This the first of potentially a few blogs on things I am committing to stopping saying as a church leader. Whilst all of us who are regular church attenders probably know what they mean perhaps they are at best misleading and at worst betraying a theology that we don’t realise we are holding.
Come, Lord Jesus.
I remember when I bought my first Vineyard album the song that I wanted to learn to play first was All Who Are Thirsty. Nowadays, we rarely hear the whole song played. More often we have the chorus tagged onto the end of other songs; Come Lord Jesus, Come. I loved songs like this one because they had a lulling quality to them as the music rose and fell over me like waves.
In the 15 years since buying that album my enthusiasm for sung worship has risen and fallen in waves too. On occasion I have not wanted to do it at all believing that it is off putting to outsiders or that the music the church produces wasn’t creative enough (as if I am capable of better). There have been other phases where I have immersed myself in worship music, listening to it all the time. I have stood arms folded and stern faced in crowds of ecstatic people with their hands raised and I have stood singing a hymn and weeping with joy in a room full of stern faced people with their arms folded. The whole time something hasn’t quite clicked with me about what we are doing when we gather and sing. Something about the language we are using doesn’t work for me. It is language that I have struggled with, never the practice.
We talk about ‘worship times’ and a voice at the back my mind asks, ‘what was I doing before? Isn’t my whole life an act of worship (a flawed and blemished sacrifice but still.) I realise that this is somewhat petty as more or less everyone knows what is meant by the phrase. Perhaps the thing I have found most difficult to connect with within this part of Christianity is the now universally used ‘let us enter the presence of Jesus’ or the alternative, ‘let us invite Jesus to come through our worship.’ Every time I hear someone ask Jesus to come I wonder where He is coming from and why he wasn’t already here. You’re right, I can be a pernickety little man.
But I still turn up and I still believe in singing because the words in the songs make me more present in the world where God’s presence has always been. I don’t sing to usher him in to the room, I sing because my life is full of tweets and statuses, Netflix and politics all clouding my awareness of Him in the world. Singing songs about His goodness and mercy and blessing consumes me, and trains my mind to focus upon Him. I sing because I need to remember He is here with us, and He always has been. Singing draws my attention to His presence, in which I have always been enveloped. He will never be more present than he already is, it is us who have been distracted with other things. It is us who are prone to wander.
So when we gather, remember that Jesus is no more in the room we meet in than he was in the car park. He is no less present in the queue in Poundland than he is during moments of spontaneous worship. We are the difference in each situation. Our intentional focus uncovers His presence and our unintentional distraction veils it again. How different life could be if I could maintain the level of awareness of Him I have on a Sunday morning at a church meeting when I am frustrated in the queue for the self-service checkout in ASDA on a Thursday evening.