Worship leading is generally viewed as a safe occupation. We don't fear torture or imprisonment. We're not facing down cannibalistic tribes or hungry lions. We may encounter a surly drummer, a barbed critique, or a battle over where our equipment is stored, but nothing life threatening. There are days when our music feels monumentally important, when the sound filling the room cuts right through our souls, the congregation is pouring out praise to God, and everything feels right. Then there are days when our music feels like a trifle, an imperfect, inadequate response to the overwhelming darkness in the world. As the guitar player seems to get more out of tune with each strum, the alto decides to "improvise," and everyone is giggling because the pastor left their mic on during the first song- it's easy to feel like the real kingdom work is being done by the missionaries out with the lions and cannibals. Or maybe it's only been two days since one of the congregation's families lost both of their teenaged children in a terrible accident, and all of your songs feel empty, even the slow ones.
In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, receives word that a huge army is marching towards Jerusalem, intent on destruction. Wisely, he declares a fast and calls on the people to pray to the Lord. He then receives an encouraging message from a prophet: "Do not be discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's. Tomorrow march down against them... You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you (vs. 15-17, NIV)."
This must be tremendously reassuring, but they do still need to march out to meet the opposing army. Marching out to meet a larger force with nothing but trust in the word of a prophet, I'm sure tensions were still pretty high. Especially for one group: "After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: 'Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever' (verse 21)."
Imagine being approached by a superior army, living in fear and wild hope, uncertain of the future, and the king turns to you and says: "Musicians, tune up, you're going out first!" You march into battle with a song, casting backwards glances at the men behind you with spears and swords, wondering if maybe it would be a better idea for the cavalry to precede the choir. What are you going to do against a blade, sing sharp?
Of course, the army of Judah never came to blows, as the invading army destroyed themselves first. The Lord came through in a powerful way, but they still had to march out.
We live in a war zone. The destructive power of sin has left our planet wounded and gasping for relief. Every day, we encounter people dealing with sickness, addiction, unemployment, poverty, loneliness, and pain. Our churches are filled with the wounded, with limping combatants feeling like they may have just taken a fatal blow. They come into our sanctuaries every week, and what do we do? We sing. We sing that the Lord is giving, that he is loving, and that he is faithful. We sing hope. In most churches we meet the wounded with music before the service even begins. Then, after a brief greeting/announcements/invocation, we join together in song.
Are we up for the challenge? Do we realize that we are marching on the front line of a cosmic battle, clutching guitars and microphones as we head out to confront cancer, broken marriages, doubt, and death? Do we realize how inadequate we and our tools are in the face of our foe? It is the Word, the same Word that spoke to Jehoshaphat, that gives us our strength. "Do not be discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's." "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33)." So we trust, and we march, and we sing.