“Before the service, talk to God; during the service, listen to God; after the service, talk to others.” These words were the first thing I read as I opened the Christmas Eve program at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Signal Mtn. last night. I asked myself, how often do I do that at a church service? What has my focus been?
Today has been very contemplative for me. I read for myself the beliefs, doctrines, and catechism of the Episcopal Church. As I read through each line, I realized that somewhere along the way, I have had preconceived ideas about many “denominational belief systems” in accordance with the teachings of my own Christian background.
Last night as I sat in silence during the service, it struck me that the holiness and awe and wonder of God can often get lost in the modern trappings of today’s church trying so hard to “be relevant.” Don’t misunderstand me – there is a time and place for many different worship styles, but I came to the conclusion last night that perhaps in my search to be relevant and remove God from the proverbial “box,” that perhaps I myself have fallen for some watered-down worship that centers more on me and us, rather than God Himself.
Consider the following verses from the Amplified version. Psalm 47:2, “For the Lord Most High is to be feared [and worshiped with awe-inspired reverence and obedience]; He is a great King over all the earth.” Deuteronomy 7:21, “You shall not dread them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God.” Psalm 91:1, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will remain secure and rest in the shadow of the Almighty [whose power no enemy can withstand].” II Samuel 22:14, “The Lord thundered from heaven, and the Most High uttered His voice.” Revelation 20:11, “And I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them [for this heaven and earth are passing away].
What struck me as I read these verses was that while God loves us so much, desires a relationship with us, and is not willing that any should perish, He is the Most High God. He commands reverential fear. As we worship, love, and serve Him, we must be careful not to deduce Him to being our pal, buddy, or a dude in the sky. Think about it – if even earth and heaven will eventually flee at His very presence, why do some of us (perhaps unknowingly) presume His human experience among us trumps His holiness, majesty, and power?
What has struck me the most in a few different denominational visits this year is the fact that while some are fighting over the issues of the current state of the world and trying to prove how “right” they are, others remain focused on “loving God, loving people, and making disciples.” The churches that others consider to be “in error” are more concerned with keeping God holy and righteous and One to be honored in all areas of life. They extend the invitation of God’s gift of salvation to all people and have stopped focusing on the self-righteous behavior that many others display these days.
My final takeaway from last night’s service was that I enjoy being in a place where I can be removed from all the pomp and circumstance and distractions of trying to be “relevant.” There are plenty of times and days throughout the week I can be that, but I want more days of silence and solitude and reflection to remember and honor the Most High God and to invite others to do the same.