In the beginning . . . there was chaos. Then God brought light into the darkness, and waters were separated and given boundaries, forming land that brought forth living things and beauty. God created humans to participate in and enjoy the beauty. And it was good. Then the people God made in his own image willfully brought the chaos back, and there was a new darkness, new storms, new desert places.
It’s a big story. From chaos—to created order, shalom, and beauty—to chaos—and a long journey back to perfect order. God’s persistent love will again bring perfect order out of chaos.
Part of that story is that God’s people have been created to worship him, though even in our attempts to worship the God who made us there has been trouble. We don’t need a study of worship from the beginning of time to see how we have created confusion and despair from this wonderful privilege God extends to us.
Worship is the amazing time and place where God invites us to dialogue with him. N.T. Wright says that worship is the unique space where heaven and earth intersect. Worshipers regularly accept God’s invitation to meet him there. You’d think that a worship service would be the most evident place of shalom on the planet. Yet we only have to think back a few years to remember the worship wars of the late twentieth century. Who would have thought that the terms “worship” and “war” would be linked together? And who would have imagined that the phrase would be instantly understood by most Christians in North America?
Maybe we’ve gotten past the worship wars. The term now seems out of date. And that, indeed, is a good thing. Most churches seem to have chosen a path, whether their worship is modern, contemporary, traditional, liturgical, blended, ancient/future, or other. Individual churches have chosen their niches, and those who worship have been offered a choice. Worshipers can stay and participate or find another church that fits them. There are many styles to choose from. There is a certain beauty in that—many varieties and expressions of worship are offered that truly give glory to God. And, for the most part, churches don’t claim to have a corner on the truth or special insight into the only way to worship. We can be thankful for that.
But this brings us to a new place in history. Christians are making choices about where to worship based on their own comfort, not on the Word of God. For many, the search is on for the church that fits me or my family. Christians are leaving places where they had deep roots of community and ministry for places where they can worship “comfortably.” Conversely, Christians are staying in congregations where they do not look forward to going to church or are skipping part of the service (usually the music) simply because their friends are there.
Both of these choices can create a certain amount of chaos. In the unseen spiritual realm, I imagine that Satan enjoys our struggle. If he can’t destroy our worship, he may take pleasure in taking the good intent of our worship and then packaging it in so many different styles that we are left confused and overwhelmed.
Chaos is an old concept. It existed before the beginning of our story. But it is not the end of the story. We live into the story of a loving God who persistently brings order out of the chaos we have created. We see it throughout the Bible, throughout history, and we see it still today.
I have seen and experienced some of this worship chaos in my own life and in the lives of those around me. All is not lost—some wonderful experiences and learning have come out of the chaos. It doesn’t hurt to have our comfort zones and paradigms stretched. But if we’re honest, we’ll admit there’s a problem here.
How do the chaos we’ve created and the overarching story of God apply to our worship? God invites us into the story. Even though we are the ones who created the chaos, God asks us to participate in the story of his re-creation, of restoration and healing, of bringing order out of chaos. So it seems fair to ask some pretty big questions. Does the church have the courage to ask how it has participated in the chaos? Has our worship contributed to the confusion? Do we dare look outside our newfound niches and take a few simple steps toward restoring order?
I have had the privilege to participate with and assist those who have prepared Lift Up Your Hearts, a new worship resource for the church. I have witnessed not only the struggle, but also the dedication to the whole story of God and to our participation in the expression of it. In the making of a new hymnal I have seen many steps toward restoring God’s good “order”:
- attempting to tell the story, from creation to re-creation, of a Triune God who hears the cries of his people, who forgives, heals, and sends.
- emphasizing the unity of the testimony of people from many different traditions, styles, cultures, and global communities.
- revealing the vision of a new order that prompts us to live out our calling to be agents of shalom in the world.
- offering a new avenue of expression for people who attach honest words to the experiences of life on this earthly journey.
- voicing prayers of full dependence on the God of the past, present, and future.
The bottom line is this: will we, worshipers and members of the church of Jesus Christ, ask how we can reorder our worship to participate more fully in God’s story? Will we have the courage to sing a “new” song, even if that song was written two centuries ago, or written for children, or written halfway around the world?
Isaiah 32 paints a picture of the day when God will bring order from chaos. As we live in this kingdom time of “here but not yet”—in the midst of a world in chaos but looking forward to a world of shalom—we embrace these words of the prophet:
See, a king will reign in righteousness
and rulers will rule with justice.
Each one will be like a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.
Then the eyes of those who see will no longer be closed,
and the ears of those who hear will listen.
The fearful heart will know and understand,
and the stammering tongue will be fluent and clear.
(Isaiah 32:1-4, NIV)
Lord, may we, through our worship, clearly be
a shelter from the wind,
a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert,
shade in a hot and thirsty land.
Then we know that you will
open eyes to see and allow ears to truly listen,
give understanding that calms all fear,
and free tongues to speak words that are fluent and clear.