It was a worship camp. In Baldivis. The sort that a larger church has. Everyone connected with the music ministry of the church came along—worship leaders, singers, musicians, sounds crew, the audio-visual team—the whole shooting match.
It was a Saturday night; I guess there were 70-80 of us. Different personalities, different backgrounds. All united around leading people as best we could in responding to the goodness of God in Jesus.
We’d had dinner and were about to have one of our chunky times of worship and ministry for the weekend. I was leading, and as I went through a bunch of the tunes to kick off the night, I was compelled to tell the team to ‘prepare to go places tonight because I reckon some big stuff is going to happen’.
What I said next is cringeworthy now, but in my mind at least, that ‘big stuff’ seemed to be some physical response in worship.
As the last of the stragglers had entered the room, I said, with some boldness, “Are you ready to worship God tonight? I believe that God’s going to do some huge things in us and I don’t want anything to get in the way. So, I want to begin tonight by getting you to push all the chairs to the sides of the room. Just get them out of the way and then, let’s worship together!”
I’m not sure what occupational health and safety hazard the functional furniture was going to present, but we weren’t going to let it interfere with our worship. Perhaps I had some hybrid of Kum-ba-yah and the Hokey Pokey up my sleeve that would make chairs untenable, but there we all stood, propless. Nothing to lean on. Like sheep stuck in the middle of a pasture that suddenly seemed a whole lot larger than it had moments earlier.
In reality, we were probably about to bust out ‘This is how we Overcome’ and I imagined some ecstatic combination of twirling and pointing hitherto unseen by anyone other than the angels encircling the throne.
Whatever my thinking, we needed to push all the chairs back, and that’s what we did.
Nothing particularly memorable happened in the next half hour. We worshiped Jesus – that’s remarkable in itself. But no gold dust fell from the ceiling, no one tore an Achilles through sheer exuberance, and no one dislocated a shoulder singing ‘This is how we Overcome’. But chairs were pushed pack and, at some metaphorical and metaphysical level, this is partly what worship is about.
Worshiping the name Higher than any other deals with the obstacles of our little gods – the chairs and circumstances of our human condition. It declares a bigger ‘yes’ over them. It declares Jesus as Lord over all, in all, and through all, rendering those ‘chairs’ impotent.
Yet it’s still a volitional decision:
“I’m pushing back these chairs BY bringing you my worship. By declaring that you’re worthy, that you’re worth my utmost. I’m declaring that Your Highest becomes tangibly real to me as I draw near to you with my adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. I declare that the things (the chairs) of earth grow strangely dim in the light of your glory and grace.”
Big stuff may not have happened in that thirty minutes, but monumental work went on that evening. The time of ministry that followed was significant for a couple of people in ways that continue to reverberate to this day.
I’m not sure that had a whole lot to do with physically pushing back chairs. Pretty sure it didn’t. But I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit moved as we drew near to Him and pushed back stuff that may have been creeping to the centre. He ministered to us.
I shared this last part with our church yesterday…
When the night was almost done, I had to head home. It’s always a bummer leaving a camp that’s still going. I felt like I should be pumped – ecstatic, swinging from the rafters, filled with faith and joy – but I wasn’t.
Instead, as I drove away, I found myself singing:
My eyes are dry, My faith is old, My heart is hard, My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be, alive to you and dead to me.
So what can be done for an old heart like mine?
Soften it up, with oil and wine?
The oil is You, Your spirit of love.
Please wash me anew in the wine of your blood.
There are times when an overwhelmingly good experience (for others) causes one that’s contrary to us. Some of us choose to be contrary. Other times, though, it’s real. We’re dry, hard, old and cold.
There’s a pathway in those lyrics and God’s Word. It’s not our path-clearing or bulldozing, it’s the washing-clean work of Jesus’ blood, and abiding in Him as we worship Him that softens our heart all over again.
Yes, He wants us to come with thanksgiving and praise – because of Him, there are 10,000 reasons why we can. More than that, though, He simply wants us to come; to present our weathered, dry, beaten up hearts and come – chairs and all.