A plea for unnatural worship
Yesterday morning I issued a plea from the pulpit of Newbury Baptist Church. It was a plea to make church doors wide enough that people can bring their elephants into the room with them when they worship. I have often struggled with preachers who try to tell me that my elephant is in fact, a mouse – and that anyway I should be grateful to God for it. Sometimes they say that the nature of faith requires me to thank God for sickness, or loss, or calamity. I would suggest that it means thanking him despite those things. Faith does not maintain an awareness of God by ignoring circumstances.
Rather, faith chooses to see God and to worship him despite those things.It is in this way that the cracked and broken voices of the faithful are raised to God even in the midst of trial.
This is the worship of Jonah sitting in the gloom and smelling of whale-bile saying “I will worship him”. This is the worship of Job, with tattered clothes and scabby skin saying “yet in my flesh shall I see God”. This is the worship of Paul and Silas, singing their hearts out at midnight whilst chained to the wall in the inner cell of a locked prison. This is the worship of John “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” at the start of Revelation – even though he is far from his friends and exhausted in a labour camp. This is the voice of Habbakuk the prophet, looking around at his meagre prospects, but somehow finding faith:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord.
There’s a lot of courage in the three letters of that word “yet”.
If we can only worship God by creating a hermetic seal between the world and the church so that elephants are not allowed in the room – then I am not sure it is worthy of the name.
The book of Habakkuk is actually called the ‘burden of Habbakuk’ in the original. I have such admiration for this plucky prophet – hauling his burden (or maybe his elephant) up into the ramparts with him so that he can look God in the eye and wait for some answers.
So -here’s a question for you. If you go to church – do you take your elephant with you?