the baby and the bathwater


Mistake
November 9, 2007, 12:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

mistake: an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge.

I think I may have made a mistake.

Well maybe not a mistake, at least not a huge one. Maybe it was more of a mis-calculation, an over-reaction. It happens all the time in life: We get challenged about something, we see some things that leave us uncomfortable, and with the best of intentions we go about changing them, and go too far the other way.

The trouble is with people like me is, that for some very strange reason, I seem to have ended up in a position where people listen to me. Despite being a pretty poor singer, a very average worship leader and a technically awful guitar player, I seem to be in a place where my actions and words and seminars and blog articles are actually read by people. Sometimes they may even act on them. And so any small over-reaction on my part is potentially going to be amplified into the lives of others, into other churches around the country.

Scary, isn’t it.

Well, you’re probably wondering what my mistake was. And I will get to it, honest. But first some background.

I grew up as a Christian, in a baptist church in my home town, Winchester. I grew up singing great hymns, played on a not-so-great pipe organ, by a lovely man called Arnold. Arnold even taught me how to play the organ, for which I am very grateful. I sang with gusto. I sang these great anthems about God, probably in the main to show my peers that I knew the bass line.

I then went to University, and suddenly I came across some very passionate, expressive Christians, and they seemed to sing songs to God, not just about God. Over the coming years, I then came across the teachings of people like Wimber. And he taught us about about intimacy in worship. And suddenly I was singing songs like ‘I love You Lord’ with a passion myself. I had discovered intimacy in worship myself. And it was a good thing.

But after a while, I started to feel uncomfortable. Then a little confused. And finally a little empty. As I worshipped more, I studied the word more. And over a period of time, I found that the things I was learning from the Bible were not being reflected in the songs I was singing. At least, they were reflected, but only in part. The songs I was singing had become one-dimensional and thin at the same time that my theology had become mult-dimensional and deep.

And that left me with a problem.

I ended up sitting in some of these big conference halls, full of thousands of people worshipping, feeling like a spectator. I ended up looking through my songbooks with despair as I tried to find good new songs to sing in our church. I got almost angry with the casualness of some of the lyrics I was being asked to sing, which were so theologically weak or just plain wrong.

But after while, I sensed I was not alone, and then some great worship leaders started to write some great songs that were full of truth. Songwriters like Redman and Smith brought a balance to the great songs of intimacy from writers like Doerkson and Tuttle and Ruis. These songs became our modern day anthems. And as we saw the rise of the big conferences worldwide, we saw the rise of more and more of these big anthems of praise. And I loved it. We had rediscovered a part of worship that the church had lost. My own songs, though in no way comparable to those of the aforementioned writers, also took on the anthemic themes. And so my songbook became full of songs that I felt so much happier with. Balance, I thought, had been restored.

But just recently I’ve had this little nagging in the back of my mind. And maybe, just maybe, it’s a the feint voice of God just reminding me of something. “Don’t forget Intimacy. Maybe you’ve over-reacted a little, swung too far with all these songs of proclamation”

And actually there’s some truth in that. And that’s my confession.

But then again, I am still not sure about the use of this whole word – intimacy – in worship. At least, not unless we fully understand it, explain it, put it in a strong theological framework.

The word intimacy in the English language is still almost exclusively used to describe relationships of affection, of a close, personal, and often sexual nature. And in the bible, the language most akin to intimacy is saved for Song of Songs which for me is clearly about a sexual relationship between man and woman. When I normally talk about intimacy in everyday life, it’s one of those words I would only really use in the context of my relationship with my wife. And this intimacy is a safe intimacy: my wife and I have made a commitment to each other in this respect. Almost always, the word intimacy is a word about embrace, an embrace between equals.

But Isaiah 33:13 God says ‘You who are near, acknowledge my power’. Psalm 85:9 says ‘Surely his salvation is near those who fear Him’. Psalm 25:14 says ‘The Lord is a friend to those who fear Him’.

When we come close to God, we certainly are invited into an embrace. But this embrace is not an embrace of equals. Far from it. Intimacy with God is a dangerous intimacy, an intimacy of the creator with the created, an intimacy of the Holy One with one who is made holy only by His grace. The promise is that, if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. But we also have to know that when we draw near to God, we are compelled to bow down in fear and reverence for who God is.

Then we also need to read Psalm 145:18 which says: ‘The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth’.

You see it is not enough for us to aim to be honest and real and sincere in our worship. We have to aim to be right too. We have to worship in truth, with truth. It is not acceptable to sing songs that have bad theology, merely because they make us feel good, or have good tunes, or are played by very slick bands. God says we should worship with all our hearts and mind and soul and strength. The mind is part of it.

And I think this is where I have got to. Yes maybe I, like many others, have moved a little too far away from intimacy in worship. But if there has been any error in my ways, it has been because I have in the past, had an incomplete theology. And the trouble with incomplete theology is that it can lead us astray, leave us flapping in the wind. My mistake was in thinking that I needed to find balance between intimacy and proclamation, when actually I should have understood that they were inextricably entwined.

So here is my plea. Let’s continue to sing songs of intimacy. Let’s continue to sing songs of proclamation. Let’s embrace God, and let’s bow down before Him. But let us continue, as worship leaders, to grow in our theology and understanding as we do it. And this should leave us, not on the middle ground of balance, but on the solid ground of truth.

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5 Comments so far
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Thank you for this – you have a way of picking out the point at the core of something and expressing it so clearly that you often set me off on a long train of thought. Here’s where this entry sent me…

Not being a worship leader, I hadn’t particularly thought about the proclamation/intimacy thing being “both” rather than “balance”, but the idea is immediately familiar to me because I’ve met it in several other contexts. I’m coming to the conclusion that God is never a God of balance. Balance is a concept rooted in incompleteness – half of one thing and half of something else. But God is not a half-and-half God. Whatever He is, He is completely; whatever He is not, He is not at all.

I came across this first, I think, in “Changes that heal” by Henry Cloud. He talks about Jesus being “full of grace and truth”. Churches tend to veer towards all grace and no truth, or all truth and no grace, or an unsatisfactory balance of half grace and half truth, but God is both – 100% grace and simultaneously 100% truth.

Since then I’ve met the same “both/and” characteristic of God in other places too. We’re not supposed to find a balance between the Word and the Spirit, or between justification by faith and living a life worthy of the calling we have received, or between loving the lost and telling them the Good News. These pairs of things are, as you say, inextricably entwined, and one is not possible without the other.

It’s not just theological, either; it’s personal. I always feel unhappy with the prayer “Make me less like myself and more like You.” It seems to me that although letting Him transform me means giving up parts of myself, I never actually become less like myself. The little bits of me that I let Him deal with become more like Him and simultaneously more like the “me” I was created to be, the “me” that I want to be but haven’t got the power to become in my own strength. The devil is the one who promises variety and only delivers tedious unoriginality. God is far too creative to make any of us anything less than uniquely ourselves.

Another example is that when I have been badly hurt, it feels to me as though I have to balance forgiveness with wisdom, as though a little bit of resentment will help me to avoid enabling the person to hurt me the same way again over and over again. But the truth is that it is only when I have really forgiven from my heart that I can see clearly to be wise about whatever it is. “Be as wise as serpents AND as innocent as doves.”

It applies on a practical level too. I am a single parent and have two part-time jobs. When I try to balance all the demands on my time, I get stressed and resentful, my concentration fragments, and some important things get left undone or only done half-heartedly. God wants me to give my entire week to Him. He is more than able to tell me which things actually need doing. He will not call me to do more than can be fitted into the time. He wants me to give my whole heart and mind to what He gives me to do this morning, and again to give my whole heart and mind to something totally different this afternoon, and something different again this evening. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” I only live this way very imperfectly and occasionally, but when I do, my life is so much better.

And there is the “both/and” quality of God, as you say, in worship too, and in countless other places. He is bigger than we realise.

Comment by Ruth

great comments, ruth. love the grace and truth idea….another one i must use sometime!

Comment by Neil Bennetts

Ruth your words have struck a chord with me as I am learning that life is less a question of balnace, as you say but more a question of ‘wholeness’, of completeness’ -so thank you for that.
Neil, once more I am struck by your honesty and ‘realness’. I wonder a few things:
-is it a gender thing? I am challenged that it appears to be men who struggle with intimacy with God that actually in life women tend to find intimacy in relationships easier and so can transfer this to their relationship with God? Of course not all cases, especially if women have had difficult intimate relationships anyay- but there does seem to be a tendency for men to struggle with this
-is it a worship leader thing?- when you are in a congregation sometimes it is ‘easier’ to ‘let go’ into the intimate places of worship whereas as a leader you are in a place of responsibility and can’t always reach this place of intimate worship when you are worrying about others.
-and perhaps there is a question too-about perhaps you were finding it difficult because you were trying too hard for it to be perfect and right rather than ‘letting go’ to God?
Intimacy with God to me is all about relationship- in fact thats what He wants from us every day and every part of our life, as Ruth has said.
As for the theology, can any of us go wrong if we adhere to ‘love your lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength and your neighbour as yourself’- I think thats the principle of life and intimate worship comes from that
jen

Comment by Anonymous

Jen
there is a gender thing. but i don’t think that men don’t like intimacy with god. i just think that they don’t like admitting it, and they certainly don’t like talking about it.
so women will worship intimately, and then discuss it, and then maybe cry about it.
Men will worship intimately, but not make it too obvious. And then afterwards they then talk about football, or their up and coming clay pigeon shooting session.
But in terms of theology, yes i do think we can get it very wrong, despite our desire to love god with all we have….
the world is full of people who have great hearts, and great intentions, and who love god passionately. But if they don’t have good theology, they can very easily lead people astray:
We need to be real, and right.
Anyway. Time for a beer.

Comment by Neil Bennetts

Hmm-so what is it that stops men talking about it/admitting it? Is it cultural indoctrination? Is it fear of not being ‘manly’? Or is it that we are ‘meant’ to have relationship ith god differently? I think this is interesting considering the majority of well known worship leaders are men and the majority of worshippers in congregations are women- so does this mean they (you) are more comfortable expressing your worship from the front than in ‘letting go’ in the congregation. Why are there not more women leaders? Lots of questions but there does seem to be an interesting paradox here. In other discussions I have had there does seem to be a concern about male and female expressions of worship, whatever these are. I appreciate what you mean about the theology, yes we can lead others astray- but if the principle of following that theology I gave is there then all else should fall into place- hence the need for all of us, in life and leading to be right with God ourselves first. jx

Comment by Anonymous




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