Hey! We (the worship team) would love to do whatever we can to help you take our community’s worship experiences even deeper. This blog is about sharing stories behind the worship sets, resources to go further, and dreams for what worship at Willow Creek could be. And we’d love to hear back from you! How can we become a worshiping church in the deepest possible sense?
And so each week, we’ll post a reflection on each worship experience: what happened…the heart behind it…info about the songs/readings…resources to go deeper…and maybe even a few video clips. We’ll try to give as many tools as possible to help the 30 minute worship experiences on weekends and Wednesdays flow into the rest of the week.
So please join the conversation! How are you experiencing the Almighty in worship (either inside or outside of the services)? What can we, the worship leaders, do to better serve the community? Let’s create this thing together…
Honored to get to be on this journey with all of you,
This weekend, we immersed ourselves in God’s LOVE for every single person on earth. Built around Robbie Seay’s fantastic song “Rich & Poor”, we thanked God for His love and then prayed for our brothers and sisters around the world. Here’s how it flowed…
We began with Mighty to Save. I love this classic song for a number of reasons, and the second verse kills me every time…
So take me as You find me / All my fears and failures / Fill my life again
I give my life to follow / Everything I believe in / Now I surrender
This declaration lead us into a really percussive, double drum set version of I Could Sing of Your Love Forever that launched us into God’s Children, which always reminds me of how wide God’s Love really is. If interested, you can download four different FREE versions of this song HERE.
With all this in our hearts and minds, Sharon Irving belted out the stirring Robbie Seay song “Rich & Poor“, which lead us into a time of prayer for the world: the violence erupting in Egypt, the school closings in Chicago, and the Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations. You can watch the whole experience here…
Finally, the community stood and belted out the classic hymn “This is My Father’s World”. (This arrangement.) After such a rich time of prayer, the lyrics felt particularly powerful…
This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my father’s world!
The battle is not done;
Jesus who died,
shall be satisfied,
And earth and heav’n be one.
This is my Father’s world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!
Today, may we live in deep reality of God’s immense love for us. For you, me, everyone we’ve ever met, and every single person on earth. Thanks be to God!
This weekend was the second week of Willow’s Celebration of Hope. I love Celebration of Hope because it reminds me that as Christ-followers, we are called to join God in what God is doing to redeem the entire world…not just our own individual lives. Such a helpful and beautiful reminder.
After beginning with a wonderful corporate prayer, Becky lead us into the sweeping “Revelation Song”. Not many songs help our community get focused on the Almighty God better than this song. We then launched into an especially driving version of “God’s Children” that helped us celebrate God’s LOVE for every single person on earth. After God’s Children…
You can get this CD for free at Willow next week, or download it for free HERE.
After this celebration, I got to tell about a wonderful South African women we met named Nosimo. Her story was inspiring, heartbreaking, and deeply challenging to me because she embodied Paul’s words in Philippians 4 better than I could ever dream…
“…for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Paul’s words in Phil 4:11-13)
And so we spent a few moments in silence, mediating on this scripture, repenting, and praying “God, please teach me the secret of true contentment. Please help me to be more like our sister Nosimo. May Your will be done in me.”
This holy space quietly guided us into Matt Redman’s inspired song “Blessed Be Your Name”. We stood and sung from our toes.
What a joy it was to be lead in worship and challenged to be more like Christ by some of our South African brothers and sisters. They have taught us and blessed us in ways they’ll never know. Praise God.
This weekend, we began with the defiant celebration of the old spiritual “Turn Me Around”. I love this song, and we have a ton of fun with our Cee-Lo inspired arrangement. After this declaration, we turned our attention upward to the Almighty God and sang “Praise to the Lord the Almighty” and “10000 Reasons”, which built to a really holy moment. With full, grateful hearts, we sat down.
Laura and the team launched into “Holiest of Holies”, which is a fantastic song by Eastlake Community Church. Here is the song, followed by the worship experience afterward…
The lyric of “If I keep my eyes on Your eyes” at the end of “Holiest of Holies” guided us seamlessly into the prayer song “Open the Eyes of My Heart”. In this space of openness, we asked God to speak to us through the scriptures. It was almost like we were saying “Okay, God, we are open. Please help us to see what You are really like. Show us more of who You are.”
Sing: Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord…
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Sing: Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord…
“To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
Sing: To see You high and lifted up…
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
This weekend we joined in worship by singing “Holy is the Lord”, “Be Glorified” (a song Matt Lundgren and I cowrote), and “Holy Spirit”. Then we asked people to sit and be reminded of God’s truth from the Psalm 91:1-4
Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty…
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him…
He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Shawn Christopher then sang the Forever Jones song, “Every Moment” over us. The song is a reminder that God is with us from our first heartbeat until our last. God is with us in every breathe we breath, in every storm we face. I needed this reminder, and hope it was helpful for you as well.
You can check out the song and more from Forever Jones HERE.
We then took a moment to reflect again on the scripture and then stood to sing together Tim Hughes’ song “Everything”. The lyrics are a beautiful reminder that come from an Irish prayer, God in my living, God in my breathing, God in my waking, God in my sleeping…be my everything.
Once grounded in deep thankfulness to God, we launched into the celebration of “Happy Day” and the commitment of “White Flag“.
Shauna then invited us to listen to the stunning song “Who You Are”…
After “Who You Are”, we all spent time in silence…praying with our specific questions, doubts, and unanswered prayers in mind: “God, I don’t know what You’re doing, but I know who You are.” It was a truly holy moment. Heartbreaking in many ways, but beautiful.
Tina read the entire 23rd Psalm in this tender place, and then lead us into the great Redman song “Never Let Go“.
We were all once aliens
And we’re all so full of sin
But in Jesus’ name we are welcomed in, as citizens
A brand new family, old and young
From every nation, faith, and tongue
Oh—You love your children, Love your children
Every daughter, every son
Oh—You love your children, All your children
Help us see You in each one
At this point, Shawn sang the old spiritual “O Mary Don’t You Weep“…in this spirit…
After reading this wonderful quote…
“God loves all of humanity, all are made in His image, but, when there is oppression or poverty or suffering, He sides with the disadvantaged and intervenes to liberate them. …He is the God of the Exodus, God the liberator, who leads His people, all His people, out of all kinds of bondage – political, economic, cultural, the bondage of sin and disease – into the glorious liberty of the son of God.” (Desmond Tutu)
…we all sang “O Mary Don’t You Weep” in solidarity with the oppressed around the world, and then ended by belting out 10,000 Reasons.
All weekend I was reminded that God has never stopped rescuing the weak, healing the sick, freeing the oppressed, feeding the hungry, and siding with “have nots”. God has not and will never give up on this world. Hallelujah!!
In light of the horrific violence on the East Coast this Friday, can I share some powerful words about the Advent season we are currently in..
“Advent tells us that the deep longing, the ache we have for the world to be set right, for pain to be fully healed, for death to be defeated must be given voice. More than that: it must be given an Object. Advent reminds us that the hope of the whole aching, broken world is Jesus Christ.” (Glenn Packiam)
This is so profoundly helpful for me. As a parent of a 6 year old, the violence in CT has shaken me to my core, and I’ve been looking for ways to bring it to God. Advent reminds us that the hope of the whole aching, broken world is Jesus Christ. Indeed. Amen.
I also wanted to let you know that we just posted week 3 of Willow’s Advent Project, which you can download for free at willowcreek.org/advent. Sharon Irving and Delwin Eiland arranged and recorded this one – based on Delwin’s beautifully soulful version of “Angels We Have Heard on High” – and we hope it helps you create holy space during this busy week.
Last July in one of our planning meetings, we decided to celebrate Advent as a church. The team was very excited to help our community engage deeply with this season, and I was charged to help make it happen.
Thrilled and a little intimidated by the learning curve ahead, I immediately called my friend Troy Hatfield. Troy is the worship leader at Mars Hill Church, and one of the most liturgically-minded, Church-history-grounded people I know. He’s been leading the Mars community through Lent and Advent for many years, and has really shaped my understanding and appreciation of these deeper streams.
Troy graciously agreed to compile the text for The Advent Project. We figured out an overall framework together, and then he pulled together four stunning liturgies of scripture, readings, and prayers. This project couldn’t have happened without Troy’s experience and insight.
Once we had four killer liturgies, all the worship leaders from Willow’s South Barrington campus got together: Matt, Becky, Sharon, and Stephen from weekends; Brandon from midweek; Tony from Impact; and Delwin from Elevate. We gathered around a big table, read through the four texts, and began to dream about this project. Our starting place was:
Let’s pair up in teams and figure out how to record each liturgy in a way that will most help our community engage with Advent. We should feel free to bring our own style, passion, and experience into the mix. The only constraint is that each liturgy needs to be fully recorded in one studio day.
Brandon and Becky dove into week one, Tony and I tackled week two, Delwin and Sharon ran with week three, and Matt and Stephen dug into week four. We had a number of starts and stops, a few triumphs and dead ends, but in a few weeks, we had rough demos sketched out for all the major moments. Very exciting. Time to head into the studio…
Our goal was to record the entire Advent Project in four days, completing one liturgy per day. We quickly realized that our goal was a little overly ambitious, but most of each liturgy was captured in one gloriously long day in the Willow studio. I can honestly say that these were some of the most fun days I’ve had in a long time.
While every musician did a killer job tracking their parts, the hero of The Advent Project was Aaron Ruse. Aaron was the engineer, co-producer, mixer, mastering engineer, music-director, and sonic guru of the entire thing. He took our firehose of creative ideas and melded them into something you can actually listen to. (And when dealing with eight different artists working on four different recordings, that is no easy task!) Many thanks to Aaron.
It’s rare that all eight of us get to collaborate on one project, so the last couple months have been especially fun. But more than that, we hope that The Advent Project is a gift to you in this busy season of life.
May these sounds, prayers, and melodies help you create holy space every day. And may this holy space make room in your heart to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, and look forward to His return.
The Advent Project is a resource to help you create holy space during this Advent season.
For the last couple months, we (the worship leaders of Willow Creek) have been working together to record four 8-10 minute journeys of prayer, music, and scripture – one for each week of Advent. These worship and prayer recordings will be available for free download at willowcreek.org/advent. (Or you can get a CD at Seeds for a suggestion donation of $1).
It is our prayer that these recordings would help you stop…every day…slow down…pray…and open yourself to whatever God wants to say to you. And through this daily practice, allow God to prepare your heart to receive and celebrate all that Christ’s birth means for the world, and look forward to His return.
Maybe you will listen every morning as you drive to work (just keep your eyes open during the prayers…ha!). Maybe you’ll go for an early walk each morning with your iPod to reflect and pray. Maybe you’ll listen, pray, and discuss each Advent recording with your small group. Be creative! Follow the Spirit’s leading! Feel free to use the Advent Project in any way that will help you
and your community most deeply connect with God in this holy season.
Each week is based around one of the prayers from the scriptural account of Christ’s birth…
-Week 1: Mary’s song [Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)]
(created and recorded by Becky Johnson and Brandon Grissom)
-Week 2: Zechariah’s prayer [Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79)]
(by Aaron Niequist and Tony Sorrentino)
-Week 3: The angels’ declaration [Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:14)]
(by Delwin Eiland and Sharon Irving)
-Week 4: Zachariah’s prayer [Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32)]
(by Matt Lundgren, Stephen Kelly, and Shawn Christopher)
Here’s my introduction from last weekend…
So may this season be filled with holy expectation and deep celebration.
Our hope for this worship experience was simple. Remind ourselves…better yet…create space for God to remind us that God is with us. It’s a simple idea that is more easily understood than it is experienced.
We began with an energetic song (Happy Day) and then flowed into a series of songs to serve as a reminder of a God who is with us and always desires to draw nearer to us (You’ll Come, Peace, With Me, You Never Let Go).
I shared a story about a song that I wrote – one that I intended to be a private song – that has regularly served as a reminder of God’s presence. Our live experience including a moving spoken word piece by Sharon. We’ve attached a demo of the song here if you’d like to hear it again (I’m afraid it’s without the spoken word)
I hope and pray that this weekend was a reminder that God is Emmanuel – God with us – and that he will never leave us nor forsake us.
Beyond this weekend, if you’re looking ways to go deeper in how to experience the presence of God all throughout your day, I’d recommend a short simple book called The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. It’s a centuries old book with a whole lot of wisdom that is just as apropos today…perhaps even more so.
This weekend, we immersed ourselves in the beauty of God’s Creation.
Isaiah 6 says that the living creatures in Heaven never stop saying “Holy Holy Holy, the earth is filled with His glory!” This word “glory” is the Hebrew word “kavod”, which means “weight, significance, of utmost importance”. So another way we could say it is:
The earth is filled with the weighty significance of God.
God’s fingerprints are everywhere – in the beauty of His creation, in a conversation with a friend, in the celebrations of life, and in the most searing pain. The earth is filled with the weighty significance of God.
The question is: Do we have eyes to see?
And so this weekend, we focused on the beauty and goodness of God’s world. A New Liturgy: CREATION was a 25 minute journey of music, prayer, scripture, and space…accompanied by a stunning visual liturgy by our friend Stephen Proctor. Here’s an iPhone shot during the service…
For the Beauty of the Earth Do it Again (GK Chesterton) Enchanted Psalm 8 Knows My Name This is My Father’s World
If you’re interested in diving in more, you can read the entire text or download the recording at anewliturgy.com. We’re hoping that these recorded liturgies will help you create holy space wherever you find yourself – whether driving to work, walking in nature, cooking dinner, gathering with your small group, or anywhere you need “a sonic sanctuary”.
May we all have the eyes to find and celebrate God’s fingerprints everywhere. The earth is FILLED with the weighty significance of God!
This service was our 37th Anniversary of the church. There is so much that God has done in and through our church over the last 37 years that we decided to simply focus on what God has done over this past year – even that is overwhelming!
Sometimes in our worship songs we use hyperbole, but a couple songs that we used this weekend in our worship set had lines that seemed more descriptively accurate than poetic hyperbole. The heart of the worship experience was a medley of songs and stories on video. One of the songs helped thread things together was 10,000 Reasons. Singing that song often times feels like a poetic overstatement, but there’s something about singing that song in this context that felt like an understatement. Over the past year we have 10,000 Reasons and more to thank God! Coming out of the final video story we used these words from the song One Thing Remains:
“and on and on and on and on it goes, and it overwhelms and satisfies my soul…”
That pretty much sums up our celebration of our year of ministry. God’s love, faithfulness, forgiveness, provisions, and grace goes on and on and on and we can never thank our God enough.
As you look back on your life over the past year, what are you thankful for? How has God been shaping your life. Why don’t you take a moment right now and thank God for what he’s done in your life over the past year…