• Dana L. Butler

What Happened {in me} at a Retreat in Colorado {or Bridging the Head Knowledge/Heart Transformation

In the last few months, I’ve been seeing a counselor regularly. It’s one of the best things I could possibly be doing in this season to intentionally care for my heart.

So a mid-March Wednesday evening finds me on the couch in my counselor’s office.

“Our church family in Colorado has asked me to come lead worship for their women’s retreat next month. They’re flying me out there for 3 days. I’m super excited,” I tell her.

Followed quickly by, “and I’m SO. nervous. I’m even nervous about being nervous. I’m nervous I’ll be so nervous that I won’t be able to connect with the Lord. That I’ll be so self-conscious, I’ll miss tapping into His heart and leading out of that place of intimacy. I’m nervous that my nerves will constrain me to lead out of my own strength and not His.”

Thirteen years of worship leading experience and about 60 per cent of the time, I still have nerves that beget nerves that beget nerves. My hands shake. I sweat. My vocal chords go weak. I might even forget chord progressions and lyrics I know like the back of my hand.

I wonder about the people — Are they responding? Engaging Jesus? Do I need to be doing something differently? — instead of focusing primarily on my own heart’s response to the Lord and allowing those questions to take second place.

And when I’m in that place, it is always the hardest task to pull myself out of it and make myself focus on truth. I’ve spent the moments leading up to many a worship session pep talking my quaking heart: “C’mon, Dana. You know better than to be afraid. This is not a performance. Your worship is an offering to Him alone. People’s opinions don’t matter. Picture yourself before His Throne.”

Desperately trying to use the truth my head is sure of to wrangle my heart into the “right” place before stepping behind that microphone.

And in talking with my counselor on this evening a few weeks before the retreat, this revelation lovingly nudges my heart: I’ve been doing it all wrong.

Don’t misunderstand me — all that truth is right on. But for 13 years, my knowledge of truth has not strengthened me in these places where I’m perpetually weak — where my heart tends to repeatedly cave to the fear of man.

Crazy, isn’t it? How we can so give assent to truth, but apart from a heart-experience with the Lord around that truth, we can go untransformed by our knowledge of it. For years.

Truth is only transformative in the context of intimacy with the Person Who is Truth.

“In the moment, as you prepare to lead worship, bring your weakness before Him,” Mary says. “Talk to Him about your nerves, about your fear of how they impact your ability to lead. Don’t try to fix your heart or throw truth at it. You know the truth. Ask Him to form Himself inside you in these weak places.”

Weakness as an Offering


I got up from Mary’s couch a thousand pounds lighter. Despite all my talk about how our weaknesses are opportunities for intimacy with Jesus, I realized that in the arena of leading worship, I’ve tried for 13 years to “pull myself together” before stepping out to lead. To truth my heart into lining up with scripture instead of leaning into Him, pressing my weak places into His heart. Instead of banking on an intimate encounter with Him to shore me up, to showcase His strength.

But since that mid-March Wednesday evening, this revelation has begun to deeply change me: my weakness is part of my offering to Him.

I began to look at my pre-worship-leading jitters entirely differently. My prayers and mindset changed from efforts to try and psych my heart into “getting over it” and believing truth, to something more along these lines:

Jesus, You see my weakness. You see that no matter how much truth I’ve grasped in my head, my heart still caves to fear over and over again.

Would you form Yourself in me here? Right in this place of gaping weakness? Right where I am powerless to fix my own brokenness? Would You fill my weakness with Your strength? Would You intimately encounter me in this huge disconnect between my head’s knowledge of truth and my heart’s ability to grasp hold of it? I need to deeply know You right. here. Right where I feel so utterly vulnerable.

Suddenly, my weakness was becoming a crucial piece of my worship. My nervousness was propelling me into intimacy. And my laying open of my nervousness and fear before Him was becoming the place out of which I could publicly adore Him — and lead others to do the same.

Jesus, apart from You I have nothing. You see my fear. Just meet me here. Let me respond to You, love You free and raw and weak and wide open.

And I have never loved Him more freely or vulnerably as I’ve led worship. Ever. In all my worship leading experience.

It’s counter-intuitive, but the intimacy with Jesus that came when I gave myself permission to be weak and in process — it was what allowed my heart to be transformed by the truth my head has grasped for over a decade.

So I trusted Him to meet me as I invited Him into my weakness instead of trying to truth myself into being strong.

I gave myself permission to lead worship nervous.

And I’ve never led worship *less* nervous. Never so tangibly experienced His strength established in my weakness.

I was wrecked that weekend, y’all. By His kindness to me. By the way He created me with weakness and gaps so I could experience His tender strength in those very places.

And not just my worship leadership, but my entire life is being changed by the revelation that bringing my weakness before Him is an important facet of my life’s offering.


There’s so much more I could tell you. Like how the Holy Spirit came so tangibly, so sweetly, and moved powerfully on the hearts of all who were present. Like how our guest speaker, Cheryll, was wise and just generally incredible, and how much I learned from the way she taught and facilitated ministry, and how fun and easy it was to partner with her throughout the weekend.

Like how stunning the mountains were and how God never fails to use their beauty to poke awake places in my heart I didn’t even know were dormant.

And how I cried when the airplane wheels lifted off Colorado earth on Sunday evening to carry me home. How deeply I love our Colorado church family, how I’ve carried them in my heart for so long.  How not knowing when our house will sell or when we’ll be able to put down roots in Colorado again is deeply painful.

But — bottom line — Jesus was {is!} so extravagant to me, to all of us who were present at that retreat center in the mountains that first weekend of April. And responding to His invitation to bring my powerlessness as part of my offering to Him became healing balm for my raw soul.

Truly, our gaps are made for His filling. For intimacy. For the display of His strength. His goodness so undoes me — the way He receives my surrendered weakness as a fragrant offering to His heart.

‘Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.’ -the Apostle Paul {2 Corinthians 12:8-9}

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