more than just my feelings

I would love a wider breadth of worship music on a Sunday.

I’ve got a bunch of personal reasons why I’d like more variety and why the lack of variety frustrates me. That said, there is more to my frustration than simply my own personal desire for a space and time that reflects my experience.

Essentially this is not just about me. At least, that’s how the story goes in my mind so hopefully there is some truth to it.

There are some really important practical problems with an always up beat worship experience.

I think that we teach theology, expectations and actions in our worship. And if I’m right then perhaps we should spend more time critically thinking about the worship we present at church.

If worship teaches theology was does it teach?

That God makes us feel good.

That God will come.

That God fixes.

That God changes everything for the better.

This theology will directly impact expectations. However I’m not particularly worried about the expectations of the church. Those are absolutely skewed but the church, for the most part, knows when it’s being serious and when it’s being more rhetorical.

For those new to our spaces however, this may pose a problem.

What does it say to someone who comes to church broken and looking, sings songs about how God will comes, how he will fix and how everything will be better. Then reflects back on their life months later to see the same brokenness present. What happens when they see that their life isn’t perfect and mended? What happens when they stand in a service look around at all the other “happy” people and realize they are alone? What has to go through their mind?

What didn’t I do?

Why doesn’t God love me like them?

Why isn’t God fixing it?

Does God even care?

Is God even real?

Maybe it’s a step to far. But I doubt it.

If every Sunday we drill the theology of happy people living happy lives because God has made it that way this expectation will happen.

All because we couldn’t be open and honest without pain. All because we want to be happy on a Sunday rather than real.

And this leads nicely into my last thought (almost like I planned it).

In worship we talk about doing a lot of things; raising hands, bowing our knee, giving over our lives, trusting God, etc.

How many of them do we actually do? Some church are better than others but there aren’t many where people literally bow their knee when they say they are bowing before Christ.

We just talk about all the things we do and then wonder why we can’t get people involved in each other’s lives. Why we can’t build spaces that people feel safe to be open about their doubt and pain. Why we can’t get people to volunteer or to give back to their community or talk to their neighbour or do literally anything that would bring them closer to being like Christ.

It’s so pervasive it’s almost like there is something happening every Sunday teaching them and encouraging them to say one thing and do another. Something teaching them to hide the honest reality of their life because somewhere it’s being reinforced that the honest expression means they don’t know God or worse God isn’t even there.

Thank goodness we’d never do something like that every single Sunday…

to long

 

Writing about expectations the other day reminded me of story.

It was a Sunday morning and my father was preaching. I have no idea what he was talking about. I’m sure it was stirring. At the close of the service, I’m not sure how it happened but a group had gathered at the front to pray for my dad. He’d been ill for years at this point.

It was a passionate group. They prayed with depth and hope and cried out for God to move.

After they were done a wise friend came up to my dad and said “there’s a lot of pressure on you now isn’t’ ere?”

Didn’t see that coming.

I have a very close friend who deals daily with a persistent illness. She told me that she no longer ask for prayer at her bible study. She did for a while and people were full of passion and hope for her, but as she continued to not get better she started to feel uncomfortable asking.

She felt that everyone was tired of praying the same prayer and frustrated with HER that she wasn’t better.

I’ve felt this way a bunch. You can see the eyes roll before you even ask. Somehow the choice of God not to move slowly became the result or choice of the one being prayed for.

It goes like this.

Pastor teaches people to pray. Pastor tells people that God is good and full of grace and hope.

Pastor gets ill. People pray.

Nothing happens.

People pray. Nothing happens.

How long until people get frustrated? How long until they not only question but question the pastor?

How long until the bible study stops praying with passion and hope for the ill. How long until they are frustrated and tired of the same pain and same despair every week? Seriously how long can someone expect us to keep praying for them and supporting them when they’re ill? Life and people have to move on, right?

Your life and focus might change and shift and to be honest the ill person’s life has changed too because once they had community and support and now by simply being ill for too long they lose community too.

it’s not always them

 

So Quinn doesn’t sleep as much as I’d like him too.

I suppose I may be expecting too much of a 5 week old. Is it too much to want him to sleep 8 hours at night? Or 4?

But expectations are a funny thing aren’t they.

I remember years ago I was helping with a discipleship weekend where we took a bunch of teenagers and had them stay up all night and engage with God in a bunch of different ways. Pray, reflection, art, music, the whole gambit. The idea was to create some kind of a right of passage. A mark to look back on.

It’s probably 3 in the morning and one of the guys comes and sits with all the leaders for a moment. We ask how he’s doing and in the twilight of the night he shares with us one of the most insightful things I’ve ever heard.

He says “I think I know why I’m so angry. You see I have the expectations of people. I want to them to be this or do that. But I don’t even tell them. I get mad at people for not meeting MY expectations that they don’t even know I have! I’m gonna stop doing that.”

And he got up and walked away.

The kids brilliant.

He understood so clearly that his actions were being dictated by himself and not others, despite feeling it was the other way round. How often do we do that?

How often do I get frustrated and upset with people stuck in their ways or going to church but not being church? The answer is roughly always. But that’s on me. That’s me not seeing where they are and helping them take the next step as opposed to trying rushing them to some arbiraty finish and being upset they don’t see everything the way I do.

Or as a father (if you’re not then a friend, co-worker, son, daughter, etc) how what I want my son to be will shape how I see him. What I wish for him will impact what I see as ‘success’ or ‘failure’. I have these hopes and dreams for Quinn that he’s had no say in. They aren’t even based on his personality or the man he is. They are just some things I hope for me.

And if he never becomes them?

Or what if I set out to change a person? A friend or a neighbour who become a project. What happens if the ‘project’ is never finished?

Relationships ruined by OUR expectations.

This all isn’t to say don’t’ have them but we do need to be mindful because more than we would like to admit the problem is with us and not them.

now for a better then?

I barter with myself. Do you do this?

Talk to yourself, make little internal deals, usually never follow through. Sometimes it’s small stuff like “if you don’t eat another slice of pizza at lunch you could have a beer tonight” or “I won’t go out with the boys tonight so I can have a few more dollars and will have more money to enjoy going out next week with.”

And sometimes it’s bigger things “It’s already 9pm. If I stay later at work tonight I can be home at a good hour tomorrow and Nolan will still be up. He’s already in bed.” More time working during non-Nolan hours so that I can be home during Nolan hours the next day.

We do it all the time. We trade our present for a better future.

Have you ever considered how much you’ve traded and for what?

Like the ending to every terrible family movie where some absent family leader learns that family is the most important part.

But what about the other important parts? What about the life you were made to live and the relationships you we’re handed to hold and nurture?

I was thinking the other day about getting a part time job. Nothing much but a little extra so things wouldn’t be so tight with me and Sarah. But Nolan is only this old once. He’ll never be how he is now again. I would miss playing swords with our spoons while I try to feed him. I’d miss the look in his face when he hears a fun song on the radio. It’s now or never.

And then I thought about all the other things I’d miss. I’d miss opportunities to pour into others. I’d lose time to engage in community and relationship. I’d lose touch with people I care about.

It’s not just family that loses out when we trade the present for a better future that may never come. How many people do you know that say “once things settle down” and “once it’s all a little easier”?

It’s it ever quieter or easier?

Without the investment now there are people you will never get another shot at investing in. Without the investment in the present there may be no relationships ready for you to be life and light in.

I suppose you could start then. You could purpose yourself to meet people and be broken and messy together in a few days, months, years, etc.

Honestly, why will it happen then? And are the people you will meet in the future really that much more important than the people you could know now?

Is your work/hobbies/sleep/etc. honestly more important than the relationships you’re forfeiting now? More important than the love and grace you were made to share? More important than sharing light in darkness and letting people see heaven for the very first time?

Really?

And why will it be so easy in the future? Why will you then be able to make the change to be other-centred?

Life is all about priorities. We’ve talked about it before. I hope your living your life with the priorities you think you are because the life we’re talking about leading, the life of compassion, won’t just happen.

It’s a choice, a dedication, a sacrifice you’re being called to make daily.

Maybe today is the day you go and try one of these or at least be honest with yourself about your actually doing or not doing.

giving blood or prayer?

Prayer is good, giving blood is better – The Basketball Jones

I was listening to a podcast the other day about basketball. At the start of every episode they drop an often silly little quote. But this day I was struck by the quote above. I don’t know who said it first or what their original intent was but it got me thinking about prayer.

I worry about the way people pray. I worry about why we pray.

A few months ago a friend texted my wife and I. She was pregnant and was rushing to the hospital fearing that her child wasn’t well. She asked that we would pray, so we did.

Later that night we heard from her again. All was well, “God is good” she texted back.

A prayer was answered and God is good.

But what if it wasn’t all well?

I struggle with prayer a LOT. I struggle with the idea that we ask God to just step in and fix things for us. I struggle with the way we pray because it seems to treat God, as my father would say, as some kind of spiritual vending machine. Put in the right words, add tears and bingo God fixes. This gets to my struggle with why we pray.

I worry that we pray so that we don’t have to do anything. I worry that most of us pray so that we can be absolved of our responsibility and our role. I worry that prayer for so many of us has become the copout to real and messy relationships.

I sat at home and said “God please be with my friend. Support her and her husband. Bless and protect their child” and then just moved on. My part was done.

Sometimes I really suck.

What if it didn’t end up ok? What if there was a problem? Good thing I prayed. Maybe it was all ok because I prayed, I don’t know. What I do know is there are LOADS of times I’ve prayed for good things to happen and they didn’t.

What if she lost the baby? Her and her husband alone in a hospital room. I bet that’s how God planed for us to live and how community and love are suppose to work. I’m sure they would have felt better sitting there knowing that I prayed.

But hey, I was done, I prayed.

That’s why I worry about prayer.

I think prayer is so immensely important. But if your prayer leads you to feel done after you’ve prayed I think something is missing. If a friend in turmoil causes you to pray and then move on, you’re missing it. If you connect with God in prayer and aren’t moved to action, what are you praying about?

Is giving blood really better than prayer? No, but if you’re prayer doesn’t lead you to also ‘giving blood’ then I think you need to take a real deep look at your prayer.