Until recently, I’ve had trouble attending worship services. I don’t dislike worship services or think they’re some abomination or other such heretical thing. I don’t care if it’s all hymns with voice only, or, clapping, swaying and Hallelujah shouting, or full on Christian Hipster rock band complete with the jazz flute, chimes and spirit fingers.Iv’e done them all and I don’t think any of them are bad. I just don’t get my fix from it.
My simple equations was—the more emotion you could put into worship, the more God you could squeeze from it. There is a movie out there called Jesus Camp, which is a fantastic film about the indoctrination process of the modern evangelical, and in it there is this little girl who says that God doesn’t want to be in churches that are boring and no one is standing and screaming out the name of God. Those Churches are supposedly dead churches full of people with dead faith.
My faith has changed dramatically since the time I clapped and danced and ran to the front of the church to try my hand at some prayer language that, if we’re being honest, sounds a lot like something Xena, Warrior Princess would scream while rushing into battle. I don’t get into the praise and worship fury anymore, nor do I feel the emotional connection to the words. In fact, sometimes I just stand there while everyone sings along. I look around at people singing what are quite honestly some of the most unoriginal lyrics in music, feeling out of place and bored. If it goes on for a half hour, my back hurts and I want to leave. Because of this, I sometimes wonder if my faith is dead?
I’ve went from church to church looking for music that would get me back into it, but I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter what kind of musical genre is being produced, singing along still makes me feel like I’m repeating an incantation and nothing more. I feel the same way during most public prayer. Sometimes I bow my head, sometimes I don’t. My mind can’t help but wander if the pastor starts cycling through names for God, like, “Dear lord, father, god, lord, Jesus, lord. We just come before you, oh, lord, father God. We just ask, lord, that you lord, would…” I mean, how many times do you need to tell him you’re talking to him? It’s not like he has multiple email address and you have to cc every one of them.
I started thinking about why I had to go and sing someone else’s lyrics in order to let God know I cared about him. Why I had to nod along to someone else’s prayer to let God know I honored him. Why I had to feel I’d had some great emotional high to let God know I felt love for him. I mean, I do some of those things because there is unity and fellowship in them, but am I any less of a Christian for not feeling emotionally connected or inspired by every single act, lyric, and word?
The last time I went to church I didn’t stand for worship. I sat with my journal open and I wrote. I wrote about what was on my heart and then, when I was done and worship was finishing, I told God how much I appreciated the freedom he gave me to be who I was and use what he given me to honor him. I told him that I was wrestling with how I was supposed to please him and the medium I chose to do all my battle in was writing. And in that moment I realized I was okay. That there was more than one way to come before the lord in worship, and that God was bigger than an emotional expression or musical genre.
Man has always done a fantastic job of setting up benchmarks by which the can measure something that was not really meant to be measured. IE, how “alive” is your church? How much emotion is in your prayer? How encoded is your spiritual speak? These thing are irrelevant. But the reason they’re irrelevant is not because of some cliche like, “God is unique for all of us.” No. God is God. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He does not change to fit our needs like some online game avatar. We change to fit his. Our personal experiences with him may differ. Our understanding of him may differ. He does not. He requires the same things from all of us. I think that’s why it’s good to know what pleases him, and what is man quantifying what man believes pleases him.
I think that’s why I felt so wrong for not going into praise and worship like Julie Andrews dancing in a field with the Von Trapp kids. I felt like I would have to worship God the same static way for the rest of my life, thus, not feeling the same emotional connection to the same acts meant my faith was dead. I’m happy to say that I now look forward to praise and worship, to the moments I can be in a place with other people eager to praise God because I’m free to do it in a way that I know uniquely honors him.