I had just spent a good 25-30 minutes pouring out my heart, staring at the floor in discouragement, tearfully sharing some very difficult and painful circumstances in my life at the time. I looked up, probably for the first time in ten minutes, and noticed that Rick, my counselor, was crying, too.
That meant a lot. And along with the tears there was indignation. He was angry. For me. That meant a lot, too.
And then he asked a simple but unexpected question, “Bruce, when are you worshipping?”
I was puzzled. And then I was embarrassed that I was puzzled: I didn’t know for sure what he meant. I mumbled, “I’m sorry, I . . .umm . . . I guess I don’t know quite what you mean.”
He clarified, “When during the day and week are you worshipping God?”
Somewhat defensively, I spoke of my devotional times in the mornings, which truly were solid times of prayer and worship–a lifeline, really. And, then, usually just before breakfast, I’d pray with Sarah.
“That’s great,” he said, “But what about the rest of the day? How can I help you to find other times during the day to stop and just . . . worship?”
I sat there, silently rehearsing my typical daily schedule.
Actually, the more I thought about it, it wasn’t that hard of a thing to do; throughout the day I was in the car fairly often, either by myself or with the kiddos (we had two at the time). With or without the kids, this was a great time to worship out loud…. And with earphones I can step away from whatever I’m doing for five minutes and listen and sing silently.
At the time the playlist on my phone was rather pathetic, but I had an entire 2,000 years of church tradition to draw on. Huh.
Also, during evening “bible time” with the twins, I could strum the 3-4 chords that I knew on the guitar, and sing.
And these ideas were just the low-hanging fruit. Together Rick and I explored even more possibilities–how and when and where I could worship–e.g., when doing chores around the house, going for a jog, etc.
It was the best advice I’ve ever gotten. It’s saved me from doing some really foolish stuff. It’s empowered me to actually do some beautiful stuff. It’s enabled me to bask in his glory, to feel his forgiveness, to taste his goodness. He has become more real to me.
It was the best advice I’ve ever gotten for when I’m confused.
It was the best advice I’ve ever gotten for when I’m overwhelmed.
Or for when I’m tempted. Or lonely. Or in pain, or ungrateful or resentful or lustful. Or when things are going really well.
Is it some sort of magical formula or ritual? Of course not.
So what does it do?
A lot. It rips my thoughts away from myself and my situation–not so that I can (wrongly) ignore my self or situation but so that I can begin to (rightly) interpret them. My covert accusations about God–he’s apathetic, incompetent, or just plain absent–are brought out into the light. My present agenda is re-examined and re-directed.
Do you know who does this really well? King David. In fact, for all of David’s talents and for all that he accomplished as king, how does Scripture remember him? Listen to 2 Samuel 23.1:
“These are the last words of David: The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed [messiah] of the God of Jacob, Israel’s beloved singers of songs.”
David was a worshipper.
Rather than rely upon his resources or wallow in self-pity, David worshipped. Listen in Psalm 57 for how his complaint is interrupted by worship:
“For the director of music… Of David…
When he had fled from Saul into the cave.
Have mercy upon me, my God,
have mercy upon me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in you,
until this disaster has passed….
I am in the midst of lions;
I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts–
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
They spread a net for my feet–
I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit for my path…
My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples….
When pursued, David worshipped. When discouraged (or “downcast”), David worshipped(Psalms 42-43). When gasping at the beauty of creation, David worshipped (Psalm 19). When his world had been turned upside down, David worshipped (Ps. 46). When victorious over all his enemies, David worshipped (Ps. 18).
When without answers and all alone without any allies, sapped of any energy, when he had, it seemed, been forsaken by God, David worshipped–publicly, fact:
“I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.”
And in Scripture David was not alone. Three brief examples.
When called to leave his land, culture, and people, Abraham entered Canaan and, as he traveled through the land, he erected altars and “called on the name of the LORD.”
When utterly devastated by calamity upon calamity, Job, with torn robes and shaved head “fell to the ground in worship and said,
‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away.
May the name of the LORD be praised.'”
When openly slandered and stigmatized for being Jewish, and then publicly stripped and beaten and imprisoned, Paul and Silas “about midnight…were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”
Seriously? Yeah, that’s right.
Luke’s Gospel especially records the frequency of Jesus’ life of prayer and praise: during his baptism, on regular retreats from the crowds, when choosing disciples, when with his disciples, when transfigured–and when in Gethsemane, he worshipped.
In fact, in the final hours of Jesus’ life, as even a cursory reading of the Gospels reveals, we find a deeply troubled and isolated Jesus–doing what?–meditating on Psalms 31, 34, 41, 42-43, 69, 110, and, perhaps chiefly Psalm 22.
How did Jesus, the son of David, the anointed of God, survived the agony and alienation of his passion?
When it comes to worship (songs, prayers, liturgies, etc.), it would be difficult to overstate the richness and marvelous diversity of the Christian tradition (how much more Scripture itself).
Here’s one example. Are you wanting some structure for worship and prayer with God? Are you wanting words from Scripture that are intelligible to you that you can make your own?
Download the Book of Common Prayer as an app on your phone. (Or be even cooler, and order a hard copy from Amazon.) Go to the Table of Contents and click “The Daily Office.”
Boom. You have access to incredible morning and evening prayers. (And you can explore the BCP for more.)
As for music, oh my goodness. From ancient chants to Negro spirituals to children’s choirs to hymns (and newly arranged, revamped hymns), there’s just so much.
Here are few I’ve been worshipping with:
The British children’s choir Libera has a stunning version of one of the best hymns ever “Abide With Me.” The second verse would make the author of Ecclesiastes stand up and clap, while the fourth verse would make the Apostle Paul freak out with excitement:
“Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.”
“I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.”
This song regularly reduces me to tears. Not saccharine tears of emotionalism. But tears of lamentation, contrition, and thanksgiving. They re-introduce me to reality.
Another song, of a very different sort, is Mo Leverett’s “Waiting.” Coming from the heart of the Mississippi River delta, this song never fails to turn me right side up and re-orient my agenda:
“Lay me down in the arms of Freedom.
Lay me down in the Liberator’s Dream.
Let Herod have his say;
let Caesar seize your pay.
On Jubilation Day,
they’ll kiss your hands of clay.
For me I’ll choose to stay . . .waiting . . .
Lay me down at the cross of Jesus.
Lay me down in that field of suffering.
Plant seeds of mercy where
the ground is cold and bare;
hope will fill the air,
if justice is our prayer.
We’ll find the answer there . . . waiting
It will take you unaware.”
Shifting genre gears yet again, consider “Come, Lord Jesus” by The Modern Post. The song’s lyrics are based on that most glorious cry of the nascent Christian movement, “Come, Lord” (see Revelation 22.20; 1 Corinthians 16.22; Didache 10.6), originally expressed (of course) in Aramaic as marana tha (מרנא תא), transliterated into Greek (μαράνα θά). The song is modern, sober, filled with longing:
“Come, Lord Jesus, come . . .
Come again to claim your own.
Come to reap what you have sown.
All creation weeps and groans . . . for you.
It’s to you that we belong.
It’s to you we lift our song.
How our spirits look and long . . . for you.
With our voice like endless seas,
wielding swords and stars and keys
bring the nations to their knees . . . we pray.
Come, Lord Jesus, come . . . .”
Emphatically, the point here is precisely not to worship when you feel like worshipping or when you feel worthy of worshipping. It’s exactly the opposite: it’s to let the words and music wash over us and awaken us from our sinister slumber, when we’ve been lulled to sleep by the deceptive sirens of a wandering self, a wayward society, and a wily Serpent.
So start by merely mouthing the words, if you must.
The burdensome weight of “how I feel right now” is dust on the scales when compared to the weight of the ocean of voices of “one holy, catholic and apostolic church,” a church composed from (not quite) every tongue, tribe, people and nation.
Christian, you are so not alone.
So . . . when are you worshipping?
To understand the “theology” of why worship can be so transformative, click here.
To consider how all humans, regardless of how religious or irreligious they may be, are in fact worshippers, click here.