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Cycles of Worship

July 20, 2012

On Wednesday, we explored what our worship conveys about God, and about the values and truths we emphasize through that worship.

Sometimes, we need to change the way we worship to align ourselves with the full spectrum of truth about God and about us.

Where the Church tends to focus solely on God’s love, a huge dose of teaching on God’s justice and judgement and hatred of sin is needed, or God becomes a fairy godmother. Where hellfire-and-brimstone is preached, pastors need to reconnect their congregations with the large theme of God’s wild love for us, and his generous grace for sinners through Christ. Missing either the justice or the love of God distorts the Gospel.

I find that I go in cycles for how I long to worship. I came of age in an old-time religion church with the same dusty hymns sung week after week.  When I moved to my college church – a hip place with small groups, music majors on stage, and the latest Chris Tomlin jams – I thought I’d moved up in the world of worship. I felt freedom to express new things to God, and this worship was just good for my young soul.

But then my brother died, and the jubilation and unpredictable order of every Sunday became so wearying. I longed for liturgy, to speak the words I no longer believed until I believed them again, to confess to an unjudging stranger the darkest parts of my faithless heart. I began praying the Hours, and it helped me speak to God when I had no words of my own to say; these prayers allowed me to borrow another’s words until I had words of my own.I wanted the old dusty hymns back, to feel connected to an ancient line of worshippers who understood grim times. I wanted time to lament, to be allowed to grieve among a Church culture that associates death with happiness and relief and coming home. Because it wasn’t that at all.

And now, I wonder what it would be like to have the Eucharist as the centerpiece of worship, rather than a sermon – to lay down my never-ending chase for more information, and to take in the Body and Blood of Jesus as my One need.

In all of this, I fully acknowledge that the other ways are perfectly legitimate – the happy songs, the unpredictable order of worship, the sermon as the centerpiece, hymns on an organ – because, as I wrote Wednesday, they all convey something important, something profound.

But sometimes we all need to remind ourselves of the opposite that we’re used to. That we need lamenting and grief and we shouldn’t try to push those emotions down in an effort to pretend to be joyful and trustfully resigned. We need rejoicing and dancing, because God is so very good to us. We need both spontaneity and routine. We need God’s love and God’s justice. We need all the spectrum of God’s truth, conveyed in different ways by different denominations and traditions.

Have you gone through these cycles of worship, too?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bernard Shuford permalink
    July 20, 2012 9:40 am

    I seem to have gone through stages, rather than cycles.

  2. July 22, 2012 8:45 am

    I loved last week’s post about this, and this is a great follow up. I’ve been going through these cycles for several years. We’ve recently changed churches because we were missing that balance of law and gospel and wanted something more liturgical. We’ve hesitated to actually join a congregation though, because we’ve realized that church services seem to be far more about style and presentation than worship. There is no authentic, personal expression of worship happening in church. It’s stand up, sit down, sing songs from either this decade or from 150 years ago, drive-thru communion, and get out the door in not less than 60 but not more than 70 minutes. Where is any of this commanded in the bible? Very little of what happens in church facilitates a spirit of worship in my heart and mind. There is no one place or one church I can go to get that full spectrum you’re talking about. I know that no congregation is perfect. But how is a broken saint to keep the Sabbath holy when most churches don’t help me do that?

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