One Sunday we were at worship. We were between snow storms–most had just finished the clean up from the most recent one and we were waiting for the one was due in a few hours. That probably cut our attendance by about 10 percent (which in our case means a couple of people didn’t make it). Worship was going smoothly–I hadn’t made any major mistakes and think I even avoided the minor ones. I had lots of time before worship to get ready and no one had provided any unexpected confusion.
We went through the announcements, began worship and reached the point for the choir to sing. As they were singing, I looked at my watch and realized that I was pretty much through the order of service except for the Scriptures and sermon and we had used up only about 10 minutes.
I remember thinking, “What have we done?” But I wasn’t asking the question in the same way some melodramatic TV or movie character would ask it. I was really asking myself if during the previous 10 minutes we had really worshipped God. I had lead the congregation through the order of service, making appropriate comments about the music and doing the prayers at the right time–even using the right prayer at the right time. We had sung and read together and prayed and offered our offering and listened to the choir–but had we really worshipped God.
That isn’t an easy question for me to answer. I am aware that simply following the order of service and getting it right (something I don’t always do) doesn’t ensure that we worship. Worship involves an opening of ourselves to the presence of God. God is always present in our lives but we don’t always make the effort to be aware of his presence. Public and private worship provide us with times to actually remind ourselves of the wonder of the presence of God.
But to be honest, I am not always aware of the presence of God during worship. I am busy leading, guiding the flow of the service, making sure that I follow the order of service, reading people’s reactions to the service, coping with my nervousness, anticipating the next several steps of worship, making sure that I move the text on the tablet at the right time. Am I aware of the presence God in our midst? Intellectually and theologically, I am deeply and profoundly aware of the powerful truth that God is with us no matter what. Practically, when I am leading worship, I am often more aware of leading the worship that the presence of God.
What are the worshippers aware of? That I can’t say with any great degree of certainty, but from past experience, I can say that some are aware of the physical limitations of the sanctuary, the pain they experience from their arthritic joints meeting hard pews, the worry about life issues they bring with them to worship, the smell of the coffee we will share after the worship, and maybe trying to figure out the joke the worship leader (me) told poorly.
And yet, in spite of all of this, week after week, we come and somehow, by the grace of God, we manage to connect with God. Somehow, I see beyond the anxiety of leading the worship and experience the presence of God. Somehow, the congregation reaches beyond the hard pews, aches and pains, life baggage and poor preaching and encounters the reality of the presence of God in their midst. Somehow, we do it–we see God, we experience God, we thank God, we praise God.
How do I know that? Well, sometimes, people tell me how they encountered God. Sometimes, I have my own personal encounter. But more often than now, I realize that we have encountered God simply because we leave worship with more than we brought to worship. We worship and because we somehow experience the reality of the presence of God in our lives, we are touched with the grace of God, a touch that changes our lives. It may not be a spectacular change, although those do happen now and then. It may not be a touch that lasts a long time, although those too happen from time to time.
But we are touched by the presence of God and we do take the experience of that touch with us and it does make a difference–and so in some way, somehow, we have worshipped.
May the peace of God be with you.