Seasoned Worship

There’s more than one way to approach the throne of God.

Every seat in the room was filled, so a handful of people, including me, had to stand against a back wall—a row of floor-to-ceiling windows, which bathed the room with the bright 8 a.m. sunlight. Standing on a slightly raised platform were a couple recognizable to anyone familiar with the modern worship world. They had come to usher us into a corporate time of praise. And so they did, beginning with a prayer extolling the attributes of God, then quickly transitioning to upbeat songs. Interwoven with the lyrics was testimony of answered prayer, and in no time most of the people in the room were raising hands and voices. But suddenly the music stopped. One member of the duo said, “OK, we’ve got some people in the back trying to be too cool this morning. That’s right, I’m talking to you. C’mon, put your hands together and join in with everyone else!” Every head in the room turned to look at those of us standing in the back. And I confess, I wasn’t clapping—but not out of an attempt to be cool.

“OK, we’ve got some people in the back trying to be too cool this morning. C’mon, put your hands together and join in with everyone else!”

In the words of the Ira Stanphill hymn from my boyhood, “There’s room at the cross for you.” I believed that then. I believe it still. But a question has surfaced as I’ve grown older: Is there room in the church for me? That day in the sunlit room, I felt the sting of that question, along with the focused gaze of a roomful of people. I did not question anyone else’s sincerity that morning, but I felt as if mine was under scrutiny because I couldn’t join in with everyone else and that very summery expression of faith.

Here’s the problem: I have a wintry soul.

A summery faith is outwardly enthusiastic and lends itself naturally to hand-clapping—perhaps even some foot-stomping. This line from the Robert Loveless hymn sums it well: “Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.” There are those I know and love who possess a summery faith, and I will not dismiss their expressions of worship. I take them at their word. But because they are dear to me, I do have questions about what happens on the day Jesus comes along that isn't sweeter than the one before. What do you do with that day? Or week? That month? Or year?

With each trip around the sun, I find myself more and more at home in the hymns of David and company. Yes, in that older hymnal, the Psalms, with lines like: “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear to my cry; do not be silent at my tears; for I am a stranger with You, a sojourner like all my fathers. Turn Your gaze away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more,” and “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away” (Psalm 39:12-13; Psalm 90:10).

 

These aren’t exactly the go-to verses to whip up a Sunday crowd. But live in this Monday-through-Friday world for very long—love people and places and things—and you have to admit there are days when those chilly lines hit the mark. Yes, we are called to be singular in our devotion and commitment to the Man from Galilee, but surely that doesn’t mean our individual expressions of faith will always be identical to one another’s. I am not trying to say one approach is right and the other wrong. But I am trying to say we worshippers of God are varied—and that’s a very good thing.

My plea is for more room in the room. Mine is a request for a more seasoned worship—for exuberance when the Spirit is near, but also space to admit the absence of God, or more accurately the feeling of absence. If someone like David, that man after God’s heart, can express such wintry proclamations, shouldn’t we try to live and worship as spaciously as well?

Hear me: I will not dismiss sunny morning worship. I need it, in fact. If I’m not careful, I can allow my wintriness to cause me to withdraw from the congregation, and the life of faith was never intended to be a solo endeavor. But in return, I ask that you please not cast off my God-given affinity for winter—that instead of clapping my hands I prefer to quietly rub them before faith’s embers.

Just as the winter needs summer, the summer needs winter—and, for that matter, spring and autumn, too. The gifts of a wintry soul to the body of Christ are the much-needed reminder that our God of glorious light is also the Man of Sorrows, very well acquainted with life’s chill. In other words, if we’re going to chase hard after the God who is our hearts’ strength and our portion forever, I need you—and you need me, too.

 

Photo-illustration by MLC

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12 Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears; For I am a stranger with You, A sojourner like all my fathers.

13 Turn Your gaze away from me, that I may smile again Before I depart and am no more."

10 As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.

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