SOMETIMES WORSHIP IS HARD
Worship that has us praying and singing with mind and spirit as the Apostle Paul admonished opens us up to offer depths of expression that leave us vulnerable to transparent emotions. As a person who tends to be emotional anyway, episodes with health issues have left me even less capable of controlling my tendency for tears to flow. Even though I work to be at peace with this tendency there is a struggle to keep emotions in check , especially never wanting to be a distraction in worship. On top of that life circumstances sometimes just makes expression of worship a challenge. What a powerful picture was given as a community gathered for worship following the shootings in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina last Summer. In the midst of emotional hurt some people find worship too full of emotional triggers and therefore stay away. A dear family in our church in Georgia lost their college age daughter to a senseless abduction and murder. The mother was unable to attend worship for quite sometime. Eventually she prayed through her emotional block, but confessed that worship, and especially singing continued to be hard. In another congregation I served a church matriarch who had been a spirited worshiper suffered a stroke. As a result of residual effects Ms. Nellie could no longer sing or speak. She would sit in worship service and cry through the hymns. On a visit to her home with the pastor I asked her how she was doing in the worship services. She wept and wrote on a piece of paper, “It is hard.” In time Ms. Nellie brought a white handkerchief with her to worship and waved the hanky in the air as a sign of her expression of worship. Though it was hard she continued to worship.
Monday I will join other members of the Tennessee Mens Chorale at Boone Trail Baptist Church in Johnson City to minister in a worship service celebrating the life of our brother and Tennessee Mens Chorale member and former president, Allen Bowling. Allen’s death was a shock. It is hard to understand how he could survive surgical removal of a cancerous brain tumor and struggle with related issues of life function only to be killed while out for a walk when struck by a car as he attempted to cross the street. We will gather to worship the Sovereign God in Whom we place our trust and faith when we celebrate the life of Allen, and it will be hard. No doubt we will reflect on many great memories of laughter, fun, corny jokes, beautiful music, organizational determination, and shared Gospel ministry through song. Nevertheless, my anticipation is that there will be a sense in which the worship will be hard. Nevertheless, we surely recognize that the ironies of life are far beyond our understanding, which is all the more reason to trust our faithful Heavenly Father and worship Him.
This morning at Forest Hills Baptist Wayne led us in singing the great worship hymn by Horatio Spafford, It Is Well with My Soul. There on the front row sat our pastor whose wife is battling A.L.S. and I sensed that surely today for him, his family, Carolyn, and for many in this church family who are praying for them worship is hard. Comments in the hallways by choir members and others included confessions of tears combined with hope and assurance. In light of Pastor Sam’s family situation coupled with the weight on my mind of Allen’s passing and realization that in any gathering of worship there are many who are struggling with deep sorrows or heavy burdens, we recognize that worship happens in real time and space, yet also transcends it. In the same Sunday service a young family dedicated their infant daughter, their fourth little girl, as part of our worship. At once we face the aforementioned struggles, and as in any congregation there were bound to be many others with life struggles, burdens, or high joys as we join for worship. For some in any given service it is likely that worship is hard. Nevertheless we continue to intone the certain hope,
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight!
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and my Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul.