May 30, 2008

Insurmountable Obstacles

A friend of mine blogged some great observations about Insurmountable Obstacles.

He makes this comment about a church service he attended:
I was genuinely sad and angry at the same time. I so long to be somewhere where our faith matters, where we believe in God and love Him so much that we literally fall on our faces in His presence. Instead, I sit in a church service that is ostensibly more focused on American military might than on God's omnipotence. I stand and sing with scores of others when none of us really grasp the levity of what it is we're singing about. And I'm just as complicit in all of it as anyone else is.

As I stood there thinking about it all, I realized that revival fire never will fall because we aren't meeting the prerequisites (the first of which is true repentance--I promise to discuss this in a future post)! We've constructed so many obstacles to God's Spirit actually having any sort of sway among us that we're as close to revival as we are to the Crab Nebula. Too many of our churches simply are not in any posture spiritually to receive the fullness of God's Spirit. If I may wax pessimistic--our spiritual glasses aren't even half-full.
I am not sure, however, that we can EVER meet the prerequisites. Yes, we experience true repentance. Yes, we can do better on some days more than others. Yes, there are some churches that seem to be able to do this better than others.

But I think this is part of our living in a state of the "already and not yet" understanding of the Kingdom of God. I also think this is where the sacrifice of Jesus Christ makes up for our lacking. There is a sense in which we are freed from sin, experiencing God's presence, seeing His power, and being guided by His Holy Spirit. But there is also a sense in which we are not. Things in this world are not yet as God desires them to be; they will be one day. For now, we are part of a fallen humanity.

We can never meet the requirements.

I think God knows and understands this. He is God after all!

He knows that we are fallen. He knows that our understanding is dimly lit. He knows that, even at our best, we are still part of the fallen creation that misses the mark. There is no such thing as getting it completely, absolutely right in doctrine, in worship, in practice. We can't even get it right in our intentions. If we stopped our spiritual practices because we had mixed intentions about why we were doing things...we would never worship or pray or serve.

I think about the term "maranatha" which is often translated as "Lord come." It has eschatological (end of things as they are) significance. Usually people understand this to mean "Come and get us out of this world." What it really signifies is a cry for God to "come and set things right." There is a big difference. One seek God's assistance to help us escape the world, and the other seeks God to set things right in the world.

Speaking about the pastor's Gospel-centered message,Andy said, "...that message stood at the center of that service like a fine jewel caked in mud and dirt, so too we in the church have too often mired the jewel of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the mud and dirt of our own ignorance and selfishness."

I think that points us to the tension of wanting God's Kingdom to come while recognizing that it is not yet here. We know, deep down, that the world is not right, and we want it to be set right. For now, whether we like it or not, God's wonderful Gospel is caked in muddy, dirty, mixed up humans who don't get it right.

Our Own Worst Enemy

Andy says, "Week after week, we erect myriad obstacles which keep at arms' length our loving Father who, because He limits His own limitlessness in order to give us the freedom to truly love and worship Him, finds those obstacles insurmountable. In the end, it simply may be that our worship gatherings, indeed our churches, are more about us and less about the One that we claim them to be."

What a scathing indictment. If true, we are our own worst enemy when it comes to seeking God. For me this shows the danger of thinking I have the correct beliefs or the correct expression of the faith. I think that attitude often interferes with our ability to worship in an environment we don't like or with people who have doctrine that is not like ours. I have found that if I can't worship in particular environment that I am probably the problem.

God's word promises that wherever two or three gather in "my name, there I am in the midst." So even if things go horribly wrong, you can't "sense" the presence of God, or they are doing things completely wrong...God still promises to show up. I just have to be able to recognize Him when He reveals himself.

How to Prepare Yourself for Worship

I also have to do everything I can to prepare myself to worship. I have to ask myself the following questions:

1. Is my heart right and prepared?
Have I sought God's forgiveness? Have I offended a brother? Have I invested the time this week to prepare my heart for God's presence? Sometimes we absent ourselves from God's presence all week long, and then expect to "sense" Him during the one hour weekend service. Getting to know the voice of God takes time in His presence. I have found that if I don't "practice" and "discipline" myself to listen for His voice...He is not going to automatically make himself known during the weekend service.

2. What do I see that is right?
We often look to the negative and focus on that rather than trying to find the positive and where God IS moving. It is easy to nitpick and find fault. People love to find fault. I found this a particular struggle for me. What I need to be doing is listening for the voice of God to speak through the songs...the message...maybe, even the announcements or offering. God promises to speak, but am I listening.

3. Is my focus on worshiping God?
There is a pervasive attitude of me-centerdness in the church. We ask "What am I going to get out of this service?" People complain, "I didn't get anything out of that service." I think we will get the most out of the service when we stop asking "what's in it for me?" and start asking "How can I give my worship to God?" It is time to make God the focus of what we do in worship.

4. What can I put into practice today and this week?
The believer's church service is about encouraging, strengthening, and preparing the believer to work in bringing about the Kingdom of God in his or her world. I say believer's service because I think it is okay to have a service that focuses on reaching unbelievers in a more "simple" and "culturally relevant" manner. A believer's service is where the "What's in it for me?" comes into play. After we have focused on praising and worshiping God, what's in it for me becomes "How can I use what I am hearing and experiencing to bring about God's Kingdom in my home, work, school, world, and life?" "What's in it for me?" still focuses on how it works out for God.

What are some things you do to prepare for worshiping God and to remind yourself of the true meaning of worship?

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