PASTOR'S PERSPECTIVE: Where is the intimacy we have lost in our Worship?
One of my favorite poems is The Rock, written by Thomas Stearns Eliot. (T.S. Eliot 1888-1965). Here is an excerpt from that poem:
The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
O perpetual revolution of configured stars,
O perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
O world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.
To me the most haunting part of the poem is the question he asks about our progress when he asks "where is the life that we have lost in the living?". That is a question that our generation must ask and answer. We have increased in motion, invention, experiment, knowledge, and information more in the last few years than all the generations preceeding. The result? More ignorance and lack of wisdom than all proceeding generations. As Muggeridge said, actually our progress has been our undoing.- “So the final conclusion would surely be that whereas other civilizations have been brought down by attacks of barbarians from without, ours had the unique distinction of training its own destroyers at its own educational institutions, and then providing them with facilities for propagating their destructive ideology far and wide, all at the public expense. Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, his own impotence out of his own erotomania, himself blowing the trumpet that brought the walls of his own city tumbling down, and having convinced himself that he was too numerous, labored with pill and scalpel and syringe to make himself fewer. Until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over--a weary, battered old brontosaurus--and became extinct.”
Certainly our generation should be enjoying the fruits of our progress by enjoying life as no preceeding generation. But in the midst of our living we have lost the art of really living!
But let me take that one step further. Even Christians today, enjoying opportunity of worshipping and serving God with resources that certainly were not available to earlier generations, are finding themselves on the horns of a dilemna. With all our communication; all our technology; all our mega-churches; and media we might be asking ourselves-"Where is all the intimacy with God that we have lost in our Worship?" What about that? We have more Bibles; More Churches; More Christian radio and television; more Christian web-sites; more Christian musicians; Do you feel closer to God, and more in love with his son Jesus than ever before? Don't raise your hand! I am afraid that we have so out-paced ourselves, that when it comes to our faith we have found a way to carry on with advanced technology and business principles of success that we can give the image of success without experiencing the reality and presence of it. I love what George MacDonald, (1824-1905) wrote over a hundred years ago-"in whatever man does without God he must fail miserably-or suceed more miserably". In our eyes we have progressed so much in the Christian faith that you would think we would be on the verge of winning the world, and ushering in the Kingdom of God with our own advancements. Reality? We have suceeded more miserably". We have perfected our worship but lost our intimacy with the One we worship!
When Dr. Sherwood E. Wirt, editor of Billy Graham's Decision magazine, (and close personal friend of my mentor and professor John A. Burns), went to Oxford to do what would be the last interview C.S. Lewis would ever give before he died, he was stunned at what Lewis told him. Lewis said, the major problem with Christianity today is "there is too much false reverence about. There is too much solemnity and intensity in dealing with sacred matters, to much speaking in holy tones". His point was the tragic loss in all this pious gamemanship is to the individual in the pew, who begins to feel that in the midst of all the religious razzle-dazzle he cannot get through to the Lord Himself! Dudley Zuver has observed, "one of the quickest, and on the whole most effective ways of getting rid of God is to reverence Him out of existence!" Dr. Wirt, after he and his wife had visited several of the empty and famous Cathedrals of Europe, described them as "monuments to the memory of God!" If we do not get back to capturing and experiencing genuine and intimate worship of the True and Living God through His Son Jesus in a way that is meaningful, impacting, and life-transforming then the country-sides of our nation will be littered with those same monuments. "Monuments to the memory of God" not "houses of genuine worship experiencing God!" Wirt summarizes our problem this way, "The problem with much contemporary worship is not the departure of the Divine Presence, for He still promises to be with us. The problem is the pseudo-spiritual smog we spread over our Church life, the unnecessary gravity with which our leadership protects its dignity, the unnatural churchly posturing that so easily passes into overbearing arrogance and conceit."
The Bible tells us to "draw near unto God and He will draw near unto us". (James 4:8). Jesus told us that the most important thing in life is to "love God with all our hearts, mind, soul, and strength" ( Luke 10:27; Dt. 6:5). We are told that we "love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19). Truth be known we go through our lives, day after day, professing that love and intimacy without possessing it or practicing it. Then we wonder why our faith and our lives are so hollow and unfulfilling. God waits for us each day to "choose" to enter His presence and invite Him to abide with us in that intimate fellowship. But we walk on into the day oblivious to Him. The Song of Solomon is a beautiful picture of the initimate love between the Bride and the Bridegroom. Throughout Church history it has been viewed as an image of the intimate love between God and His people, and Christ and the Church. In Chapter 5:2-8 Solomon tells the story of when he approached his Shulamite bride to spend time and intimacy with her. Listen to what followed..."I was sound asleep, but in my dreams I was wide awake. Oh, listen! It is the sound of my beloved knocking and calling! "Let me in, dear companion, dearest friend, my dove, my beloved!" She responds..."But I am in my nightgown-do you expect me to get dressed? I am bathed and in bed, do you expect me to get dirty again?" But my beloved would not take no for an answer! The longer he knocked the more excited I became to see him. I got up to open the door to my beloved, sweetly ready to welcome him, desiring and expectant as I turned the handle. But when I opened the door he was gone. My beloved one had tired of waiting for me and had left. And I died inside-oh I felt so bad! I ran out looking for him But he was nowhere to be found. I called into the darkness but no answer. I beg you sisters in Jerusalem if you see my beloved tell him I miss him, and I am heart-sick with love for him" (The Message-Eugene Peterson). Heart-sick over missed opportunities of intimacy. We should be but we are not! Unfortunately that is our daily reality. Moments, hours, days, weeks, even years He pursues intimacy with us, made possible by the sacrifice of His Son, and we turn away, excusing ourselves! How tragic. He does not want religion from us. He does not want regimen from us. He wants a relationship with us! That should stagger our imagination. The God of the universe wants to be intimate with us and has provided the way through His son. Missing that is the "life we lose in the living". Missing that is the "intimacy we lose in the worshipping".
In his remarkable book, The Way to Pentecost, the well-known British Methodist preacher Samuel Chadwick told about re-discovering this intimacy with God. He wrote "I set out to seek I knew not what. I knew it was a bigger thing than I had ever known. It came along in the line of duty, in a crisis of obedience. When it came I could not explain what had happened, but I was aware of things unspeakable and full of glory. Some of the results were immediate. There came into my soul a deep peace, thrilling joy, and a new sense of power. My mind was quickened. Every power was vitalized. There was a new sense of vitality, a new power of endurance. Things began to happen. It was as when the Lord Jesus stepped into the boat that with all the disciples' rowing had made no progress, 'and immediately the ship was at the shore' (John 6:16-21). It was gloriously wonderful!" That is what is missing in our lives! We are trying futiley to "live the Christian life" "to row the boat to shore" in the effort of the flesh. Yet the secret is not in our trying but our trusting. It is not in our regimen but our relationship. The second we connect with His presence, and feel His passion, and are endued with His presence-like the disciples we find the boat unexplainedly at the shore! That intimacy is the element we cannot have living nor worship nor service without. That is living. That is worship. That is...missing!
When we realized what we have missed by missing those opportunities-we should respond as Robert Louis Stevenson did in his poem the Celestial Surgeon (1887)-
If I have faltered more or less
In my great task of happiness
Lord, thy most pointed pleasure take
And stab my spirit broad awake!
That is my prayer for my life, our Church, and a generation far too acquainted with the "life we have lost in the living and the intimacy we have lost in the worship". "Stab my spirit broad awake with your overwhelming and loving presence!"