Lyre, lyre

By David A. Liapis

We need more lyres in church. Sort of.

When I was 15 years old, I was both a baby Christian and novice guitarist. In spite of both those factors, I was allowed by the music director at our church to sit in with the praise team during practices. I eventually got to start playing on Sunday mornings even if it was just the most basic chord strumming. I remember a particular time when the pastor commented after a service that he noticed I had been able to play a chord progression I had, in my inexperience, been struggling to play. He probably never thought that his quick word of encouragement would inspire me to continue honing my guitar playing skills and using what I learned there to serve in multiple churches over the years. He could have said nothing, or he could have asked his wife (a.k.a. the music director) to not include me on the praise team until I was more skilled and mature.

Fast forward twenty years to when my family and I moved to Florida. During a conversation with the music director at the church there we ended up attending there, I was asked if I played any instruments. I replied, “Guitar, and some piano.” He asked, half jokingly, “So, bass guitar?” I clarified, “Guitar and piano.” He again replied, “Right. So, bass then? I’ve got one you can borrow.” They needed a bass more than any other instrument, so, I learned bass kicking and screaming, but I helped fill a need rather than insisting on doing what I thought I was equipped (and wanting) to do. Bass wasn’t my favorite instrument to play, though it has grown on me since then.

What’s the point of all this? Two things: First, we have both current and future need of musicians not just in my current church, but in other churches all over world … and for the foreseeable future. The second is to never underestimate the power of an encouraging word. There are a handful of moments I can point to in my life where someone spoke a word to encourage, rebuke or instruct me that had what may seem a disproportionally profound impact on my growth as a person and a Believer.

If you are a musician currently, even a novice, who isn’t using your abilities to serve the body of Christ, find the right person to talk to in your church and see how and when you can exercise your talents. Maybe you already know how to play an instrument or two, but there’s a need to learn another. Don’t be resistant like I was. Or, maybe you don’t know how to play even a kazoo, but want to play something someday. Again, find the right person and have a conversation. Maybe your church has a “loaner” guitar or cajon sitting in some closet behind the stage just waiting to be played, or, as in my experience, someone has a bass guitar rotting in a case at home that you can borrow. However it comes about, see how you can get started whether you’re five or 50 years old. It may be that you don’t actually play in a church service for five, 10 or even 20 years. Not to worry! You can be a blessing to a congregation or other gathering and honor the Lord with your talents when the time is right.

The thing is, we can train children’s ministry workers, greeters and coffee brewers in a matter of days or weeks, but not so with musicians (though, in no way am I diminishing the importance of any of those roles … especially the coffee). Because of my job, my family and I have moved many times in the past couple decades, and thus we have attended many churches. The one consistent theme amongst all of them (other than the Gospel, of course) was the need for musicians. Sadly, musicianship has been on the decline in America for years, and it’s no different in our churches.

“Why not just sing a cappella if we don’t have sufficient instrumentalists?” Well, I’m glad you asked.

Isaiah 38:20 says, “The Lord will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments,” and in 2 Chronicles 29:25 when the people of Judah were repenting of their failure to worship God as they should have been, it says, “And (Hezekiah) stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres … for the commandment was from the Lord through His prophets.” If you do a simple word search for “instruments” in the Bible you’ll find there are plenty of other passages that also make it clear lutes, harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets, etc. are an important part of our worship of the Lord. That’s why we as the Church need to encourage the right people who possess musical abilities currently to start playing today, and to cultivate musicians who will play months and years from now. Notice how I said “the right people.” Yes, being qualified to play in church takes more than just the ability to make good noises with an instrument. There are also character qualifications, particularly that they are a Believer (since, after all, unbelievers can’t lead in worshiping a Savior they don’t believe in); and no, wearing skinny jeans and flannel shirts is not a prerequisite.

So, on that note (see what I did there?), pray and ask if God might be prompting you to either contribute a talent you already have, or develop one you can contribute in the future. If you’re a parent and have a child who expresses interest in playing an instrument, consider how you might be able to cultivate that. Yes, purchasing instruments and paying for lessons will cost you something (though the online used instrument market and YouTube lessons are alive and well), it’s an investment in both your child and, if they use it to minister, the Kingdom of God.

Am I qualified to worship?

By David A. Liapis

There are a number of reasons I can think of why physical expressions are restrained during corporate worship in spite of clear Biblical affirmation of actions such as raising hands, clapping, kneeling, dancing or even prostrating oneself. Here are a few that quickly come to mind: fear of man (a.k.a. pride), culture, denominational background, fear of appearing too “charismatic,” thinking “no one else is doing it,” not “feeling it,” and sin. Personally, I find the first and last reasons to be the ones that inhibit my displays of worship to our Lord.

It’s as if the weight of my sins prevents me from raising my hands or doing anything more than standing there like a good Baptist singing dutifully. I am blessed to have my family next to me in the worship service, but at times it seems like their presence is not a blessing. I know that they know the real me. Let’s face it. We all have a “church face” that we sometimes put on as we walk in the building and then rip off even before the last child’s shoe crosses the threshold of the church doors on the way out. My family knows that I was barking orders at the kids to get socks on for the seventh time and threatening to discipline the ones who are too slow to obey. My family knows that I would sometimes rather watch the rest of a college football showdown or fish a few more minutes than conduct family worship. And these are just a snapshot of the visible sins. Given all my family’s knowledge of my sins, and especially the knowledge of the God who knows and sees every thought, deed and motive, how can I feel right about raising my filthy hands in worship of the King? However, as a Christian, that’s not the end of the story.

We are all sinners, and I am no less qualified to worship our Lord on that basis than any other person in my church, even the most fervent, devoted Christian singing their heart out with hands raised high. The problem is that I am not remembering the Gospel even while I am singing about it. I am forgetting that Jesus bore my sins on the cross, and that there really is no condemnation or weight of sin and guilt to hold my arms down. The fetters that held me bound to sin have been broken by the power of Christ on the cross and His resurrection. My hands and heart have been made clean by the power of the Gospel and I am fully qualified to “ascend the hill of the Lord” and to “stand in His holy place” as Psalm 24:3-4 states. I am unrestrained and free to worship God in the splendor of His holiness. Psalm 32:1 reminds us, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” The concluding verse of this psalm says, “Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.” That sounds to me like a command to praise God enthusiastically.

What does this mean for me? It means that I need to remember what I am – a sinner cleansed by the blood of Jesus who now stands guiltless before the throne of grace because of the righteousness of Christ imputed to me. It means I need to teach and demonstrate to my family grace, forgiveness and repentance so that they are not confused when I worship God in spite of my sin. It means I need to live and think like a free man and stop trying to refasten my broken shackles and pretend like I am once again a slave to sin. It means I need to not let my fear of others’ opinions or thoughts of my sin prevent me from obeying God’s word as I come to Him in worship. After all, worship is about Him, not me.

“Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord! May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!” – Psalm 134