Monday, August 14, 2006

the heart of worship

I'm reading an interesting book by John Piper called "Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist". Christian hedonist? I honestly didn't notice that part of the title when I first picked it up, or I might not have. I was raised by Catholic, liberal parents with a firm sense of loyalty and duty to God and family at all costs. I am grateful for my upbringing-I always knew I was well loved and cared for. Yet, I grew up believing that self-interest was practically, if not actually, sinful. Somehow in the garden of my heart two disparate vines took root and grew, each apparently longing to cannibalize the other-one emotional, creative, untamed, and one highly analytical, skeptical and planned, as though a jungle and a suburban lawn were coexisting inside. The struggle was ceaseless, and moments of contented cohabitation rare.

Likewise, the church seemed to encourage believers to be vampires. The more drained of any life that would burst out in unseemly ways you were, the better. We rose from our coffins to say our prescribed words and went back in after it was all over. In my mind this seemed to so contrast with the church building itself, which was full of brilliant stained glass, art all over the walls, the heady smell of incense, the rich vestments the priests wore, lit candles, the fantastic goblets and decorations around the altar-I couldn't help sneaking peeks when we were supposed to be kneeling with eyes closed, and I prayed all the apocryphal stories were true about statues coming to life (how cool was that?)

A moment in time changed everything for me when I realized I could not reach God no matter how hungry fasting made me, how tired my eyes felt and I still managed to keep them open in church, how sincere I tried to force myself to be, and there were times I actually felt it, how authentic my confessions all changed because He came to me in power and I saw myself for the first time. The awfulness of my sin in comparison to a completely holy God, and the wonder of my life in comparison to His love for me. I so clearly remember going back to church after this happened, and it was as though I had never been in the place before. I couldn't wait to hear the priest talk about the scriptures. The building was still beautiful, but the words were like the most thirst-quenching drink I could imagine on a blistering July day. The hymns became my life story, like hearing my mom or dad tell for the millionth time something silly I did as a baby. Joy exploded into every dry area of my life and the blood flowed between my head and heart finally.

Getting back to the Christian hedonist-our faith is not spiritual turpentine, washing out all life and color from the masterpiece of our existence. It is the varnish that makes the colors come to life, glowing and real. I believe I would agree that the mark of a true worshipper is someone who meets God with both planned purpose and true, spontaneous emotion. Both take desire and discipline. The one who studies for hours, pouring over the scriptures, longing to learn more just to know God more and the one who fills the sanctuary with joyful singing and tears are brother and sister. It was like going to visit my son. It took patience to make the four hour journey, but for the anticipation of seeing his surprised face, the journey was a necessary part and joyful because it was all for love. With God and us it should be all for love, too. The heart of worship is that self-interest becomes God interest.


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