Uncomfortable Worship

In my ideal world, all of the words that I type here right now would be going toward the 50,000 words I am attempting to write this month for a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month. But its far easier to write about issues and the real world than create a whole new universe where ideas and people move and breathe. Tolkien was a genius.

Lately in one of my worship classes we’ve been discussing the various applications of multi-sensory worship into the corporate church worship setting. Growing up Baptist, anything close to what my professor refers to as “bells and smells” would have certainly drawn a few raised eyebrows from among the congregants. But we’ve been talking about creative expressions of worship and how to go about incorporating those into our corporate worship experiences without overturning the tables of our typical Sunday morning liturgies.  (And yes, even Baptists follow a liturgy. It’s just cleverly disguised under the “Order of Service” heading in the weekly bulletin.)

But my thoughts have been drawn to the matter of comfort in our worship services. We often don’t want to experiment with the way things have been because we don’t want to throw people off or upset them by totally changing things up on them. My prof read a story out of a Max Lucado book this morning about how church-goers in a pew and passengers on an airplane are the same. We describe a worship service as “nice” just as we’d say we had a nice flight. Some nap, some read, some look out the window. It’s all moderately comfortable, depending on how large the flight (or church) is and how much you paid for a seat (or how long you’ve gone to that church).

I was struck with the juxtaposition between our worship services today and what we value and the worship as described in all of Scripture. In our services today, we implicitly bow down to the American god of comfort before we’d bow before the throne of God with a community of believers. How much value do we place on selecting a church that has a style of music with which we are familiar? Something that sounds like what we listen to as we drive into work or as we’re on the treadmill. Something lively and energetic, or something more traditional, “like what the church I was raised in used to have.” Or even the pews. Do we complain about how much or how little padding the pews or chairs have? After all, we have to sit in them for a good hour and a half every service. Even the kneeling benches in churches are padded now. I’ll kneel, as long as it doesn’t hurt my knees too much.

And then we have Isaiah, cowering in fear upon finding himself before the throne of God. Moses removing his sandals to stand upon the rocky, holy ground. Adam hiding from God in the garden. Ezekiel falling on his face before the appearance of the fiery presence of God. And if you want to claim that these are old covenant worshipers, pre-grace dispensation worshipers, John falls before the appearance of the risen Christ in worship in Revelation.

The American ideal is comfort. A nice house, a stable family, a car that runs, a job that pays, and time off for a nice vacation to the beach. And this slowly begins to invade our thinking, change our values, until we are judging our worship of the Holy God in categories of style, comfort, “seeker-friendliness.”

Biblical worship in the tradition of Isaiah, Moses, and John confronts us as we are rather than caters to our wants. We are caught off guard, and in surprise at being caught in our true sinfulness rather than our happy church face, we are forced to hide ourselves at the thought of being found out and being faced with the overwhelming goodness of Christ. Worship draws us instantly to our faces, and it is only by the grace of Christ that anything comes out of our mouths in praise.

So perhaps what we really need is not another hymn, or another catchy movie clip to show in our service, or another big I-IV-vi-V praise chorus from Hillsong, but an unpadded, uncomfortable place upon which to throw ourselves in selfless worship of the One who defined selflessness for us.

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