I recently performed the wedding of one of my best friends who has been leading worship with me for years now.
We decided that simple, short, and sweet was the best route to take.
- Present the Gospel as the foundation for marriage.
- Repeat wedding vows and exchange rings.
- Kiss the bride (him, not me).
- Pronounce them man and wife.
Five to seven minutes max. Nothing fancy.
I talked briefly on the mystery of marriage as an earthly symbol of a cosmic reality. God became man and died in our place to purify us for himself. He lay himself down for us to make us righteous.
Everything went according to plan and we were out of there within six minutes. It was glorious.
A week later my friend called to ask me for my notes from his wedding. His aunt, for whom he had been praying to come to saving faith in Christ, had been impacted by my sermon and wanted to have a copy for herself.
That call caught me off guard. I was simultaneously overjoyed and surprised that God would use my words to draw people to himself – like I had prayed for him to – even though everything seemed pretty normal that day and I never felt him supernaturally at work.
“Lord, do something so amazing here today that the only explanation could be that you did it. Do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine.”
I have prayed like this more times than I can count, asking God to move in power and change people’s hearts as I minister and serve, preach and sing – especially in the context of corporate worship.
But that call made me realize that while I pray these things, I don’t honestly expect God to actually do it.
I eagerly desire to see God move, but don’t even know what it would look like if He did. I always assume it will look supernaturally spectacular, saturating all my senses; that I will feel it enveloping my emotions.
But much of the time this is not my experience.
So there is a cynicism at work in my heart, whispering in my ear that it’s up to me, and the best that I should expect is for everything to go according to plan. If I put together the perfect order of worship – including just the right songs, well thought out prayers, and scripture readings – and our team executes it as flawlessly as possible, then God will send down “that feeling we get in worship” and we will all exclaim “surely God is in this place!”
If this could be boiled down to a mathematical equation, it might look something like this:
Perfect Plan + Perfect Implementation = Good, Good, Good, Good Vibrations
There are more problems with this than I can count, but I will mention two.
- With the right sound system, light show and song selection, you can make someone feel just about anything you want, without God ever being in the room in any kind of special way. Just go to a Sigur Ros concert and you will know what I mean.
- Feelings are fleeting and fickle. Could my feelings really be an accurate thermometer for spiritual activity when they are constantly changing depending on what I ate the night before or what my bank account looks like?
Corporate worship is not about getting some feeling. It’s about getting God.
God is an emotional being who has made us emotional beings and he cares about how we respond to him emotionally. He wants us to love him with all our hearts; not only with our intellects, but our emotions as well. Yet he is not so much concerned with scratching our emotional itch as he is giving us himself.
This is our starting place – the truth we respond to with all we are.
God gave us Jesus, our Spotless Lamb and great High Priest, who takes away our sins and makes a way to the Father.
He gave us the Holy Spirit to remove our hearts of stone and give us new hearts of flesh that can respond to the truth and be set free by it.
He gave us the Gospel – the greatest news of all time, and the power of God for salvation to all who believe.
He gave us the Church – his body, and a new family we can gather with to hear the Gospel and declare the greatness of God; a place where we can be honest about who we are with God and each other.
God is constantly inviting us into his presence, promising that when we gather as his called out people to worship him in Spirit and Truth, his presence will be with us in a special way to empower, fill, and transform us. He wants to meet with us. It makes him happy to do so.
We don’t need our feelings to prove that. We have the cross.
We don’t have to conjure fake sensational experiences or try to coax God into giving us a feeling. We can trust him to give us something better.
When we go about “business as usual”, trusting in our own plans and talents, or fail to come to corporate worship believing God wants to give us himself to rescue, regenerate, revive, and restore people from all walks of life, we are the ones who miss out.
I don’t want us to miss out on what God is doing because we are looking for love in all the wrong places. I want to see what happens when his church starts believing him on his word and expecting God for more than a feeling. I want to see the very real presence of a great God start doing great things in our midst.
I want to see revival.
And I believe he wants to see it too.