Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Match & the Candle: A Major Element in Christian Worship

I'm reading N.T. Wright's beautiful, helpful After You Believe. In Ch. 7 he's writing about the nature of "worship." Listen to this:

"Just as a man in love will enumerate to his beloved the hundred and one things about her that he finds so delightful, so Christian worship consciously stands in the presence of the living God and declares who he is and what he’s done that has so swept us off our feet. Just as a couple in love will go back over the story of their first acquaintance, courtship, and mutual discovery, telling and retelling the narrative of “how it all happened,” so the worshipping heart will naturally want to tell and retell the story of God and the world, of God and Israel, of God and Jesus, of God and one’s own personal story. This is a major element in Christian worship." (After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters (p. 220). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.)

I love that! But Wright goes on to talk about the biblical analogy of God-worship and human love. As everyone knows, romantic and erotic love do not keep their "initial buzz." "The excitement of romance is like the excitement of striking a match. It’s sudden, sparky, and dramatic—and it doesn’t last long. The question is, What are you going to do with the match once you’ve struck it? The answer—which has obvious resonances with Christian worship, beyond the metaphorical meaning!—is that you will use the match to light a candle." (p. 221)

A candle is more beautiful, long-lasting, and evocative than a match. A match goes out quickly, and lovers (whether of another person or of God) need to understand that, when this happens, the answer is not to find another match and light it. Wright says that "those who have found their hearts warmed with the love of God need to learn that the virtues of faith, hope, and love, as expressed in worship, are to be worked at, thought through, figured out, and then planned, prepared, and celebrated with a new depth that will stir passions which the “matches” of quick, romantic attraction could not reach." (p. 221)

A candle has staying power. As does a marriage where love is understood as a feeling to be learned. The love and worship of God is not something that will just "come naturally," but is cultivated and grown into. There is a "mature, deep, and long-lasting love for God" that looks and feels different than the sparks of infatuation. God-worship has great depth-possibilities, waiting to be fathomed.