When I was in college, I used to work at a facility for the mentally handicapped. I often worked on the weekends and one of my favorite duties was taking a group of the residents to church. It was a small Baptist church where our little gaggle of adults almost made up a third of the congregation.
I loved these times because it taught me quite a bit about what Christ intended his church to be about. Let me explain:
- Acceptance – This little church embraced these 10-15 mentally handicapped adults as part of their family. Our group wasn’t stuck in some corner somewhere so that most of the congregation could steer clear of us. No, we were front and center. The church members knew our people and considered them friends, not charity cases.
- Praise and worship – I don’t usually connect much with worship music and singing but I always had such a good time singing with my challenged friends. They knew how to worship. Nothing held them back. They swayed, they belted the songs out, and legitimately were enjoying themselves. It was authentic, in the truest sense. It was joyful, unlike any kind of joyful you have ever experienced in church.
- An image of heaven – One Sunday morning, I looked around me and just took in the scene of my friends singing and worshiping and thought, “this is probably what heaven will look like. People of all states, colors, sizes, and ability praising our God.” I came to the realization that heaven won’t have the homogenized, cookie cutter feel of most our churches. Heaven will be more like a feast where the invitations were sent far and wide and in every neighborhood. Every race, color, mental capacity, social class, and ability will be represented and we will gladly join with each other in worship and praise.
The images and remembrances of these times have stuck with me, even 20 years later. Since then, I have had a soft spot for those in church who don’t fit our expectations, or cause a disruptions or two, or lack proper decorum. If the church isn’t for these people, then who is it for?
Something strange happened yesterday during my church’s celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
English: Baptist communion elements (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My church is a standard medium sized evangelical church in a “red” state. Silence isn’t usually a part of our worship much less our celebration of Communion. Our church, as do most Baptist churches that I have been a part of, use the time when the bread and juice are passed out for a beautiful instrumental piece or even a reverent solo. Yesterday, there was no music during the delivery of the elements to the congregation.
At first, I didn’t catch this but I did have a sense of something being different. Then, by the time our deacons were receiving their portion, it dawned on me that there was no music. No wonder I seemed to be taking this exercise more seriously. No wonder it seemed that the church as a whole was rapt with attention.
Silence in my church usually comes with nervous clearing of throats and awkward motions in order to break the uncomfortableness of the moment and make it go by faster. I didn’t notice any of this yesterday, maybe I was too focused at the practice at hand. Normally, I would be lost somewhere between my need to concentrate on the sacrifice of Jesus and the distraction of the musical “performance” in front of me. Instead, I was moved to contemplation and reverence and my mind was able to focus on the impact and power of Jesus and his work on the cross on my behalf. It was a refreshing time of worship and participation.
I don’t know if our pastor intended for this to happen (we are in between worship pastors) but the next time we have the Lord’s Supper and there is music being played in the middle of it, I think I will be wishing for a little more silence.
I have a confession to make. I don’t like church music.
No, I am not trying to start a debate about worship styles, instruments, or lyrics. I basically have the same reaction during worship with an organ and a hymn book as I do with electric guitars and lyrics written last month. Church music and the participation in singing just doesn’t connect with me. Sure, there have been moments when the Holy Spirit has moved during a song and I couldn’t help but respond (even raising my hands!?!), but overall I connect more with the scripture reading, prayers, and sermons.
I am sure there are many people who are the opposite from me. They have a deep connection and a spiritual response to the music while the sermon falls flat for them. And that is fine. I have in the past beat myself up for my lack of enthusiasm and activity during worship singing and have had discussions with my wife about why I don’t always sing and why I cross my arms during the singing.
For me, I am unable to lose myself during worship. I think it is the corporate nature of it. All of these people singing in unison kind of messes with my introverted, loner tendencies. I have a hard time seperating the song from the crowd so I can experience its message and power for myself. This is why I will sometimes stop singing and just read the words and let them dwell into me for a moment.
Singing for me doesn’t allow for dwelling, it only allows for experiencing and activity. I don’t feed off of activity and experiences but stillness, written words, and teaching. The strange part of it is, I love music and have been to many concerts and consider some music as deeply part of my spiritual life.
Thankfully, God has convicted me of hiding behind my personality and refusing to participate just because church music “isn’t my thing”. I have discovered ways to remind myself that worship is for God and not for myself. I have started to read the lyrics while I am singing and not just when I am not. Worshiping with music is slowly becoming an important aspect of my spiritual life and one that is much needed.
Week 8: Worship
18. Watch John Ortberg and Dallas Willard discuss worship. Watch from the 6:00 mark to the 13:00 mark
19. How often do we prepare for worship? One thing we can do is expect to meet God during worship. Next, we can pray for the worship leaders, that they may feel God’s presence and can speak and lead effectively. Third, focus on singing the songs directly to God and listening to God in scripture and preaching. Commit yourself to worship with your heart this week.*
This is week eight of 23 Things. See previous posts here and here for the first 17 things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.
*The idea for this week’s exercise came from the book, A Year With God, by Richard Foster and Julia Roller.
When I was in fourth or fifth grade, I would get my parents Living Bible translation with the green cover and read the Gospels. One day I came across the story about the poor lady who gave her measly two mites in the Temple and was highly praised by Jesus for giving sacrificially while he criticized the wealthier people whose donations were much more than the poor woman’s. This story had such an impression on me that the next Sunday I took the money that was in my wallet (maybe $24) and tried to give it all to the church. My parents explained to me that I only have to give a portion of my money to the church and not all of it.
The point of this story is as an idealistic and innocent child, I was willing to live out my faith in ways that showed true sacrifice, true trust, and radical actions. As I got older, money became something to hold on to and hoard rather than give away. It became easy to rationalize ways of getting around giving and being generous. No matter what my stage in life may be, it doesn’t change the point that Jesus is making. It doesn’t matter how much you give, what matters is the state of your heart when you give. And giving is an act of worship that truly allows us to worship in “spirit and in truth.” If my giving comes out of anything other than worship of God and a response to his generosity and blessings towards me than God doesn’t want my money.
Do you give out of guilt or obligation or do you give out of generosity, love and sacrifice? It makes a world of difference to God.
Image via Wikipedia
When you think of Revelation, you probably think of dragons, multi-headed creatures, blood, apocalypse, battles, destruction, and earthly disasters. But one thing I have noticed is there is more worship in Revelation than anywhere else in the Bible short of Psalms.
Being a sports fan, I recognize this kind of worship. It is the worship of a victor. The kind of worship reserved for those who have conquered and showed great ability to overcome a foe. It is the kind of worship that confirms that God is truly the best and greatest and that there is none like him.
Worship songs in modern American culture are often love songs with God’s name in place of a lover’s name. This is a nice sentiment but I don’t see that played out very often in scripture. The worship we see taking place in heaven is in response to God’s glory and holiness and not as much his love. The angels and those singing praises to God in heaven are not singing love songs but are singing shouts of victory and reverence to a holy and awesome God.
“Great and marvelous are Your works,
O Lord God, the Almighty;
Righteous and true are Your ways,
King of the nations!
“Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name?
For You alone are holy;
For all the nations will come and worship before You,
For Your righteous acts have been revealed.”
Worship God today because of his greatness, because of his amazing works, because of his creation, because of his righteousness, and because of his mighty power?