Placing the Puzzle Pieces

My mother was playing a game on her iPad a few weeks ago, and when I asked her what she was doing, she held the device out to me.  It was a puzzle-type game with the objective to slide the appropriate puzzle piece into the appropriate slot.  When the puzzle piece reached the correct spot, the app would make a sound that confirmed the puzzle piece was correctly placed.  “See,” she said.  “It’s easy.  Cora does this all the time.”
My niece Cora, four years old— pretty bright for her age and good at spatial activities— of course, she would be good at putting puzzles together.  But I had never excelled at puzzles— even the simple puzzles for children.  Blame it on the fact that I’m visually impaired, but puzzles are just not for me.  One could argue that puzzles can be done by feel— lining up the edges to fit into the appropriate grooves, but I still struggle.
I think it amounts to the fact that I can’t see the finished puzzle for what it will be in the end.  Yes, there is a picture of the puzzle on the front of the box, but no amount of staring at that perfect picture on the cover will help me align the puzzle pieces in the correct order.  I need significant time and concentration (and a whole lot of help from someone else) to even come close to putting a puzzle together.
I was thinking about puzzles the other day as I worked to piece together an upcoming worship service.  I had the Scripture, sermon title, and even an upcoming sermon series outlined in front of me, but when it came to song selection, I was drawing a blank.  It was frustrating, because I seek to choose music for services that helps to bring the message theme and Scripture into a full-circle worship experience.  If something is shared through the Word, I want to complement that with a song that further explores that theme.  Perhaps what is spoken will resonate fairly well with those who are listening, but it will be a song that breaks through and creates a level of comprehension or application.
But that day in my office, my planning was not going well.  I wasn’t finding anything to complement the theme and Scripture, so line by line, I studied the text, finally pulling out various words and phrases that I could build on.  In halting starts and stops, I finally managed to craft a set list that was satisfactory.  But I knew the transitions would need quite a bit of work.  Every song seemed to be in a different key from the one I would play preceding it, and I knew moving from song to song would not be seamless.  I was disappointed with my efforts, and I just wanted to go home.   Maybe if I prayed over it and slept well that night, I could revisit my song selections the next day and perhaps something better would come from my efforts.
In the end, the service came together nicely, but those first two days of planning were draining.  It was like fitting together a puzzle that refused to be completed.  There was a missing piece somewhere (probably on the floor out of sight), and it was nearly impossible to fit everything together.  But in the end, it was my worship team who came together to make it happen.
We had a productive rehearsal, and I began to see how Sunday morning would play out.  The harmonies gelled together, and the percussion added a dimension that I couldn’t have created solely on the piano.  The offering piece, though added in last minute, because something far greater than ourselves— a way for God to speak to hearts who were eager to hear from His Word.
Was our worship offering perfect?  Of course not!  But it was the best we could offer.  It may not have locked into place like the puzzle app, but God used our fumbling beginning to bring Him glory nonetheless.  Sometimes services come together easily, and God’s presence is obvious right from the start.  But in those moments when it’s a bit more difficult, I’m so grateful for the team He has given me.
I think of my first few weeks after I was officially hired at FRC.  Although I had been volunteering for quite some time, I didn’t have a solid praise team to minister alongside of me.  As I entered into the process of finding individuals to sing and lead, I fought the urge to seek people out directly.  I knew various people with beautiful voices and a heart for worship, but I didn’t want to push them into serving with me.  I wanted God to work within each person so that when the time came, they would be ready to serve.  One by one, a few women came to me, expressing their interest in singing on the team.  In the end, I reached out to a few individuals, but for the most part, most team members came to me and requested to join us.
Over the years, we have gained members and said goodbye to members.  But all the while, the unity of friendship, the beauty of harmony, and creativity of arrangement has kept us together.  I think of those who may have only been with us for a short time, and sometimes I wonder about the purpose of their brief interaction with us.  “Why were they here?  What role did they play in our ministry?  What did they carry with them when they moved on?  What can we learn from our time in relationship with this person?”
I always come back to the realization that God has ordained everything for a purpose.  Individuals come and go from our lives, and we can’t spend time worrying or wondering about the impact of those changes.  In every season, in every moment of worship, our team has taken what we have been given and made it work to His honor and glory.  Sometimes busyness gets in the way and members bow out.  Sometimes, sickness steals a voice or an injury limits the play of an instrument, but we keep striving and waiting for the return of health and strength.
A few weeks ago, I was filling in for a fellow musician who was struggling with wrist pain.  It was a new experience for me and an FRC team member as we entered a different sanctuary and sought to lead worship in an environment so unlike our typical set-up.  In his opening remarks to the congregation, the pastor said something that at first made me uncomfortable.  He welcomed me and my team member by name, and thanked us for coming to “augment” their service.  At first, I squirmed as I considered his meaning: that my team member and I were making their service better or greater.  But he went on to explain that he didn’t want the congregation to focus on the guest musicians or the praise team up front, but that God would be lifted higher through our praises.  Yes, my team member and I increased their sound and brought a new element to their worship, but we had not bettered it in any way.  We had simply expanded the boundaries outward and upward.
A morning that started out with a great deal of unknown— where would we stand, what would their praise team sound like, would there be harmony, what would the transitions be like?— quickly became something beautiful that I will remember for a long time.  It could have been a disastrous mess, but it wasn’t; it was just what that congregation needed for that time and place.
Leading worship will never snap into perfect alignment like a puzzle, with every piece assigned to its own place.  Sometimes leading worship is just plain messy.  It’s broken people coming together in their broken lives to serve the Church and our God.  It is God who unites us and brings us together to serve; He is the glue that holds us together as we keep striving.  He gives us what we need for each day so we can continue to use our gifts to lift up His name.