“Glimpses of Glory” marks the beginning of a new column, Reflections. It is our prayer that Reflections will be a source of spiritual encouragement as you are used by God in the leading of his people in worship. —JB
What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2b).
When leading worship, I often take time during the opening hymn to survey the congregation and ask myself questions: Who’s here this morning? What can I read in their faces and body language? I look through the crowd for particular faces that have been on my heart, and if I find them I look for clues about how they are doing. Part of my heart flows through my tongue as I sing while another part of my heart flows through my eyes to the gathered worshipers.
In particular, I am looking for glimpses of glory in the gathered community. I look for it in eyes filled with joyfully expectant longing, or anxious, dark-ringed worry, or even the appearance of sullen and suspicious boredom. Funny thing: those glimpses of glory can be discerned in almost every shape of eye that has come to worship.
I remember that we, the worshiping community, are those about whom Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). I take Paul to be essentially saying the same thing that John writes in the verse quoted above. We are a pilgrim people “on the way,” a people who are smack in the middle of dying to the old self and rising in the new, a community “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” while receiving “this treasure in jars of clay” (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:7). I see glimpses of glory embedded in mystery on the way to final clarity.
Almost sounds poetic, but so what? What difference does such seeing make as we walk together through a sixty-minute liturgy?
I find that the recognition and naming of “on-the-way-glory” in the worshiping community liberates all of us from the suffocating tyrannies of consumerism. Consumerism—the dominant spirit of our age—simply declares, “Allow us to gratify your desires now.”
Three deceptive paradoxes lurk inside that creed. First, it appears to be centered on my desires, but in reality the key words are “allow us.” The us becomes a divine parody that says, “Come to us, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and we will give you what you think you want.” This us is a faceless spirit of the age that proclaims “you are what you own,” “you are what you accomplish,” “you are what you experience.” As this voice tells me who I am, it asserts its own right to be the satisfier of my wants.
And this leads to a second deception: that seemingly benevolent verb gratify (in “allow us to gratify your desires”) masks the cynicism of the true verb beneath it: shape, as in “allow us to shape your desires.” The goal of the culture of consumerism is that ultimately we all desire what it has to offer: a frenetic pace of life that fuels an ever-accelerating consumption that grows from consuming things to consuming experiences and culminates in consuming persons—including one’s own self. As a result, those who gather for worship under the thumb of consumerism are gathered as those who are weary, harried, impatient, irritable, and demanding, deceived by the double paradox. The twisting of desires eventually undermines the ability to worship, because the desires of consumerism undermine the longing to be transformed in the presence of God and his people.
Finally, consumerism promises to do all of this now, thereby declaring that who I am right now is what really matters. “Who I am right now” is the center of the universe. But this “now-ness” is also ironic: my “now” is the end result of a persistent process of consumeristic shaping—transformation of a “deforming” sort.
Consumerism unchecked erupts in worship wars, church shopping, and worship planning that caters to the will of the majority. Ah, but the Lord God has never met an idol that left his presence unchecked. Therefore, it is my privilege to declare to the body of Christ, “That is a lie! That lie can only shrink you, so put it to death. You are not frozen inside immediate desires that others have sought to manipulate. You are a wondrous mystery redeemed on the way to a goal that we cannot comprehend; you are groaning with the glory of grace no matter what shape your eyes are in. You are “fossils of the future,” evidence of a new creation that one day will be fleshed out in its fullness.