January 20, 2017

Preparation and Not Perfection: Planning Perfect Praise

Worship is Work

Worship is a verb. It requires work. Work in preparing all sorts of elements with moving parts including many people. Can it ever be perfect?

In the harmony of a musical triad, the first-third-fifth of the chord, we may have the closest human experience to perfection that we can encounter on this side of heaven. There seems to be an achievable perfection in music. You can even measure it if you have something reading sound waves and frequencies to confirm ‘perfection’. 

I have noticed this ‘perfection’ especially when listening to siblings or a family group sing together. Beyond just the occasional trio of notes that blend in perfect frequency of harmony, it becomes something more. They achieve an even more heavenly sound; their matching timbre in voice, their accents — all of this is a product of their growing up together. There may be the unique Georgian drawl with a slight Michigan accent which creates something special all because the family moved once when the kids were teens. This ‘perfection’ seems to be amongst the closest I have heard, though I must say, it is rarely on a Sunday morning.

There is much standing in the way of perfection, or even preparation. When do you schedule rehearsal, and should your musicians pass an audition before they can contribute to leading worship? Every church choir or worship team struggles to make it perfect, despite all the things that stand in the way of preparing: the wonky sound board, the croaky voice on Sunday morning or even just the pressure we put on ourselves to make it ‘good’, let alone ‘perfect’.

Yet, God doesn't demand ‘perfect’ worship from the imperfect people we are. Rather, God desires that we prepare ourselves, train ourselves and challenge ourselves. The Chronicler says:

“All these men were under the supervision of their father for the music of the temple of the Lord, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God.

Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king.  Along with their relatives—all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord—they numbered 288. Young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties.” (1 Chronicles 25:6-8)

Maybe you can remember Psalms written by Asaph and Heman? They were not perfect, but they prepared to receive from God. Asaph composed his praise alongside his broken maskils, of Heman, like in Psalm 88. Not perfect worship, but true, broken, fall-on-your-knees preparedness.

Preparation not Perfection

God desires honest worship in truth and spirit-filled worship from our very depths, but God also desires preparation and not perfection. When we strive for perfection, even in our church’s music for any worship service, we find that it is elusive. The grace of God to the worshiper and the worship-planner alike is that God both desires and accepts our worship, no matter the quality, from hearts and talents that have been prepared.

This is why the choir warms up: not to distract their minds from the piece they are about to sing, but rather to prepare the voice for what will be asked of it. For some of us, preparation means praying more, whether during the steps in planning service elements or the few steps we take before holding the microphone. For some of us, this means developing skills and recognizing the developing skills in others, regardless of their age. For others it is rehearsing and warming up our voice, our instrument, or our hearts in preparation.

When we work to ‘prepare’ for worship and not to ‘perfect’ it, we accept the humanity of worship, realizing it will never be perfect. We are fallen people and God will always be worthy of greater praise than our humanity could offer. Thankfully, God doesn’t demand perfection in our worship. We may hear it from time to time when one note strikes another, yet all he demands is our preparation.

Let us train ourselves and others to increase our skills in singing, playing, acting, dancing, etc, and let us be better prepared to lead and plan worship, but not to reach for 'perfection'. When perfection is our goal we will fall short and the church will continue to suffer under unrealistic standards. But, if being prepared is what we long for, we will seek to be ready at a moment's notice to use our gifts to the best of our ability. Praise God! We worship God who is perfect, but who doesn't demand that we are when we bring our worship to him.

Josh Friend and his wife, Tiffany, have four children. He is the lead pastor of Evergreen Community CRC in Fort McMurray, Alberta. He has been involved in worship leading, seminars, musical production and recording, and various media including The Bridge, 91.1 FM, a local radio station in Fort McMurray.