In spite of what you might think, it can get uncomfortably cold in Africa. During the long dry season in Kenya, for example, it is often cloudy and chilly–the temperature where we lived can drop to 8 degrees (Celsius scale–I am Canadian, after all). So, on one of these cold days, I am in worship. The church building is an unfinished stone building–the unfinished part is the windows, which have wide mesh screening on them and no glass or other shutters. I am sitting in a plastic chair at the front side which is more comfortable than the backless benches others are sitting on but does have the disadvantage of being by the cold stone wall of the building and beside one of the permanently open windows.
Worship begins. Technically, we are supposed to be worshipping in Kiswahili, a language I can handle if I pay close enough attention but practically, the worship leader today doesn’t handle Kiswahili well so large chunks of the worship are conducted in Kikamba, a language that I recognize and can speak about 10 words. The choir is enthusiastic, or at least they are when they all get there–some are still wandering in when the choir selection begins. The offering and announcements take a long time, as usual–mostly in Kikamba. The sermon, well, the sermon is in Kiswahili, mostly, but in all honesty if one of my students preached it, they would get a failing grade. Finally, after about 2.5 hours, we are done. We have worshipped God.
I’m back in Canada. We are attending worship in an upscale urban church. The pastor is a friend of ours and his church is being talked about for its innovative style and approach. The sanctuary is old, historic, warm, and relatively comfortable. The music is near professional and accompanied by videos on the screen which also links us with the satellite congregation nearby. The sermon is illustrated by powerpoint and touches on some of the major struggles that people have and isn’t too bad–this preacher would pass my course. After an hour or so, we are done. We have worshipped God.
Now, I am back in ministry leading worship. There are 6 of us in the sanctuary. It is fall in Canada and unfortunately, the person who turns the heat on in the building didn’t get it on early enough so the building is chilly. The pews were built in the era when Baptists distrusted comfort. It isn’t the week for our guitar lady to be up from the city so the two who can actually sing have picked some music that we can hopefully sing together. The sermon–well, because of our less than traditional format, the sermon gets interrupted and improved by a couple of good questions and comments from the congregation. I know that I am biased but I would give the sermon a pass mark. After about 45-50 minutes, we are done. We have worshipped God.
Now, of course, in each of those settings, I could have equally well written, “After 2.5 hours (or an hour or so or about 45-50 minutes), we are done. We have tried but failed to worship God. That is because in the end, worship doesn’t depend on the setting, the style, the music, the leadership, the sermon, the language. Worship depends on people who are willing to open themselves to the presence of God.
Certainly, there are peripheral issues that will affect our response to worship. I prefer being comfortably warm in worship to being too hot or cold. I prefer a sermon that is prepared and says something to one that is thrown together and consists of empty words. I like the hymns I grew up with more than some of the modern worship music. I much prefer my worship to be conducted in one of the two languages that I am comfortable with. But none of these nor any other factor is a worship killer. The only real worship killer is my attitude, which affects my response to everything else and my ability to recognize that I am in the presence of God. If I am prepared to open myself to the presence of God, I can worship no matter what. If I am not prepared to open myself to the presence of God, I cannot worship no matter what.
How do we worship? We worship by opening ourselves to reality of the presence and wonder of God in our lives.
May the peace of God be with you.