The killer pace of worship planning around Christmas shouldn’t obscure how significant the gathering of sinner-saints truly is. Astonishing, how our ineffable, perfect, exalted God can accept the sin-stained fruit of our lips. Are there ranks of angels madly editing all those words and “cleaning up” off-key voices before they reach the throne?
Hardly. Through the gift of Jesus, God continued the process of our adoption—and parents don’t need editors to deal with the foibles and limitations of their kids. Unconditional love lets a parent’s ear perceive their babble as sweet perfection.
That’s been serious comfort to me as a worship planner/leader for four decades. I’ve seen my pet ideas fizzle. I’ve delivered “turkeys” off the pulpit rivaling anything the faithful had roasting in their oven. And as a liturgist . . . well, let me tell you a story.
As a rookie theological editor at Faith Alive, I joined the team of Reformed Worship magazine. Editor Emily Brink assigned me to write an article introducing myself and sharing some of my credentials. I listed the following:
- I knocked over a huge vase of flowers, forgot to serve communion to the elders, and dropped a live microphone on the floor, all in a single worship service.
- I mixed up the names at a double baptism even though baby Susan was clearly identified with a pink ribbon and Jason with a blue one.
- In dramatizing the creation story I intoned, “Let there be light,” hit the switch on the projector, blew the breaker, and left the faithful completely in the dark.
I listed more “credentials,” but you get the point.
Putting my worst foot forward had an interesting consequence. I received an invitation to lead a retreat of pastors and their spouses on worship. I came prepared with stuff I’d begged, stolen, and borrowed. But I need not have bothered. I’d been invited because of that editorial. They sensed I could identify with their struggles around the ever-smoldering worship wars of that time. We cleared the agenda so we could share the personal pain, deepening wounds, and frustrations of wanting to worship God well but being at odds about how to do it. We cried, laughed, and prayed a lot. Awesome retreat!
Back then the battles were primarily about two modes of worship: “contemporary” and “traditional.” We still needed to grow into a realization that God deserves the best of both. And we needed to learn other modes besides: worship from the world church, complaint taken directly from Scripture, and children’s songs, among others.
The new joint CRC/RCA songbook Lift Up Your Hearts marks that significant convergence. It helps us blend many distinct “voices” into one continuous stream of praise, petition, confession, lament, and thanks that we direct to God’s throne.
Will that make us perfect? Hardly. So this season, tell the lazy that God deserves our best. And tell perfectionists that our best is good enough for Abba.
The shepherds at the first Christmas service (Luke 2:20) made the sincere effort to come out to worship Jesus. And, no, they probably couldn’t sing like (the) angels—as if it mattered!