If I'm honest, I often feel like I fail more than I succeed at being both a worshiper and worship leader. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I've got this ever-wandering heart that can manufacture sin and fashion an idol out of just about any raw material--including worship.
I've had many interesting conversations with people over the years that all give me the sense that we Christians tend to, either consciously or sub-consciously, use our experience in worship as a spiritual barometer. If worship was amazing, moving, powerful, and life-changing, we feel pretty good about ourselves and our state before God. If worship was laborious, taxing, stoic, and shallow, we often (if we're not criticizing the worship leaders and planners for a crummy service) turn inward and blame it on a week riddled with sin, staying up too late on Saturday night, or not cultivating the private life of piety we should.
As a worship leader, I confess to these ups and downs on a regular basis. I confess my spiritual bipolarity--great services send me into euphoria; ho-hum services make me miserable. Worse yet, bad services make me feel like there's something wrong between me and God. Lord, have mercy.
Shortly after the Doxology and Theology Conference this past November, God spoke a liberating Word into my heart about all of this. It's something I know, but I heard it in a fresh, freeing, and more deeply eye-opening way. The conference handed out Ron Man's excellent little exegetical treatise Proclamation and Praise: Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship, which pointed me to this truth from Hebrews 2:11-12:
So Jesus is not ashamed to call [us] brothers and sisters. He says,
"I will declare Your name to my brothers and sisters;
In the presence of the congregation I will sing Your praises."
I've read this passage many times. It's never made me weep with joy until now. Of the many things I receive, imputed to me from Jesus' perfect life, I receive His worship. Jesus was an earth-bound worshiper of God at one time, just like me. Jesus regularly went to church (the corporate worship of the synagogue) and worshiped, just like me. Jesus prayed the prayers and engaged the liturgy and elements of worship, just like me. He listened to the teaching/preaching/exposition of the Word, just like me. Jesus sang hymns, just like me. And He did it all perfectly, unlike me. And the mind-blowing good news for me is that Jesus' perfection was for me and credited to me. I get to claim Jesus' worship as my own. In light of all my bad worship and failed doxological record, that, my friends, is called a get out of jail free card.
Greater than that, Hebrews 2:12 tells me something even more profound. It tells me that while I'm praising God with the assembly--"in the presence of the congregation"--Jesus stands next to us, praising God alongside us. Jesus is perfecting our worship in that very moment, too. He's standing in our midst, singing, praying, and listening along, in real time, in real space. He's also declaring God's name to us, meaning He's encouraging us to worship, cheering us on. He's Prophet, Priest, King, and Cheerleader.
Nearly every Sunday now, as I lead worship, I have a kind of Braveheart experience. At the end of that movie, as Mel Gibson is being tortured on his death-table, he looks out into the mixed crowd of haters and sympathizers and suddenly fixates on a single figure, calmly moving through the crowd, eyes locked on his. It's his wife, who had died previously and awaits his arrival in the afterlife. It's a gripping scene. When I lead worship now, as I look out on the mixed crowd of hand-raised charismaniacs and bored stiff yawners, I envision my Lord walking among us, singing as He goes, praying as He goes, encouraging as He goes. I see Him declaring God's name to my brothers and sisters, and I hear Him singing God's praises amidst the congregation. And our broken, selfish, mucky, sinful praise becomes perfected praise, in that very moment.
The good news about our bad worship is that Jesus worships for us. He didn't just worship (past tense) for us, though that is remarkable enough. Fulfilling yet another glorious aspect of His High Priestly office, He worships (present tense), in real time, in our midst. And God the Father, through the power of the Spirit, sees Him...among us, through us, around us, and in us...and He loves it and revels in it.
What freeing news. This means that whether I had a good Sunday or bad Sunday, Jesus was there, making it the best Sunday, every time. Because of Jesus, God the Father loves my worship. This is the gospel, worship-style.