April 9, 2011

Worship from a Cynic's Heart

A hip hop church service is a one of a kind experience.   The vibrant energy, already standard to ethnically black churches, was through the roof here.  Blaring synths and pulsing backbeats were enough to spike your heart rate.  And man! How everybody danced!  Like it was for the ancient Israelites, worship services in The House are a full body expression (you might even say a full body workout!).

And I must say I loved every minute of it.

After so long being confined to the conservative styles common to my background, the opportunity to engage in no-holds-barred praise was exhilarating.  I felt free to raise my hands, clap, kneel, and even dance along with those around me.  Admittedly, I had something of a comfort threshold that needed to be crossed.  Grooving for God’s glory is just not what I’m used to.  Yet once I allowed myself to feel comfortable with using my entire body as an instrument of praise, yes, even this white boy likes to think he can dance a little!  I came away from that evening feeling alive with the presence of God. I also was reminded of something I had forgotten long ago: Worship can be fun.

Don’t get the wrong idea though. This article is not about Urban vs. Contemporary worship styles.  I have learned to appreciate all kinds of music.  God can be present in the solemn tones of a sacred hymn just as in holy hip hop.  He can be glorified in both.

This article is also not about using worship to generate emotional responses.  Certainly some would accuse The House of doing this, though I would firmly disagree.  Furthermore, I think genuine worship simply must involve our emotions.  Yahweh is an emotional being.  His worshippers cannot divorce their minds from their emotions when they engage in praising him.  This will intellectualize the faith, and kill the heart of worship.  At any rate, I wander…

What I would like to focus on is not my time in a hip hop church, but what I experienced when I came back to Cedarville.  It is no criticism of the University to say that praise time in chapel is somewhat restrained.  This is simply common to the majority of conservative, evangelical churches.  We don’t dance. We don’t shout. We clap if the worship leader tells us to.  And don’t even think about raising your arms!  Why is chapel like this? I don’t venture to guess, although I think it’s safe to say that the vast majority of students wishes it were otherwise.

But again, this isn’t about Cedarville. And it isn’t, necessarily, about you.

So there I am on Monday morning, still brimming with the weekend’s energy.  Wanting to fully express myself through voice and body.  Wanting to move.  I just ached for the freedom I had felt on Saturday night.  The freedom to worship. But I couldn’t, you know?  I just couldn’t.  It’s not what we do around here.  People would look at me funny.

“And I’ll stand, with arms high and heart abandoned…"

Maybe they’d think I was trying to appear extra spiritual!  Besides, that would make me like that Pharisee Jesus talked about – the one who prayed on the street corner to get attention!  I wouldn’t want to be guilty of imposing on other people’s thoughts.

“In awe of the one who gave it all…"

I mean I really, reaaaly want to lift my arms, but it’d be too awkward!  Nobody else is.  Surely God knows my heart. If I’m thinking about raising my hands that’s close enough!  I don’t want to be the only one doing it.  I don’t want to stand out.

“I’ll stand, my soul Lord to You surrendered…"

I have to be conscientious of the context I’m singing in, right? I have to act appropriately.  It doesn’t matter how strongly I have the urge to dance.  There are higher priorities than how I express my soul to God in worship.  Like what others think about me.

“All I am is yours. So I’ll stand, with arms high…"

And that’s when the Spirit spoke with me:

Why are you unwilling to worship me now, in this place? You did so in Chicago.

“But Jesus, it was easier there. Everybody was dancing and raising their hands.”

Am I less worthy of your complete worship here? 

“No, you are worthy of my best.”

And you desire to raise your arms? You feel this would best express the worship of your heart?

Yes, you know that. But please don’t ask me to do something so uncomfortable.  I’d be alone. I’d be the only one doing it.  People will think I’m strange. Or showing off.

I always require your total commitment. Comfort is secondary to obedience. What if you were my only follower in the world?  Would you cease to worship me then?

No, it’s just-

Then worship me now.

I am!

You are not.

I’m singing aren’t I? Surely I don’t have to raise my hands just to-

It is your responsibility to present your best before me. That is all you will answer for.  The thoughts of others are not your concern.  Anything less than your everything is dishonesty, and disobedience.  Worship me.

And that’s when I had a breakthrough moment.  I had been dishonest for so long in my worship because I was holding back.  I was failing to express through my body what I felt in my heart.  I was singing of my commitment to God while concerning myself more with my own reputation.  I was a liar.

Yet the single idea that dashed all this to pieces was simple: My only responsibility is to worship God honestly and entirely.  That means I am to concern myself with what he thinks of my worship.  It doesn’t matter where I am, a hip hop church or an ecclesiastical graveyard, I am to worship in the totality of expression God desires.  It doesn’t matter what other people are doing or thinking, I am only responsible for myself.

God will not settle for worship from a cynic’s heart.  He demands our all.  Anything less than full obedience is disobedience. And certainly, he is worthy of the very best we have to offer.

As I fell to my knees in awe at the presence of God, the service closed with one last song.

I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about you, it’s all about you Jesus. 
I'll bring you more than a song..."


SammyJo said...

Wow. I was at Cedarville on Tuesday, visiting from Mississippi, and I got exactly the opposite impression. :/
I really enjoyed reading a few things from your blog. BTW: Brett is a friend of mine. :)
In Christ,

Mark Zellner said...

Thanks for commenting Sammy! I don't mean to sound overly critical of my alma mater. My list of admiration for this place is much longer than my list of grievances.
I'm glad to hear you had the opposite impression - it means that perhaps this was simply a problem of my own perception rather than the norm. Though after 4 years here I have met plenty of students who would agree with me. Still, praise God for change, right? I'll be posting another article on worship later today.
In Christ, -Z