WORSHIP ON A MORNING WALK
Being raised in a small-town Catholic church, I never knew worship, or at least I didn’t recognize it. I learned the traditional prayers, the ups and downs of the Mass, and the discipline of being an altar boy. I faithfully went with my family on Sunday morning, a compulsion which followed through my college years and into adulthood. It wasn’t until I met my wife and we started dating that I had to embrace a new way of looking at and experiencing church. You see, she was raised sort-of Baptist, and after we got engaged I asked her if she would be willing to convert to Catholicism. She agreed to start the process, but when it came time to start filling out the paperwork to get an annulment from her first marriage, she slammed on the brakes. “God and I talked about my divorce and He still loves me,” she emphatically told me. “I’m not taking this to a panel of people I don’t know to judge that reconciliation. What business is it of theirs? This is between God and me.” From that moment I had to give up my regimented thinking about what church was and open my eyes to a different way of experiencing God. As a result, we started going to a non-denominational Christian church. What an eye-opener! I quickly discovered that, for me, this is what church was meant to be: fresh, unbridled, Jesus-centered, Bible-based, accepting, built on relationships with God and other believers serving each other and the community at large. I fit right in! I was home! But worship is one aspect about this new way of doing church I still struggle to get my arms wrapped around.
One Sunday evening last spring, my wife, Mary, and I attended New River Fellowship’s “First Sunday,” a monthly night of worship and digging deeper into the Word. An integral part of service which Spirit-filled churches like New River Fellowship in Hudson Oaks, Texas, have in common is a half hour or so of praise involving talented singers and musicians to set the atmosphere prior to the message. Typically I listen to the music, sing the words . . . and let my mind wander all over the place. Even after eight years of attending non-denoms, I have to admit I still don’t fully get it. But that night something shifted. It’s happened before, to a degree, but that night I lifted my hands above my head and closed my eyes during one song—and started crying. I was overwhelmed by the Spirit as He poured into me, embraced me, loved me. I stood there, hands held high, and received. Soon after, the Spirit told me to pray for the guy sitting in the chair in front of me. So, in unquestioned obedience, I knelt down and prayed for him.
The next morning I got up before sunrise, as is my habit, to take the dogs for a walk. The pre-dawn morning embraced me in stillness and mid-spring warmth as I led the dogs out the front door and onto the sidewalk. Something—movement, a flash of light, a disturbance—caught my attention and I turned toward the western sky just in time to catch the green-white streak of a meteor sacrificing itself in the atmosphere for God’s glory, a good morning kiss from Daddy. Then I really noticed the sky: cloudless, black, painted with countless stars and the streak of the Milky Way running southwest to northeast. The sliver of a waning crescent moon hung in the eastern sky. The Milky Way glowed softly against the inky backdrop, more pronounced than I’d seen in recent memory, reminding me of those photos you see from the Hubble telescope of nebulae and galaxies.
I walked with my face pointed toward the sky and my head stuck in the clouds, barely glancing at the road, hardly checking on the dogs. I Surrender All played over and over in my mind. The flashlight was useless that morning, as I walked by faith rather than by sight. The immensity of God’s creation increased the awesomeness of my reality a bit, expanding my view of the infinite vastness of the universe by the arm of an immense galaxy. I could feel God’s presence, palpable, real, alive. I walked in peace, I walked fully loved, I walked aware of His Spirit. “How could a God that created all of this take the time for me?” I wondered. “But He does. He does!” A great horned owl called out a lonely hoot, hope cast into the darkness, waiting for a reply. A bullfrog harrumphed its own hope across the pond still wrapped in quiet darkness. I looked up into that depthless spiral of a billion stars and asked “God, teach me how to worship You.” “This is how,” He seemed to reply. “This is how.”
I may not “get” worship fully yet. I may stand unmoving except for the pumping of my right leg to the beat of the music on Sunday morning. I may look around in wonder at the folks who jump and wave their arms and shout at the ceiling, eyes closed, tears streaming down their cheeks. But, as Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, says: “worship is not merely an aspect of our being, but the essence of our being as God’s image-bearers.” (theresurgence.com, Worship and Idolatry series) We worship because we’re made in God’s image, we pour out because God pours out. Our life is one of continuous worship, whether of God or of something else. It’s what we do, it’s who we are. King David described in Psalm 22:3 that God is holy, “Enthroned in the praises of Israel.” God dwells in the praises of His people! God’s presence is real in the hearts of those who exalt Him. I may not get worship fully yet, but as I continue to walk in His presence, even on a dark road with the Milky Way flowing over me, as I reach up to Him, hands open to receive, He opens my heart a little more with each encounter. Who knows, someday you may see me turning cartwheels in the aisles at church too.
Copyright (c) David C. Hughes