Worship: Trusting You to Move Me

Animals in Choir

All God’s creatures got a place in the choir 
Some sing low and some sing higher 
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire 
Some just clap their hands or paws or anything they’ve got now

This song, “A Place in the Choir” recently made popular again by Celtic Thunder, makes me think of church worship on Sunday mornings.

I imagine the congregations of white hairs singing slowly and reverently to hymn #348 and singing the song word-for-word even though they know it by heart and could sing it with their eyes closed, standing on their heads.  Barely a body sways and only the bravest dare harmonize, but even though they’ve sung this same hymn for 40 years, it never ceases to stir their souls.  They know exactly how the song should be played and sung, and that’s just how they like it.

Across town, in a sea of tattoos, cargo shorts, dreads and body piercings, another congregation jams out to the latest songs that are “worship-worthy” with the lights down low, hands held high all across the gymnasium, while intermittenly lighting candles symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit in the place.  When the lights go back up, they all take a 10 minute coffee break before sitting down to listen to a sermon.  Cutting-edge, casual, carefree, caffienated–these are their core characteristics.

In the next town over, we find members of a different congregation waiting in silence.  The atmosphere of the sanctuary is peaceful and bright.  Light shines through clear windows and attenders of this service wait patiently on the Lord to impress upon members the “unction” to share and minister and serve.  These inspirations from above may come in the form of confession, a testimony of gratitude, the leading of others in song, the offering of a prayer, or the declaration of a word of wisdom, complete with Scripture.  The voice of the young is as welcome as that of the older, more experienced member.  Every utterance is weighed, contemplated, and given back to the Lord in silence and mutual respect–for Father God and fellow man/woman/child.

And not to be minimized is the fisherman or golfer or Sunday morning gardener who attends no formal service, but finds joy and delight and closeness with God in their Sabbath “hobbies”.  In the solitude of the boat out on the water, the fisherman ponders nature and the God who created it all.  He offers no verbal prayers up to heaven, but his heart is surely filled with praise.  The golfer can think of no better time than Sunday morning to be out on the green, body engaged, mind focused, and soul intent on taking it all in and letting it all out.  The act of golfing is cleansing and renewing, invigorating and challenging, difficult and worthwhile–the best physical representation of life lived in Christ that he can think of.  He can’t imagine how church could even come close to what he experiences when he golfs on Sundays (and he’s serious).  For her, she hums her heart out to God as she tends her garden.  While the church bells ring in the distance, she feels herself drawn to the dirt, pondering Scripture passages she’s read throughout the week, knowing her Savior tends her life with even more care than she gives her budding flowers and vegetables and herbs.  When she weeds and waters and fertilizes, she knows she is joining with God in caring and nurturing the earth, as best she can, according to the stewardship principles set out at the very beginning of time.  And this gives her immense pleasure and satisfaction, stirring her soul to draw close to God, as He draws close to her.

Worship comes in all different shapes and sizes, and none is better than another.  The only thing God really desires is that his worshipers would worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  Some worship loudly, some quietly.  Some choose traditional styles while others prefer experimental elements.  Some find great comfort in the institutional setting and yet there are those who wouldn’t step foot into a brick and mortar building to seek connection with God.

Many denominations and ministries are worried today about the dwindling numbers in church membership.  Maybe instead of wondering how we can attract more people to our upcoming worship services, we should, as church leaders, start asking people about their most recent worship experiences–hearts drawn to God through sunsets, holding newborn babies, attending a baptism ceremony, praying before bed, debating war and politics, seeing love expressed through an elderly married couple, reading a morning devotional, sharing homemade soup, bread, and wine with closest friends, and admitting failures to a respected mentor–all occasions for worship.

For sure, worship can happen in the Sunday morning Church setting many Christians have come to expect, but what if we tear the walls down and take the doors off, creating greater freedom and more meeting spaces for our lives to rub up against God? What if we allowed more opportunities for spontaneous moments of grace and goodness to take place around us rather than sequestering the meritable worship moments to Church-sponsored and Church-led events?  What if spontaneous, real-world worship held as much worth as those times that were planned for and prayed over and occurred in an expected way?

Yes, worship must be intentional sometimes–but that’s when it’s on us.  What if, however, we put more of our worship in God’s hands, giving him more room to do the moving of our hearts–putting more of the worship responsibility squarely on Him?  What if, rather than us trying to make worship happen, we lived, as best we can, as unto the Lord, letting him do the things that cause our hearts to swell and our lips to utter praise?  After all, He knows best how to arrest our attentions and capture our affections.  To be fair, some settings are certainly more conducive for eliciting worshipful responses and creating dynamics of  heartfelt expressions of spiritual connection, but the Lord of Lords knows us and desires us more than we could ever desire Him.  He knows how to move us in our deepest selves.  He knows who the fisherman is among us.  He knows who among us is most open and alert when running the trail or hitting balls or yoga posing–seeking opportunity to meet us in those activities.  He knows who among us craves the bread and wine of communion, so He prepares a place for us at the table and waits for us to meet with him there.

I guess here’s the thing.  I know many people who attend Church regularly, sing the songs, listen to the sermon, recite the Lord’s prayer, put their money in the basket, and don’t always feel as though they’ve really connected with God worshipfully during that time.  And yet, I know many who do.

I know quite a few people who golf or fish or hunt or garden or clean their houses (Sunday or any other day, for that matter) who rarely feel close to God or acknowledge His presence while doing such activities.  And yet, I know many who often do.

I know a lot of people who go to work Monday – Friday, 40+ hours each week, who rarely sense God in their work environments or thoughtfully consider Jesus during their working hours.  Then again, I know many people who do.

So what am I trying to say?  We do ourselves and our Triune God a disservice if we only relegate worship to a particular activity, in a particular place, at a particular time.  Or we may be tempted to rate worship on a scale of sorts based on personal preferences–deeming communion as more valid a worship experience than, say, reflecting on the power of innocence while holding a newborn baby at a friend’s baby shower–once again, doing a great disservice to ourselves and to God, misunderstanding the nature and power and pleasure of true worship.  The moment we try to control or manipulate or systemetize or categorize worship, we can rest assured that we have stepped out of the place where worship can really happen for us.  Why?  Because in doing so we’ve made worship more about us, relying again on ourselves, rather than worship being about God and up to God.  According to Jesus, in order for worship to really be considered worship it has to be in spirit and in truth.  That’s it.  Plain and simple.  Any other requirements and worship turns into something else that only resembles worship.

 While “A Place in the Choir” gives me visions of all God’s creatures singing worship to Him in their own peculiar, diverse ways, there is a song sung by Susan Ashton (later recorded by Garth Brooks) called “You Move Me” that actually speaks to what worship is really all about.  Worship is about God doing the work to get us  from one place to another.  It’s about God finding us in a place void of worship and moving us to a place of dancing and singing and delighting.  The song says, “I can’t go with you and stay where I am so you move me.”  Yes and Amen!  Dare I say it again?  I love that phrase, because it describes the real freedom we have in relating to God.  It means I am free and God will guide me.  And you, too.

Will you allow God to lead you into worship?  Will you trust Him to move you to that place of glorious communion with him that we call worship?  Oh how I pray that we all will!

* A Worship Prayer:  Dear God, my prayer for all of us is that we would trust you in our worship.  That we would be open to the profound opportunities to be caught up in you and your goodness anywhere and everywhere.  That whenever we feel ourselves overcome with delight and joy and gratitude and benificence, we would turn our eyes upon you and give you glory, bask in your presence.  God, help us not to formulate worship or compartmentalize and compare experiences, judging and assessing the mystery and awe out of what is meant to be transcendent and beyond.  May we get to a place where each and every worshipful moment is given it’s own merit and worth so that we may continually delight ourselves in you.  Lord, help us not to be cynical, critical or over-analytical when it comes to worship.  Instead, touch our hearts to welcome you, and help us to encourage others toward the same.  Open our lives that we might respond to you, and God, we can’t go with you and stay where we are, so do what you know best to do–move us.  Thank you, God.  In the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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