Leon’s message this past Sunday reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my kids recently. They asked about what the “right” way to pray was – to bow your head, to lay face down on the ground, to hold or fold your hands face upward, or something else?
It led to a discussion about traditions that we receive from those who went before us and that those who went before us received traditions from those who went before them and so on. Many of our ways of praying and worshipping, including our physical postures, songs we sing, ideas we share, are things we are repeating that others did or said long ago.
For example, somewhere, long ago, someone had an encounter with God, a moment in which they felt the presence of the Lord in their life in some real way – maybe a healing, or a deliverance from a problem, or some deep insight – and they responded in a way that was natural to them – maybe they bowed their head and got on their knees to pray, or maybe they lifted their hands up toward heaven and spoke, wrote a song to sing to God or about God, etc…
For example, many of us are familiar with the song, “It is well with my soul” and how the writer, Horatio Spafford, had experienced great loss in his family (a son and four daughters all died). On a ship headed to Europe, when they were close to the spot where his four daughters (seen below) had drowned in a shipwreck, he wrote the song as a cry, as a response to God in the midst of great pain and tragedy. Though his heart was broken, he still trusted God and he expressed his worship in a song.
That great song has served as a way for others to express their heart to God over the years. Because Horatio Spafford worshipped the Lord and shared his experience with others, countless others have been able to worship the Lord and understand him at a greater depth. People have been able to grieve and lament their pain and share their faith and their hope in the midst of pain because Spafford worshipped and shared his story.
It reminded me that we need always need fresh stories of experiences with God and to see how others responded to the Lord in worship, in faith, in frustration, in lament and sorrow, in victory, in boredom and excitement, and so on.
We need more Horatio Spaffords who will write songs we can relate to. We need people to write songs and prayers and stories and to find other ways of expressing their experiences with God and life so that we can see God at work today, not just a few hundred years ago.
It’s certainly not to say we should throw out the Psalms or songs written 100-300 years ago, but that we need to add our voices to their voices and see the continuation of faith over the centuries that will extend beyond us.
I need to worship God afresh today and not always depend on other’s worship response as the way that I worship the Lord. In worshipping God today, I can reflect the work of the Lord and the leadership of the Spirit today and not simply on what God did in someone else’s life at some point in the past.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he talks about them coming together to “do church” and that each of them brought something – a song, a prophecy, a word, a prayer – all things to share what God had been doing or teaching them in their life.
In this context, Paul said that the outsider “visiting church” would be convicted that God was real – why? Because they’d see evidence of God at work today, not only people singing songs or repeating words that someone else that none of them knew wrote decades or hundreds of years earlier – evidence of God and people interacting today.
We need to remember that worship wasn’t and isn’t simply a form or format to follow, but also a function – an expression of our connection with the Lord today.
May we allow God’s Spirit to spill over and outside out normal boundaries of worship and let him lead us to respond to the Lord personally and not only and always through other people’s words.
May we see a new generation of songs that express a range of emotions and experiences.
May we see people inspired to share stories of Jesus and experiences with God in ways that connect with people we might not yet connect with.
May we rediscover the old songs, the Psalms, the scriptures and other expressions of experiences with God and help re-articulate them to new generations who are thirsty for God, but who might not connect with cultural expressions that they aren’t familiar with.
May we worship the Lord.