Recently, I sat on the Gulf beach with my husband and watched as the sun inched toward the horizon. The wet shoreline glowed with orange and pink reflections, holding the sun’s glory briefly as the waves crept back into the sea and the shore dried. Terns ran nervously about as they sought a meal in the wet sand then fled the tide as it came back once again with the sole intention of showing off the sun’s blushing image.
I wanted to dance. I stood up and walked toward the sun’s orange brilliance, singing and praying as I walked. Words weren’t enough. I raised my hands; I didn’t dance, but I should have.
Decades ago, when I first learned to truly worship, I became afire with love for God. The Holy Spirit awakened my heart to see the obedience of worship, and he gave me eyes to see Him—in scripture, sermons, and songs. I remember the first time I lifted my hands to a waist-high position during a Sunday service. Joy flooded my heart; tears streamed down my face. From that simple act, something broke free in me. I saw God differently. He was bigger, holier, and full of more grace and mercy than I ever imagined.
I was led to further obedience in worship by His Spirit. I would sneak off in the morning before the children or my husband awoke. Taking long steps and with absolute joy in my heart, I made up songs to God while I skipped and danced on a golf course that was near my home.
God was grace itself. He granted me salvation. He forgave my sins, granted me peace with him, and formed in me a new love for his word, prayer, and worship. I was CRAZY about God the Father, crazy about my Savior, Jesus, and newly in love with the Holy Spirit—that ever-present, but often-ignored person of our Trinitarian God.
Yes, it was emotional. I had comprehended more of the King of the Universe than I had before, and my love felt uncontainable. He had been merciful to Me—yes me. I discovered His names: Abba, Beloved, Comforter, Provider, and Most High God. I learned about His character qualities: faithful, gracious, and holy. Just to name a few.
For months I awoke while it was dark to worship and pray—spending time faithfully in His word and with Him. The first blow to that intimacy came from the Church. We had moved to a new city, and the habit of rising early had continued. But one evening at a small group gathering, we introduced ourselves by sharing things about our lives. After I shared briefly, my husband, in an attempt to help others know my love of God, commented about my practice of rising early to spend time in stillness with God.
There was stunned silence in the group. Then someone asked me, “Well who do you think you are?” The words struck physically; I recoiled at the blow. Suddenly, I felt presumptuous and arrogant, as if my spending time with God meant I thought I was someone special, some super-Christian-want-to-be. It immediately brought shame. I had done something wrong—at least it felt that way.
I didn’t confront the person. I was new to the city, the church, the group. I was young. Everyone else was older and wiser—at least it seemed that way to this newly radicalized believer. From those words, I knew I was wrong to be passionate.
Even as I think about it, I know the heart of the Father wept. My ardor was real; my hunger was deep; my thirst was unquenchable—or so I thought. Abruptly, the fire became a cooling ember, and a deep sorrow took its place. My joy in God was silenced, and I tasted the same bitterness that everyone else in that room had felt—they were bored; I became numb. The practice stopped. There was something wrong with me. I was too in love with Jesus. The words effectively silenced me for months, but not forever.
My greatest encouragements have come from members of the Body of Christ (the Church), as have my deepest wounds. In this incident, evil came at me in order to shame me for loving my Lord, and it came through my brothers and sisters.
I’m reminded of Song of Solomon, chapter five. In it, the bride longs for the groom—him whom her soul loves. She goes out to seek him, but the watchmen, who make rounds to protect the city, strike her and wound her, and strip away her cloak. According to one commentary, by taking away her cloak, they were denying her relationship to the Beloved, seeking to shame rather than encourage her. She goes to the daughters of Jerusalem to get them to help her find him. They seek him with her, for she is lovesick. When she finds him, he has nothing but glorious praise for her. In fact, her eyes of love overwhelm him.
What does this have to do with worshiping God on the beach at sunset? Everything.
Demonstrative worship is countercultural, so to do it I must swim against the tide of evil’s objection as well as the church’s occasional protest (and sometime hostility) to expressive worship. To worship boldly means I must fight my shame and other’s misunderstanding, but it is done to please and honor God, not man.
Why should I feel shame at loving God with a sometimes-uncontainable love? Why shouldn’t I dance on beaches and raise my hands or bow down before the King of Glory? Why do I let another’s bound, cynical, or bored heart restrain me?
Because I don’t want to appear foolish, and I will. I don’t want to be offensive or misunderstood, and I will be. I am hindered by the fear of man and an occasionally unwelcome culture where passion for Christ seems a little like madness. Sometimes, out of love and unity, we restrain ourselves. But is unity more about understanding or compliance? Acceptance or conformity? But that’s for another blog.
When I am in a worship situation where I wonder if I should lift my hands, or bend my
knees, I say to myself, “HE IS THE LIVING GOD! Clothed in glory, majesty, and worthy of honor and eternal ceaseless praise. He is more holy than I can imagine. Should I obey God or man?
Seeking the Lord in passionate obedience is misunderstood. The words from that small group years ago echo in my heart and I feel the blow and hear again, “Who do you think you are?”
When the question should be, “Who do you think HE is?”