Those of us who are parents know that there are times when we speak to our children; when we address our children, that they walk away from us without responding. I won't pretend to know what they're thinking inside those little heads of theirs, but I feel confident that they are not walking away out of defiance. They aren't stomping away in anger, they simply hear what I have to say, then they leave. Frankly, that is not acceptable to me so I will ask them to come back and, in a teaching moment, explain that I need them to acknowledge me; they need to acknowledge what I said do them. Sometimes it's simply a "Yes, Daddy." Sometimes I ask them to repeat my instructions. Sometimes I ask them to share with me what they think about what was said, engaging in further conversation.
As followers of Jesus, we have the insane ability to hear the magnificent story of God's extreme love for us; being reminded that while we were yet sinners, Christ died on a cross so that we would no longer be slaves to sin but instead free from it; no longer under the law but under grace and free from the fear of death for we have been promised Life eternal and abundant because Jesus did not remain dead, but defeated death…and yet we can still respond to that story by standing up, stretching, yawning and walking away!
When the Spirit speaks to our hearts and minds with words of love through a sermon, through a conversation with a friend or through marveling at God's creation, it is a reminder of our severe self-centeredness when we feel completely comfortable responding to the Lover and Savior of our souls by choosing to walk away and get on with our lives.
I just returned from leading worship at an annual men's retreat with some of my dearest friends, where historically we raise the roof when we sing even though there are only 25 of us. For the first three sessions of this year's retreat, that was not the case. Maybe we were exhausted from travel or from life in general, maybe we were too full of good food, maybe the lights were too dim or the guitar was tuned down too lowly or the video backgrounds were distracting, but bottom-line, we just weren't singing at all. I adjusted everything I could to make corporate song time more of a welcome concept to a crowd of men who don't find singing in public a comfortable activity. A few lights were turned up so we didn't fall asleep, I tuned my guitar back up so every song didn't feel like a Johnny Cash number, I deleted the background images, but I also felt God challenging us with the concept of acknowledging Him. He had spoken to us, how would we respond? I was challenged by Zephaniah 3:17. God sings over us! Actually He REJOICES over us with singing! We who are unworthy! Could we find the capacity to respond to His amazing grace by rejoicing and singing over Him? One who is actually worthy of praise?
Granted, doing so involves a little burying of the pride. What will people think of us? Singing with conviction in a crowd of 25 is a little more exposing than singing in a crowd of 2,500. It's easier to get lost in the anonymity of a large crowd, but people will see you and hear you in a small, intimate setting. It begs the question, "How grateful are we for God's love freely given?" The measure of our response to Him may indicate how great we actually believe His gift is! It answers the question, "How great IS our God...in our opinion?"
It wasn't the lights or the key or the black background that made us sing more loudly, but our recognizing that God's extravagant love deserves a response, He's called us to respond with our very lives, but we can certainly begin by standing before Him and singing over Him with arms high, hearts abandoned and voices raised. I'm glad to say we did. And He responded by inhabiting our praises, which is a very, very good thing.
I am not a charismatic worshiper when it comes to singing; I tend to remain reserved. But I think that's my pride working against me. I doubt I'll be reserved when I see Jesus face to face for the first time.