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Meeting God Where We Are

Planning and Leading Worship When You're Tired, Grumpy, or Grieving

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know we’re not always in the “right” frame of mind to plan or lead worship. Much as we might hate to admit it, outside factors do affect our view of worship at a Tuesday night planning meeting or a Sunday morning service. We may be struggling with financial issues, grieving the loss of a friend, or dealing with a family member’s difficult illness. Or we may just be tired and crabby after a long day or a traffic jam.

We can’t really step outside ourselves when it’s time to worship. But recognizing our emotional state can allow us to deepen our worship and our relationship with God. It can also help us help others worship more deeply.

The psalms are full of laments—cries to God about the deepest hurts and struggles of human life. Some of them end with a turn, acknowledging God’s power or mercy. Others remain full of sorrow or despair. But these psalms voice deep belief in God while wrestling with the circumstances of the writers’ lives. They offer us a picture of authentic worship and prayer. They also offer us valuable insights as we lead others in worship.

The first insight is that God hears us where we are. God knows our sorrows and cares as well as our joys and triumphs. And he wants us to have an authentic relationship with him—one that is open and honest. I have been so moved by God’s presence while leading worship that I wept—a far cry from the calm and poised leader I’d like to envision myself. And yet I believe that God is honored by our honest reactions to him.

The second insight is that incorporating lament into the service is as much an act of worship as praise. God knows far better than we how broken our world is. By acknowledging this, we ask for God’s help on a deeper level. We also help others reach out to God when they are hurting. Not everyone who comes to church is in a Sunday-best mood, and it may be difficult for some to sing praise songs with conviction.

When my husband and I lost a baby last Easter weekend, we went to church even though we were in anything but a celebratory Easter mind. Our pastors, knowing our grief, graciously included a time of lament in the service, pointing out that Christ’s sacrifice redeemed the world, but did not perfect it. The celebration of his resurrection took on deeper meaning that morning, when contrasted with the grief and pain expressed earlier in the service. When there is time for reflection, for lament, for acknowledging the brokenness of creation, we allow ourselves and others to worship God in new and deeper ways.

In Lenten services there is often time set aside for reflection, for acknowledging grief and pain. But those opportunities may fade as the church year progresses. And yet our lives and circumstances don’t always match the Christian year. To make sure that we worship God where we are, I offer a few suggestions:

  • Pray before planning or leading worship. Although this may be obvious, it can be lost in the rush of getting ready on Sunday morning or taking care of work or family before running to a meeting. Express what is on your mind and ask for God’s help in facilitating authentic worship.
  • Focus on one of God's attributes that is particularly relevant to your situation. If you are feeling overwhelmed, for example, remind yourself of God's omnipotence—nothing is too great for God. If you can, work a reference to that attribute into the service as encouragement to yourself and to others who may be feeling the same way.
  • Respond to the situations of others. For example, inviting a grieving family forward for prayer and
  • laying on of hands can help them feel God's peace at a difficult time—and also strengthen the feeling of community in your church.
  • Remember that God loves you and desires your worship. God meets us where we are and uses our gifts to his glory.

So the next time you feel like you’re not in the “right” place to plan worship, don’t try to bury your feelings. Remember that God desires to commune with your authentic self, not some image of what you “should” be. By acknowledging the disjuncture of your worship ideals and your circumstances, you might find yourself worshiping where you are—in a new place.