The theme of the stewardship campaign at Noel this year was - "poking holes in the darkness". It inspired Jill Andrews, one of the worship leaders, to bring some special things to a Sunday morning service. This included special music, glow sticks and bracelets, and black lights to visually demonstrate poking holes in the darkness. The week before it was announced to the congregation that they should wear things that would glow under black lights.
As the service began, the window shades were closed to allow the room to go dark, not completely but pretty close. In the middle of the first song, the black lights were turned on. The effect was spectacular! Several of the congregation were wearing items that lit up. I wore a high visibility yellow shirt that poked a giant hole in the darkness, for rows around. It is bright yellow in normal light and several folks in the Upper Room Sunday School class even commented about it. Everything in the service looked so different. It inspired awe in those who had not experienced black lights before. Many of the kids were waving their glow sticks and bouncing around with excitement. The mood was electric.
It was a totally different atmosphere / experience than I have ever experienced at church and that caused me to think. A lot. All week.
There's a song by Mercy Me, titled "I Can Only Imagine". The writer was thinking about heaven as he had recently lost his father. It captures the singer's questions of what it will be like when he gets to heaven and meets Jesus face to face. You can listen to it by following the link below. I'd recommend you do as I find it very moving. The video shows pictures of people holding pictures of loved ones that have preceded them to heaven.
Here is the part that plugged into to my thoughts -
"Surrounded by your glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus
Or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine"
It occurs to me that these words also define the modern day discussions about worship styles. I grew up in a church that was very conservative and traditional. The closest parallel at Noel would be the Wesleyan service. The Sanctuary was a place to be still and in awe, out of reverence to God and respect for your fellow worshipers who were preparing themselves for the service. The only instrument required was the organ. The only source of hymns was the official hymnal produced by the denomination. The sermon was almost always based on one of the Lectionary readings for the day. It was very traditional, not much variation and never any surprises or special effects.
So which is the correct way to worship? That's the big question isn't it? I'm certainly not in a position to make an official decision on behalf of Christianity. But it seems to me that if the God of all the universe had a preference for how He wants us to worship Him, He would have given us specific directions. It is my opinion, for what it is worth, that He is more concerned with our motives than our methods. I think He must enjoy variety, as He certainly created us with a great deal of variety. I'm sure He is delighted when we use the creative gifts and abilities we have in worship - after all we believe He gave them to us.
This week in the Upper Room Sunday School, Jack O'Dell taught on Sanctifying Grace. He brought out that Wesley believed that we are being sanctified. In other words it was not a onetime event but a life long process of change and growth. He used a medical analogy and several times asked us to rate where we were a year ago and were we are today in a specific area of our walk. If the rating number hasn't changed then we've flat lined - not a good thing medically or spiritually.
I can honestly report that my worship is not the same this year over last. And I feel that thinking about it for the last week has matured my understanding of Him.
The song ends with -
"I can only imagine when all I will do
Is forever, forever worship you
I can only imagine"
What do you think? Will that be sitting in the pews, dancing in the aisles, kneeling at the altar, waving glow sticks? For now - I can only imagine.