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Music in Prayer & Intercession
 
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Could you share a bit on how music is used in the context of prayer?


It’s not a new concept. If you think about it, in the Word of God, you have an entire book of prayer that’s meant to be sung. So if God instituted it, it’s not a question of: “Why should we do it?”, but: “Who told you to stop?”


The Tabernacle of David is a classic example - he set up a tent for singers and musicians. 288 singers, 4,000 musicians, 4,000 gatekeepers - that’s 8,288 full-time staff that he financially released to make this their occupation; to sing their prayers to the Lord, and keep watch at the tabernacle.


The book of Psalms contains 150 chapters of prayer that weren’t meant to be prayed, but sung. The problem is we often read the psalms as if it was Bible study, asking, “What does the word ‘earnestly’ mean?” and so on.


 We have to understand that these psalms were written not in the language of information (stating facts) or influence (to try and persuade), but intimacy - the type of language that’s spoken between husband and wife, close ones, etc. The problem is that sometimes we speak to God with the wrong language. When we read the psalms, it’s not supposed to be studied like a textbook, or read like it’s information; it’s supposed to give us language to sing to God. 


Right smack in the middle of the Bible, God has already set for us an example. That, to me, is a key backdrop to why prayer, worship, and music go together.


In the New Testament, Paul also wrote a lot about it (Col 3:16-17, Eph 5:19, Rom 15:9-12). 


Revelation 5:8 says, 


“Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” 


This is where the phrase ‘Harp & Bowl’ came from. The harps represent music, singing, and songs, while the bowls represent the prayers of the saints. So imagine a picture of notes coming out from the harp and incense intermingling before the throne of God. It’s not two separate things; it’s two things coming together.


If we had all the time and money in the world, wouldn’t we want to surround ourselves with what delights us most? God chose to surround Himself with intermingling worship and prayer, because it’s what brings Him most delight. 


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Some people may have the notion that singing prayers is ‘not their thing’. Would you say people are missing out if they don’t engage in prayer with music/worship?


Misty Edwards has a line from a song that says, 


“How far will You let me go? How abandoned will You let me be?” 


If God is an endless ocean, and if you can spend the rest of your life to search Him out and never come to the end of Him, then there’s more of Him to be discovered; more ways to experience Him and understand who He is. This is one of the key ways. 


If there’s so much to God, it’s not a question of, “Why should I?”. The question should be, “Why not?”


God is a musical God. Creation sings. Prayer is basically conversations with Him. If music is a language that’s so close to God’s heart, then I think they go very well together!


For me, one of the foundations for why we combine music and prayer is Isaiah 56:7, which talks about the house of prayer. Jesus quotes this is in Matthew 21. The chapter talks about how the sons of the foreigners, the gentile nations, will be brought to the house of God. It goes on to say, 


“Even them I will bring to My holy mountain,

And make them joyful in My house of prayer…” 


There’s a promise of enjoyable prayer there. I think by and large when we think about prayer meetings in the church today, ‘enjoyable’ is not one of the top three words you would use to describe it. And yet, we’re confronted with a promise in the Bible about God giving us joy in the place of prayer; that enjoyable prayer is supposed to happen. 


Think about watching a movie with the background music muted - you can have all the words, the romantic scenes, separation scenes - it’s factual but you miss the element of enjoyment. I feel like prayer can be like that. Sometimes we bring prayers before the Lord and, yes, we are communicating with God, but when you add the music, you add an element of enjoyment. You wouldn’t enjoy The Lord of the Rings very much if you experienced the beauty of Middle Earth without Howard Shore’s soundtrack behind it.

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How would you advise those who aren’t musically inclined to engage in prayer with music? Any practical handles?


If you’re not a musician, but you want to get involved in this, one way is to find community to do it with. Someone once said that loving God is not the highest calling; it’s loving God together. 


And I think it’s a great opportunity for us to lend our strengths in the Body of Christ. For example, in your group of friends, you might have one guy who’s a great musician. Get together with them and worship the Lord together. 


On a personal devotional level, turn on worship music and sing along to it. If you can play two chords (or even one), you can already sing your prayers to the Lord.


I would recommend that you go deep into Paul’s epistles, because those are prayers that Paul prayed, called Apostolic Prayers (prayers written by the apostles). They are actual prayers for the church birthed from the heart of God that give you language to pray. If you want to learn how to sing, these provide you with material to sing. There are actual prayers in the Bible that God desires and wants to answer (Eph 1:17-19, Eph 3:16-19, 1 Cor 1:5-8, Phil 1:9-11, Col 1:9-11). All these are great passages to begin with. Isolate certain phrases and sing and speak them back to the Lord!

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Building a Prophetic Culture
 
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Have you ever received prayer and the person started to share about the very things on your mind or the dreams in your heart? Or have you ever received ‘impressions’ about someone’s emotional state or situation as you pray for them? Perhaps, you’ve also had dreams that ended up actually happening in real life. Well, these are some examples of the prophetic.


I believe that the prophetic is not complicated. It’s so simple that even children can move in it! I have activated children as young as 6 years old to do so. When I teach them about the prophetic, I love using the analogy of a postman. The job of a postman is to deliver the letter that he/she has received from the post office to the recipient. Prophecy works in the same way. Our role is to receive words or messages from God and deliver them to people.

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God’s heart for humanity is relationship, and relationship-building requires communication. God wants to communicate with us! One of the main elements in the prophetic is recognising God’s voice. Without hearing His voice first, we cannot receive any message. There’s a difference between learning to ‘hear’ His voice and ‘recognising’ His voice. The ability to hear His voice is already within us. Our job then is to recognise it, just as a newborn learns to recognise the different sounds they hear around them. 


“No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”
John 15:15

The prophetic is birthed from a place of intimacy with God. Growing in it is about cultivating this friendship. When we pursue His heart, we get to hear His heartbeat for humanity. It is through intimacy that the prophetic can be released with His love.

God does not want to just receive you as children into His kingdom and ignore you by not giving you the ability to hear His voice. God is a good and tender loving Father who loves to speak to His children. We have the privilege to hear His voice daily because of His love. 

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“But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” 
1 Cor 14:3

The heart of prophecy is to reveal God’s heart to the person in front of you. It is not about calling down judgement, or a doom and gloom message. The essence of a prophetic word should be edifying, encouraging, and comforting for the people receiving it. The heart of the message must be filled with God’s love and hope. A prophetic word is an encouraging word that always has the element of God’s restoration and redemption in people‘s lives. Encouraging words build people up, while negative words tear people down. 

“He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.”
1 Cor 14:4

Paul said that when we release prophetic words, the church is being built up. A strong church is not defined by its physical size but rather, it is made up of strong people. When we prophesy over our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are building them up with God’s destiny for them. When a prophetic culture is established, the fruit is an encouraging atmosphere—one where people encounter God’s love through prophetic words. 

Learning to hear from God is a lifelong journey. The truth is that we do make mistakes and hear wrongly along the way. But the main thing is seeking to maintain a heart of purity as we grow in hearing His voice, admitting our mistakes, and moving on. We should not stop prophesying just because we have made some mistakes along the way. A toddler does not stop learning to walk just because he has fallen down a few times. 

The primary goal of the prophetic is not about operating in a gift as much as it is about knowing God’s heart. Growing in this gift is actually growing in hearing His voice on a daily basis. Before you can hear a message (for others), you have to first identify and discern the voice of God in your life. 

He speaks to us all differently. Sometimes, it could be a specific verse from the Bible. Other times, we may get an impression, a vision, or a voice in our spirit. He can also speak to us through dreams. If you can hear God’s voice for yourself, you can most certainly hear God’s voice for others. Don’t disqualify yourself from being used by God to release the message of love that He has for the people around you. Everyone can prophesy!

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Ps Clement Sim, one of AG’s guest writers, graduated from the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM, Bethel Church) in Redding, California, and is currently a pastor at Soakability Church, Singapore.

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4 KEYS to playing without scores
 
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“I grew up reading notes on the stave! How do you improvise? How do you know what chords to play?”

 

Sound familiar? Over the years, I’ve encountered many classical pianists and musicians who ask similar questions. I then realised that there often is a real question of how to make the jump between playing what you see on a score and being able to improvise freely.

 

I can relate to this struggle. I grew up taking formal piano lessons, working tirelessly through the grades of the formal examination systems.

 

I’ve always enjoyed music, having grown up in a musical family. However, it was only when I joined the worship ministry in my home church when I was 13 that I discovered this whole new facet of music and improvisation that brought me much freedom and growth.

 

It was when I experienced the power of music to express thoughts and emotions beyond words and when I experienced the Lord’s presence powerfully during times of worship that my love and passion for music grew.

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I began to experiment with chords and learned to play songs by ear, and soon grew to love improvisation! I could spend hours at the piano, playing, experimenting, and learning new songs, replaying the tracks in the CDs repeatedly and copy them exactly. As I grew in freedom to create and express what I could not in words and as I began to create new tunes to the Lord, my relationship with Him grew together with my musical abilities.

 

Some people think that you either improvise and play by ear OR sight read music very well – I would say that’s a myth! I know many brilliant classical players who are just as brilliant even in jazz improvisation!

 

Music is a language. This means that the ability to listen, speak, read, and write music are like that in any other language.

 

Ideally, we want to be able to do equally well in all these aspects as musicians. You should not feel handicapped when attempting to improvise because of your strong classical background. Instead, you would be more equipped because of the strong understanding of music you already possess.

 

How do you begin creating freely when you’ve been taught from such a young age to simply follow what’s on the page? I can imagine the trepidation because trying to play something that isn’t on the page has been ingrained as “wrong”.

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May I suggest that the first place to begin? Dare to try.

 

The process of improvisation often challenges you to simply make a sound and create something first without prior judgement. It takes time and practice for one to get used to translating the God-given tunes and harmonies in your heart and mind to actual sound. If you are completely new, begin with playing a familiar tune that you have memorised with no written notes provided and slowly get used to doing so. Before you panic and think that this is all too abstract, here are some practical tips to help you on your journey.

 

1)     Play any piece of music with a greater harmonic and melodic understanding.

Gotcha! Most of us are guilty of taking a piece of written music and playing through it without really getting a composer’s ‘bird’s eye view’ of how the piece was written and structured, both harmonically and melodically.

 

Pick a piece you are already familiar with. Study the chords and the harmonies that support the melodies! Once you understand those, take it apart and attempt to play it in another key.

 

For example, take apart the simple “Fur Elise” by Beethoven – could you find the chords and then transpose it and play it in E minor instead of A minor simply by knowing the chord numbers? (e.g. i, V, iv) The more songs you analyse, the more you will see patterns and apply it to your own playing!

 

2)     Listen & Copy!

As a baby first encounters language by listening and then imitating, we can also learn the musical language by listening widely and attempting to recreate.

 

Listen to a piece of music, then attempt to replicate and play what you hear without the guidance of scores. Try to play it as closely and accurately as the original.

 

Begin with simpler pieces first - Pop songs or worship songs are a good start as they often have simpler chord structures!

 

Some quick tips:

  • Chart the bars with the relevant time signature

  • Identify the bass notes

  • Identify chord qualities, chords, and cadences

  • Identify melodies and riffs

  • Play back what you have learnt and compare it with the original

  • Attempt to play it in different keys, keeping true to the voicings, grooves, etc.

  • Learn to apply similar chord progressions, voicings, and styles to your playing

 

3)     Re-organise

You may be used to playing the melody with your right hand (RH), and arpeggiated and moving harmonies with your left (LH). Try placing majority of the chord on the RH instead while keeping the LH simple with mainly the bass note or with the 5th.

 

When playing as an accompanist, refrain from playing the melody line throughout. Practise forming chords with good voicing and voice-leading with the RH and LH while being aware of the melody.

 

4)     Dare to create

Take your instrument – (even your voice!) and create something new. Add chords to it. Or reharmonise a familiar hymn with different chords! It may not sound like the best composition at the start, but similarly, becoming eloquent in a language requires you to practice stringing phrases, then sentences, then an entire speech or poem together.

 

Ultimately, view music as a whole, while keeping in mind its ultimate goal of expressing things often intangible and communicating with others. I believe God created music for communication and for us to simply enjoy its beauty.  

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What Does a Culture of Honour Look Like?
 
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“Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.”
- Romans 12:10

A Culture of Honour: The Atmosphere of the Greenhouse

Here at Awaken Generation, we often talk about the ‘Greenhouse’ - it is heaven’s ecosystem; the values of the Kingdom that we, as a community of believers, choose to live by that causes us to flourish.

The culture of honour to a person is what soil is to a seed. It is the cornerstone of kingdom culture and a foundational ingredient in the greenhouse that causes every living thing to flourish.  We hear this phrase a lot, but what does it mean?

Simply put, the culture of honour is being able to relate to people according to what God thinks about them.

When we as a Body live with a culture of honour, people will flourish in their God-given destinies and assignments. We are, in a sense, honouring God’s original intention when He created each of us.

A culture of honour sees David as a King and a man after God’s own heart, even though he was a mere shepherd boy, the ‘runt’ of the family, a murderer, and adulterer. A culture of honour sees Gideon as a mighty man of valour called to triumph over his enemies, even though he was hiding out in fear at the threshing floor. A culture of honour sees Joseph as a saviour and a blessing to his family, even though he was sold into slavery by his own brothers. A culture of honour sees Abraham and Sarah as the father and mother of nations, even though they were old in age and had not borne any children. 

These great men and women of God, just like us, have made many mistakes - but to honour God’s original idea was to see them for who they were created to be.

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Humility & Honour

You may be wondering, “What about the many who don’t deserve it? The ones who aren’t honourable at all?”

Honour isn’t based on a person’s character,  whether or not they deserve it. Honour is based on our character - whether we have the humility to give it. In other words, we don’t give honour because someone is honourable, we give honour because WE are honourable.

It is a choice we make to honour others because we understand that everyone was created in the image of God and that each was born with a beautiful purpose in the kingdom to fulfil.  

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How to start building a culture of honour practically

Building a culture of honour may sound daunting, depending on your existing culture, but it’s not complex. Start with the simple act of encouragement and affirmation. This prophetic gift is the framework that edifies the Church.

Encouragement is to a person what helium is to a balloon. Words of encouragement are needed constantly because our thoughts are bombarded with criticism and negativity. All of us need the constant flow of encouragement from the family of Christ to remind us of who we are in Him.

Let’s learn to be generous with our words. Words are powerful. Proverbs 18:21 says that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” The words we confess out loud express the beliefs with which we have chosen to partner; speaking it aloud is an expression of agreement with an idea - be it godly or evil. And where there is agreement, there is power and authority.

Let us always remember to champion people, not to remind others of their flaws and mistakes but to affirm & call out their God-given identity in Christ - as we do, we will see the people of God flourish into all God had destined for them since the beginning of time. 

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5 Ways to Value Your Pastor
 
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I have not been a Pastor for very long, just about 3 years. In my 30 years of being a Christian, I’ve been through Sunday School, I attended church as a congregation member and in 2004, I entered ministry to serve alongside my parents. In 2016, I answered God’s call to pastor. I was initially resistant because I saw my own parents minister and pastor for many years and saw the good, the bad and everything in between. Though I had seen God move in miraculous, supernatural ways throughout my life as a minister’s kid, I was also privy to the immense hard work and voluminous hours of pastoral ministry. It took me months of wrestling and questioning before I finally said yes and after almost 3 years, I can honestly say that I won’t trade pastoring for anything. The hard work, the pains of ministry, the tears… they exist; but nothing compares to getting up and serving God and His people every day.


Having said that, statistics show that Pastors aren’t doing very well. In a survey done by expastors.com* of more than 500 pastors in the US, 64% of pastors feel overworked, more than 60% of pastors fight depression and wrestle with anxiety, and a whopping 85% have considered leaving ministry. Although these are American statistics, I don’t think it’s vastly different in first world Singapore. Now that I understand the challenges of pastoral ministry, I would like to share a few things you can do to love and encourage your pastors and show them that you value them.

 

1.     Extend Grace to your pastor

Just having the title of pastor is weighty. Expectations skyrocket the moment people know you are a pastor. Pastors are expected to behave a certain way, speak a certain way, and always always go the extra mile for others. The moment we fall short, the tendency is to judge and criticise. But pastors are humans too and we make mistakes. Like you, we are on our own journeys of becoming more and more like Jesus. So do extend us grace. As we purpose to do the best we can and model Jesus’ life and ministry for you, there will be times we need your good will and support, and times we will need your forgiveness.

 

2.     Trust your pastor

With the widespread use of the internet and stories coming out about errant pastors or ministers, it is easy to be suspicious of those who are hold positions of spiritual authority. But we shouldn’t allow such stories to undermine the trust that is required for the church to thrive. Trust that your pastors spend time seeking the Lord and that they hear from God directly, trust that your pastors are for you and your destiny in Christ, and trust that they are well aware that they are accountable to God for you.

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3.     Honour your pastor by being present

I am a Xennial… (micro-generation born between 1977 and 1985). Growing up, I did not to have a computer in the house and got my first mobile phone in my early 20s. Us Xennials have witnessed how, in just 2 decades, we have become so connected to the world through our devices and social media. The flip side is that we have also become distracted. With access to the world of information literally at our fingertips, it’s been increasingly difficult to be present in church, in meetings, at meals, etc. It can get discouraging to sit across someone who keeps looking at their phone, or see congregation members scroll through Facebook or Instagram while we preach. I believe that if you value someone, you will honour them by being present and hearing what they have to say. Now that I know how much it takes to craft messages and write material, I want to honour the one standing at the pulpit, sharing his/her heart out by being present.

 

4.     Encourage your pastor to rest

In the 2016 survey mentioned above, 70% of pastors indicate that they have experienced burnout. Perhaps this is something that Singaporeans, not just pastors, struggle with. We unconsciously fill our schedules and end up being perpetually busy. Let’s not be ignorant, we ALL need to rest. We need to take time out regularly and allow ourselves to recover, reflect and recalibrate. Pastors need that so that they can be alert and sensitive to the Holy Spirit, healthy and strong so they can do the work of the ministry, and more importantly, be able to last the long haul. So encourage them to rest.

 

5.     Pray for your pastor

Nothing comforts me more than knowing that the pastorate is supported by the prayers of the saints. I have on so many occasions felt the tangible power of prayer of those interceding while I minister. Even the Apostle Paul thanks those praying for him (1 Cor 1:11). So please pray for your pastors in your time of daily prayer. We certainly need it and appreciate it.

 

These can actually be applied to any relationship… marriages, friendships and work relationships. I personally believe that as we purpose to value those around us, we can all be effective for the Lord wherever He calls us.  


*http://www.expastors.com/2016-expastors-pastor-survey/

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