Coop's Column - O!
It's easy just to go through the motions of love without one's heart really being in it.
It’s easy just to go through the motions of love without one’s heart really being in it. You take your wife out for supper every Saturday night. You give her a card and flowers on Valentine’s Day. You come with a present on her birthday. You go on vacations with her. You buy her fine presents—jewelry, clothing, furniture, whatever she wants. And all these actions without interruption or failure.
But one can go through every ritual that’s meant to show love without actually loving. When that happens, external practices don’t flow from a heart brim-full of affection. Rather, one just does these acts—well, because it’s the thing to do.
The same sad thing can happen when God’s people gather on Sunday morning for worship. They can slip into a mindless, automatic observance of the weekly ritual without giving much thought—and heart—to what they’re doing and to why they’re doing it. Either that, or they pay such meticulous attention to making sure they’re doing the rituals exactly “according to the book”—to what “experts” prescribe—that they overlook the purpose for doing them. (Recall Goethe’s words: “To dissect a rose is to kill the rose.”)
Merely “practicing the practices” does not bring God delight. Never does it.
Not that there’s anything wrong with the rituals themselves, of course. Far from it. They’ve been set in place to accomplish high and holy purposes. But rituals are means to an end—instruments to bring worship to God. They are not ends in themselves.
Since God is a person to be loved and not an object to be understood, good worship is something like courtship. Its rituals are meant to help worshippers become “careful courters of God,” so to speak. How important for worshippers, then, to begin their weekly ritual by setting their hearts’ intention in the right direction, by tuning them to be ready to sing and show God what he loves—and deserves—to hear. Rituals are for showing and telling the Triune God that we long to bring him his due honor, that we love him deeply, and that we want to please him.
Worship sprouts best in the soil of wonder. It begins when God’s people pause to meditate on how great and good God is; how small, weak, and sinful they are; and then—astonishing Good News!—how the God of universe has stooped down in great mercy toward them. They can delight in knowing that they are God’s own children, and that on them God’s favor now rests.
When God’s people put these several truths together—when they survey the wondrous cross which gives focus to all of them—then their hearts become roused to fresh awe and wonder. They’re moved to break forth in worship to God. They simplyhave to.
It is precisely there and then—at that intersection of space and time—that human beings come within a millimeter of reaching what God intended them to become. They become a conscious echo of gratitude, a point of joy and delight.
Dullness of spirit is never what God intended for his children. It saddens him wherever and whenever it happens. But it’s especially sad—and, yes, sinful—when it happens in church. For it is there that God longs for his children to do what he’s made them to do: to take fresh delight in his presence, to remember his goodness, to consider his promises. In short, to “ponder anew what the Almighty can do.”
The letter “O!”—yes, with an exclamation point added!—is the most appropriate way to begin a worship service. “O!” ignites a fire to warm chilly hearts. It opens mouths to declare their Maker/Redeemer’s greatness and goodness. “O!” issues deep from within hearts filled with wonder, awe, and love toward God.
All that I am I owe to Thee; thy wisdom, Lord, has fashioned me. I give my Maker thankful praise, whose wondrous works my soul amaze. (Henry Oliver)