The Scenic Route

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.”  Proverbs 16:9   

I was thinking about this verse as a friend and I drove along endless county roads in north-centralWisconsin.  According to the GPS guiding us along, we were within ten miles of our destination, but it sure didn’t appear to be so.  We had left the main highway to follow county road after county road, and it seemed like we would never reach the end of our drive.

Just as we were about to give up hope, the GPS announced a turn up ahead and we took it… a bit reluctantly.  And suddenly, there we were!  We rounded the last turn and came face-to-face with our colleague’s home.  What had seemed to be the round-about, scenic route had brought us where we needed to be after all. 

Do you ever feel like this scenario plays out in life?  Sometimes it may feel as if we have to endure something difficult and go through several tedious steps until we can finally accomplish a goal.  Often, we can become impatient, just wanting to get there and find some kind of completion or understanding.  But frequently, we are left hanging, wondering why certain things happen to divert our progress. 

This past weekend as my friend and I traveled, I contemplated my own diverted pathway in the scheme of life.  In the coming days, I would be sharing special music at a church, and this particular date in time had been arranged months in advance.  At the time when we first entertained the idea of traveling to this church, I was preparing to jump into a whole new musical venture.  I was excited to be given the opportunity to perform and share my music on a larger scale, and participating in the worship services at this church seemed like a logical component. 

But then, everything I had counted on fell through, and I was left hanging.  My musical journey had been diverted, and I had no idea what to do next.  At that time, God took me down a road with new challenges and unexpected opportunities.  Instead of performing concerts and selling records, I was leading praise and worship and agreeing to employment at my home church. 

At first, I was slightly disappointed; it almost felt as if I was letting go of a dream.  In many respects, it was as if the car I was riding in had left the main road and was now traveling down seemingly endless country roads.  I had no idea where I was going, and in many ways, I was confused, much like our experience with the GPS. 

But then I began to see God’s plan unfold, and the route became clear.  He was showing me His plans for my life, and although they were nothing like I had imagined, they were real, true, and right.  I had never felt more at home than at the front of the church sanctuary, leading God’s people in worship.  There was something incredible about joining in with other voices and praising His name on a corporate level; no other concert or performance had ever held such significance for me. 

I had thought I had figured it all out; I thought I knew the route.  But like the GPS, God diverted me and I began to go another way.  I learned many lessons along the way, and in the end, God brought me exactly where He had called me to be.  Eventually, I reached my destination… just not in the way I had expected.  Sometimes, we just have to take the scenic route because there’s no other way. 

Nothing

I realized as I was titling this post that the title would read: “Cassie Contemplates… Nothing.”  Well, I assure you I will be writing about something, so please don’t think I am leaving you a blank page this morning. 

This weekend, I gave a concert at a church in north-centralWisconsin.  During the concert, I shared Bebo Norman’s song “Nothing without You” and how it had impacted my life thus far.  I talked about how I viewed the song as a theme song of sorts because it has often reminded me of how I am truly nothing without my Lord and Savior.  In addition to singing the song at the concert, I also shared it at the morning services the next day.  As I led in the song, I thought about its meaning and how the lyrics have impacted my role in ministry as a musician and songwriter.

I first heard “Nothing without You” while riding in the car one night near sunset.  I just couldn’t get over the simplicity but yet unbelievable truth in the lyrics.  I couldn’t play guitar, but somehow I knew I would cover the song some day.  In 2008, I was given the opportunity to include the song on my CD, and I was truly honored to share its message with my audience.  I was just launching my music ministry, and I was excited to sing songs about God’s love and provision, but even on the night of my CD release, I had no idea just how much “Nothing without You” would impact my life on a larger scale. 

A few days before the CD release concert, I came down with a cold, and I was immediately disappointed.  I prayed that God would relieve my of my symptoms so that I would be able to sing well that night, but even so, my voice continued to be raspy and I couldn’t stop coughing.  But I pushed forward and went ahead with plans to release the CD.  I waited in the parking lot of a local restaurant while a friend picked up dinner that night, and it hit me just how important the coming evening would be for me.  “Please, God,” I remember praying.  “I need my voice back.  Everyone is coming to hear me sing, and they’re going to be so disappointed if I don’t do this well.” 

It was then that God got my attention in a huge way.  For the first time in my life, I heard a still, small voice speak to my heart, and I was instantly alert: “They’re not coming to hear you sing,” He whispered to my heart.  “They’re coming to hear my message, and I’m sending you out there to tell others about me.  Cassie, what made you think any of this was about you?”

It felt as if God had hit me over the head with a two-by-four!  I knew what He said was true, but it hurt at the same time.  I had been going about everything the wrong way, somehow thinking that my voice was mine and that the songs He had given were mine as well.  All the while, He was preparing me to truly serve Him in recognizing that I am nothing without Him. 

That night and every performance that followed, I sang “Nothing without You” with a new perspective.  He has carried me through a great deal over the years, and at every turn, I have been reminded that He is everything to me and without Him, I am nothing.  He has given me the strength to sing and praise Him even when I didn’t think I had the strength to carry on; He has strengthened my voice when it was weakened by allergies and sickness and every breath was a struggle; and he has given me song after song that honors Him above all else.  I am His servant, and I can think of nothing better than lifting up His name above all else. 

Jesus, I am nothing without You.  

Rollercoaster Reminders

I felt as if I had been on an emotional roller coaster— a week in which I experienced everything from incredible joy to unimaginable grief.  And at every turn, I found I had to be ready and willing to be present in each moment, even when I couldn’t find the strength to carry on.  In many ways, I was feeling pressure to push through and do everything well; after all, I was the church music and worship director, and the congregation was expecting me to offer up heartfelt music that would speak to the current circumstances. 

I tried not to succumb to stress and overwhelm, but I found myself giving in to my perfectionist nature.  I knew others were looking to me, so I gave each task my best effort even though I could feel myself crumbling.  As the weekend approached, a good friend came to visit, and I was able to set aside a great deal of my work and practicing to focus on what really mattered— friendship. 

As I started to unwind, I picked up a book by worship leader Darlene Zschech: Extravagant Worship.  At one point in the book, Zschech recounts a time in which she was feeling driven to be a performer, even in the context of leading worship in the local church.  She compared this tendency to feeling the need to perform in terms of faith as well.  Often, it can become so easy to put our faith on display and tote it around as if we have something to prove.  The same can be true of those in music ministry.  We know people are watching and listening, and if we’re not careful, we can turn worship into a performance-driven activity.

Zschech shares about a time when she was praying about this very thing, and at that time she heard the still, small voice of the Lord speak to her heart: “You never need to perform for me.”  This is so true!  I have come to know that God doesn’t long for a flawless performance as I lead from behind the piano.  He doesn’t care about me being off pitch or playing the wrong chord; instead, he cares about what is going on inside my heart. 

Many musicians and worship leaders have had to learn this the hard way.  For me, this moment came midway through 2010.  I was inNashville, competing at Immerse, a conference for budding Christian musicians.  I had just finished singing and playing my original song “Footsteps,” and I was overwhelmed with the time I had just spent singing for Him.  I knew what was on the line for me at that moment: making it into the top three in my category to proceed into the finals.  But at that time, none of that mattered.  I heard Him speak to my heart, similar to what Darlene Zschech recounts from her time with the Lord.  He basically said this to me: “Cassie, I have called you to minister through music but not here.”  It was then that I knew He had indeed called me to use my voice for Him, but it wasn’t in the way I had first thought. 

In that season of my life, I had been struggling with my breathing and a weakened voice; I found it hard to do concerts because I would become so fatigued just trying to maintain enough breath support to sing. During that time, I had cried out to God, pleading with Him to give my voice back.  All the while, I was missing the most important thing; my voice was not my voice after all.  Instead, I came to realize that my voice belonged to God and Him only.  He had entrusted me with this gift, and it was my job to use it for His glory.  I made the commitment to sing for Him above all else, and to this day, you can find my vision statement for ministry on the music page of my website: “Without Him I wouldn’t have a reason to sing.”

As I moved forward on the road to recovery, I began to lead praise and worship at FRC, and now as I work on staff as Music and Worship Director, I have been given numerous opportunities to serve and honor Him in this capacity.  Leading worship has never been a performance for me; in fact, in the rare occasion I give a concert, I find it odd that no one is singing along with me.  It’s almost as if I need to be surrounded with corporate praise and worship to make it all come together. 

This past week served as a reminder to place my focus back on where it belongs and to give Him all of the honor and glory.  In the end, it should never be a performance but an offering to Him instead.  After all, as God whispered to Darlene’s heart, I never have to perform for Him; He knows my heart and He is pleased with the song I bring as long as it is rooted in my love for the Savior.      

Nineveh

I had fought against God for too long.  For several months, I had prayed for ways to reach a friend’s heart with the message of the Gospel, but every time I had the opportunity, I shied away.  “That’s too hard,” I would say to Him.  “I can’t do that.”  I had pictures in my mind of Brent, the main character from my book The Promise.  Throughout the course of the book, Brent dedicates himself to reaching out to J.C. and investing all he has to give in hopes that she will one day choose to accept Christ into her life. 

I created Brent’s character, and in many ways, his personality mirrors mine in real life.  But time after time, I shrank back from reaching out to this friend, which was vastly different from Brent’s approach to life and service.  I wondered why it was so difficult for me.  What was holding me back?

A Bible Study member compared my attitude to that of Jonah from the Bible, and to a certain degree, I had to concur.  God had called Jonah to go to the city ofNinevehand preach about God’s coming judgment.  But in his hatred toward the city, Jonah decided to flee God’s plan instead of willingly moving forward.  Although I did not possess hatred for my friend, I still decided to flee the task before me.  But why?  Was it fear of the unknown, fear of inadequacy, or indifference for the lost soul?

Immediately I knew it was not indifference; I cared for this person a great deal, and I wanted nothing more than to see them come to Christ.  So it had to be fear— but why was I so afraid?  As I was praying over the matter in the dark of my bedroom one night, I slowly came to a realization.  Like Jonah when he was cast into the sea and swallowed up by the wale, I felt like I was sinking and floundering in the face of the overwhelming task before me.  I didn’t know what to say to this person or how to lead them to the truth so they could understand.  I knew they needed to hear the message, but I felt far from adequate.  I was certainly no Brent Hollister, and I wasn’t sure I was ready to face the emotional and spiritual battle that was sure to be ahead of us. 

But I couldn’t rid my mind of my friend’s face, and I knew that if I gave up on the mission, this individual would be lost to the rising waters of grief and sin.  I had to reach out, and I knew it was my duty no matter how difficult the task.  So I took a deep breath, and with tears streaming down my face I spoke these words aloud: “Okay, I’ll go,” I said.  “Just help me know what to do next.”

It was then that I remembered my friend’s last words at the conclusion of a recent phone call.  “I’ll call you some time soon and we’ll reconnect.”  It was then that I knew I should wait for the phone to ring; I wanted my friend to be ready and willing to talk on their own terms, and I prayed that God would start preparing their heart for the upcoming conversation.

It was a long wait, but finally the phone rang.  I was standing in my kitchen, and as I listened to my ring tone play, I said a quick prayer for guidance as I practically ran to pick up the phone.  I was ready for the coming conversation, and like Jonah, I was finally prepared to serve.  God had patiently come alongside me and had never given up on me despite my reluctance and stubbornness.  In the end, Jonah and I both had our own agendas that were drastically altered by God’s ultimate plan.  In my own journey toNineveh, I found renewed friendship and hope for a soul in need of Christ’s love.  Jonah, too, found God’s sovereign will in his travels toNineveh.  Sometimes, it takes a willful heart, raging seas, and the belly of a wale to make God’s will known to His reluctant children.