We were at our church’s Good Friday service, just a few weeks ago. Pete and I arrived “less early” than we usually do and found our usual spots already taken, so we ended up sitting further back than normal. No big deal, I thought. But as the service opened with the worship our church is noted for, I discovered that sitting in the back was a much bigger deal than I had anticipated.
The people around us weren’t participating.
I need to explain. Our church is a worshiping church. The music is a bit loud for my taste (I bring ear plugs to protect my hearing), but enthusiastic and heartfelt. We typically start with praise—teens (and adults) dance in front near the platform, hands clap or are lifted high. Gradually the worship team leads us deeper. Eyes close and every word is a prayer. Frequently, I can sense the Spirit hovering over us. When we finally break for the offering, I realize all over again how much I love God.
One of the distinctives of our congregation is that everyone participates—or at least I thought they did. But then, we usually sit near the front.
I’ve written before about my struggles with musical worship. I’m not a very musical person—my abilities lie in other areas. I rarely buy a song, even one I like, and you’re unlikely to see me at a concert. However, I don’t worship God for myself; my goal is to please Him. So when our congregation spends forty minutes on praise and worship, I give it my off-key best. (If my flat notes bother God, He’s perfectly capable of improving my ear—I’m just using what He gave me.)
Still, participating takes effort. Concentration. My mind already tends to wander. The last thing I need is another distraction.
I can’t tell you how sidetracked I was by the family in front of me that evening. The mom was clearly focused on God, but the dad stood there looking annoyed, with his arms folded across his chest. The two teen-aged sons took their clues from him. They too stood there looking bored as only teens can, sighing, smirking, studying the ceiling. I got the sense that mom had requested their attendance on this special day, and they had grudgingly agreed to come, but no how were they going to actually join in.
At first, I tried to block them out by closing my eyes, but there were a couple of new songs, and I needed to see the lyrics. I tried to focus on the screen, but my peripheral vision is too good, and as they were right in front of me, I couldn’t avoid the view.
I tried looking around a bit, and noticed that a majority of those around me weren’t singing either. A sense of self-righteousness began to creep into my thoughts. What’s wrong with those people? They’re setting a bad example for their kids! Even worse, they’re denying God the worship that is rightfully His. I wouldn’t do that! I’m not a good singer, yet I join in—why can’t they?
God didn’t let me get very far down that road. I received an unmistakable mental nudge. “Stop judging! What about your own attitude?”
I hate it when someone (or Someone) points out my bad attitude!
So I had to stop and consider. Maybe some of the people around me had colds—sore throats, laryngitis, whatever—and couldn’t sing. Maybe they were visitors, and weren’t familiar with the songs. Maybe they weren’t Christians. How could I expect someone to worship a God they don’t know?
Okay God. I get the message. I’m sorry.
Since I couldn’t help but be distracted with my eyes open, I decided to go ahead and close them. If I knew the words, I could sing. The rest of the time I could pray. Either way, I’d be focused on God rather than the people around me. Wasn’t that the point of the singing?
And when the worship time was over, maybe I should do my best to make those around me feel welcome.