I closed my eyes and placed my hands on my lap, carefully interlocking my fingers together. I opened one eye slightly and gave a side glance across the aisle to the other row of chairs. Was this right? I wondered in my twelve year old brain. It seemed to be the same as the other peoples’ hands. The people across the church aisle. My head was turned downward as if I was looking at my lap. This must be right I thought and firmly closed both eyelids once again. I don’t remember what was said by the minister, but I recall glancing up through a slit in my eyelids, just enough to see whether it was over or not. Do I open my eyes now? Is it okay to lift my head? Am I suppose to say amen?
Such was my predicament when I was a first time visitor to a church service at the age of twelve. I had not been to church before and really did not understand it all. I had never participated in a group prayer. But I watched and learned what to do.
Over time I learned to recite the Lord’s Prayer and became more confident in the whole folding my hands together, closing my eyes and bowing my head. Later in my life I would visit other churches and learn about more spontaneous prayers and lifting my hands in prayer and praise. I would also come to know God in a personal relationship of faith and understand what I was praying and to whom I was praying.
But, I still copied what I saw others doing at church. Standing up or sitting back down in my seat at the cue of others around me, or in front of me. Tell me that I am not the only one. Did you grow up in church from an infant? Or did you come to church as a preteen, teen or adult? If you can identify with the latter, was it all a new foreign language and customs to learn? It was for me. And I find that I am still learning. I adapt, depending upon the style and type of church.
Every church gathering seems to have its own style. And I follow the cues. I am a work in progress and while for some, it might not make any difference what type of service they are attending. They are confident and focused upon their own style of prayer and praise. For me, I follow the cues and adapt.
Over the some forty years of church attendance, I have observed style changes for both prayer and worship. Music styles have changed, as have prayers. Very rarely will you hear a pastor speaking King James Version prayers with “thee’s” and “thou’s”. Some prayers have become so casual to say “Hey God”. I’m not quite sure if I could handle any prayers that might say “dude” or “bro” when talking to God, but I guess that shows my age. I’ll learn to adapt.
Recently, at a church service I was visiting, God began to show me something that I had gotten too used to following. At first I was taken aback by the suggestion. But, when God points out something, its best to listen to Him. He showed me that people were all trying to copy the worship team. He made me think about my own sincerity in my worship. Was I just copying others to fit in with their style of worship, you know peer pressure, or was my heart bent on true worship? While I was thinking about it, He also pointed out the worship team. Their eyes were tightly closed. God began to impress upon me that “They are focused on loving me, but they can’t see others when their eyes are closed.”
Now, I will be the first to tell you that I close my eyes sometimes in worship. It shuts off the distractions and lets me think about the words I am singing. But, that was something God was trying to tell me. That we close our eyes to focus on Him in worship. To sing our love for Him. But, we fail to open them back up when we leave the service. We forget that while God commanded us to love Him with all our hearts, minds and spirit; the second command is as equal. Love our neighbors as ourselves.
Now, please don’t get mad at the messenger here, just sharing some thoughts. Maybe it is what we need to think about. What if we, as modern worshiping Christians, are too focused on this experience and this following the crowd, that we fail to notice if someone visited our services? What if corporate, church worship was focused on the group, rather than each individual shutting out the distractions of those around them?
I do remember a time, when we worshiped with our eyes wide open. We sang upbeat old fashioned hymns, and no I’m not suggesting we go back to old style music, but just that we acted like a group. Like a team. I cannot imagine closing my eyes and singing a team song at a sporting game. Tell me if I’m wrong, but we keep our eyes open for that.
But, somehow, we now have worship team idols who have taught us how to project an image of bliss in worship, that includes closing our eyes and lifting our hands. It might be a reflection of our selfie driven culture that cares more about social media views than authenticity. I mean, let’s be real here for a sec, does it make the singer look more holy, closer to God even, as if they have found this perfect moment of worship of God? I think it might. Maybe because we want that too.
Let’s be honest. There are times when we are hurting. Times when we are tired. We cannot always be in the mood to praise God. God knows our hearts and He knows our hurts. He knows when we are being sincere, or just following the worship team and imitating them.
The Psalms give us many examples of sincerity in worship. Here’s the short version: The psalmist is feeling down and then recalls the goodness of God and ends the psalm with praise.The psalmist starts out with an honest reflection and assessment of his circumstances, both physically and spiritually. He is authentic.
Let’s open our eyes and be authentic. Be real. See others as God sees them. And while I cannot claim the worship team was not engaged in an amazing worship moment, God perhaps was asking me to be real in worship myself and not just take the cues from others. Do not just go though the motions, imitating what we might have seen in worship videos or from the stage, but just authentic, corporate worship.
I recall attending an outdoor Christian concert once and observed a woman standing in front of me. The song began and she immediately raised her left hand, keeping it raised, as she texted with her cell phone in her right hand. Her head kept tilting down to look at her phone as she texted. Distracted driving is dangerous, but I have wondered about distracted praise.
I have also been at a different concert, praising God, hands raised and in an amazing moment, witnessed the presence of the Holy Spirit fall on the concert. I stopped singing, because I realized there were no words suitable for that moment. My eyes were opened. At the same time, I also realized the lead singer had stopped singing too and had dropped to his knees on stage, completely silent. There were just no words adequate for that moment in an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was not for show. The music kept playing in the background, but we were all silent. It was a beautiful moment I won’t forget, maybe this is what Heaven will be like.
Either way, silent praise or joyous expression, let’s focus on true worship and not on ourselves as worshipers. Let us worship God, who calls us to love others and demonstrate a pure religion that looks after the widows and orphans (James 1:27). Let’s keep our eyes wide open to see others. Love is not blind at least it shouldn’t be as demonstrated in our love for God and for others. Keep your eyes open and let God show you amazing things -God Bless, Nancy