I like to smoke sometimes. In fact, I like to sit in a dim room with a few well-placed lights and watch the smoke waffle between light and darkness as it rises. It does set the mood. However, sometimes I don’t feel like smoking and I prefer to sit in the light. I like that too. Especially as the light comes through the windows and covers the people in the pews.
Yes, I said “pews.”
Now you know and are relieved that I don’t sit around with a cigarette in the dark and that I am talking about the varied types of worship services in our Baptist churches. Take your pick of lighting, dress, tempo, volume – smoke or no smoke – and you can find pretty much something for every experience seeker.
During the First Great Awakening there was a divide in the church between New Lights and Old Lights. I guess we could say the same for today except it would be between Lights On or Lights Off…Southern Gospel or Contemporary…Unblended or Blended. Our worship preferences seem to be what drives our choices in finding a church. It makes me remember a man at a conference in the 90’s that said that he “just couldn’t worship unless the singing was in Latin.” I was secretly applauding inside that he was NOT my music minister and that I was not at his “stuffy old church” yet, I guess Latin lyrics moved him whereas at the time I preferred Michael W. Smith and Maranatha. That divide between worship styles has been around forever even as pub tunes were given spiritual words in the 1700’s. In my own life I remember the great musical divide when I introduced my mom to a Sandi Patti cassette and she said that it sounded like “screaming.” I am sure I gave her the famous teen eyeroll and thought that she was an outdated Christian that just needed to get a grip on the new sounds of Christianity. Now I am outdated and even unsure where I fall in all this change.
I have lived long enough to see the worship pendulum swing often. For my 8th birthday my parents took me to see a group of young people who traveled to Paris, Tennessee to sing from a “new” type of musical called “Good News.” It was exciting to see teenagers and college kids run down the aisles and sing about Jesus. It livened up my 8 year old bones. Now the concerts are different and rarely contain a full choir dressed in matching outfits. In fact we are in the skinny jean, baseball cap and eight singers at the most era.
How did music and stage setting become so important in our church culture? How did it become something tied to membership where we come and go according to the style of worship? How is it that we come expecting the minsters and those on stage to woo us to praise…or may I say convince us to worship? Why have I heard for the past 30 years things like, “Well, I just wasn’t ‘moved’ by the service today”?
I doubt if many of these issues were raised last Sunday in Panama City, Fl as small groups of worshippers gathered around destruction. I can say that whatever song was on their lips was unadulterated by music preference or lighting styles. In their worship experience I am sure they were moved because their hearts were moved beforehand.
It is easier to truly praise Him when the piece of bread before you hasn’t been taken from a large buffet. We are picky today as Christians because we have the luxury of a full meal deal mentality. We are full from our own generated fullness of a church on every corner. It is the “have it your way” McDonald Christianity where you can hold the lettuce and double the tomatoes and leave trying to figure out if you were satisfied or unsatisfied with your dining experience. If not, go somewhere else. Worship is us centered, or so we believe.
We have forgotten that God is at the heart of worship and instead we suit up in our personal armor of Southern Gospel helmets or Contemporary shields…each one thinking less of the other and no one thinking of God. We have entrenched ourselves in fortifications that surround our own self-made kingdoms. We have dressed ourselves for the battle, but have shown up at the wrong holy war…you know, the one that is NOT about music but about charging the gates of hell. One we are willing to fight the easy issue while the other of eternal importance is ignored.
After times of worship pleasure… after times of enjoying a song and a good sermon…after we have been moved by some unknown force to shed a tear or raise a hand…the true test is what happens after we wrap the day up with the Sunday roast beef or a restaurant favorite. The true test of Sunday worship happens when the waitress gets the order wrong or when the argument returns in the car ride home. The true test of the skinny jeans or the dark blue suit and tie is not in the song filled lips; but in the overflowing heart that has been changed not by the tune, but by the God of the song.
I may belch out harmonies and applaud high notes. I may do all these things and still leave craving something more. What good is ANY song, if my heart is far from the lyrics? We are “bringing in the sheaves” and yet witnessed to someone that week. We “praise You in the storm” yet scream at someone that simply cut us off in traffic. We sing of “the mercies of the Lord forever” yet withhold mercy from a child that messed up the carpet at church. We “B-I-B-L-E..yes ,that’s the book for me..” yet ignore it all week long, preferring to pull up the one minute “Devo of the Day” instead. We have sold ourselves to the pleasure of doing church without Him in easy, less sacrificial ways.
The yearning of a heart for God above the song is evident through the centuries. No wonder we hear songs from the 1800’s saying “tune my heart to sing thy praise” or the more recent lyrics that state “I’m going back to the heart of worship, ‘cause it’s all about You…all about You…Jesus.” Evidently, we all at some time feel like our tunes fall flat and the atmosphere is dulled by our attempts at praise.
I will admit, my worship has fallen short.
Not because of a minster.
Not because of song tempo.
Not because of a preacher’s delivery style.
Not because of lighting…or smoke.
My worship has fallen short because I have ceased to truly seek Him and praise Him and listen to Him and spend time with Him BEFORE Sunday arrives. We are missing out on Sundays, because we left Him behind on Monday.
So, we fill the void with all kinds of things and no longer need the smoke that filled the temple because of God’s presence.
Instead, we have learned to make our own.