Several years ago, I joined a local business organization. Their stated intention was to help business people do their job better; a kind of coaching through semi-monthly seminars.
At the opening and close of each session, we sang a song that went something like this: “Yes, I can do it; Yes, I can do it; I have a positive frame of mind.” (I kid you not—truth is stranger than fiction.) By the end of the evening, every face was aglow with expectation; and two weeks later, everybody needed another face-lift.
I also found their teachings to be less substance and more selling. Instead of nourishing tips on handling angry clients, I received frothy, double-shot lattes of motivational, positive thinking. The talks were inspiring but insubstantial; caffeine without fruit or vegetables. Or protein.
Then I began to wonder how close my worship-music experience paralleled that seminar jingle feeling; maybe a boost to my spirits to face another week, but mostly just a jolt of java.
Bear with me. Worshipful music is wonderful. But I began to examine the nature of worship. I asked myself, “What is the essence of worship? Does worship require music?”
I tried an experiment: I took a six month sabbatical from any form of worship music—personal prayer time, worship CD’s, and even singing during a church service—and I found I love it.
Song-free worship taught me how to worship better.
When I was growing up, my dad taught me to sail our small Sunfish sailboat. We took month-long summer vacations, and we always camped on lakes. So we could ride the wind every day.
I probably sailed with him for a hundred hours before I faced the wind on my own. During those hours, my dad would have me either manage the sail or handle the rudder. Of the hundred hours sailing, I bet his actual instruction time totaled one hour. Two at the most.
He might say, “Pull in the sail a bit,” or, “Turn a little more to the left” (yeah, I know, starboard and port, but my dad didn’t care much about proper terminology). Those short comments took mere moments to say, and he didn’t make them often. Mostly we just sailed together. For hours and hours. And bit by bit, gust by gust, wave by wave, I learned seamanship.
Instead of lessons, we mostly just chatted.
He would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’d say, “Be a pirate” (of course) and he’d heartily agree (“Yo, ho, ho”). He’d ask why I had yelled at my sister, and I’d ask why he got angry at my mom. We’d talk about books we were reading, sermons he was preparing, what girls I was interested in, and what it would be like to sail across the ocean.
Our relationship with God can be like that. Conversational.
I hate jargon. I’m not sure why. But I’m usually a late adopter, and always an early deserter. Some phrases flit in and out of fashion so quickly that I barely get a chance to try them on; they fly off the shelves before I can look myself in the mirror to see how they fit.
But some slang sticks. I’m talking of words with depth and meaning, words that have stood the test of time; the modern patois with the persistence of the pyramids. Someday, thousands of years from now, verbal-archeologists will be guiding awe-struck tourists through the hidden chambers of twentieth century idiomatic treasures.
For example, can any modern jargon match the multi-pillared, monumental endurance of the word, “Cool!”? I heard it first as a fourth grader. I immediately knew it to be the vernacular discovery of the century, comparable to unearthing King Tut’s tomb.
“Cool” had the legs of a fine wine. I sniffed its bouquet and sipped of its liquid resolve. I rolled it about in my mouth. I knew it to be vintage vocabulary.
A ten year old friend asked what I thought of the Beatles’ latest album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I had the perfect answer. I could express the harmonies, lyrics, and rhythm, all with one flawless, monolithic motif.
“It’s cool,” I said.
The rising bubble of my New Year enthusiasm was burst last week when I read a prayer in the Imitation of Christ. It terrified me. Does it scare you too? (Misery loves company.)
Purely as a scientific experiment, pray the following words out loud (or under your breath if your spouse is nearby and already suspicious of your sanity). I’m curious how it speaks to you.
Lord, you know what is best for me; let this be done—or that be done—as you please. Grant what you will, as much as you will, when you will. Do with me as you know best, as will most please you, and will be for your greater honor (Book 3, Chapter 15).
The first phrase is easy: “You know what’s best for me.” Sure, God knows everything better than anyone, Theology 101. The second phrase gets prickly: “Let this—or that—be done as you please.” I’m okay with “let this” be done as long as it means financial or physical health; but what if it means something else? I imagine stock market crashes and cancer.
The next phrase scares me, “Grant to me what, as much, and whenever you want.” I want (right now) a home with a roof and a checkbook that can pay the bills. But what if what he grants is “Never,” or “Not very much,” or, “A lifetime of struggle”?
The last phrase put an exclamation point on my fears: “Do with me as you please.” What if God thinks my greatest need is a trial by fire, betrayal by friends, or a financial melt-down? What if my wife and I end up homeless, or that my life’s work looks like campfire smoke that vanishes in the evening sky, forgotten by tomorrow?
How is that for New Year optimism?
We live in an age of celebrity Christians. If it’s not the mega church pastors, it’s the best-selling authors or the Christian rock stars. While we may not worship them (at least not that we admit), we certainly want to be like them. But we constantly fall short.
Christina Kelly (former editor of young women’s magazines like Sassy and Elle) once wrote,
Why do we crave celebrities? Here is my theory. To be human is to feel inconsequential. So we worship celebrities and we seek to look like them.
But it is so dumb, with this stream of perfectly airbrushed, implanted, liposuctioned stars, you have to be an absolute powerhouse of self-esteem not to feel totally inferior before them.
So we worship them because we feel inconsequential, but doing it makes us feel even worse. We make them stars but then their fame makes us feel insignificant. I am part of this whole process as an editor. No wonder I feel soiled at the end of the day.
Oftentimes the greatness of others is crushing to us.
Last Sunday night my mood turned ugly. I was talking with a friend and he said something that lit a fire in me. I ranted and raved; I said harsh things about someone not present, and the best efforts to silence me merely aggravated me.
I went to bed angry, and I woke up remorseful.
Why had I said those things? I was embarrassed, contrite, and a bit ashamed of myself. I was in a mood to repent. Then I read My Utmost for His Highest,
We trample the blood of the Son of God underfoot if we think we are forgiven because we are sorry for our sins. The only reason for the forgiveness of our sins by God is the death of Jesus Christ.
Chambers’ words aggravated me more. (Maybe my anger hadn’t dissipated completely.) Here I was genuinely sorry for my sin—in the mood to repent—and Chambers said my sorrow plays no part in my forgiveness. Not one tiny morsel.
How important is sorrow in our forgiveness?
Several years ago I met with a woman distraught over her son’s rejection of Christianity.
She said, “I did everything I could to raise him right. I taught him to be like the ‘heroes of faith,’ with the faithfulness of Abraham, the goodness of Joseph, the pure heart of David, and the obedience of Esther.”
She wondered why he had rejected Christianity.
I wondered why it took him so long.