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the fire on the altar kept burning.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law for the burnt offering: the burnt offering itself shall remain on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire on the altar is to be kept burning on it. The priest is to put on his linen robe, and he shall put on undergarments next to his flesh; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire reduces the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it. It shall not go out, but the priest shall burn wood on it every morning; and he shall lay out the burnt offering on it, and offer up in smoke the fat portions of the peace offerings on it. Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out.

– Leviticus 6:8-13 (NASB, emphasis mine)

It doesn’t take a genius to realise the key message that Moses communicated to the Levites; this was a part of their daily duties – to keep the fire on the altar burning through the day and night. It sounds simple but I reckon that it actually takes a great amount of diligence to execute this task. Think about it as you re-read it; they had to don different sets of attire for burning the offering and clearing the ash. It was probably cumbersome to follow through the detailed instructions.

The fire.

Firstly, it’s important to note that this fire first fell from heaven (Leviticus 9:24); God put the fire there Himself. This I think, represents a fire of devotion, a symbol of uninterrupted worship and an undying presence of Christ in our lives. Hence, it has to burn with heavenly fire (since it was of a heavenly source). Let’s recognise that this fire cannot be fueled by earthly means – the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. For the fire to keep burning, the priests had to keep refueling it. Again, this was a cumbersome task and I think it represents our constant need for atonement; as believers, we have to fervently persevere in offering ourselves to God as this is a perpetual fire, not a temporal one. This fire must keep going until we meet Christ.

As with any fire, I think that the priests faced three main dangers in their mission to keep the fire burning on the altar:

  1. Ashes – that’s why they had to keep clearing it… We have to keep clearing the junk out of our lives!
  2. Negligence – when they fail or forget to fuel the fire… We have to be alert when we pursue God!
  3. Apathy – when they can’t even be bothered anymore… We have to be aware of the dangers of luke-warmth!

Are you able to identify with any of the above-mentioned as you fan your own flame? For the priests, the presence of these elements would inevitably dim the fire and cause an immediate reduction of the fire’s supposed influence, intensity and interest (or relevance). Let’s avoid these pitfalls.

On the altar.

If there was a holy of holies in our physical bodies, I reckon it to be our hearts. God looks at our hearts indeed and we must remember that it burns only by God’s grace and supplication, which we should ask boldly for so that God will get all the glory. I think our hearts should be fueled by two things – scripture and time with God. I propose three necessary elements for our altar of private prayer:

  1. Regular – set it at the same time so you develop a habit of prayer.
  2. Frequent – seriously, how effective can praying annually or quarterly be?
  3. Undisturbed – get away from all distractions that compete for your attention.

We must remember that all fires are borrowed from the fire of private prayer. Again, I’ll say it – the revival of a ministry comes by the prayer of its people and not by the pursuit of its programme(s).

Kept burning.

It must have been a “holy barbecue” for the priests on duty. I can imagine them, at the commencement of their duties, being given the offering (lamb, fats, meat etc.) to be burnt.  For sure they couldn’t burn it all at one go as if they were at a Korean grill! I’m certain they had to burn it like they were preparing Chinese double-boiled soup. They had to measure the quantity of the portions, observe how it burnt and calculate the burning time; they took turns to be on “guard duty” to tend to the fire, to ensure that it kept burning the entire night and that the offering set apart for that night would last until the morning. Don’t you think that it’s actually similar to guard duty in the army? There’s no need to do guard duty in the daytime because everyone’s at work and on guard; it’s always at night that we let our guards down. Likewise, it’s easier to keep the fire going in the daytime when everyone can see, but it’s indefinitely harder to keep the flame from being extinguished at night as we’re on our own.

I find this analogy especially relevant to ministry leaders. Question is, what exactly are we burning? I think that there are three things which we normally burn:

  1. People – without people, ministry won’t exist or make sense.
  2. Ideas – without ideas, people’s effort would be wasted and misdirected.
  3. Events – without events, there’ll be no platform to execute ideas.

We must realise that we cannot burn everything at once otherwise we’d suffer a quick burn-out! The solution here is to offer a continuous offering with a spread-out intensity instead of an initial offering that overwhelms everyone – that’s our responsibility as leaders in the ministry. To be consecrated, we must establish a “slow burn” that takes place over a long time that has to be attended by leaders and pastors (priests). It’s crucial then, that ministers of Christ have the fire of their zeal constantly burning. We must remember that giving ourselves completely to God is not a “quick work” but a “slow burn”. But be careful, for sometimes we’re on the fire for too long we don’t realise we’re actually the ones burning!

It is with this passage of scripture that I felt led to start a couple of prayer initiatives because we’re simply not praying enough. Did you really think that 30 minutes of PUSH, five minutes of pre-service prayer and two hours of P&P would do the trick of ushering in revival? Far from it! From now until the end of 2011, with the right resources and people in place, I’d like to prayerfully initiate at least a quarterly 12-hour overnight prayer session, add in an annual 24-hour “Pray like Mad” prayer concert (inspired by an event of the same namesake I attended a decade ago) and invite parents to pray with youths.

Leaders – feel my heartbeat. I want to encourage you to mimic the priests. If you observe the way they lead their people spiritually, you’ll realise that there was really nothing beneath them to do; that’s right, they served their sheep with a no-matter-what and a whatever-it-takes attitude! That was their house-keeping responsibility – to ensure that their fire (and their sheep’s fire!) never burns out, but is kept burning continuously! Leaders, that is your mandate – to keep the fire of your youths continuously burning for God. Ask God to show you how!

You know, I’ve only had “Buddha Jumps Over The Wall” once in my lifetime and when I tasted it, I could almost taste the 48 hours of preparation, the expertly cut delicacies, and the freshest and most premium ingredients. It was one of my most memorable culinary experiences and I think that our prayer lives can be as gratifying and as tasty as that! Just remember to keep the fire on a “slow burn”!

top ten ingredients of a worship leader.

I have decided to embark on a periodical series of “Top Ten” lists. To kickstart the series, I’ll share my initial insights of being a worship leader for the last 12 years. I received my calling to lead worship when I was 14 years old at a NA’s Bondage Breaker Conference (I know the topics are unrelated but I don’t decide when I’m called!). The first time I led worship was when I was 15 years old, at a Methodist Schools’ Combined Christian Fellowship Camp. I joined CAMY (before it was called CAMY) when R-AGE services first began as a 14-year-old backup vocalist (way back in 1997) and I began leading worship in R-AGE and in the adult services when I was 17 and 21 years old respectively.

Throughout the 12 years, God has always been faithful to me in assuring me of my calling – He consistently sends (at least) one person to encourage and affirm me of my worship leading anointing, for every single worship session that I’ve led, be it in school, small groups or services. I praise and thank God for His grace and faithfulness. While I sense that my calling has shifted to preaching, leading and mentoring for this season of my life (that’s one reason why I didn’t join the worship ministry in my church in Shanghai), I’m still blessed to have lots of experiences to share with current, new and aspiring worship leaders and hence the birth of this simple bite-sized list.

I’ve divided the list into two categories; the five ingredients in the “Worship” category deals with inward and internal character traits which I feel all worship leaders should possess; the remaining ingredients in the “Leader” category deals with outward and external personality attributes which I think all worship leaders should exhibit. This list is by no means exhaustive and I could probably list another 10, but these are the ingredients that come to my mind first. So here goes the alpha of many “Top Ten” lists to come:

“WORSHIP”

1. Personal worship – The songs you choose should minister to you first and your worship expression on stage should be as consistent as your expression at home, during your devotional time spent with God.

2. Private prayer – Anointing and spiritual authority flows into your life by one way only – an intimate relationship with God; you must develop a habit of regularly praying for yourself, your team and the congregation that you are leading.

3. Reliability and Reliance – Besides being a dependable and available worship leader (for your team), you must learn to be reliant on the Holy Spirit to lead you when you lead worship; failure to do so results in leading by charisma and not by anointing.

4. Humility – Realise that the definition of a biblical leader (modeled after Jesus) is first to serve before you lead, hence your team members are people you serve and not people who serve you; learn to meet their needs and always be concerned for their spiritual growth and character development.

5. Accountability – Being a worship leader means your life is now amplified for all to witness; it is absolutely imperative that a (more) mature and experienced (worship) leader watches over your spiritual well-being for there are many potential hazards as a high-profile personality.

“LEADER”

6. Excellence – Solid preparation is key to leading effectively and so you must memorise your music and your lyrics, as well as to be absolutely familiar with the arrangements, before you can even expect your team to do likewise. I also challenge all worship leaders to expose themselves to more musical genres, know basic music theory and learn at least one instrument.

7. Responsibility – Realise that you are now a public figure and hence your onstage leadership must be a reflection of your offstage lifestyle; you must be responsible for your speech and conduct for they carry a lot more weight now.

8. Initiative – As the shepherd of a flock, you should organise cohesion sessions (such as meals and meet-ups) to bond your team together as well as to give you a platform to get to know them better; take ownership of your team’s overall growth – first as believers, then as musicians.

9. Enthusiasm – If you are half-baked about the things that you do, you will end up producing half-past-six members and your worship session will also be a reflection of your personality. Hence, you must believe and be excited about what you are doing if you want others to catch your “fire”.

10. Connection – I’ve saved the most personal ingredient for the last; one reason why I am convinced of my effectiveness as a youth worship leader, is because I make deliberate efforts to get to know the congregation that I am leading (through intentional fellowship). Hence when I lead my congregation into worship, when I articulate lyrics, when I look into their eyes, (I think) I get an idea of what they are experiencing in their lives and I am to able lead and minister to them because I understand their struggles. You must feel for your congregation.

In closing, a popular perception of a worship leader is that he only needs to concern himself with the 30-minutes on stage. I vehemently beg to differ this dangerous rockstar attitude. You are the worship leader who leads others to worship God, not yourself. The glittering “glamour” of leading worship comes with the great task of leading your team during the time that you are not on the platform (which is the bulk!). Remember, a worship leader is not a superstar.

Suddenly I have a lot more to share, so perhaps I’ll write another “Top Ten” in the coming days. I sincerely hope that was helpful for you and can serve to be a simple yardstick for all worship leaders.

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