I love music because I was raised in music. My dad is a guitar player. My sister plays piano and sings. We had bluegrass bands in our church (seriously). There was never a time in my life when I wasn’t longing to play the guitar. And after I married one of the most amazingly sincere and emotive vocalists I’ve ever known, I even found joy in singing (although I’m still uncomfortable with my voice).
What’s more. I love to worship God. There’s something amazing about Christ’s Church gathered and praising together – putting great words in our mouths, elevating our voices to the throne of grace.
But I see a growing problem in worship music that I want to address in a series of articles. It is my most sincere hope that I will not offend any of my many wonderful friends who lead the Church of Christ in worship, but at the same time, I desire to stay true to Jesus’ vision for the church regardless of opinions.
The series of posts is entitled Don’t Close Your Eyes because this is something we as worshipers often do. As a powerful song swells in our hearts and particularly when we echo the words of Scripture, we close our eyes and elevate our hands (ok, not in many Baptist churches…there, we elevate our hands in spirit). We do the same thing when we pray. We close our eyes, shutting out the world around us.
We close our eyes to focus. We close our eyes to cut down distractions. We close our eyes for lots of reasons, I suppose, but through this series, I want to challenge the Church to worship with our eyes open. I want to offer you some reasons to pray with our eyes open, to worship in the midst of the world rather than shutting ourselves out from it.
Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in Acts:
I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:22-25)
Paul spoke these words in Athens, Greece. After Paul was forced to leave the town of Berea, he made the 200 mile trek to Athens alone. While waiting for his companions, he had apparently taken to walking around the Agora and the area of the Acropolis of that great city. He observed the many altars the Greeks had set up for the gods of their world.
There’s a lot of discussion about the success of the sermon that Paul delivers in Acts 17, but that’s not my focus here. Let’s focus on what was going on within Paul. While in his own walk with Christ, he observed others’ false religion. He quite literally worshiped with his eyes open.
Paul saw others’ needs at the same time as experiencing Christ’s sufficiency. Within his worshiping heart, God’s grace could intersect with spiritual emptiness of others’ journey.
It is easy to see worship as a “me and Jesus” thing, closing our eyes and worshiping – cutting out anything else because we believe it will distract us. We worship within cloistered church buildings, safe from the influence of the world at large; but even there, we feel it necessary to close our eyes.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I close my eyes when I wish to relish something. When my lips linger in a kiss with my wife, I close my eyes. When my daughter sneaks into our bed before I am awake and cuddles up against me, I close my eyes and inhale the beauty of God’s work in making her. These things deserve a moment of closed-eyed enjoyment. In the same way, sometimes the presence of Christ is so sweet and so beautiful that we need to close our eyes and revel in his presence.
But we cannot always be this way. Worship is not just about me and Jesus. It is about Jesus, me, and the Spirit blessing me so I can become a conduit of blessing. Worship must be free to flow through me, touching others with grace. Otherwise, it ends with me – the grace and beauty that is Jesus’ presence ends with me. And that is not how Christ intended worship to work.
Worship with your eyes open. The greatest measure of grace is not that it saves me, but that it can save others. Christ’s compassion and devotion is not simply limited to me. In fact, it is boundless – and if I open my eyes, I will see the intersection of His grace and others’ need.