PRAISE TO YOU - REFLECTION
Not so long ago while in high school, I was choir president for a short while. Yup, I was the choir guy. But even before then in junior high, I was appointed co-choir director for the Sunday evening youth choir at my church. Let’s be real, you know you’re from a small town when you can’t grow facial hair yet, but you find yourself standing up in front of a group of teenagers waving your hands up and down and side to side to the tune of “Awesome God.” This, my friends, was my first experience with praise AND worship. At the time, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about leading a choir, but was I grateful for the chance to use my God-given gifts to give glory and praise to God? Absolutely, YES! Grateful in more ways than one: I was introduced to chord charts, learned all kinds of songs, and grew in my ability to lead. As if that wasn’t enough, more than likely, there was pizza involved afterwards. It was a win! As strange as it sound, I know in my heart that through all of this God was opening my eyes to see the journey he had chosen for me. Did I know it right then and there? Nope, and it took me a while to finally see it.
Moving forward several years later, before graduating high school, I served on a church retreat team and had a few opportunities to play music. There comes a moment when one goes from “playing music” to “leading worship.” And here was the jump. One night I was asked by my youth minister to lead my peers in worship for the weekly youth holy hour. This. Was. A. Big. Deal. I had only dreamed of leading worship and always looked up to the worship leaders who led us every week. Of course I accepted! To be asked was incredibly humbling and exciting, but honestly, I was ecstatic!
This leads me to share with you about my first experience ever as a worship leader, the first time I encountered God in worship. We all gathered in the chapel, the lights were dim and there before us was Jesus in the Eucharist, all eyes fixed on Him. Of course, in the moment, I felt like all eyes were on me. Man, I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. I was so afraid, so nervous, I wasn’t even sure I could open my mouth or even make a sound at all. But before I could give it another thought, we entered the holy hour with the Sign of the Cross, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.” I proceeded to lead a short prayer as my voice shook. Then, suddenly a wave of peace flowed throughout the room. It was the spirit of God. Every nerve, every fear, every doubt was put to rest. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am with them.” That is when I knew God was with us, His spirit was moving in us. As the night went on, I continued to lead song after song for the entire hour in such awe and wonder, feeling so much gratitude to worship in the presence of God. I will never forget the peace that covered us that night and the praise that echoed from within. I can remember imagining that the roof was opening up to heaven. The sound of praise was unlike anything I had ever heard! This was an experience that has led me to always enter into worship as if it were the first time.
I share this story with you today because, during this season of Lent, we are reflecting, praying and journeying with Psalm 51. It says, “Open my lips and my mouth shall proclaim Your praise.” That night in the chapel, I was fearful of what could go wrong in that moment rather than gazing straight in front of me at what had already gone right…JESUS and the joy of salvation! My role was to lead when I was desperately looking to be led. But in my doubt, the Lord sent His peace and a sound of praise filled every square inch of that place. God is so worthy of our praise, even in our doubt and brokenness. Even if our voice begins to shake, our mouths shall proclaim His praise for the good He has done!
At the beginning stages of creating and dreaming Series #1 of The Vigil Project, we came together as a group of artists to spend time in prayer and to begin the co-writing process that resulted in a music and video series of seven cohesive songs of worship for some of the Church’s most sacred seasons, Lent & Easter. “Praise To You” was the project’s debut song/video. It came from the inspiration to create a space for worship, to welcome the power of the Holy Spirit, and to glorify God in song and in prayer. During Lent, I think we’re mostly familiar with the Gospel Acclamation, “Praise To You, Lord, Jesus Christ, King of Endless Glory” in place of the Catholic “A-word”… that we don’t say or sing during Lent, you know “Al****ia?” So I proposed to the team the idea of introducing a familiar theme woven into the very heart of this project aimed at leading others into deep prayer and an authentic encounter with God. What is one of the greatest ways we encounter God? We give Him praise! As we journey through the season of Lent, sometimes we can get so lost in the desert that we forget we’ve already been given heaven! Because of the Cross, we have the chance for freedom with the angels and the saints for all of eternity!
This idea of gathering was an important element to our vision. This was not only an invitation for our little group to gather; it was an invitation to the world to gather, to praise, and to pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a brand new way. As a Church, when we gather, there is power in our praise, our prayer, and our unity. In John 4:23, it says the Father seeks those who worship in Spirit and truth. Worship begins with a heart of gratitude. It’s not something we do because we have to; it’s a response to the goodness of God and what He has done for us. Not only do we worship God because of what he has done, but also because of who He is. Worship is a gift and an opportunity to experience God’s love, and to receive the gift of himself to us. It is a gift that we should openly receive. God relentlessly pours grace, love, and life into us, and worship is our response.
In whatever way you know how, just give God what you have. I want to encourage you to open your heart and your mouth to praise God for the good that He has done in your life. It is my prayer that you would find joy in the salvation of the Cross, the gateway to heaven where we will one-day share in heaven’s eternal song of praise.
written by John
1. What does “praise” mean to you?
2. Was there a time in your life when you experienced the peace of God taking control of your situation? How did you respond?
3. In what ways can you show gratitude to God? How can you turn your thankfulness to praise?
4. Challenge: If you’re used to praying on your own, I challenge you to invite a friend or family member to pray with you. Added bonus, think about what you’re grateful for and close out your prayer with a song of praise and thanksgiving. How was this experience different than praying alone?