So I grew up outside Philly, my mom made oatmeal cookies, I watched Captain Kangaroo – the latter two reminding me of the Quaker Oats guy: this post’s picture. Quakertown, PA I heard on the radio frequently, some of the founding fathers being Quakers were commonly talked about growing up, field trips visiting Quaker sites I also recall. And now I’m wondering if I’m becoming one (not really, but . . . ). According to quakerinfo.org:
an active, involved faith-based community living in the modern world. We are a diverse people consisting of several distinct branches. We continue our traditional testimonies of pacifism, social equality, integrity, and simplicity, which we interpret and express in a variety of ways. Today, many Friends include stewardship of our planet as one of our testimonies.
While some of the elements within that definition speak to my heart, education and experience; others are construed as being “liberal” or “shallow” from a faith and sanctification perspective. What I recall about Quakers more than anything else is how they did their services. My understanding is that they sat in the room and let the Spirit lead. Someone may have begun singing, someone may have told a story, read Scripture or something else; but it was led by the Spirit of God (in theory).
Now, the danger of this is real, but in principle I love it. How many times do folks pray in a group setting and they aren’t agreeing with the others’ prayer but thinking about what they are going to say? And other times they listen to others pray after them, thinking “I just prayed that … , I forgot to pray for . . ., They are only praying for their needs . . . , They squeezed my hand hard …, their hand is clammy…, I have an itch …, when is this going to be done . . .” Same goes for sermons when we our minds wander to our schedule, our outfit that we discover has something on it or another physical element of ourselves, concern for politics or a sports team, focusing on that song they just sung they didn’t like, etc. Maybe it’s just me that has experienced these things, but I doubt it.
Church services today are often offerings to the attendees, in hopes that they will follow Jesus (at least the good ones are)! This is awesome. There is nothing wrong about this in the least. But I’m tired of the same old thing.
Are we just checking the boxes off?
Worship through song
Shake hands of people “greeting”
Announcements, welcome people
Maybe pass plates
Maybe some special drama, testimony or music piece
Song wrap up
Whether charismatic, traditional or anything in between, most churches know what I’m talking about here. And whatever order they are used to … It’s a big deal if it’s tweaked in any way. It’s comical and yet sad when those who should expect what to do aren’t on top of it. It’s important not to have any dead time in programming, I get that, but when churches have 30 people in attendance and the “programming” doesn’t jive and is a big deal, something is missing. With kids and student ministry it’s different, but in adult services…
I’m tired of the routine that is 99.9% of church services – no matter how cool the pastor is, how we’ll they preach, how old the congregants are or how smooth the service is, it’s box-checking.
I listen to probably 5-8 sermons a week – I love them, get inspired to live my life in faith and find much richness to them, whether they use God’s Word or a combo of it and other elements. But I find that church ends up being more about us than God. I recall praying on dozens of occasions in church services, whether I was preaching or others, that God would stir the hearts of men and that the men/women/boys/girls would come to faith in Jesus the Christ. This is obviously of paramount importance. And our dependency on God to do it, not us, is huge. I simply fear we care more about people’s faith than lifting up God as holy.
Recently I’ve been listening to a message that actually does that pretty exclusively. It’s actually really challenging and intense. At times, because of my acquired understanding of sermons, I want a break where it’s not just the Word, but a story or something. Is hard to focus exclusively on God, what His Word has to say and think about His heart even more than my life. Of course the Word impacts my thoughts on the sanctification process God has me in, but so much of the times I find myself just turning to Him in awe, fear and a humbling call to gaze upon the Holy One.
It’s easy to gripe about anything, especially Christians and church, but I believe this emphasis that it’s not about us is the solution. It’s about lifting up God as worthy and holy. When we gaze upon God, who He is, what He has done, will do, and is in process of doing, we find ourselves unworthy in this beautiful, non-demeaning and humbling way. We understand Who God is. We realize how paradoxically insignificant in the grand scheme and significant in God’s heart we are.
I find much hope that the Church is going to revolutionize around this. Whether Quaker or not, whether the order of service is set or the order is to have no order, God will be glorified and we will find ourselves gazing upon the Master for Who He is and singing what David did:
Sing to the Lord, all the earth! Tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be held in awe above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place. Ascribe to the Lord, O clans of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth; yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!” Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! Say also: “Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!” Then all the people said, “Amen!” and praised the Lord. (1 Chronicles 16:23-36 ESV)