“O Yahweh, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways”
I was ecstatic! It was my first time in a Nashville recording studio.
The room may not have been fancy, but it was the real deal. Outwardly, it only seemed to be a refurbished garage packed with racks of gear, computers, and cables. But beyond the wires and processors, there existed the privilege of collaborating with a real producer: a top-notch professional who would go on to mix many of the well-known names of contemporary Christian music. Finally, the chance to attain a quality representation of what I could do had arrived.
I could not have felt more ready. Recently, my studies at my state university earned me a bachelor’s degree in guitar. My voice was thoroughly exercised: singing from childhood, leading worship, working for large camps, and doing concerts with my band was my life.
I was practiced and ready to record, so I slipped on the headphones and stepped up to the microphone, confident this would be the moment where it would all come together.
I nailed my take and laid down the cleanest track I could.
But then there was an awkward silence. Patiently, I waited for the input of my audio producer. He stared through the glass intently with an expression I could not decipher. Then, after a touch of hesitation, he stated: “Um, why don’t you give that another go?”
Not what I expected, but I did as directed. I sang the song once more, as perfectly in my mind as I had done earlier. Then he pivoted on his chair with a precarious look on his face. I could tell he was trying to be polite, but I could ascertain that he was not as impressed with my take as I was. He searched for the words. “You’re a character vocal!” he finally declared. “That’s it: a character vocal!”
Then, as my producer started into his craft, it became apparent what he meant by that declaration. He dissected the track and made me rework each section. Taking me through each note I had sung, he indicated the imperfections in my pitches one by one. He took me through every nuance of my sloppy timing. As the weeks of production continued, I learned the stark reality of laboring with an audio engineer who was at a different level of musicianship than I was. He was accustomed to terrific studio musicians and, well, I was not that. I realized I had a lot of growing to do as a performer.
It became evident that my perfect was not perfect at all. I learned what it was like to play guitar with the metronome blasting so loudly in my ears that for weeks after we were finished tracking, my mind was still hearing “click, click, click.” It was grueling. Take after take. Section and section. Note after note. Never in my life have I felt humbler as a musician.
But as the process neared completion, it was worth it. I still wasn’t the upper-level musician that I hoped to be, but the album was excellent. Furthermore, my quality as a performer improved greatly through the experience of being under the microscope of the studio.
Sometimes, when we pour out praises, we think solely about our giving to God: about us adoring Him and exemplifying His attributes. However, Biblically, there is a part of worship that deeply involves us; an aspect of worship where, as we come close to Him, we realize who we are. In the light of His majesty, there is a reflexive response that puts our true self under the microscope. As we magnify God, it also magnifies our failures and shortcomings.
Consider how the book of James compares studying the Word of God to gazing at one’s own face in a mirror (James 1:23-25). Encountering His glorious standard necessitates that we come face to face with personal shortfalls. Experiencing His perfection brings to the surface our imperfections. The faultless law that gives freedom demands that we confront any sin present within us.
The same is true when the Holy Spirit moves during times of worship. It is the reason that repentance manifests during times of praise. Worship services often are the environments that God utilizes to motivate people, flooding the altars and spurring authentic revival. Those introspective moments awaken our need for our Savior.
When Isaiah encountered the Lord, his spontaneous response was to recognize his own shortcomings: “Woe is me, for I am ruined. I am a man of unclean lips!” (Isaiah 6:5, LSB). In like fashion, a plethora of the psalms break into moments of repentance as the writers confront personal and corporate sins. It is as if the weight of God’s eye comes heavily upon them.
In Psalm 139, amid the lyrics of a song, David expresses how God is deeply examining him.
“O Yahweh, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3 LSB).
This is still true in our music of today. From classic hymns such as Amazing Grace to countless modern songs, lyricists not only espouse God’s worthiness but contemplate their own feelings of wretchedness. This is an essential element of the art of worship: the lens of His light brings clarity to the condition of the soul.
As you encounter our Lord, allow yourself to be under the microscope. Welcome this quality of worship even when it is uncomfortable. Through the examination, He will make you better because of it.
For further reading
Travis Lee is a Nashville recording artist and ordained minister of Hope Church in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. He founded Faithwalk Ministries in 2009 and has authored several books including DEEPER: Launching a Faithwalk with God and the children’s book series entitled Adventures of Fred and Sylvia. The Travis Lee Band currently tours the United States and abroad teaching God’s Word at churches, recovery groups, and prisons. Travis and his wife Allegra, minister together and travel with their six young children, Arrow, Sabre, Scythe, Lance, Dagger, and Mace.
October 27, 2023
More from Travis Lee
How should we approach presenting our praises to God? Does the skill level of a worship leader truly matter? If God is pleased with our praises despite our ability, why does our skill matter?
Clearly, the Lord cannot be outdone. But often even worship leaders, pastors, and other enthusiastic believers can be guilty of drawing too much attention to themselves, distracting from what God is doing. Are you upstaging God? What are the ways we inadvertently get out of our lane and distract from the ultimate frontman on the stage of life?