Sunday, November 12, 2006

Joy In Worship - The Thaw Continues

I have been in a period of over five years in which I have had little or no (perceived) joy in worship. There have been oases, but I have had a "dry mind in a dry season, my headpiece filled with straw." (Without googling, does anyone recognize the quote?)

Being deeply New England Congregationalist and Swedish Lutheran by heritage, I have never been much of an enthusiast in worship anyway, except that I like to hoom-boom the bass notes of introductions and preludes or drum with my fingers on the pew in front of me. Not having exciting, moving worship is fairly normal for me. Others may look at pentecostals with mild to intense disdain or envy. I am merely puzzled.

I can also bring up - I do not say manufacture - energy for worship leading for two related reasons. One, I declare what I know to be the eternal reality, even if I cannot feel it at present. Two, it's my job, and the needs of the worship community trump my own feelings. Happily, that has in itself been a source of oases in this desert, and I have often left worship grinning wryly at God's humor with me, bringing out unsuspected joy in my driest times.

It's not so bad, really. I have a narrative that I believe, anyway, about how this has occurred. Also, I expect that this state of affairs is normative at some place in a Christian life - and for some poor bastards, almost lifelong. Given my heritage, it would be hard to tell the difference anyway. A wise friend, who I told about this ongoing lack of joy, asked "What do you expect it to look like when it's fixed?" Great question.

But five years was getting to be a long time. The other parts of my life went on their usual courses, sometimes more cheery and energetic, sometimes less. Worshipping away from my home congregation was often interesting, but didn't change things. Times of prayer, reflection, fellowship, or study were as likely as ever to bring happiness.

It is usually wise in such situations to consider the possibility that you are doing something wrong, locking the door against God in one area. I tried various remedies, thought about it, asked advice. No worse, no better. Ah well. Until this summer I still expected there was something I was supposed to discover, some key to turn the lock. And I admit, it may have still been of my own doing, and Jesus is simply releasing me from my own foolishness to attempt a new way to teach me something.

But the ice is breaking up, and I have no ready explanation for it. Even a few weeks ago, when we went on serious metaphor overload in worship about "being sheep" and pastures and fences and the whole lot inserted into nearly everything, it didn't drag me down. The accidents of worship, as Aristotle might call them, seldom have much effect on me.

When folks give testimonies or write little encouraging articles for Christian magazines they usually identify some lesson that they learned through all this that made it all worthwhile and improved their walk. If that's the case here, it will have to be something that I see only in retrospect, because I don't have a clue why the thaw has started, or where any of it is going. It just is.


terri said...

Faith and continued worship in the dry times of life are a true measure of what we believe. Often it seems as if we have to re-remember lessons we have already learned but have lost in the minutiae of daily life. Maybe you don't need to learn something new so much as you might need to recall something you already know but have pushed to the back of your mind.

I have found Brennan Manning's "The Ragamuffin Gospel" sometimes helpful fo re-remembering at times.

I hope your thaw blossoms into full-blown summer!

Anonymous said...

I may be preaching to the choir, er, the worshippers, but one thing struck me several years back, and I would like to share it with you:

When we get to heaven, what will our job be? Will we be busy mopping the floors? Will we be dusting the halos? Will we be writing software that runs heaven? Will we be helping people overcome addictions, or mental illnesses?

No. We will have one job in heaven: To worship our Lord. (Read Revelations if you don't believe me.) Certainly, the Lord can help us learn to do things that we haven't learned to do once we get to heaven, but we really should be learning to worship now.

There are hundreds of scriptures that show the importance of worship. Enemies were defeated through worship. People were saved through worship. Entire chapters of the Bible were written about worship. David was known as "a man after God's own heart" because he was a worshipper.

I guess my point is, never stop striving to worship. Worship is not about our feelings, or what we can get from God, but what we can give to God. We choose to worship.

Full Disclosure: I am a Pentecostal/Charismatic. I raise my hands, and make lots of noise when I worship. I have worshipped to old hymns, and new worship choruses.

I have also been in slumps before. I have found, almost exclusively, that I am not focusing on worship. Two active sons (5 and 2) and a bi-weekly responsibility to run sound sometimes makes it difficult to focus, and I have a tendency to let other things take over my thoughts in worship. But when I choose to focus, I find myself in His presence immediately. What a wonderful gift we have, to be so unworthy to even talk to our Lord, and yet He even gives us the privilege to sing to Him!!

And AVI, I am by no means criticizing you. It sounds like you have returned to the "heart of worship". But maybe others can learn from me...


Assistant Village Idiot said...

No offense taken, BubbaB. Thank you for your advice.

Erin said...

On the allusion, I recognize the second half as part of Eliot's "The Hollow Men" but I'm not too sure about the first half. Is it from another one of his poems?

Anonymous said...

BubbaB, I too am a pentacostal/charismatic. I found your statement that all you have to do is focus and you find yourself in the presence of God amazing. I FEEL the presence of God maybe twice a decade. I am always surprised when it happens. Pleasently so. For me, worship is an act of obedience and faith. Since I so seldom have appropriate feelings, I don't go by them.
Although.... the feeling that this is the time to go to Rwanda is settled in my heart.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Excellent, Erin. The quote is indeed from Eliot's "Four Quartets." When I went to look it up more exactly, I found it was "a dry brain in a dry season." Which I don't like anywhere near as well, and probably why I misremembered it.

There was a student-written play called "Dry Seasons" my freshman year at W&M; that's where I first heard the line. I am still quite sure I heard "dry mind." Glenn Close directed it. Perhaps Glennie, the playwright, or the actor changed it.

Anonymous said...


Perhaps it was a bit simplistic to say that I immediately find myself in the presence of the Lord... But I find my biggest issue is focus.

I have an image of myself, bowing down before Jesus sitting on His throne, as a peasant would do before his King. I often find myself thinking of that image when I enter God's presence - and everything else seems to melt away... At least, until my two-year old starts jumping up and down on my feet. ;^)

God doesn't want us to be apart from Him. He wants to meet us. Often-times, during worship, I feel like I need to ask forgiveness for my sin, or feel a burden about some area in my life. I have found that many people seem to have that problem - the "I don't feel I can worship until I am worthy" thoughts.

The problem is, we are never worthy. No matter what we do, we cannot make ourselves worthy of anything having to do with God, or His grace.

We often get hung up on the mechanics. We need to be hung up on Him, and making Him happy.


Ben Wyman said...

AVI, you always struck me as the sort who would find his joy of worship in areas other than the more traditional ways of Sunday worship. As more the sort of person who would enjoy the special music as much as anyone, but find that the fellowship afterwards, or a startling thought on a rainy Wednesday morning, would seem to bring to joy and presence of the Lord a little clearer than anything else would. But maybe I'm just seeing myself in you.

And I don't mean to argue with you, BubbaB, because I do agree, but I don't think it's out of the question that there may be people who really find their joy of worship in mopping the floors of Heaven.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely!! I have my mop bucket and mop ready!! ;^)