When Obedience Doesn’t Make Sense

When my family moved to Detroit, the summer between my first and second grade, Tommy was the first friend I made. He too was the son of a pastor—so we had that in common—but his mother hated the idea of punishment.

Cigarette butts

Tommy’s mother caught us smoking cigarette butts behind their church which was right next door to their house. (How could we have been so stupid?) She explained that the butts have other people’s germs. When that insight failed to motivate him, she offered a pack of gum for every day he didn’t smoke.

Instead of obedience, Tommy’s mom favored explanation, “Do you really want someone’s butt in your mouth?”, and bribery. (My own mother’s response was more pointed and painful.)

Reasoning and bribery didn’t stick. The pleasure of sex and drugs made more sense (and paid better) than his mother’s urgings and graft. By the time he was twenty, Tommy had been arrested for drugs that he sold to support his pregnant girlfriend.

[This article is about obedience not about parenting—though there are implications for parenting as well.]

Tommy’s father favored stricter discipline but his mom’s philosophy was, “I don’t want to crush his spirit.” She let him crush his own.

What Is The Essence of Worship?

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.

Contemporary Worship

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.

Might Modern Worship Be Sort of Like A Cocaine Rush?

I once met with a man—let’s call him Nathan—who described himself as a, “recovering charismatic.” He was open to it; but his experience of modern worship gave him pause.

As he grew up, his mother frenetically flitted from one worship experience to the next.

© United Methodist News Service

© United Methodist News Service

After Toronto she visited Florida, then Bethel Church, and then anywhere she heard “something” was happening.

Worship music unceasingly blared throughout the house. She seemed to need its euphoric “oomph” to motivate her for the tiniest of tasks. Wiping kitchen counters took the combined efforts of Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, and Paul Baloche.

Don’t ask what spring cleaning required.

But she remained anxious, fearful, self-concerned, and neglectful of her husband and sons. She’d say, “I just want to go where God is working,” but it really seemed she just wanted an escape, a place where her problems could be sedated.

After describing all this, Nathan added, “A friend of mine became a crack addict. Frankly I didn’t see much difference between him and my mom. They got their highs in different ways, and their lives remained a mess.”

I wonder,” he continued, “if modern worship is like a cocaine rush.”         

Is Modern Worship Sort of Like A Cocaine Rush?

© United Methodist News Service

I once met with a man—let’s call him Adam—who described himself as a, “recovering charismatic.” His mother fanatically—maybe frenetically—flitted from one worship experience to another; she visited Toronto, Florida, Bethel Church in California, and anywhere she heard “something” was happening.

When she wasn’t traveling to Christian conferences, worship music blared throughout the house, or her iPod (filled with worship songs) was glued to her ears. She needed the euphoric “oomph” of worship music to provide motivation for the tiniest of tasks.

However, she remained anxious, self-concerned, and perhaps narcissistic. She’d say, “I just want to go where God is working,” but it seemed she really wanted escape, a place where her problems could be anesthetized.

Adam added, “A friend of mine became a crack addict. Frankly I didn’t see much difference between him and my mom. They got their highs in different ways, and their lives remained a mess.”

“I wonder,” he said, “if modern worship is just a cocaine rush.”

What is the essence of worship?

We have all heard of worship. We know people who worship the ground their lover walks on. We know God says to worship him alone. But, in all of this, what IS worship? What is the essence of worship? And what does it have to do with my day to day life?


Video length: 2 minutes 31 second