One of the things I’ve found that I’m missing most of all in the Coronavirus situation has been gathered worship and prayer with my local church. I’m blessed to live with my wife and daughter – so I don’t have to sing or pray alone in the embodied sense – but I’ve found a sadness in not being able to gather.
In his superb A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, author Eugene Peterson writes about worship in a way that resonates with what I’ve been feeling, and has helped me to make some sense of it:
“Worship is an act that develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God that is expressed in an act of worship. When we obey the command to praise God in worship, our deep, essential need to be in relationship with God is nurtured… If we stay at home by ourselves and read the Bible, we are going to miss alot,for our reading will be unconsciously conditioned by our culture, limited by our ignorance, distorted by unnoticed prejudices. In worship we are part of the ‘large congregation’ where all the writers of Scripture address us, where hymn writers use music to express truths that touch us not only in our heads but in our hearts, where the preacher who has just lived through six days of doubt, hurt, faith and blessing with the worshippers speaks the truth of Scripture in the language of the congregation’s present experience. We want to hear what God says and what he says to us: worship is the place where our attention is centered on these personal and decisive words of God”
Later on in the book, in a chapter simply entitled ‘Help’, Peterson addresses what kind of people Christians are to be:
“Christians are not fussy moralists who cluck their tongues over a world going to hell; Christians are people who praise the God who is on our side. Christians are not pious pretenders in the midst of a decadent culture; Christians are robust witnesses to the God who is our help. Christians are not fatigued outcasts who carry righteousness as a burden in a world where the wicked flourish; Christians are people who sing ‘O, blessed be God! . . . He didn’t abandon us defenseless’”
Reading this today may jar with where we find ourselves, so I love that Peterson reminds us that “The person of faith is not a person who has been born, luckily, with a good digestion and sunny disposition. The assumption by outsiders that Christians are naive or protected is the opposite of the truth: Christians know more about the deep struggles of life than others, more about the ugliness of sin“. I have found this to be true, and this disarming honesty is a vital part of discipleship. Another vital part of discipleship is hope, which is not ‘pie in the sky’ but rather something more substantial. I’ll end this short blog post with an extended quote from Peterson on the hope that can infuse the whole of our life:
“Hoping does not mean doing nothing. It is not fatalistic resignation. It means going about our assigned tasks, confident that God will provide the meaning and the conclusions. It is not compelled to work away at keeping up appearances with a bogus spirituality. It is the opposite of desparate and panicky manipulations, of scurrying and worrying. And hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time. It is the opposite of making plans that we demand that God put into effect, telling him both how and when to do it. That is not hoping in God but bullying God. ‘I pray to God – my life a prayer – and wait for what he’ll say and do.My life’s on the line before God my Lord, waiting and watching till morning, waiting and watching till morning’”
If you are reading this post in the midst of the Coronavirus Crisis, then I’d want to recommend a few resources to you.