|Tiger swallowtail, in Yellow Springs, Ohio|
This is a guest post by my sister-in-law Lora Hauser.
This is Lora's response to my post The Impossibility of Worship Without Presence.
Where I struggle is trying to worship corporately with people who do not seem engaged in worship. I guess the obvious question is . . . how do I know they're not engaged in worship? Well, I really don't, except that usually a person "engaged" in something shows some physical signs of being affected by the task. I think this is true for any kind of corporate experience where the participants have a shared goal (i.e. - a Cubs game with the goal of spurring your team on to winning.) I'll try to answer these two questions:
What does "engaged worship" look like?
Why is it important for me and my own personal worship?
1. What does engaged worship look like?
The first tell-tale sign of someone who is engaged in worship is anticipation. At our church, I would estimate that about 50% of worshippers come strolling in late. (I will readily admit now that all the reasons I'm going to give are going to sound highly judgmental but let's put that emotion on the back burner for a minute.)
To be casual entering a worship environment could speak to the lack of expectation from the Holy Spirit not to mention the curse of sameness or predictability. When people walk into a great restaurant or pizza place, you can almost see the excited expectation of that first longed-for bite. Sometimes, our mouths can start watering just thinking about it.
This is what I would hope for myself when I enter worship -- a longed-for experience to "taste and see" what the Lord has for me. At the risk of "making this all about me" I believe it pleases God when we anticipate His presence and begin to rid ourselves, by the moment, of all the "all about me" stuff that prevents pure worship. It doesn't happen quickly but it will happen because we're promised that when we praise Him, He shows his glory and meets us no matter where we are when we come -- with great anticipation.
Another sign that engaged worship is taking place is some kind of physical manifestation. It's hard for me to think that I could sit in a Cubs game and Ben Zobrist (my favorite player) hits a grand slam and I wouldn't respond in some way with a clear, measurable physical response. This is what I desire for my own worship experience; that at some point as I concentrate on the great "I Am" during worship, I would be so overwhelmed by a truth revealed or just the majesty of the name of Jesus, that I would have an involuntary physical response.
To me, this is the purist form of worship --- when the body responds automatically without forethought, just like at that moment in a Cubs game -- everyone stands as if given a command. It's impossible to resist because the joy or electric jolt requires an immediate response. So it should be for us as worshippers. Our God is showing us grand slams every few minutes in engaged worship. It should be impossible not to notice and our bodies not to respond.
Another sign of engaged worship and engaged worshippers is an unquenchable desire for the truths in The Word. When my twin, two-year-old grandchildren are hungry and sitting in their high chairs but the food isn't quite ready, they will generally start to make loud noises or banging or even frustrated crying. You can feel and hear their longing to be fed. It's easily measured. When my cousin Jami was an infant, she would wave her hands frantically between bites encouraging her feeder to go faster. Isn't this how we should act as the Word is opened and we release the Holy Spirit to speak into our lives? Shouldn't we wave our hands and say, "more, more" because we know that what we are receiving has been determined since the beginning of time to be our only sustenance?
In our church, many, if not most, don't bring Bibles. Again, maybe a slight judgment, but really it doesn't even make sense? It's like coming to a great banquet and being okay not to have any food present, let alone bring your own food. We cannot live, think, feel, and worship without a complete and utter reliance on The Word. Our worship should be centered around it and our leaders should goad, encourage and require us to hold onto it for our very lives, lest we starve.
2. Why is it important for me to be with engaged worshippers and what happens to me when I'm not?
The first emotion that I feel when I am around those who seem less than engaged or not anticipating worship is loneliness. This should never happen when being around Jesus Followers. Since we attend a mega-church, the chance of feeling lonely just by being a small soul in the large crowd, is always a possibility. But a feeling a loneliness should dissipate quickly when the focus of our worship and the great "meal" begins.
To share something wonderful is unity-producing at the very least and miracle-producing at the very best. The strangers around me are not strangers anymore in the same way the Cubs fans in the seats are unified by a common goal. But let's say that after that grand slam by Ben Zobrist, I am the only one who has that marvelous, involuntary response of standing, joyful shouting, jumping and clapping. It's not only lonely but can produce a sense of isolation almost immediately.
When we, as Jesus Followers, feel that we cannot express appropriately our response to a God who is present in worship, we grieve the Holy Spirit who is shouting to us during worship that we belong!, we are the forgiven!, we win! I don't want to be lonely in worship. I want to see the ways God is revealing Himself to the others around me. I want to hear and see it because it draws me into even deeper worship.
The second emotion I feel when those around me seem less than engaged is that I am distracted. It's like our enemy is using these people as a huge distraction -- upstaging what the Holy Spirit is trying to do. It's as if there is a big screen behind the pulpit with a game show going on or a silly cat video. I want to be with people that are hungering and thirsting after righteousness and who are concentrating on the awesomeness of the moment. If I sense that people are bored or a service is planned so that there is no spontaneity or Body-life reports of mind-blowing activity of the Holy Spirit, then I find myself being pulled in to the boredom and sameness. The upstaging is working. I don't want to fight this and I don't think I should have to. Sometimes it even leads to questions like "What am I doing here? I'm sitting at a White Sox game, expecting the Cubs to come on the field. I need to go find the Cubs game." Something is really off, or even ridiculous.
The third emotion I experience is sadness and grief. I know exactly where this comes from and could very well be a direct hit from the enemy. Sadness and grief (unless it's over unrepentant sin or for those who are suffering) should have no place in worship. My grief comes from my childhood experience of worship and the extreme boredom I felt as well as the misrepresentation of what a Jesus Follower really looked like. It seems as if I had a front row seat to the opposite of engaged worship. What is even more grief-producing, is that once in awhile, the Holy Spirit would break through in some person and then they would be mocked.
I'm so thankful that God pulled me out of that dark pit and set my feet and expectations of worship on higher ground. I still grieve for all those children who sit in worship, who will never taste and see what is really meant by Presence-Driven worship.