Worship as War @ Near Northside

Three of us sat on the METRO Rail platform in the Near Northside of Houston, Texas with two guitars and a viola. Worship from our hearts. Music from our hands. Prayers from our lips. And a police office in our line of sight…


Ashley and I have had the unique privilege of journeying with a dozen or so other worship leaders in the Love & War Learning Community led by Jon Shirley and the Gathering Network in Kansas City, Missouri. It has been a wild and fun (and hard) ride where we have been stretched in our understanding of what it means to be worship leaders; more importantly incarnational worship leaders. We’ve tackled practices like hearing God’s voice and the role of prophecy, incarnation over presentation, and most recently during our last trip to KC we tackled the practice of intercessory worship, what Jon calls Worship as War. So during our time in KC, we all split up into groups of 4 and set out into the ‘hood with our guitars and our orange Home Depot 5 gallon buckets. What? We’re doing what? Our task was to move out into the neighborhood, pray that the Lord would show us where to go, and when we decided where to sit, we would pray, listen, and then worship over that section of the city. We would then take what we heard the Holy Spirit saying and then write a song for that specific moment in time for that specific place. We were going to war for the kingdom of God against the enemy. It was a good stretch, but how were we to incorporate this into our rhythm of life back home in Houston?

Well, it took a couple of months being back home before I heard the Lord speak. In my discipleship huddle, I invited my guys to join me on a prophetic prayer walk one week day. My friend Victor and I parked at Moody Park, prayed that the Lord would speak to us, that He would show us who we were to speak to that day as we walked. Neither of us came away with a clear word from the Lord, but we walked to the platform, got on the train and headed to the Quitman stop on the Red Line at North Main. We sat, we prayed, we talked, we listened. I made a comment that, “Man… Houston needs more street musicians. This would be an awesome spot for some music.” Then bam… it hit me. The Lord spoke. “I am a musician,” I thought. I shared it with Victor and then remember our worship adventure in Kansas City. Perhaps this is how the Lord wants me to go to war for my neighborhood. To bless those in my part of the city with some music and to go to war for them… through worship, music, and prayer.

It’s worth some biblical support for this, so I’ll throw out to you what Jon threw out to us:

13 As all the men of Judah stood before the Lord with their little ones, wives, and children, 14 the Spirit of the Lord came upon one of the men standing there. His name was Jahaziel son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite who was a descendant of Asaph.

15 He said, “Listen, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Listen, King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid! Don’t be discouraged by this mighty army, for the battle is not yours, but God’s. 16 Tomorrow, march out against them. You will find them coming up through the ascent of Ziz at the end of the valley that opens into the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!

18 Then King Jehoshaphat bowed low with his face to the ground. And all the people of Judah and Jerusalem did the same, worshiping the Lord. 19 Then the Levites from the clans of Kohath and Korah stood to praise the Lord, the God of Israel, with a very loud shout.

20 Early the next morning the army of Judah went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. On the way Jehoshaphat stopped and said, “Listen to me, all you people of Judah and Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm. Believe in his prophets, and you will succeed.”

21 After consulting the people, the king appointed singers to walk ahead of the army, singing to the Lord and praising him for his holy splendor. This is what they sang: 

“Give thanks to the Lord;
    his faithful love endures forever!”

22 At the very moment they began to sing and give praise, the Lord caused the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir to start fighting among themselves.23 The armies of Moab and Ammon turned against their allies from Mount Seir and killed every one of them. After they had destroyed the army of Seir, they began attacking each other. 24 So when the army of Judah arrived at the lookout point in the wilderness, all they saw were dead bodies lying on the ground as far as they could see. Not a single one of the enemy had escaped.

— 2 Chronicles 20:13-24 NLT

Worship as War. The battle belonged to the Lord. So the singers (Worship Leaders) were placed on the front. They sang and then we read that the enemy became confused and started fighting each other! Get out!

So this past week on June 23rd around 11am, I took our two Oikos Church interns, Wynn and Rachel (also musicians), with me to the METRO Rail. We parked at Moody Park, rode the rail to Quitman @ North Main with two guitars and a viola. With a bit of fear and hesitation we sat down and started playing “Great Are You Lord” by All Sons and Daughters. There were a few people around us, but not too many. As the sun beat down, we sang and played our hearts out as my heart broke for my neighborhood. Houston’s Near Northside has undergone a recent tragedy with the heinous murder of 11-year-old Josue Flores; it’s brought about both fear and solidarity within my neighborhood. I heard the Lord saying he will pour out His peace on this place. So we simply vamped on the instrumental and I tried my best to sing the prayer over the song (this is an art and skill that would do me good to practice!). But I did it: “God, pour out Your peace, release Your peace, here in this place.” Did it work? We’ll get to that.

So we moved on to another song and as we made it to the middle of verse two of “My Lighthouse” by Rend Collective, the METRO Rail Train rolls up and who steps out but a Houston Police Officer. As soon as she stepped off the train, she walked right up to us and said, “What are you guys doing?” Her tone didn’t carry the melody of genuine curiosity… it was more contemptuous and caustic. So I said we were worshiping over the Near Northside and praying for peace. She then told us that we could only be there if we purchased a METRO ticket and asked if we had them. So one by one, she asked each of us to pull out our tickets. We were good until 2:30pm. Phew! Glad we actually purchased our tickets. Before she walked way, she muttered that what we were doing was weird. Well… yeah, I thought so, too in a way! So we continued with our song.

As lunchtime approached and having about 30 minutes of worshiping under our belt, the engagement with others started to happen. We had a guy who was previously homeless, but now a pastor and college student worship with us and film us as we sang “Good Good Father” by Housefires. That got the attention of others, so more came near. We then decided to wrap up. So we stood up and invited the others on the platform to huddle up and pray with us. I kid you not… every man on that platform joined us in prayer. There were probably 10 of us. And the last guy to join us ran from the other end of the platform to make sure he didn’t miss this opportunity. So there we were… mostly strangers, with arms around one another, praying for peace in the Near Northside, that God’s kingdom would breakthrough, that people would be freed from addictions, that crime would stop, that God’s love would be known and felt. We said amen and then the thanksgivings were abundant. One man thanked us several times, because he stated that this immediate has been a very dark place for a long time and that his day was now better because of this. His day was better. The joy of the Lord captured the hearts and minds of those around us. Even the officer left with a half-smile (no… she didn’t stick around to pray, but maybe next time!).

So we got back on the train and headed back to Moody Park. Well… we weren’t done yet. We had the opportunity to sing and worship on the train with some other passengers who were intrigued with our instruments. These two young men said that wanted to be soothed… and soothed they were. They said that song would be stuck in their head all day. Music and worship soothes the soul and is a way of bringing beauty into ugliness, love into hate, light into darkness, and bringing the dead back to life. We went to war for these people and I’m confident that many battles were won that day. The battle belongs to the Lord. And yes, much like the battle of King Jehoshaphat, there was some confusion. But mostly hope. And no one died, which was good.

Worship Leaders, what is the Lord saying to you? How is he inviting you to go to war for Him? What does it look like for you to worship over your city? To intercede on behalf of others? To fight spiritual battles via worship? To make life more beautiful?

Me? Well, this is going to be a weekly practice for me, a predictable pattern. This will be something I will be doing with my new worship leader intern Ian when he begins this July. I also hope this pattern will be an opportunity for a movement to begin to grow within our city of Houston, and I hope to invite other worship leaders in this fine Bayou City to join us. I believe this practice of Worship as War will be a catalyst for a movement of incarnational worship leaders who can begin to live on mission when off the Sunday stage.

I hope this gets you excited. It sure breathes life into my ministry. It’s nothing short of an adventure. Would love to hear from you.

-JP