I'm currently sitting on a flight back to Baltimore after a week long mission trip in the city of Fredricksted on the island of St. Croix.
My eyes are half open and my brain is working at half speed after such a busy and jam-packed week, but my heart is so full after all of the graces I've received throughout these past seven days.
This week, my primary responsibility was to provide music at the daily masses and lead worship at the nightly programs that the mission workers attended every day. In addition, I had the opportunity to play for many people throughout the Fredriksted community. I spent time singing songs with students at the local Catholic school, children at a nearby orphanage, disabled adults at a community living center, and the congregation at the local Catholic Church.
Though all of these groups were very different, they all had one thing in common - they all LOVED to sing. Talk about joyful noise! This is my third trip to the islands, and I'm convinced that the joy of singing together is something that all islanders share. They understand the strength and healing that comes from communal singing - they epitomize the meaning behind "sing it out we are one."
I was also incredibly inspired by the high school students from Florida that attended this trip as mission workers. To be honest, I didn't really know what to expect at the beginning of the week. The students were still getting to know each other and they didn't yet have the confidence to sing along during worship. It was amazing to witness the transformation they went through. By working together to serve the Fredricksted community, the students really grew close in a matter of days. Their new, strengthened relationships were so apparent to me as I watched them go from timidly mumbling through worship in the beginning of the week to shamelessly singing and clapping along together during mass on the last day of the trip.
The very last song I led them in was my rendition of "How Great Thou Art" and I don't think I could have asked for a better choir to sing with.
However, if I had to choose the most impactful experience of this trip, it would certainly be meeting my new friend Xaden. Xaden is a second grader at the Catholic School I played at, and from the get-go, I could see that he had a passion for music. As soon as I started playing, his eyes were fixed on the guitar. When I finished, he ran up to me and eagerly asked if he could hold it. Of course, I couldn't turn him down. I placed the guitar in his lap, handed him my pick, and fingered some chords as he did the strumming. As he continued to strum, I began to sing a popular reggae song that he was familiar with. Xaden's intensely focused face quickly transformed into a huge, toothy smile - he was making music! His smiles and laughter absolutely touched my heart - truly a work of the Holy Spirit.
The next day, I ran into Xaden again, and he was SO excited to tell me that he was going to be getting a guitar over the weekend. I was so happy for him...and so blessed to witness him discover the joy of creating music.
Xaden reminded me of (what I believe to be) the true heart of musicianship: joy. When you play music for a living, you sometimes lose sight of why you do what you do. You get caught up in a routine, play the same songs over and over again, and you become desensitized to the joy that comes from simply creating. Watching Xaden discover the joy of creating music for the first time reminded me of the joy that initially sparked my passion for singing and songwriting. I could so clearly see Christ in Xaden as he found genuine happiness through stumming a guitar.
Xaden reminded me of the innate, innocent happiness that comes from creating music. Not the happiness that comes from hearing a congregation singing along with you or the happiness that comes from producing a killer song in the studio, but the happiness that comes from simply strumming a guitar and creating sounds that are pleasing to hear...the very core of musical passion.
God gives us all unique gifts and passions - things that stir our hearts and make the Holy Spirit come alive inside of us. While yes, His intent is for us to use these passions to bring others closer to His son, it's imperative that we remain in touch with the joy that triggered this passion from the start - a joy that is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
For me, as a worship leader, that primitive joy is found when I'm sitting in a church or my room by myself with no one watching me or listening to me; when I am free to worship and focus on finding the joy of the Spirit by singing to God, for God, and by the grace of God; when I am able to sing and play in peace just because it's something I know I was created to do; when I meet heaven on earth with the simple strum of a chord and the hum of a melody, unconcerned with any element of performance or congregational leading; when the songs I'm lifting up become pure, unadulterated prayers. This joy, this natural joy that is found in worshipping through music, is the gateway to authentic worship leading. When you lose touch with the Holy Spirit working inside of you, you have nowhere to lead and nothing moving you into the direction of the Father.
This week, I rediscovered the very heart of why I do what I do. I'm feeling hopeful, rejuvenated, thankful, and more ready than ever to continue building the kingdom through song.
My challenge to you? Rediscover the passion that God embedded in you. Take some time to reconnect with Him. Be a little selfish and allow yourself to enjoy that passion simply because God wants you to find happiness in it. Sports, writing, music, art, whatever it is...let the Holy Sprit awaken in you once again and find JOY in the thing you love to do most. This, in and of itself, is a powerful prayer.
When you rediscover this joy, you're going to radiate. You're going to lead others to that same, authentic joy that is found only in God the Father.