Editorial Team: You know that feeling when you walk into a church during a worship service and just get swept away by the music, the energy, the collective love for God? It’s an experience that can change your perspective on life, make you feel closer to God, and leave you feeling uplifted and inspired.
But how do we tap into that transformative spirit on a regular basis? How do we overcome the distractions of everyday life and truly prepare our hearts to worship?
Enter Zac Hicks’ Before We Gather, a 52-week devotional designed to help ministry leaders and worship teams prepare their hearts and minds for the service.
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An Excerpt from Before We Gather
Here’s a devotion particularly designed for worship leaders to use with your volunteers and worship teams before the worship service.
Read Philippians 2:1-11.
Philippians 2:1-11 (ESV) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,[a] 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,[b] 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Christ’s Example of Humility
It’s a common story for people who give their time to facilitate worship services, whether they’re the up-front people like the pastors and musicians, the in-back people, like the tech team, or the in-between people, like the ushers, greeters, and those who prepare communion or set up the room. There’s a sacrifice made in being one of those people. It can sometimes be the case that as you’re working through the details of logistics and leading others, a worshipful spirit is hard to find.
Chances are, part of the reason you serve is because you’ve had powerful experiences in worship. In the words of the writer to the Hebrews, you “have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God” (Heb. 6:4–5). You’ve had those sweet moments in worship when God’s presence felt so tangible, and you know what the psalmist means when he says, “It is good to be near God” (Ps. 73:28). You love worship and what God does there, and you started serving both because you wanted to be even nearer and because you wanted to help others “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8).
The Spirit of Worship Fades
But inevitably, something happens in the week-to-week, month-to-month grind of serving in and around worship services. The spirit of worship that was so easy to access seems elusive. And maybe you feel that the passionate fire that roared in your heart has dwindled to a handful of embers. I’ve found three things to be true in these seasons of dryness when it seems that I’m serving a lot but not getting a lot. May they be words of comfort to you.
First and foremost, know that Jesus’ love for you and the presence of the Holy Spirit do not depend on your ability to be in the right frame of mind or heart to receive them. It’s a simple truth of the gospel that often evades us when we’re struggling to find the joy of his presence. We can easily slip into the anti-gospel, anti-Christ idea that God’s visitation depends on us—that somehow God won’t meet us unless we’re prayed up, cleaned up, and ready. Nothing could be farther from the truth that Paul declared when he said, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God visits because God loves us, not because we’re ready. The truth is, we’re never really ready. And that’s a freeing word.
Second, know that God will surprise you in his faithfulness by visiting you with his presence even as you’re serving, even as you’re unprepared for him. I’ve had this happen to me, and maybe you have too. During dry seasons, when you least expect it, God will simply invade an otherwise dead moment. Sometimes it will be in the middle of a worship song or hymn. Sometimes it will be as someone else is praying or preaching. Sometimes it will be when the congregation’s voice drowns out your own and you’re swallowed up in the praise of heaven. But God has always been faithful in these unprepared-for, surprise visitations, and it’s appropriate to ask for them and hope for them.
Third, know that leaders in worship are indeed called to offer a special sacrifice of praise. Though it doesn’t feel worshipful, in God’s estimation it is every bit as valid a form of worship. Philippians 2 tells us this. Just as Jesus emptied himself, so too can we know the joy of imitating his selflessness by looking not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4), even in worship. It doesn’t make us worship martyrs. It doesn’t make us better than other people. And it certainly doesn’t make God more pleased with us than he already is in Christ. But our sacrifice in caring about the details of worship so that others don’t have to is an invitation to know the special joy of sharing in the self-emptying service of Jesus Christ. That we worry about the logistics so that our brothers and sisters are free is itself a sweet offering to the Lord, and it pleases the heart of the Father. Take comfort that the words the Father eternally speaks over the Son are spoken over you: “This is my beloved . . . with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).
Prayer Prompts for Your Worship Team
Invite your volunteers to break up into these groups, and consider handing out (or at least reading aloud) these prayer prompts:
- Pray that the Holy Spirit would make Jesus so beautiful and believable to you that the lie about our needing to be prepared and ready for his grace would vanish.
- Pray for those in your community who have experienced a long season of dryness, and ask the Lord to surprise them with a powerful sense of his presence, love, and grace.
- Pray for the Spirit to bear the fruit of joy in worship this week among all those who lead and volunteer in and around the worship services, that they would be empowered not only to offer their sacrifices of praise but also to enjoy them.
This excerpt is taken with permission from Before We Gather: Devotions for Worship Leaders and Teams. Copyright © 2023 by Zachary M. Hicks. Used by permission of Zondervan.
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Zac Hicks (D.Min., Knox Theological Seminary; M.Div., Denver Seminary; B.A., Biola University) is pastor of Church of the Cross in Birmingham, AL. He has been pastoring and leading worship for over two decades in churches all across the US—Hawaii, California, Colorado, Florida, and most recently Alabama. He is author of The Worship Pastor (Zondervan, 2016), Worship By Faith Alone (IVP Academic, 2023), and Before We Gather (Zondervan, 2023). A songwriter and producer, Zac’s music is streaming everywhere. Zac’s passions include the intersection of old and new in worship, the pastoral dimensions of worship leading, and recovering the gospel-centered theology of the Reformation for the sake of worship renewal. Zac has been married to his wife, Abby, for over twenty years, and they have four kids: Joel, Jesse, Brody, and Bronwyn.