weeks (if we are lucky) off for vacations in the summer. Life is about rhythm. All of creation reflects this truth. The seasons, each having a specific, rhythmic purpose, in order. Breathing in, breathing out. Daytime and nighttime. Work and sleep. We are created for both. Each has its own specific purpose in our physical and emotional and spiritual well being. God created it all, knowing how He made us. And by acknowledging this fact, we humble ourselves, admitting we are the created, and we honor His design in us. True, we easily get knocked out of rhythm in our lives.
To be sure, there are days, weeks, seasons where the call is to be intense and intentional about something, and we will needfully put aside rest or work. New babies come to mind. Or job changes or illness, or any number of life interruptions. But we must go back and find the rhythm we were created for and acknowledge it is designed for our good. We function best when we agree with God about who He says we are and how He made us. After all, we are the created, He alone is the creator. We honor Him when we recognize and by our actions agree with this.
Our Summer Sabbath begins on first Sunday after July 4th and runs through the last Sunday in July. Join us! I’d recommend seeing what daily and weekly activities you can put aside for the time, diving into the word and prayer, (we use the  Moravian Texts as our daily readings and the Abiding blog), to hear His voice. Then reflecting on what God is saying to you, now in this season of life. Listen to His direction for your upcoming season, year.  Since I’m mainly writing for worship leaders here, I want to challenge you to get in there and make this a rhythm of abiding. Daily, weekly, seasonally, annually, recognize your need to both bear fruit and abide. You’ll draw closer to the Father’s heart, and your ability to lead others will be more fruitful.197392_10150103597568862_3232886_n
Note: Moravian texts are a daily set of 3 or 4 sections of scripture, which can be emailed directly to you every morning.  They aren’t selling anything and they won’t flood your inbox.  It’s just a daily scripture reading resource.  We use it as something we can do as a church family. 

 

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Following

Last weekend, something happened for the first time in my life as a worship leader.  I came down with a bad stomach bug and couldn’t lead.  I had to ask Becca, one of our other leaders, to fill in for me at the last minute.  As it turned out, I ended up going in to run the audio, which gave me a chance to see something encouraging. Becca leads worship a lot like me.  She has the concept of leading people into God’s presence and getting out of the way deeply imbedded in her nature.  She thoughtfully put together a group of songs that engaged well, and led them with confidence and skill.  She didn’t draw attention to mistakes and did a solid job leading the band. Even though I wasn’t feeling too well, it was good for me to be there to see it.  I’ve only seen her lead in “I lead, you help”, or “you lead, I help” situations.  This time, she was leading and i was watching.  She led the way she leads, which looks a lot like the way I lead.  I’d feel confident having her teach a new worship leader, and she has a daughter coming along who just might be that next one. There’s a saying in churches that people are hired for skill and fired for character.  I knew quite a bit about Becca’s character development before she developed worship leading skills.  It’s easy to see her lasting for the long run, because the personal, family and community relationships are strong.  Character outweighs competence, but in this case, both parts are doing really well. photo

Holy Week in Diablo Valley

 

 

 

401996_10200540315486888_1912593282_nThe week before Easter is one of the very best times of the year, here in the Diablo Valley.  I’m aware of the irony in that last sentence.  Our hometown area has a dominant feature.  Mt. Diablo is about 4,000 feet in elevation, with a nearly as tall north peak joined to it.  It’s a beautiful mountain, and it has an incredible view from its peak.  The legend I choose to believe about the mountain is that the Spanish originally named it “Montaña Doble”, or double mountain.  When American settlers came in, they renamed it Diablo and came up with some Native American legend about what went on up there in ancient times.  I think they just didn’t understand Spanish very well.

Here in Diablo Valley, we have a multi-denominational family of churches named Church Without Shoes.  During holy week, we share in 40 hour prayer time on Monday and Tuesday, followed by a community wide communion service on Maundy Thursday.  There are about 35 churches involved, to varying degrees.  The pastors even go on a yearly retreat together.

This year, the worship band for Maundy Thursday consists of 13 musicians and tech folks from 9 churches.  We play pretty universally known worship songs, but the biggest thing going on is relationship.  We’re excited to see how God will use us together in worship, in relationship and in mission.

Have a great Easter Week!

Heart

 

Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
 when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love

don
t for a moment escape Gods notice. Psalm 51:16-17 MSG

 Recently, a young family man suddenly died.  He was a friend of our family since childhood.  We are heartbroken.  As I hugged his stepfather after the funeral, to express my sympathy, he said “We have hope, because he’s with Jesus now, and we’ll see him again.”  On a very dark day, I could hear God speaking through him and giving both of us comfort.  The young man and his family are Catholic, many people in my home church know the family and share in their grief.

 For a worship leader, there’s challenge in times like these.  Hard times for ourselves and people we love are kairos moments, revealing our depth of character and strength of heart.  If we’re going through the motions in regular days, we’re going to come up very short in extraordinary ones.  The moment will swallow us up, and we won’t be the leaders were called to be.  How do we prepare our hearts?

 Well, in the section of Psalm 51 above, it looks as though we need shattered pride and hearts.  From experience, I can tell you it’s true.  But the shattering isn’t as bad as it sounds; because we don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.  When people say bad things about us, our family members are sick, or we’re out of money, God loves us.  When we pour out our hearts to Him and come to Him every day, He loves us.  He does answer prayers.  As worship leaders (or for any believer), it’s imperative we develop our relationship with Him through His Word and through prayer.

 Here’s a good way to start a rhythm.  Read the Moravian texts each morning (moravian.org).  It has a weird name, but trust me, it’s just a daily journey through scripture.  You can have it emailed to your inbox every morning.  Spend a few minutes reflecting on something in those verses that strikes you.  At first it may seem rote and boring, but if you stick with it, you’ll be amazed at what comes to you.

 Next, when you pray, start out with being thankful.  Here’s something cool Linda and I started doing.  Get some small river rocks.  As you pray for something, get out your Sharpie and write it on the rock.  Put the rock in a jar.  Keep praying the prayers and adding rocks. When the prayer is answered, move the rock to another jar containing rocks with answered prayers.  Go through the rocks often, giving thanks for the answered prayers and continuing with the ones still on your heart.

 Your heart will grow three sizes.  It will show in your worship leading.