The worship he’s been waiting for

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By Danielle Strickland, Major –

Ever get in a situation where you think you’ve got it and you don’t? Like you did everything right; you did everything according to plan; the same way you’ve always done it every time it worked before—but it doesn’t now. Then what?

What I’ve discovered (being in that situation several times) is that those moments offer us an incredible opportunity. When the outcome of what you are doing is different than your expectations it forces you to review what you are doing and why you are doing it. These are essential and important questions to ask ourselves. What are we doing and why are we doing it?

I’ve been speaking to a lot of Christians about what worship is. I’ve been asking how we can enact the Isaiah 58 kind of worship the Lord says he requires from us. I’ve been wondering if we can shift from a “receive” posture to a “give” posture while we keep worshipping. It’s been harder than I expected.

I do a fair bit of preaching, so that’s not the hard part. The hard part is at the end of my “preach” when I ask for a tangible response. In this context I’m asking people to consider sponsoring children—to give some money once a month for a child to have a chance out of extreme poverty. In my line of work I’ve come to understand that if we don’t get to the kids when they are kids we’ve no hope of slowing the trajectory of violence or lack of choices that lead to systemic injustice. If you can send a girl to school, for example, her chances of being trafficked are reduced by 80 percent. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve longed to turn back time to intervene before the horror happened in the people I love.

I guess the big difference in this kind of preaching is that the “response” requires something of the people listening.

Now, I’m used to asking people to respond to what I preach. But upon some reflection, it’s almost always to receive something. Few of us are used to being asked to give something in worship. Especially when we’ve come to “just” worship.

I fear we have come to believe that worship is a receiving act. Simply a place where we come to draw near to God. And I believe that’s true, but not the whole truth.

The real truth is that worship is more like breathing than like shopping. It’s receiving and giving—a life-rhythm of God’s’ kingdom coming. Freely we receive, freely we give—suggests Jesus. So, I’ve been a little shocked at how hard it is to do the asking. To be truthful, I’ve also been confused about the smallness of the giving.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that in this season and in this life it’s hard to let go of finances every month to another “good cause.” And I know loads of people are already tapped giving sacrificially to other worthy places and people and organizations. I’m just wondering about the real cost to all of us when we worship to receive. And, how it might be gutting the church of the opportunity to really encounter the God of the Bible.

See, what Isaiah 58 is all about is God telling his people why they weren’t feeling his “presence” in their lives. He suggests that his answers to their prayers are held back by their refusal to respond to injustice and the poor. He says that elaborate displays of worship with refusal to engage with the needs of our fellow humans is unfaithfulness. It means we’ve somehow disengaged our hearts from the pain of the poor and in so doing have become far from him.

No matter how high our hands are raised or how amazing the singing or how high tech, the lighting or even how much of that fake smoke you pump into a venue, the Spirit of the Lord is far from us because we are far from the poor.

I know, I know, it’s too harsh. It’s too judgmental. Take it up with Isaiah, or Amos, or Jesus for that matter. Or the early church or the epistles of Paul or James or well, Revelation. In other words, the idea that it’s even awkward to talk about the God of the Bible linking our worship of him with our care for the poor suggests that we are guilty of missing it. Why else would it be awkward? Why else would it be a difficult part of the meeting? Why else would you be secretly rooting for me to back down right now and change my tone? What’s the deal?

Here are a few things that I believe need a seismic shift as we learn to worship the God of the Bible:

From self-focused worship—our posture is literally the wrong way around. We shouldn’t come to worship for ourselves, for our needs or our preferences. We should come to re-posture ourselves to get out of the way for God to do his work in us. Worship should realign ourselves to the sovereignty of God—to offer ourselves to God is how Romans 12 describes worship. Could we shift our worship to a radical act of surrender?

From receiving a blessing—this is the crutch of the problem. We come to worship to receive a blessing, when worship is literally supposed to be about us “blessing God.” The question we should be asking ourselves when we come to worship is, “how can I bless God?” not “how will he bless me?” The best examples of times in God’s people’s history of unprecedented “open heaven” worship was always accompanied by extravagant giving. Could we shift our worship to blessing God?

From emotional responses—we want to feel good. This is because we’ve been on a steady diet of self-help that suggest that “feeling good” should be the primary aim of our lives. The peculiar truth of the situation never seems to dawn on us, that as we make our own feelings the driving center of our lives we feel less and less gratitude, fullness or compassion and more and more emptiness and desire to satisfy the insatiable thirst for self-fulfillment. The Bible equates our love not with warm fuzzies but with radical obedience to God. That’s really what it says. Obedience equals love. Could we shift our worship to responsive obedience to God’s Word?

I know God’s love is pure and holy and available but I’m afraid that what we’ve taken as God’s love is just an imitation of it. A self-focused, materialistic and fickle love that comes and goes with the quality of the performer. A dancing circus of narcissism disguised as divine extravagance to bolster our fragile egos.

I know, I know, it’s hard. But what if it’s true?

I’m asking God to shift my posture. To realign my life according to his values. To respond with obedience. To draw near to him in order to bless him instead of demanding a blessing for myself. To pray for his presence to help me stay fully engaged with the pain and injustice of the world so that I might help, somehow. That’s the worship he’s been waiting for anyway.

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