Worship leaders are called to be worshippers first, leaders second. But sadly many of us have it backward. We perform the duty of being a worship leader, without learning to first be a worshipper. Honestly, how is your personal devotional life with the Lord? How are your private times of worship? Do you have a hard time communing with God when it’s just you and Him? Are you leading from empty?
We need to cultivate rich, private devotional lives in order to thrive in our public calling. “Apart from Jesus we can do nothing, but by abiding in Him we will bear much fruit.” In this month’s episode, I talk with Craig Denison from First15 about how we can learn to have richer, more vibrant times of personal worship. Enjoy, and share with someone who needs to hear this!
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Alex Enfiedjian 00:00 Today’s episode is sponsored by our worship leader training course bundle which you can check out for free at worship ministry training com. Our course bundle covers all the major topics that you need to excel as a god honoring people loving worship leader. And so if that sounds like something that would be helpful to you, you can check out a free sample of all of the lessons right there on our homepage, worship ministry training calm, and if you’d like to purchase the bundle you can get 25% off by typing in the promo code WM t podcast WMC podcast at checkout. Hope it helps you and helps you serve your church better. Again, check out the free sample at worship ministry training calm. Alright, let’s get into today’s episode.
Alex Enfiedjian 00:51 Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the worship ministry training podcast. My name is Alex Enfiedjian. Your host, thank you for tuning in. I pray that this episode will strengthen you and encourage you as you seek to honor God in your calling as a worship leader. You know, Jesus said apart from me, you can do nothing. And that in order to bear much good fruit, we must abide in the vine. And I think a lot of us worship leaders were good at the technical side of things were good at putting together sets or mapping out Ableton sessions or scheduling teams. But not a lot of us are good at just sitting and abiding with Jesus and learning to worship Him in our private quiet times. And so today I’m talking with Craig Dennison, from the first 15, which is a platform that helps you strengthen your devotional life and your devotional time with God. And so I think it’s so important that we learn to be worshipers first, worship leaders. Second, and I hope this episode will help you become just that. So let’s dive into my conversation with Craig Denison from first 15 Hey, everybody, I am here with Craig Dennison, who is a worship pastor and the founder of first 15, which is a digital devotional that’s accessed by over a million people to help them start each day with God. Craig, thanks for being on the podcast today. Welcome, Alex. Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited for the conversation. Me too. Okay, first 15. So tell us why that name. What does that mean?
Craig Denison 02:13 Yeah, you know, it started for me back in college, where I really reached like, a real low point in my life, and found that rhythm of spending time alone with God, and it genuinely started to transform every part of my life. And I found that I didn’t have to spend a ton of time every day engaging with God, my rhythm before that was, you know, I’d go weeks with nothing. And then maybe I’d do like two hours, or I get out and go by a lake and you know, and read a time, or I did this, you know, conference experience. And it was this rule like high and low and very little in between engagement with God. And as a worship leader, I had these big Sunday experiences, you know, prepping for that. But then very little apart from that. And I found that the more that I gave God, regular and consistent time, or the less minutes, and I really started my day with God, specifically spending my first 15 minutes alone with God, the more that that moved the needle more than anything else that I was doing. And so I it was my own practice for years, it carried me out of dropping out of college was the one thing my parents told me not to do is drop out of college with the band I was in, I got signed to a contract to the Christian music producer, and school. So it carried me in that season out of the van and back in school thing stuck in Spanish class when the rest of my friends are still touring, which was a terrible experience. But I made a terrible decision, trying to follow God’s leadership into this ministry, worship pastoring, you know, and then starting first a teen SOS years of a personal practice of worshiping and reading and praying in about 15 minutes a day. That was, you know, so transformative for me. So I wanted to create an experience or feel called to create this experience for others, inviting them into that same process. And I found that as we invited people into spending their first 15 minutes alone with God, that that could be expanded, or it could shrink day to day, it was just this rhythm that was available and was achievable. It’s that first, you know, moments, your day is so challenging to squeeze in all the various things that you have to do in the morning before you head out for your day. And so I found it was really hard to get people to give God that space, but 15 minutes most people get to it. Okay, I can do 15 minutes. And that was really transformative for them. So that’s why first 15 it’s been in your first 15 minutes alone with God.
Alex Enfiedjian 04:20 I love that. And as you’re talking, I was just thinking, you’re right, like, when we start our day, in the presence of God, everything else falls in line, like I mean, it might not go perfectly but like, there’s just a piece to it and just a sense of the Lord leading and it’s so interesting and, and also when you were talking about how you would skip for weeks, and then do like a big deep dive for two, three hours or go away for a half day. Like, you know, Jesus says, Give us this day our daily bread and I know he’s talking about our daily provisions, but he also says, Man does not live on bread alone, but on the very word of God. Right. And so he’s like equating like a meal, like the word of God is like a meal for our souls and you wouldn’t skip seven days of eating right, you will be weak and malnourished, and he has so many people, and even so many worship leaders, they don’t eat the Word of God every day. And then they’re like, why am I weak? Why am I anemic? And why do I feel powerless? He’s like, well, because you haven’t eaten anything, you know,
Craig Denison 05:14 it’s crazy. That’s so true. And it, it’s hard, right? Like, anytime you start a new rhythm and try to be consistent, it can be so challenging. But I do think the more that we can, you know, find some sort of consistency, I found that and it still happens to me now, like I miss days as the writer of this daily devotional, guiding these people into an experience of God, like I miss days, and I know the days I miss how it impacts me. And even if I wait until the end of the day, I find that when I finally connect with God, I can look back across the last 24 hours and realize like a half, I would have started my day with you, God, I would have done this different or said this different. This wouldn’t have seen, you know, so terrible to me, or I probably would have given up this time. And then this and I can kind of reframe, it’s so easy to get swept up in the current of this world, you know, that takes us down these all these other pursuits. I find unless I start my day with God, it’s I still end up saying yes to this current of the ways of the world. But if I can begin with God than I have when I need to maybe swim upstream or to chart my own path that day, and it really doesn’t 15 minutes, especially if it’s your first 30 minutes, I find it really changes the rest of the minutes of my day in a much better way. Yeah, yeah, we’re much nicer to people, when we spend time with an alert first, you know, like I just said, amazes me, like, I’ll go spend time with the Lord. And then like, I’ll come back, and I’ll just be so like loving and kind and caring towards my wife, like, like giving her a background like, Oh, this must be like the Lord, because I received love from the Lord. And I can just easily give it out to others. And so you’re right, it changes our conversations, it changes everything. Yeah. And you know, the scripture says that we love because he first loved us. And after we think about that, in the, you know, the context of maybe salvation, but I think it’s daily, like we weren’t made to have everything we need innately to be able to live this life to the fullest. We were made to be able to receive the reality of God, and God calls us and invites us to this abiding relationship with Him. And I find that the more that I experience, his love, that I’m able to love, and I remember, you know, that ultimate made in the image of love, I mean, the image of God, God is love. And that remembrance is so critical for my ability to really be who I know I’m created to be in who I want to be. But it’s when I try to do that in my own strength. And I haven’t experienced the unconditional love of God, it’s so challenging for me to be able to offer that to others around me. Yeah, that’s so crazy. The word of bide you said that word. And it’s been kind of in my mind lately, have I even heard is a Shane and Shane. Well, it’s not a Shane and Shane song, but they did a version of a song called the bite. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but it’s beautiful. And the listeners should check it out. It’s definitely something you could even sing in church. But that’s all a side point. Like when you’re abiding in the vine, like the fruit just naturally comes right? You don’t really have to try, you’re just connected to the source and the source just like does the work in you, and then through you, and it just happens so easily. And so without effort. Oh, man, one quick thought I was thinking like spending some time seeing that passage. And I think it was a book on like a rule of life that I was reading that brought this sentiment up, which is this incredible concept if you’re not familiar, but basically, the concept was diving in john 15, that really a branch and a vine laid on the ground on its own almost pretty snow fruit, like they require a trellis a support system, to maintain that sense of connection in order to bear almost any fruit at all. And the listeners to Jesus’s story and parable there would have been readily aware of that reality of the requirement of a trellis in order for brands to connect to a vine and I think about that about our intentionality. So setting aside a rhythm of 15 minutes a day, this structure we can build actually can be like a trellis system that helps us connect to the vine in a meaningful way and bear fruit ultimately, that we need intentionality we need as much as I’m not a rules person at all, even a rhythms person, I’m not deeply disciplined. I need these rhythms and these structures to facilitate this connection, I’m going to have a God so that it can be the natural byproduct of relationship like not so much no branch tries to force the fruit. No winemaker even goes back to that process and says, Oh, I need to get this branch to try harder, but it’s not bearing any fruit, the winemakers gonna go make sure that that connection is solid and the nutrients are there, the support systems there. And they know if they do that, then the fruit is the natural byproduct.
Alex Enfiedjian 09:28 Yeah, so the trellis provides the structure for the natural fruit just to happen. And you know, it’s interesting because a lot of people just think things are supposed to happen spontaneously, or like a love relationship is just supposed to be natural, but it’s like no, anything healthy in life takes structure and effort. Like you don’t get a six pack. I’ll never have a six pack in my life, but you don’t get one without doing sit ups every single day and then eating healthy every single day. And that you know what I mean? Like or even a relationship with your spouse. Like if you’re not intentionally spending set aside time in a structured way.
Alex Enfiedjian 10:00 To make it regular, it just there’s no such thing as health without like, routine, I guess.
Craig Denison 10:05 Yeah. And intentionality is how I see it. It’s like, all of us ultimately have a system we’re living by. But often it’s created, you know, haphazardly. And it’s we just get to the end of the day. And that was an experience of mine, even in the pandemic, where I laid my head at night. And I would think, man, I worked really hard today. And I did a lot of things. And I’m exhausted, like, How do I know that that stuff moved the needle for anyone, because it’s so easy to just, you know, spin the wheels and give our effort to things. But I find that if I begin with God, and I set aside that intentionality of even just 15 minutes, that’s so often that reorient is my priorities. And it makes sure that the things I say yes to that day, or commitments for the future, it’s more likely, they’ll be connected to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, right. And that process. And so I really feel like I’m putting my hands on my heart to the things that God’s really calling me to do. And in that sense, I know when I put my head down, that I worked really hard, I’m exhausted, but I’m fulfilled and knowing that all that ultimately move the needle on what God was drawing me into. And so I think that intentionality really is such a key part of the process. And hopefully, it’s enjoyable, you know, like, at the end of the day, I think engaging with God, like any life giving relationship is gonna have times you’re like, I don’t feel like doing this right now. But I know I need to, and I know it’s good, just like, you know, working out or eating well. But at the same time, you know, having done different seasons, or different pieces of this puzzle, like it can be really enjoyable, you know, like cooking great food and eating it and feeling good, and going and exercising and getting the endorphins that get released. When you do that. I think God can be that way to where it’s not about the emotion. It’s not about this pieces, but it should be fruitful and engaging and exciting at the same time.
Alex Enfiedjian 11:43 Yeah, that’s so good. That’s so good. I just have to confess, you know, I have such bad self control. Craig, I don’t know about you, that I have to build, like you said structure around my life. And one of those structures or boundaries is like, with my telephone, I have to have it go to sleep at 9pm and wake up at 7:30am. I don’t know why I picked 732. But it’s like, because I wake up at you know, 530 or six, like, I need that hour and a half of note texting. So my wife literally like has the PIN code and blocks it down. And so that I can’t use it until that time. I guess what I’m saying is I think we live in a society where we’re all so darn distracted, that it’s hard to spend time with God. And then when we do spend time with God, we have that itch for I want to see who texted me, even though it’s 5am. I want to see who texted me. So I don’t know if you want to speak into any of that.
Craig Denison 12:38 Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think really one of the biggest barriers between us and engaging with God. And I would even say living this, you know, Jonathan tenet says that Jesus came to give his life and life abundant. And I think that looks a lot more interior, the exterior. You know, God never promises, like its finances or amazing success in life in any way. But he does invite us into this process of thriving on the inside. And you see the disciples doing that, even when the world around them in their external life is terrible, imprisoned, being tortured, whatever might be dying for their faith on the inside. They’re thriving, right. And so that’s this abundant life they’re living, then God invites us into that. And one of the things that is a barrier to that experience into that lifestyle really is distraction and buisiness, especially here in the States, it gets really challenging, and it’s only getting worse with phones and how addictive these platforms are. And the technology is, and the studies that have gone into that are well documented at this point, but it’s real. And I found for myself that it was a losing battle. You know, I wasn’t the algorithms on the social media platforms were beating me every day, you know, I was so hard for me to spend only the amount of time I wanted to spend once I got in there, they’re addictive, on purpose in they’re effective. And there’s whole teams of really smart people developing these systems were smarter than me and more intentional than me. And the idea that I could beat those people on their systems was not working out for me. And so I made my wife is amazing on social media, like it’s a real value add for her life. I cut it out of my life years ago and haven’t been back on. On a personal level. I’m fortunate that I have a team that helps me do that from a work context. And I’ll have to be on there on a personal level, which has been a real gift. But even with a cell phone, it was interesting experience of getting off social. And for about a month, six weeks, I pulled my phone out and look at it and think I don’t know why I don’t remember pulling you out and actually don’t know what to use you for right now. Because I was so used to having a second pulling it out. And I found that it was it was robbing me of those creative, quiet moments in the in between parts of my day, when there’s a down moment and I could arrest recover. A lot of my creativity was in those times where I think about something upcoming or something I just experienced. And and the cell phone in my pocket was was was it feeding me it was robbing me if so much and so that was a decision I made to get off. And it was amazing how long it took where I realized how addicted I was, how many times I pull my phone out, look at it, realize I couldn’t use it for anything meaningful and put it back in my pocket for about four to six weeks. And so that’s one thing I would say is I think intentionality really is needed. And that area of engaging with media, engaging with our digital devices, and reframing them as a tool that we use for our purposes. So even taking like, some time, maybe it’s even a retreat and doing a little fast from social media, or from your digital vices. And thinking, what do I really want this for? And what would that intentionality look like and drawings and good boundaries around it. And then I’m a big advocate for doing like a day a week, just do how we do you know, fasting in different ways, as believers is a valuable discipline. Think about just putting your phone, even your whole family like taking your phone, all the devices and just having a device free day, and how refreshing that would be for families and individuals. And so I think it’s a huge issue. But there’s this great opportunity to live very different in terms member, you know, what really matters most in life, which is ultimately loving relationships. Mm hmm.
Alex Enfiedjian 16:07 Yeah, because the dopamine hits, they’re addictive, obviously. And it causes this lack of focus, which I feel like in order to be hold the Lord, you need to be able to focus long enough for your mind and your heart to center on him right. And not like get pulled in a million different directions. And so I found that in my own personal life over the years, I’m pretty consistent with my Bible reading. And I do spend a significant amount of time each morning reading the scriptures. Praying is harder for me, for sure. It’s always easier for me to read the word than to talk to God, I want to get better at praying. But I’ve found over different seasons of my life, it’s hard for me to get to a place of worship, in my own personal devotional life, like this place of adoration and love for God. You know, it’s easy to get on stage and like, feel these feelings and be all passionate and be pouring out your heart to the Lord on stage. But it’s harder, I think, for many worship leaders to in the quiet of their own home, get to that same place of adoration and love, and just affection for the Lord. And I would love to hear your thoughts on like that stage, public persona versus that private, quiet time and what encouragement you would have for worship leaders, maybe what warnings you might have for worship leaders who the only time they ever feel affection off of God is when they’re on the platform, what would you say?
Craig Denison 17:32 Yeah, I totally get it as a vocational Christian, leading this devotional ministry, this broader ministry is still leading worship and writing songs and doing various things. I really understand the challenge of that. And even as a devotional writer, there is a period of time there where it was taking off, and a lot of people started engaging with it. And I was spending time with God for myself, and everything was turning into, okay, how would I reframed this later today when I write the next devotional. And so it didn’t feel like my time with God was just my relationship anymore with him. And I think the caution I would have for people is, is really creating a custom experience for yourself that’s needed, and helpful. And hopefully, you know, there’s resources like first a team that can maybe be an aid or an advocate or a resource occasionally in your life or consistently for a season, whatever that looks like. I know the first a team, we have a lot of people that come and go, you know, it’s useful for a season, they do something else for a while, maybe they come back around, or they use it if they only have 15 minutes, and they can’t create their own experience that day. And they want to make sure they get some engagement with God. There’s a lot of different ways that people use it and a lot of great resources out there. But I found for me that I really had to engage with reading scripture different I read it in large chunks now. And I do less and my personal time alone with God, of studying deeply on a single word, because I want it to be an invitation to relationship more than something that I study, and then I’m able to turn around and teaching. See the thing with worship of flip I needed to switch in my own life was going from, I think being a worship pastor selecting songs to use on a Sunday, it often has this in the seat of kind of being a critic of sorts, you know, maybe not a critic of is the song a good song or a bad song, but a critic of Okay, what I use this for my church, how would my band engage with this? Where would it go in a set and you’re starting to think when you engage with songs about or the production of it, and you think about, you know, what I’m going to do to create the right tracks to back it. There’s so many pieces and the elements of it that turn us into that space of being a critic. And it’s critical to become, I think, just a genuine worshipper, in our personal time with God. And that can look very different for everyone. I mean, should in worship, there’s so many ways that we can engage with worship. And so I would say, you know, finding a rhythm and a practice that works for you that’s actually engaging on a personal level. It giving yourself the flexibility for it to change season to season, like if something’s not working to find something different. And it can come back around later. You know, and so if you’re in a season where it’s not healthy for you to engage with Have these specific songs in a certain way, like, pick up a guitar and just sing what comes to your heart in your mind or think about worshiping God by just taking a sentiment and meditating on it and reflecting on it and giving it over to God, this idea of God’s glory or his goodness or his love and kind of giving that back over to him or find something you can read, and be able to give it back over. There’s a lot of ways that we can engage in meaningful worship but find what works for you stick with the assesses he’s in the season, be willing to change it up. But the main goal is that I think it’s such a draining experience to try to engage with God only corporately, because our faith was meant to be personal. Our faith is meant to be direct in our corporate expressions always meant to flow from that place of personal relationship make connection with God. And as leaders, we have to cultivate that first and foremost.
Alex Enfiedjian 20:47 And what would you say is at stake if people don’t have that private, intimate connection, but they’re still on stage?
Craig Denison 20:54 Absolutely. I know, I’ve felt in seasons like that, like a phony, being on stage, like a fraud, I feel like is this just turning into a job and I don’t have anything else I can do here. When those feelings, especially in the middle of leading worship are a terrible experience, you know, and not that any of those things are even true. I think God is much more about, you know, taking us where he can get us than he is, you know, condemning us or shaming us for not having us not having read our Bible yesterday or spent time alone with God. There’s no obligation in any of this. It’s just all an invitation. That’s how I frame it. But at the same time, I know those thoughts that come to my own mind, I know to the way that I lead worship is different when it’s flowing from a place of real connection with God, the way engage on Sunday is totally different than when it’s something where I’m really leaning on past experiences to make this Sunday matter. And so I think it’s all good. I wouldn’t say that. And I really don’t want to shame anyone, if they’re in that place where they’ve had a hard time connecting with God individually. They’re still leading worship, like, that’s a great that you’re getting up there and doing the best that you can. But there is more, and there is better, and there’s something available. And I think when we when you reorient your life in the healthiest and best way, then you’ll find that worship leading on stage can be so much healthier, so much more fruitful, stemming from that place of a vibrant personal relationship with God.
Alex Enfiedjian 22:13 Hmm, yeah, when you said past experiences, it made me think for some reason, I saw that picture of the manner that they would if they would gather a whole bunch of manners to like, set themselves up for the future, it got rotten, and stinky and nasty, right. And I was like, Oh, we don’t want that to be the source of our worship leading, we need that daily, we need to go out daily and get that fresh word from God for ourselves, to speak to our souls to confront our sin to whatever he needs to do. So that when we do get up on stage, it’s coming from a place of like you said, a real, vibrant, true relationship from ourselves. overflowing to others.
Craig Denison 22:50 Yeah. And I think that that story is computer so applicable, you know, God has a relationship, it’s available every day. And I so often treat God different than I do these other relationships. And then maybe that’s because I know that he’s, you know, higher and better. But at the same time, it’s a relationship, like other relationships, and I don’t expect my marriage with my wife, when I’m thinking about things correctly, to just to be fine on its own. And the idea that we went on vacation and had a great conversation a month ago, means that we should be, you know, totally connected and engaged today. And everything should be great. If we don’t make time with her to really hear how she’s doing, what she’s thinking, what she’s feeling and stay connected, and the ebbs and flows of life, that things do start to feel cold things do you start to feel distant, and at times, you can feel fake, you know, inside of even your own relationship. And all of us that have been married for any length of time have had different experiences like that their relationship with God is no different. And that since, you know, he’s here, and he’s gone to such great lengths to make himself present. He can’t be any closer than he is, you know, I mean, when Jesus died, the veil, signifying the separation between God’s presence and US was torn into that moment, you know, we look forward to heaven and all that’s available in heaven. But God is here right now. He’s in us right now. He can’t get any closer that he is. And that just shows what the point of all of it was all along, right, that God just wanted us again, just want to closeness with us again. And I think if we’re not tapping into that on a daily basis, you know, at least we’re missing out on something beautiful and available and meaningful, and our worst, you know, we’re missing what is really meant to be our main source of sustenance in life. And we are living a life almost, you know, spiritually malnourished, and that can start to have a really negative effect on different parts of our lives. And all of us have experienced that too. But the great in a refreshing and amazing part of this is that, you know, God’s not shaming us for any of those past experiences. He’s ready right now and excited right now, just to have us again, he’s like the father in the prodigal son story. In as soon as we turn our feet back down that path, he runs out to meet us. He won’t even let us apologize. You know, he grabs us up and he grabs us in his arms is willing to throw a party The celebration just by the nature that we’re back again. And he’s beautiful and has so much grace in that sense. And so if we can have that hard, I find it helps us kind of had been days or weeks or years, helps us turn our heart back towards him and get back in that path of meaningful, connected relationship.
Alex Enfiedjian 25:16 It’s so good. And he always wants to say something fresh to us. You know, every day, he wants to say maybe it’s an encouragement, maybe it’s an exhortation. And then even through us, he wants to say something fresh to the church that we lead, you know, and so that’s why we need to be in constant communion with Him. So I’d love to ask you this question. You know, what would you say like an adequate time spent with the Lord looks like and I’m not talking about time limit, I’m talking about what transactions that sounds like the wrong word, but what sort of things should take place when we are having a personal devotional time with the Lord?
Craig Denison 25:54 Yeah, you know, it’s such a good question. So a few different answers that come to mind. You know, I used to be fairly hesitant to say the answer, I’ll say first, and I’m coming more and more confident around it. And that’s, I think, we’re supposed to walk away from our time alone with God, really sensing a genuine connection with God. And there’s, you know, been a lot of conversation, and rightfully so about being, you know, God is not about feeling things and experiencing things. And it’s not about that, and I’ve gone through, you know, real seasons where I didn’t have that emotional sense of connection with God. And I think there can be those times that God uses even orchestrates, and invites us even deeper, into something that’s more true and real. But at the same time, I think that can be true of other relationships as well. And any other relationship, though, you know, we know in marriage that happens that way, where there’s everything doesn’t always feel on cloud nine. But if you go a long time in your marriage, and there’s no sense of like, real love and connection, and affection for that person, then I think if that goes on long enough, you probably should take a look at something, you know, like something might be in the way there, there might be a conflict that didn’t get resolved, there might be something you need to bring before your spouse even get counseling for, to try to process why is that affection and connection missing. And we were quick to do that often in the context of marriage. But we’re, for some reason, willing to kind of go a long time without that with God. And I think there is supposed to be on the other side of time with God and most days, a genuine sense of like, I sense his affection for me. And a genuine essence of affection back for this god that sacrificed everything to have us and is so good is so loving is so present, is so available, sensitive. First thing I would say the last thing I’ll say I’ve had this metaphor that come to mind recently about kind of just the availability of God’s presence. And the metaphor is, you know, if you look at an old timey, you know, radio, and you think about the rally that right now, in both of our rooms, Alex, like there’s radio signals here in this room, we just can’t hear them. And it takes this tool, tuning the frequency dial, you know, this old radio to the right frequency, to where that signal that was there, all alone becomes Audible, and we can hear it, and we can share that with others. I think God’s presence is that way. And I think we should have a sense of God’s spirit of his presence as being engaged and timely with him. But it’s not that he shows up, you know, when we start praying or engaging, it’s, he’s there. He’s like those radio signals that’s always present. But what happens to me in my timeline with God most days, is I can kind of tune my heart to that right frequency. And I have a sense of his voice, I have a sense of him speaking to me. And maybe it’s illuminating scripture. Maybe it’s in a worship song, this aspect of his character that I really needed that day, maybe it’s something I need to say or do for someone else, or a step I need to take or a conversation with Him in prayer, even questions answered, or whatever there might be a sense of peace about something I’ve been wondering about. And that’s that tuning your heart to that right frequency to hear what was there all along his voice, his presence, his guidance, his leadership, I think that should be present in our time alone with God. I think if we’re missing those elements, it’s not about checking off a box, right? Like God has no interest in just showing up and checking off a box. All of that scripture was given to us, not because scripture is God, but it’s an avenue to know God is this gift given to us to know the author of these words, because God is alive and active, as is every gift that he’s given us. It’s all about relationship. And so I think time with God should extend to that place of real connection. And if it’s not, then I think it’s worth taking a look at why isn’t it? And how do we reimagine what it could be to really facilitate that genuine connection with God?
Alex Enfiedjian 29:47 I think you’re right, Craig, I think God wants relationship period. That’s the thing he’s after. It’s what he’s always been after. So we definitely don’t want it to just be cerebral and knowledge based and obedience based and yet Same time we do know that a heart that’s submitted to God, like what does Jesus say, If you love me, you will obey my commands. And so there is a non affection type love as well, which is like, Lord, I trust you, I submit to you, you’re the lord of everything, or the Lord of my life, you know best. So I’m going to bring my life in line with what you say. And that’s an act of worship. That’s the Romans 12 act of worship, right? The whole life in sacrifices and living sacrifice to the Lord as worship So, but I agree with you that ultimately, there should be some man, Lord, I really love you, I really love you, I really, I just am so grateful, Lord, for who you are and what you do in my life. And if we don’t have that, it’s kind of a scary thing.
Craig Denison 30:43 Absolutely. It’s so important. Often it is the practice of our faith that can guide us back to that place of genuine affection. That’s as it is, with any other relationship. You know, if I’m not feeling it with my wife, I don’t just say, Well, I’m gonna wait till I feel it, I started doing things, you know, it’s like, hey, let’s go on a date. Let’s have a conversation. Let’s sit down, let’s do this thing that we both love and is fun, let’s have a car, whatever it might be. Same thing with my kids, you know, you fret my boys are foreign to. And there’s definite moments that I don’t feel, you know, all the affection in the world. It’s like the highs and lows come so fast when they’re young. I remember when my oldest was little, you know, there’s this moment where he’s asleep in my arms as a baby, and he just think life can’t get any better than this. And then 30 minutes, you can’t get him to stop crying. It’s like, I’m going to kill this kid. In 30 minutes, it’s like life can’t get better. And I’m going to, I’m going to kill this baby. And it’s like, that whole pathway happens so fast. You just keep doing the practice of love, keep doing the practice of engaging in relationship, and that ebb and flow of life will calm and you can weather that storm. Well, I think it’s the same way with God. It’s can’t give up on the practice of our faith when we don’t feel it. But if we’re going a long time, even days on end, without any sense of connection, then think it’s worth taking a look at and trying to find a new rhythm, a new practice that does help establish that genuine connection.
Alex Enfiedjian 31:58 Let me ask you this. What are some different kinds of devotions that you’ve seen people have like there’s probably a such a crazy variety, but just maybe give a different because maybe one of our listeners is listening in they’re like, I do the same thing every week, but I don’t feel God, maybe give them some other things they can try to kindle that connection.
Craig Denison 32:16 Absolutely. Man such a good question. There’s so much space here. And this and first of team is really just meant to be a way that’s free and available, that you can access as whenever it’s helpful for you. My practice has looked really different recently as an example, where because some words have become so much a part of my job, that I honestly have spending more a bulk of my time alone with God and the place of contemplation and meditation. And I take a sentiment or a verse or a part of a verse, you know, I was doing this with someone where it talks about, you know, those who meditate on the level or be like a tree planted by streams of water, that will yield fruit in its season. And I just took this image of a tree, in this reality of being able to be planted in God. And this idea of yielding fruit in its season, you know, that it’s not always about, you know, the tree bursting at to the brim of fruit, you know, even production of fruit has seasons to it. But it’s always, you know, a good thing. Even when trees are in different seasons, that’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. And, and so taking that even sentiment and just I just sat there and I was thought about it with God and engaged with it and let it sink to my heart. And so my practice currently looks more like creating some real room for like meditation and contemplation. And that space in my life in my life is so noisy, and so busy, has really been drawing me close with the Lord in the season. And it’s something I didn’t even do years ago, I didn’t even know was available, I didn’t even know it was good. And I found it all over scripture. So add that as a practice has been something so good. There are seasons when, you know, I’ve done where I just really wanted to read the Bible cover to cover. And so there’s seasons, I went as crazy, as you know, reading the Bible through in three months. And there’s a Bible reading plan for that on a version. And I almost found it easier to read that much every day as opposed to a little chunk and doing it for a year. So I’d almost recommend that as someone that wants to read the Bible through if you’ve never read it all the way through, I’d actually say read in three months, doing it every day for a year, if you’ve never done that before, it can be really challenging. And you get really stuck in numbers and love it against and Deuteronomy and these sacrifice after sacrifice. And yeah, as opposed to I think scripture was meant to be consumed at times, even these letters are in the New Testament to be read aloud in one sitting over this group of people. That’s how they were written. And so reading all of Romans in a day, or in a time can be so engaging to get the broad sweeping notions that Paul is talking about. And we don’t often do that. Often. It’s you know, maybe every week or two that we do in a time of God. So reading the Bible, like a book or these letters, like a real letter written from Paul to this group of people, and consuming all of it in one sitting is something that I think is a different practice that more of us should be doing. And we should be preaching that way. I think more in these broad sweeping sentiments I’ve seen that’d be fruitful, the rhythm of first of teen is worshiping and reading and praying, those three elements are my core practice, I still visit back to those and still incorporate those in my practice now. That’s what I recommend to people the most is worship is so great about taking us out of the center of our time with God and putting God’s character and goodness in the center, which is what I need the most. Reading is so great about illuminating my mind and reminding me of who God is who I am. But all that should build to that place of conversation with God is that place of direct connection?
Alex Enfiedjian 35:36 Yeah, conversation. You know, one thing I started doing recently was like prayer walks was really helpful, especially when I was wearing my mask, because like, nobody could see me talking to myself or talking to God, you know, they didn’t think I was crazy. So I would read, and then I would go for a walk and just talk or sing, or whatever came out of my mouth, you know, to the Lord. But you said that conversation and I read in a book recently, by a controversial author, I shall not name his name. But it was really helpful to me. He said that he used to get discouraged whenever he would be doing his devotional time. And he would be discouraged that like, he would be distracted by like things that popped into his mind that he needed to do or a person he needed to call or a solution to a problem. He was, you know, thinking about and he was like, Man, I’m so discouraged. The enemy is like trying to distract me from communing with God. And then he realized, wait a minute, what if God’s talking to me and telling me that I need to call this person or gave me the solution to the problem I’ve been praying about, or this, like, prayer doesn’t only have to be, it shouldn’t only be a one way thing, it should be God conversing with us as well. So for any of the listeners out there who are like, man, I always get distracted, when I’m trying to pray, maybe it’s the Lord actually guiding your thoughts, you know, maybe not, maybe it is just you being distracted. But I was really encouraged by that little sentiment in the book. So
Craig Denison 36:51 it’s, so the more that we can stop containing God to a small segment of our life. And it has to look these small ways. And the more that we can start opening up the whole of our life and inviting God into that. And that being relationship is like, you know, this is what my wife, Rachel, and I do, you know, we still value like getting up and having like coffee together. And having that conversation, often I wake up earlier, and so I kind of do my time with God during the day, I’ll make coffee, wake her up. And we’ll engage hopefully, before the kids are up, if possible. And so that literally just looking each other straight in the face. That’s kind of how is he timeline with God. But the goal is that as we’ve established, that connection, that extends into the kids are up, life’s crazy, I’m working, we’re doing different things. But we still have that sense of closeness and connection through the whole day. And we’re doing life together. I think God should be like that, you know, we contain him almost have that coffee experience. And then it’s like it ends there. That should be a catalyst for inviting him into talking with our friends and getting great work done. And really having him be like a connection point throughout the whole day. For us. That’s the real goal. The goal is in this solid 15 minutes. And that’s it. The goal is that that’s a catalyst to our whole life being connected with God. And that’s the real opportunity that I’m hoping that this time with God help people sees.
Alex Enfiedjian 38:05 That’s a really great word picture. I want you to tell our listeners about first 15 and then I’m going to ask you kind of a controversial, potentially offensive question. So tell us like, Okay, so first 15 you have like a podcast, you have an app, you have a blog. So what is it? And how does it help them engage? And then I’m gonna I’m gonna throw you a curveball.
Craig Denison 38:26 Yeah, sounds great. So really it Firstly, Tina, at its core is a guide to help you spend your first 30 minutes in worship in reading and prayer. And we do that on devices that people already use. It’s donor funded, so it’s free. So we have a lot of people that listen to our podcast, it’s a daily podcast that comes out that hits your feed first thing in the morning, we have a mobile app with a large community of people and churches and small groups that are gathered in the app. They use it as their devotional resource. We have an email subscription, if you wanted to have a your inbox first thing, we post links in content on social every day, and it’s a website and all the contents, you don’t have to like, subscribe to get the contents right there online. So if you want to go do today’s devotional, that’s right at first a teen.org. And the first thing you’ll see is a link to check out today’s devotional. So we will try to put it out in as many ways we have physical books as well. If someone wants one, you can make a small donation first 15. And we’ll send it over to you. If you don’t want to have your devices at all for time with God, there’s that experience. So here’s the devotionals for everyday are available in book form as well. That’s how we do it. The goal is just as May, you know, platforms and devices and ways as possible. We just want to be a way that people know. Okay, waking up to that, no, I can use this as a way to have a meaningful experience with God.
Alex Enfiedjian 39:36 That’s really good. And before I ask the controversial question, I just wanted to run a few thoughts that you just said, like, not having your device for your devotional time is, I think, really smart like reading a real Bible. I mean, I do read on my phone Bible now because our church has a reading plan in our church app. And I want to be with the church body in that but like, yeah, it’s so much more distracting than just having paper Bible that you can’t click anywhere on. You know, there’s no For links on paper. So one thing that I’ve been thinking about lately is, especially as I disciple young people, I have a lot of young people on my worship team. And like, a lot of them are super solid in the Lord. Some of them not so solid. I mean, they’re not like, not that I know of living in active sin and rebellion against God, but they’re just like, you know, they need to grow more in the word, they live in a really gnarly culture. They’re super hyper connected and hyper distracted. And I feel nervous about young people, like using the Bible app, like the youversion Bible app where there’s the verse of the day, and like, they open the verse of the day, or they get notified of the verse of the day, and they read one verse, and they think that they ate enough of a meal, or even stranger. And the reason I say this is kind of controversial, it’s kind of what you do. But I actually like what you said, you said, We are a guide for people’s devotional life. But what I think some people do, is they say, Craig, chew my food for me and spit it into my mouth. Like they don’t want to do the work. They just want someone else to do the study someone else to do the reflection, someone else to do the meditation, for example, the Bible story of the day, it’s like a liturgy. You know, it’s like, there’s the Bible verse, there’s a prayer, there’s a reflection, there’s a closing prayer. And there’s a verse that you could put as your wallpaper for your phone. And it’s like, I get what they’re doing. I’m not trying to criticize it. But I wonder if people want to hear other people’s thoughts about the Word of God more than they want to hear the Word of God themselves. And I wonder what you would say about that? Because I think we need to chew our own food. But what what would you say if we if we want to be truly changed? I think we have to grapple with the Word of God ourselves.
Craig Denison 41:42 Yeah, I completely agree, I would say is, I think that there’s, there’s a lot of room here and there’s things day to day, that you know, help us and something’s always better than nothing. And so what I would say, and so people knowing where they are, and knowing what their day looks like, even with a digital wising, you know, that’s what I do, too, I do as much as I can pen to paper for my journaling, and reading a physical Bible engaging with a worship song, you know, I’ll do through my computer and my system, and then kind of move, Brent. But there’s those days that have a morning meeting, and I’m rushing out, and having a podcast I can listen to in the car, helps me do something, they just tune my heart to God, if I missed that experience I like the most. And I think it’s critical to there’s, you know, seasons where I’ll follow a voice in a leader because I think they just maybe are anointed for something that I’m really supposed to get access to, for a season. And it’s something that God’s really drawing me into. And so being almost immersed in their perspective. And what they’re specifically anointed for is really beneficial. But it’s the wrong thing, when we start to put a timer hitting the some of the keys to our own life and our own spirituality over where he goes over to someone else. And ultimately, you know, we’re just taking whatever they say, whatever they do with their practice looks like what their relationship looks like, and just trying to copy and trying to take that and run with it. And not being in the driver’s seat of our own life in a relationship we’ve got ourselves, that’s where we’ve gone too far. And I think it’s really important, you might phrase it as using that metaphor, you might have someone that’s in the passenger seat for a while, you know, that’s helping you is guiding you is saying, hey, you should maybe turn right here or look up ahead, this is this really cool thing. But you don’t always want to have someone in the passenger seat, you know, it’s really helpful sometimes to build a head where you want to go on your own and not always need the directions and don’t always need that other voice. And, and so I think, knowing where you are, and ensuring that whatever you’re doing that you’re still in the driver’s seat, a relationship with God, and it’s still personal, you know, it’s not you in this person and God together. And the extent of your relationship is almost like a group date all the time. It’s like if I if I only group dated my wife, and we never were able to be alone together, and there was no relationship there, that would be rough. And there’d be so anyone would say, there’s something messed up there, like you should probably cut this other couple out, and you should go hang out with your wife, like on your own. And we do that with God often, especially if we’re only engaging with God is just Sunday morning. You know, the scripture we’re hearing is through the context of a pastor, the worship we’re experiencing is through our leadership or the leadership of others around us. If we’re worship leaders, you know that a prayer is maybe someone can very little prayer happens on a Sunday morning, and that’s okay. But we maybe have almost no actual conversation with God. And that’s it. That’s it. Yeah. That’s it for the faith experience. So we have to have this one on one time that, you know, we had these as resources and tools, but by no means they’re the whole of what our actual engagement with God, we have to have that one on one real connection point with a direct resources that God’s given us like his word and prayer and conversation, and he’s given us so many tools and resources, but accessing this for ourselves and using them for ourselves is critical.
Alex Enfiedjian 44:53 That’s such a great answer. Thank you. Thank you for swinging back at my immature view. Basically like what you’re saying is You guys and other people who create resources to help people do devotional, it’s like a diving board to help people dive into the deep end, you know, and that’s, that’s what you want, you want to give people the push, they need to get into the pool and swim themselves. But they what the danger is, is that they would just take your thoughts and your devotion, and they would be done with it there that that would be the end. But what you guys are actually wanting to do is it’s the beginning, this is the beginning of the day. And then from here, all day long, you’re going to be meditating, praying, reflecting, talking to God, reading more. And I love that I think that’s a really helpful tool. And obviously, it’s been very helpful to millions of people who have accessed it. So I’d love for you to tell our listeners where they can get connected with you guys what you’re doing, where they can find these resources. And then I’ll ask you to give some final thoughts about our devotional life as worship leaders.
Craig Denison 45:55 Yeah, sounds great. Yeah. So if you’re looking for a way that you can spend consistent, meaningful time alone with God, there’s that gap between your practice right now and where you want to be, and we can be helped to close that gap. And go to first 15 that org, that’s first one, five, that org, can sign up to probably the best place to start is just signing up to get the email. And that will introduce you to the other platforms give you direct links to platforms and ways to access the content. So that’s where I would start at first a teen.org. Check out a devotional for today, if you want to see what it’s like, you can sign up for free to the email, and we’ll get you introduced to the rest of the platforms and hopefully help you get plugged in with God. And again, system basis every day. That’s good.
Alex Enfiedjian 46:32 I will link first 15 and then the podcasts and stuff in the show notes of this episode and on the YouTube channel for those who are watching this. But any final words about the worship leaders devotional life today to just leave us with last thoughts? Yeah, I
Craig Denison 46:45 mean, first, I want to say thank you for doing the work that you do. Having been a worship pastor for really just a few years, it’s hard work. And it’s critical. And worship is such an important facet of Sunday gatherings and corporate gatherings. And it’s not easy. And so much goes into it, no matter the size of your church, the size of your team, the style of worship, that you’re that you’re leading, it is just really hard. And so I want to say that, I hope that first 15 or other resources can help you care for your soul, in the midst of doing all that because I know how draining and challenging it can be. And I want to give you, you know, just an encouragement to care for your soul above all else. And to be willing to move fast. If you sense something that’s there that needs help, you know, get help, it can be so isolating and so challenging as a leader to say, Hey, I’m okay, like, are not okay in this area to admit weakness and vulnerability. But I think that’s what our congregations and our communities need to actually hear from us maybe the most, as, as leaders we didn’t, we’re not perfect, and we’re not on a pedestal and, and it’s really just like, we’re all guides to individuals experiencing connection point with God. And so I hope that we can be a service to that, but value the state of your soul, and do whatever it takes to care for it day to day out, even seasons. That means you need to change things. He’s in the seasons, different seasons require different things. And last thing I’ll say is that even first 15. But this, this opportunity really is an invitation, not an obligation, like God’s not mad if you miss the day before. If you show up the next day, he’s not going to be like, well, I don’t think I want to meet with you. Because like you missed yesterday, and that’s not cool. And you’re this worship pastor, you’re this devotional writer with over a million people that use your doors more every day. And it’s like, why did you miss doing your own today? It’s like, I feel that often, if I mess up and miss a day, and there’s no shame here, it’s just he’s so excited for us to crawl back into his lap. It’s like my two year old is so busy running around the house, that when he just wants five minutes with me to sit in my lap, I’m not mad that for an hour, he was running around playing with toys. I just cherish those minutes that he sits with me and is quiet with me and just looks me in the face and has a conversation and Gods like that with us. And so, however long it’s been he’s excited for you to crawl up with him and just get to be with him for a while. That’s
Alex Enfiedjian 49:00 beautiful. Thank you, Craig. Thank you so much. I will put links in the show notes, but you’ve blessed me you bless the listeners, I’m sure and hope people will connect with you.
Craig Denison 49:09 Thanks for having me, Alex. This was a really great fun conversation.
Alex Enfiedjian 49:12 Alright, that’s it for this month’s episode. I hope you were strengthened and encouraged by it. Check out the show notes for all the links to the stuff we talked about today. And also be sure to check out our free sampler courses at worship ministry training comm you can just enter your email and get the free sampler bundle where you’ll get a free lesson from all of our courses to help you grow as a worship leader. Alright, well that’s it for today. I will see you next month for another helpful episode. God bless