Monday, November 30, 2015

Watch Me Whip, Nae Nae, and Praise the Lord (A Blog About Perceptions of Proper Forms of Worship)


I don't know how many times I've said that statement in my life--either as an expression of relief, happiness, joy, or sarcasm (at least I'm honest).

I usually get really excited to fly home to Colorado, and attend church at my regular church with my children. This weekend was no exception. As I was talking to one of my friends later in the evening, he asked how church was today. All I said was, "OK."

As he prompted me elaborate further, I actually admitted that I was a bit disappointed with this Sunday's service. See, I have attended this church for quite some time--years as a matter of fact. I love my church, and adore my pastors. It's a shall I say..."enthusiastic" church. Some of us are more enthusiastic than others. I enjoy the energy of the worship and praise that happens there, but I have always participated the way that I participate in worship in any other church--my own way. This does not include trying to fit in for the sake of fitting in--either with words, actions, or going through the motions.

So why so disappointed this past week? Since I have been attending this church, I have now counted three times that I have sat through sermons on ways to worship, and sat throughout the service feeling somewhat lectured on how to worship properly (if there is such a thing). This week's topic was about showing praise. I have no issues with praise. It is a great, and intense manifestation of your faith, appreciation, and true acknowledgment of the power of the love and grace provided by God and Jesus Christ. Praise can be very moving, and intensely emotional. Some people are tearful. Others are more vocal with their praise, sometimes offering the quintessential "AMEN!" after agreeing with something that was said during the sermon. Some people sing loud during worship songs. Others look at the words on the big screen during the songs and process the message of those words--which happens to me a lot--I also don't sing if I don't know the words/tune to a song, or if it's a song I've never heard before. Not always ideal, but true. I like to actually survey and process some of the lyrics before I just toss them up to Heaven all willy nilly. ;)

But to come back full circle with the convo here, the topic centered around the idea of showing praise through raising your arms up in the air and using them to glorify and praise God. At the beginning of the service, they showed a video which was actually pretty hilarious about all the different ways you can show God praise by lifting your arms/hands up in the air. The video is below--and it's worthy of watching...

So this video was the precursor to the Sunday sermon. Then the sermon followed. There were at least three to four times where my pastor said throughout the sermon (and I'm paraphrasing), "I just don't understand why people would choose not to worship this way". Then he started to go over possible reasons for not worshiping with hands up in the air and with arms open wide. Maybe people were too shy. Maybe they didn't want to feel silly. Maybe they were too cool. Maybe their arms were tired. Maybe they didn't have arms. Actually, I made up those last two, but I could definitely see that he was perplexed as to how anybody could possibly consider their worship good enough if they didn't go all out, and go through the motions of what I felt was being deemed the only acceptable method of praise. I mean, really, everyone knows if you don't worship with your hands in the air that you are a mediocre Christian, right? It says it right there in John 3:16.5--"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life--unless you believe in Him but don't sing worship songs with your hands in the air, then it's all over."

Please don't confuse my sarcasm with blasphemy--that is not the intent. However, everything after the -- in that bible verse was all made up by me. Shocking, I know.

But the whole thing did make me uncomfortable--just like the previous times I've had to sit through similar sermons. The worship team took the stage at the end of the service, and we had all been heavily encouraged to show our praise properly prior to leaving the service, so if you didn't raise your arms up you were likely going to look like a giant butthead. I felt like it was our last opportunity to prove that we were obedient to the message in the day's sermon. And I didn't do it. I can only count on one finger how many times I've ever raised my arms or hands up in public worship--and that was a very special circumstance that was between me an God.

So why do I have to be such a rebellious jerk face of a Christian? It's actually not about that at all. And if my pastor reads this, he can officially have his mind blown because I'm about to answer the question that perplexed him throughout yesterday's service.

The reason I do not raise my hands publicly to praise my God is very simple--that is the motion that I go through, and have always gone through when I am having my most intimate, one-on-one moments with God. It is private to me, and it is sacred to me. That is the one thing that I have, in the most desperate or fantastically precious moments of my life, that is between me and God--and I'm not willing to start using it for other purposes just because someone tells me I should.

Have you ever had something that was amazingly precious to you? Have you ever had something that used to be precious, used it frequently, and then it became not as precious, or you just use it mindlessly because you truly are just going through the motions? My experience with precious things is that when they get over used they often times lose value and meaning--or as is this case with me with public arm raising and public praise, the sanctity that I have placed on that expression.

 I have no doubt that the people who are frequent hand and arm raisers in my church do it to manifest their utmost praise and worship to God. That's great for them. I'm happy that they worship and praise God in a way that they feel and choose to worship. I'm glad they feel comfortable enough in our church to praise God the way they choose. I only get frustrated when I am "expected" or "lectured" to praise that way, and alluding that anything less than that is labeled as mediocre. That was how I felt after the sermon yesterday.

When I told my friend how and why I was feeling the way I did, this is what I said, "This, in particular, is a sensitive subject for me. That is something I save for my most personal, intimate times with God when I am one-on-one with Him. I am not ever going to let someone tell me or make me feel bad that my worship is mediocre because I don't have my arms up, and I'm not going to let someone steal that intimacy that I have with God to conform to their ideas of worshiping properly."
To which he replied, "Good! You should never feel like you have to put on a show to fit someone else's vision of worship!" Then I said, "I do feel like it sometimes becomes more of a show than legitimate praise." And he replied, "It definitely can become that. I'm glad you are willing to be a rebel!"

I'm not trying to be difficult. I usually am by nature anyway, but in this instance, I am really not trying to be a pain in the butt. However, I'm pretty protective about my intimate moments with God. I wouldn't invite the public to view any of the other intimate things I have done in my life (I think they call that porn), so there is no invite to view my private expressions in worship with God, either.

I think that we can pick, and pick, and pick at ways that we can all do things better when it comes to our church life. However, I feel like we should support each other through our relationship with God--regardless of what that looks like, and regardless of personal opinion about how it needs to be. I  would bet that I am not the only person who disagreed with the topic of yesterday's sermon, and I'm not the only person who didn't throw my hands up in the air during the last songs to conform. I didn't get the lemming gene.

  PS--if you showed up to church yesterday at all, you are doing better than the vast majority of the Christian populous. Just be yourself, and PRAISE THE LORD! ;)

PPS I still love you, my pastors. Just let us get our God groove on our own way, k?