I started writing this post over a month ago, but it languished in the draft folder (a.k.a. Blog Purgatory) because I couldn’t really define what I wanted to say. Yesterday, I experienced exactly what I knew I should write about. I often feel that either the message or the music was chosen just for me. This is not exactly true, as I doubt any pastor has ever written a sermon with me in mind, but it is true in the sense that God is using the lesson and/or music to speak to me or to teach me.
Yesterday, I was sure that I would be a weepy mess by the time I headed for the choir room to warm up for worship service, so I fully expected to hide in the back of the sanctuary instead of sing with the choir in the loft. While I have been pretty numb, my walls were starting to crumble just a bit Sunday morning. So, as I walked down the stairs from Sunday school, I prayed all the way into the choir room that I would be able to simply worship God without distracting anyone. Maybe that’s an odd prayer, but I really take seriously the job of choir members to help lead in the worship service, which means you do not talk through the sermon in the choir loft, pick your nose, wear revealing clothing or rattle candy wrappers too loudly. You also shouldn’t sob through sermons or songs, so I was fully prepared to just sit in the audience yesterday. The other reason for my prayer was that I was afraid that the numbness I was feeling would keep me from being able to actually worship, and I really don’t want to continue in auto-pilot any more. I needed to worship God yesterday morning with a body of believers.
Sitting in the choir loft gives you a bird’s eye view of the people in the pews. I am often appalled to find that the adults who should know better are often the ones who are talking during the service or doing other distracting things, like making shopping lists or passing notes. We can all find reasons that we couldn’t pay attention to the music or the sermon: somebody was sniffling, the music was too loud, the pastor was too quiet, somebody was wearing obnoxious perfume (maybe that caused the sniffling?), someone next to me is singing off-key, I don’t like the music, I don’t like what the pastor is saying, I have just experienced a personal tragedy… There is an endless list of things we can allow to distract us, but there is only one reason to focus. When we actively participate in worship and focus our energy on meeting God and hearing his message for us during the worship service, we will never be disappointed. It won’t matter that you don’t like every song or that it wasn’t our favorite sermon because the presence of God will wipe away all of the pettiness involved in even thinking those thoughts. Think of your favorite activity; now think of what distracts you from that while you’re actively pursuing that interest. Why is our list of things that distract us from hearing God AT CHURCH so much longer?
I think maybe the biggest component is active participation; if you’re just a spectator, you have time to sit back and complain like a backseat driver or Monday morning quarterback. If you are engaged in the worship service, you won’t be thinking about what color tie the preacher is wearing or how many notes the choir missed; you won’t care because you will be actively seeking God. Everyone can take an active part in worship: you can sing the songs and focus on their meaning, whether it’s your favorite song or not, whether you can sing well or not; you can take notes during the sermon so that you will stay focused on the topic; you can tithe at least a little bit even if you don’t have a lot of room in your budget to spare; you can decide that you won’t be a distraction to anyone else by talking or making your grocery list. You can do more than fill a seat.
If you are only filling a seat, or participating out of habit, think about why you are really there. I did not attend Sunday school or church services regularly for over a year because I knew I didn’t mean it; I could not sing praises to God when I couldn’t even talk to him. This was not the right thing to do, and I am not advocating for absence at all. I am advocating for thoughtful worship. I had to stop and think about what I really believed and decide that it is very important to me to love, serve, and worship God no matter what my personal circumstances are. That was a long road for me, but being able to sincerely worship God yesterday in spite of knowing that my heart was breaking as it thawed was worth more than anything on earth. (And I’m pretty sure Bubba picked out all of the music just for me – again. 😉 )