Three things have been shaping my view of worship in the last while. Corporate worship, the music of Gungor and the death of a close friend. This may not seem like a list that easily connects to each other and perhaps they don’t, but let me explain.
A few weeks ago Brittany’s ‘wife’ Sarah was killed in an accident on the road in Michigan. The details aren’t too important to this but it’s safe to say it was completely unexpected and shocking. Now when something like this happens when you lose your best friend, your sister or your daughter it is hard to see what the point is. There are no words that can change the situation or make it bearable. It is simply painful.
Getting past that point is extremely difficult. To see exactly why God would allow the life of a creative filled, kind and joyous person to end so abruptly doesn’t make sense. Maybe it never will.
We want to find ways to ignore pain or make it disappear so sometimes we use words and actions to try and block it out. But often they do more harm than good.
To experience the sort of pain that we felt and still do, we need to have faith in a God that doesn’t hide away from our tears or our angry questions, but welcomes them. God is in the pain, we don’t need to suppress it to feel close to Him.
Which is why I have a problem with a lot of ‘worship music’. How does one come to worship God when life makes us feel like there is nothing to worship? Does our worship music help us grieve for example or does it simply strive to make us feel good in a moment.
And this is one reason why worship music will never satisfy us. Why a lot of peope feel uncomfortable standing amongst people who have their eyes closed and hands raised. If you are not in that place where you feel you can do that, and are made to feel like this is what worship looks like, it will leave you feeling lonely and far from God. It will demand that you question what you are doing wrong and will ultimately cause you to try and feel God through actions.
I am not saying that all corporate music is unhelpful or misguided. Amongst the most intimate moments I have ever had with God have been in a setting where I have indeed had my eyes closed and arms raised. Even very recently.
The loneliest I have felt and far from God, have also occurred in these places though.
Our definitions of worship have left us with a God who is in a tiny box that we are constantly trying to squeeze into. A box that blocks out the world and it’s darkness. A world where pain is present, right in our face and unbearable.
I don’t blame anyone for wanting to squeeze in.
God is in the box, but the box is only so big and eventually the world will put so much pressure on the walls that we will die inside it.
And we are left with confusion at where God went.
But when we look at worship, simply as living on this Earth acknowledging the presence of God already there, then we don’t need to be frightened of pain and despair. It’s there that we actually find joy.
Not a joy that makes us feel happy or warm, but transcends how we feel in particular moments. There is joy at the funeral of your best friend. You do not feel it maybe but it is there and our sin and our doubts don’t change that fact. This is what Grace is about. Not simply a way to get us out of the pain, but which allows us to dwell in it.
Let’s sing and praise God. Let’s be over joyous and ecstatic. Let us let our inhibitions fall away and welcome God in. I want to smile and be happy in corporate worship.
But let’s not forget this is not the only place where God is.
He is in the pain.
He was there before we knew it.
And He will be there when we leave it.
Because no matter how we feel about corporate worship, no matter how good we feel when we partake in it or how shitty we feel,
This is not the end.