Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Distracted in Worship

Our pastor called us out last Sunday.

After the announcements, he got up to preach on the prodigal son. As he highlighted the importance of the father running to his son (something very uncustomary for that time), the pastor diverted.

“I don’t understand how you can stand in worship like this,” he said, holding his hands behind his back and looking bored. “Worship music is playing, and you’re just standing there... Love is an expression. When you really love someone, you show it.”

I knew he was right, and it was a message for more than just me. I am among many who cheer at football games, greet loved ones with hugs and even pump a fist at rock concerts. Yet, at times in church, I can barely lift a finger.

Why is that? Why, after all that God has done for us, do we get so reserved during worship?

I understand there are cultural differences, and some people simply weren’t raised to get boisterous in a holy place. I want to clarify that making a joyful noise does not necessarily mean your love for God is greater than someone else’s. I’m examining those moments in a church service when our bodies are present but our minds are a million miles away. We stand, arms folded, not singing -- an outward manifestation of an inward distance towards the whole collective experience. We’re either making plans for the rest of the day or scoping out the attractive person in the third row. Some times, we are mulling over our problems and, more often than not, dreading the upcoming work week.

Monday morning, when I brought all this before God, He gently impressed on me, How can you raise your hands when they are full carrying your own burdens?

Our need to fix our lives will always clash with circumstances beyond our control, and when we can’t win, we worry. We pick up our troubles and lug them around with us. I think that’s where the expression “heavy heart” comes from. We are burdened, which inevitably slows us down and keeps us from being fully engaged in the present moment.

Gordon Robertson often says that people were not made to carry emotional stress, and that is obvious when you see what it does to our spirits and our bodies. I believe that’s also why Paul advised in Hebrews 12:1 to set aside every weight that distract us from what we should be doing.

We were created to worship God freely and with great devotion. Our praise is our radical gratitude to a God that rearranged the universe to bridge the gap between Him and us. It is also something that the enemy hates and stops at nothing to squelch. He will hurl everything at us during worship to get our minds off loving God.

It’s easy to use church as our time to detox from the week, but I’m beginning to believe that is a waste of precious time. We need to lay our burdens down before we even hit the door. Take time to pray and untether your heart from trouble. The Bible calls for Christians to cast their cares on God (1 Peter 5:7) and take up His yoke. I like the way The Message puts it:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." - Matthew 11:29-30

I think we can fall in love with God so much so that our expression is bold, unique and unfettered. He can fill us with that love so long as our hearts and hands aren’t tied up with cares of this world.

Take a moment before you enter the sanctuary to clear your mind. Meditate on God’s goodness. My prayer for us all is that we will drop our burdens at the door and be so swept away by this whirlwind romance that we’ll forget to pick them up on the way out.

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