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April 10, 2007 / beidson

Pretending to be Alone: The Problem with Modern Worship

For a moment, imagine you are on your way to a sporting event. You’ve got your tickets and some cash for snacks and sodas. You’ve been waiting for this day for quite some time. It’s the biggest game of the year and everyone’s going to be there. In fact, when you arrive, you can hear the hustle and bustle of the crowd from outside the stadium. There is a buzz in the air. Everyone is so excited.

After finding your seat, you soak up the scene: fathers talking with their sons, daughters on mothers’ laps, friends taking pictures . . . you get the picture. Everyone is waiting for the game to start, and in the meantime, they are enjoying each other’s company.

And when the game finally does start, the crowd goes wild. People are going crazy. Fathers are giving there sons high-fives. Mothers and daughters are screaming with excitement. The players are pumped because their fans are making so much noise. Wow. This is what you came for.

But imagine a different scene. Imagine that everyone was asked to pretend that they were alone, and to block out of their minds the knowledge that people were all around them. Imagine that everyone was asked to close their eyes while the coaches made important decisions, and while the players pulled off the impossible. Imagine that everyone pretended to be alone at the biggest game of the year. Is this what you came for?

This is exactly what happens in many evangelical worship services all over America each week. Attenders are asked to “bow their heads and close their eyes, and pretend no one else is around” so that they can really get serious about meeting with God. Small group leaders and pastors talk about personal discipleship as if it were disconnected from congregational discipleship. The culture of individualism has crept into our churches, and I believe many sincere Christ-followers are struggling because of it.

This is not to say that we should never be alone. Of course we should. Is there any way to avoid ever being alone? Hardly, unless you move to the desert. And our time in our homes is a great time to hide away and get alone with the Lord. But to leave our homes, where we are already alone, and come together with other believers, only to pretend we are alone, seems to miss the point of our gathering. We gather together as believers to celebrate our citizenship in heaven and to publicly acknowledge our need for each other. We gather together as believers to make a declaration to the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places: “This is the victory that has overcome the world–our faith” (1 John 5:4). “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (5:5). We gather together because we cannot be overcome by the evil one. The gates of hell cannot prevail against us (Matthew 16:18). “We are more than conquerers through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

Beware of being alone. There is a time to be alone, but it is certainly not in corporate worship. This doesn’t mean you can’t bow your head and close your eyes, but it does mean that you should think long and hard about the people all around you. If they are also believers, they will be with you in the presence of Christ on the Day of Judgment, when you will be declared righteous before God because of Christ. These are the ones to whom you will turn and say, “I was worse than all of these, yet God had mercy on me.” And forever you will be surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) that was with you in church, even while your head was bowed and your eyes were closed, and you felt like you were all alone.

So the next time you are gathered together with your local fellowship, open your eyes and look around. These people are proof that Jesus is Lord. These people are evidence of God’s grace. These people are how God will make you like Christ. This is awesome. This is what you have been waiting for. This is what you came for.

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