May 21, 2009

Worship: Sweet, Sweet Perspective

The subject of worshiping God is one I've been thinking and learning about a lot; worship in the broad sense, not just singing in church. To me, worship means a state of acknowledging God's love and power by stepping into some perspective. God is love, redeems us, has a perfect plan for us, has heaven waiting for us, and with that perspective life seems a bit more bearable. Theoretically, if you focused only on that all the time you would be worshipful and happy all the time. Note the word "theoretically."

Granted, it's impossible to maintain a perfect state of bliss all day no matter what (honestly, that's pretty impractical) while ideally we will have God's love as a reference point for every situation. If someone called me to tell me my brother just died, I would cry, not sit there without dropping my smile because it's merely another part of Earthly life I don't have to worry about. Far from it. About living this worshipful way, Paul says in Romans 12: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Taking your life and injecting God into it is a form of worship, indeed one very central to a Christian walk: spending time with Him, serving the Church and all that good stuff. I love the qualifying phrase "in view of God's mercy." That's the perspective thing, right there: recognizing how great God's mercy is and acting accordingly.

In the form of being hyper-aware of God's love, I find worship in a couple places. Sometimes when I'm alone, wherever, my mind goes to that place. A lot of the time it's triggered by something, usually nature being beautiful. I definitely believe slowing down to admire nature's beauty is a form of worship. The really awesome instances are when it's triggered by another person; sometimes just thinking about how close they are with God or how I see Him moving in their life will do it. My favorite one is when I see someone's face that has that "worshiping-God-completely-soaked-in-His-love" smile; it's an amazing thing to see, and it gets me every time. I don't see it very often, as I'm not usually looking around during worship at church. Whenever I do get to see that face, though, it's like a beam of love shoots straight from their heart to mine and I turn a very conspicuous shade of happy.

In worship at a church service, you'll often see just a few people raise their hands. I hardly ever did all through middle and high school, and the few times I tried it I just barely got them even with my stomach. The big thing I've learned about worship (I'm sure other people learn other things... this is what my experience was, which I feel can be useful to a lot of Christians today who feel at least partially 'lukewarm') is that you have to make a sacrifice out of your 'dignity,' or perhaps better put 'social awareness,' eliminating all the others around you from your immediate thoughts and turn it into a "just you and God" occasion. Practical things that can take you there are all the little actions that are sung about so often: raising your hands, singing a meaningful phrase over and over to yourself, going to your knees, or even whatever degree of dancing you feel led to. I sway and bop back and forth on my feet a lot. In services where it's practiced, I go down where there's room to do so and dance back and forth (feet achieving lift-off) for the more upbeat songs. I raise my hands a lot; they go up and down and to my heart as I feel like moving them.

My pastor in Williamsburg talks about raising one's hands as a form of surrender to God, which I really like. He referenced the Old West where, to surrender, you would raise your hands away from your guns on your hips. In front of God when you raise your hands you're saying "Alright God, I trust you. You've got control of this situation and I'm making you the priority." The priority is no longer "not looking silly" (which is usually subconscious) or "getting through this singing thing." The priority is praising God for his awesome, awesome mercy. When we take those little steps towards Paul's notion of a new way of living-making our "bodies as living sacrifices," not conforming to the "pattern of this world," things that last longer than just a worship service-we really start to step into that worshipful, "on fire" life that glows from the heart, outward with purpose and love. The kind of stuff people start to notice, because whether they know it or not, what they're searching for is God.

A quick note: This is my third "topical" entry, the other two being the first two of the blog. The others are based off of experiences I've had, although most go into some kind of topical discussion; just as the topical posts will reference experiences. I've labeled each post according to the content and whether it is a topical entry or an experience-based entry, and put up a handy list of all these on the right side of the blog. That way people can jump to content that's more relevant to them... brilliant!

May 3, 2009

A Couple Steps on the Journey

In the past few weeks, I have seen God actively fulfilling two really big things in my heart that have been taught/placed there recently. Namely, the sudden and complete removing of my fear of witnessing at the church retreat and my giving up of romantic desires to Him.

The removing of my fear of witnessing, my fear of alienation from my friends, was definitely some kind of psychological miracle. Normally to conquer a fear you need to have a journey of experiences and lessons to conquer it... I would have had to spend time to disassociate "talking about God to my friends" with "rejection". In worship on that Saturday, though, God just took the fear out of me, as simple as that.

When opportunities to talk about God appear, I still have to make a choice: to talk about Him or not to talk about Him; that won't change. What has changed is my response to that choice. There has been this new courage inside of me that drives me to always talk about Him. God and His Love come up in conversation a lot now because He pervades my whole life. I have been having pretty regular talks with some people about God now, people I would have been too nervous to witness to earlier; mainly people close to me. I've been opening many new doors in conversation with people and have had some pretty meaningful talks; I haven't led anyone all the way to Christ yet (in person) but many "seeds" have been planted. Those closest to me were the ones I feared the most, because they could do the most damage. Now I want to spread the love of God to them more than I want to stay curled in a safe inactive little ball.

The "giving up of romantic desire" has been realized now as "falling in love with God." I didn't stop wanting and desiring romance, but I redirected it at God. There was a Friday night when I was in my prayer spot that I frequent. I was in prayer, praising God, lifting up people, when I realized that I wanted to be in love with God. I wanted to focus my romantic desires on Him. It's a different dynamic, of course, as God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and has the natures of both genders, but I have fallen in love with Him nonetheless. I had loved him with all the other levels of love and that night I reached a new level: the slow dancing, my-heart-is-yours, candlelit dinner level.

I'll admit it seems kind of strange to talk about loving God like that, and it does if you thought that romantic love could only ever be focused on another human being. I'm not saying that I'll never fall in love with a woman now; in fact, I've taken a big step closer to being ready to do so. I'm in romantic love with someone who will never let me down. There will be tough times, and times I will feel lonely, but I know that He is always there and guiding me through obstacles that I can learn from.

But the proof is in the pudding. The Saturday night following that Friday, I attended a formal dance with some friends. I didn't have a date, but it didn't bother me (even before Friday night's beautiful moment). At the dance I was ridiculously happy and having a great time, and I realized why. I had no envy for the other couples. I was one-hundred-percent happy, satisfied, and fulfilled to be there without a date. I didn't want to be in love with anyone there, it didn't bother me at all that I was not having a romantic evening with a human being. All the couples and beautiful women around me just made me more aware of how deeply in love with God I was. I had a constant feeling of deep joy and happiness just flowed out of me. When I'm in that good of a mood, I dance like crazy... there were many eyewitnesses to my ridiculous dancing antics. Dancing to the music turned into a form of worship because I was so happy and so filled with the Spirit. I love dancing. People saw that Spirit-filled-love dance, but I don't think many of them traced the source of my awesome joy and sweet moves.

But I am far from the end of the road (and what a wonderful road it is!). There are always new lessons to be learned, more progress to be made, and God doesn't waste time. Some times we learn by waiting, and sometimes God throws us into the next lesson before we have time to think. Either way, it's wonderful and I love it.

I hope one of three things will happen to you after reading this: If you think I'm crazy and have an overactive imagination coupled with a unstable mind (it's either that or I'm right), you might dismiss me as such so you don't have to think about it. Or you will let the question dwell with you as you ask questions about the implications of a relationship with a God who is Love, who wants to love you and forgive you. If you are a Christian, or have even briefly considered the possibility, I hope you will be encouraged by in God's work in me. If you dedicate time to Him (spending time in the Word and in prayer, optimally every day) and focus on building a relationship with Him, He will do things in your life and in your heart you never dreamed possible. Fulfillment, purpose, passion, joy... God has put these things in me. I'm not perfect, I'm messing up, I'm learning, and I have no doubt that there Christians reading this who have more knowledge than I do. Whoever you are, I pray you'll listen to what God wants to say to you.