A Constant Temptation

For those of us involved in the on-stage aspects of public ministry, it’s easy to be drawn in by the desire to be appreciated and applauded, particularly for musicians. If you’re anything like me, you love to entertain, and you love to know your efforts are appreciated. But how do we avoid the sin of pride, and glorify God in all we do (1 Corinthians 10:31)?

This is a question Christians have struggled with for a long time. I was encouraged this week while reading through A Practical View of Christianity, written by William Wilberforce in 1797, as he writes about this very issue. After lamenting that so many Christians seemed to be guilty of “the love of human applause” — and what a temptation it was for himself — he shows us (in the admittedly difficult language of the 18th-century) that this desire for approval is not entirely bad.

We ought to have a due respect and regard to the approbation and favor of men. These however we should not value, chiefly as they administer to our own gratification, but as furnishing means and instruments of influence, which we may turn to good account, by making them subservient to the improvement and happiness of our fellow creatures, and thus conducive to the glory of God.

In other words, there’s nothing wrong with having the favor of men (which is the natural result of our biblically-ordained pursuit of excellence), so long as we see this approval as an opportunity to give the glory and credit for our achievements to God, who is the creator and giver of our talents. Wilberforce continues:

Credit and reputation, in the judgment of the true Christian, stand on ground not very different from riches; which he is not to prize highly, or to desire and pursue with solicitude; but which, when they are allotted to him by the hand of Providence, he is to accept with thankfulness, and to use with moderation; relinquishing them when it becomes necessary, without a murmur; guarding most circumspectly for so long as they remain with him, against that sensual and selfish temper, and no less against that pride and wantonness of heart, which they are too apt to produce and cherish; thus considering them as in themselves acceptable, but, from the infirmity of his nature, as highly dangerous possessions; and valuing them chiefly not as instruments of luxury or splendor, but as affording the means of honoring his heavenly Benefactor, and lessening the miseries of mankind.

So what does this mean for us in the worship ministry? It means that when people tell us that we’ve done well, we do not need to be embarrassed, or display a false humility, or begrudge the gifts we’ve been given by saying, “No, it wasn’t that good…” Instead, we ought to to receive these compliments graciously and with thankfulness, making the most of the opportunity to remind ourselves and others that our gifts and talents are from and for the Lord. We must at the same time remain aware of the ever-present temptation to keep some of the glory for ourselves. It should be a comfort to us to know that it’s okay to want others to be pleased when we do well, because the gifts God has given are dual-purposed. They are meant to bring honor to God, yes, but they are also meant to bless others.

The desire that we all feel to be rewarded and applauded for our efforts is itself not inherently evil. This desire has been placed in us by God. However, many of us set our sights too low, missing the true object of these desires, which ought to be the reward and applause of our Heavenly Father:

Christianity… proposes not to extinguish our natural desires, but to bring them under just control, and direct them to their true objects. In the case of both riches and honor, she maintains the consistency of her character. While she commends us not to set our hearts on earthly treasures, she reminds us that we have in Heaven “a better and more enduring substance” (see Matthew 6:19-21) than this world can bestow; and while she represses our solicitude respecting earthly credit, and moderates our attachment to it, she holds forth to us, and bids us habitually to aspire after, the splendors of that better state, where is true glory, and honor, and immortality; thus exciting in us a just ambition, suited to our high origin and worthy of our large capacities, which the little, misplaced, and perishable distinctions of this life would in vain attempt to satisfy.

Amen! How often we are “far too easily pleased”, as C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Weight of Glory. We desire the praise of men at the expense of hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant” from the almighty King of the universe! This is an honor offered only to man, the height of God’s creation. May we always be excited to bring God glory and men joy through the use of the talents that have been bestowed upon us, as we strive for excellence in all we do!

P.S. — There was a book published earlier this year by Dave Harvey, which addresses this same issue (but is much easier to read than Wilberforce!). It’s called Rescuing Ambition. It’s one of the very best books I’ve read this year, and I highly recommend it! You can check out my review of it here.

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What is Corporate Worship?

From Mark Driscoll’s book, Religion Saves (and Nine Other Misconception):
“Corporate worship is not about hearing a message that tells us about what we can do to improve ourselves, singing songs about what we are going to do for God, and judging the quality of the meetings by how it feels to us. Rather, God-centered worship is about hearing a message that reveals from the Bible who God is, and what He has done and is doing for and with us, singing songs about who God is and what he does, and judging the quality of worship based upon whether it accords with the Scriptures.”

The Privilege of Singing

“I wish that the young men might have something to rid them of their love ditties and wanton songs and might instead of these learn wholesome things and thus yield willingly to the good; also, because I am not of the opinion that all the arts shall be crushed to earth and perish through the Gospel, as some bigoted persons pretend, but would willingly see them all, and especially music, servants of Him who gave andcreated them.” ~Martin Luther, in the preface to his 1524 hymnbook, the Wittenberg Gesangbuch

We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the great reformer, Martin Luther, but with all of his accomplishments, his contribution to music and worship is easily overlooked. During the Middle Ages and early Renaissance — a period of nearly a thousand years — it was forbidden for congregations to sing during church services. Whereas for centuries the Roman church had taught that God revealed himself through special revelation only to the priests, Luther and other reformers desired to return to the Biblical teaching of the early church, which taught that all Christians were priests (1 Peter 2:9), and thus had direct access to God through Jesus Christ.  This led to the translation of the Bible into the common languages, and an emphasis on the liberty and dignity of all people.

Luther’s hymnbook, written with the help of his choirmaster, Johann Walther, and friend Conrad Rupff, was intended to help show people that they could have this direct access to God by singing to Him (as opposed to only trained choirs being allowed to do so). The hymns, which included Luther’s most well-known hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” (to which he wrote both the lyrics and music), were designed to convey great Biblical truths about God’s character.

This songbook was completely revolutionary, because it was entirely contradictory to centuries of tradition, both in its lyrical content and congregational participation. It’s impact was profound, and led to the writing and distribution of many great hymns, as well as other forms of music dedicated to God’s glory. Luther had a profound impact on many composers, including George Fredric Handel (composer of the Messiah and friend of hymnist Charles Wesley) and Johann Sebastian Bach, who concluded every work with the initials “S.D.G”, which stood for “Soli Deo Gloria” — To God alone be the Glory!

Thanks be to God for the privilege of singing praises to Him, whether as individuals, worship leaders, or a congregation. We take this for granted, but it is only by the grace of God and the faithfulness of a great cloud of witnesses that we have inherited the right to do this freely and openly. May we never forget this as we worship Him together!