Sunday morning. The bull that escaped last week is still running loose in our neighborhood and I fear it will run through my worship service. I must worship with friends and neighbors, in a church I’ve grown up in — but sometimes I wish they were all strangers. And I wonder if God will say, ‘Your pious meetings disgust me; I am sick of your offerings, and I will not listen to your prayers.’
Such are my thoughts this morning.
I’m intrigued by this renegade bull. How can such an animal evade capture and roam freely in a community so populated, so fenced, so restrictive of independence? We are not the open range. We are small farms and villages, many fences and busy highways. The last update I had from the grapevine is that the animal is still enjoying his interlude of liberty.
But I will go to church and I will see the person who first told me the story. And the farmer whose corn the bull has trampled and eaten. And the man to whom the bull might belong. And I’ll wonder about the latest chapter of the saga. So the bull runs free through my worship service.
And that’s only one simple incident. There are a hundred others. I know far too much about the people I sit with in the pews of our church. And too often, this is a distraction from my worship.
Admit it, sometimes you, too, would better worship if you were in a crowd of strangers. No one to distract you. No thoughts about what has happened to the person in front of you. No bulls running through your worship. No eyes for anyone but the One you came to adore and thank and worship.
My people don’t recognize my care for them.
This is from an opening verse of Isaiah, the LORD speaking about the people of Judah, the people He chose as His own, gave His name, His protection, His blessings.
They have forgotten.
“The children I raised and cared for
have rebelled against me.
Even an ox knows its owner,
and a donkey recognizes its master’s care—
but Israel doesn’t know its master.
My people don’t recognize my care for them.”
Is this the simple antidote for my distraction in worship?
Do I walk into a worship service, or do I enter into worship? What if I could forget about the bull running over the hills just behind the church building and instead think only of how God has loved me?
Do I recognize how God has raised and cared for me?
He has brought me out of the Egypt slavery, snatched me from the kingdom of darkness. Now He holds my hand as I walk in the land of the living, leads me in green pastures. This week of my life has not just been random events. My times are in His hands. He pours gifts into my minutes. He sends daily manna and living water gushes from the Rock.
Do I recognize His care?
When I do, when I think of all this, how can I keep from stretching up my hands in hallelujah, dancing with joy, or throwing myself prostrate before the Holy One?
Oh. Yes. People would talk. Not only are there distracting stories sitting all around me, there are restrictions to my worship. Unspoken and powerful.
Ah, so many problems with corporate worship.*
How do we corral all those thoughts that interfere with focusing on the One we claim to worship? How do we shut out everything else that clamors for time and control in our heads? How do we enter into worship?
Maybe it’s as simple as this: We recognize how the Father has raised and cared for His children. We remember and recount what our Lord has done for us.
I look at my life and see what I might have been without Him. And then I look again and see what I am with Him.
Then nothing can keep me from entering the holy of holies.
Scripture: Isaiah 1:2-3
Sorry, I didn’t get to the part where God says He’s sick of pious meetings. Maybe tomorrow.
* Fear not, pastors. I am not advocating individual isolation within our church body or abandoning our gathering together for worship. I’m also working on a future post about knowing each other better. Because we need to do that, too. Two ideas that seem to conflict: entering into worshiping with all our heart and soul and mind and yet being united with each other … at least for us introverts, that’s a tough combination. Only the Spirit will be able to do that in His church. Another post, another day.