One of my favorite parts of watching my oldest son as a little person is when he gets his praise music turned on and starts dancing around (which, at this age, looks a little more like uncoordinated stomping) and raises his hands in the air. It’s as if his little 2-year-old self knows innately to worship God, and the freedom and joy he does it with are what stand out to me.
I was raised to fear God, with a keen sense of His justice and wrath. I was taught to revere His holiness, and realize my utter depravity. There was joy, but keeping it within bounds was always the prim and proper way of doing things. There were emotions, but never in public. There was worship, but it was always contained to the stanzas in the hymn book or the moments you got alone with God that no one ever talked about. There was freedom, as long as you did it just right. Every so often I would catch glimpses of a walk with Christ I had never experienced. I would hear the clapping during a joyful praise song and ache to join in. I would see the holy hands lifted in praise and I longed to worship too. I would see the jumping and dancing for joy, but my sense of what was acceptable kept me fastened to my seat. I heard and saw the tears of lives being lived open before one another and I held mine back because I was better than that; after all, I was raised to always do things according to the rules. Ironically, in those moments, I judged yet longed to taste and see.
We then started attending a church that is unlike any other church I have been to. There is joy in the everyday living. There is freedom in the worship. There is beauty in the walk. At once my husband and I knew this is where we needed to be. God was calling us here, but it meant surrendering. Surrendering our preconceived notions of how God wants us to walk with Him, know Him, and worship Him. So we obeyed and determined to be open to what God had for us. At first I still judged. Not only was it second nature to me now, but it was also very hard to let go of things you’ve believed your whole life. Again, my heart was aching for that relationship, but my mind could not justify it. After all, in order to praise and worship God with freedom and joy, didn’t that mean giving up what I knew were solid Biblical truths?
Soon after, we went to the church’s worship night. Almost two solid hours of the parts of worship I had grown up avoiding! O boy, did my mind and heart wrestle! Was God really in this? How could God really be in something so joyful and emotional and, yet, at the same time, reverent? In my mind, this God of joy and love and peace had been separated from the holy God of justice, who is to be feared and causes me to be aware of my desperate need for a Savior.
In so many churches today, God’s attributes have been separated and modern-day so-called Christians are all gung-ho about our loving God yet seem to forget He’s also holy. When someone comes from a background of an opposing tradition, there is sure to be doubts that anything in the middle exists.
Therefore I prayed as I have never prayed before and asked God to clearly lead me and really show me Himself, to show me how to view Him, follow Him, walk with Him, and how to worship Him. We began to sing of God’s holiness and as I raised my hands in praise and surrender I KNEW that God was all together a holy God, a God of joy, love and peace, a God deserving of reverence and at the same time is approachable. He is a God who does expect us to walk rightly but tells us to follow Him, a just and patient God who sent His Son as our Savior, a God who created us to feel every moment of the walk with Him. As I clapped out the rhythm (or maybe not with the rhythm…my son’s aforementioned current lack of coordination may be more long-term genetic than I like to admit) I FELT the freedom of worshiping God the way He created – without reserve, with abandon, with joy. Some would argue it was an emotional high, but the fact that my life is different today argues it was more of an attitude and heart change.
I can’t wait to take my son to worship night. I can just picture the joy on his face as he claps and stomps to the music (or not to the music as it may be). As I’m typing, I’m realizing that we’re told to be childlike for a reason. There are no preconceived notions, there is just living in the moment. Just as I want my children to relate to me with respect and obedience I also want him to enjoy my presence and love living life with me. This is how I know how I need to relate to God: as His child. In both relationships there will be raw emotion and feelings, there will be learning and discipline, and there will be joy and love. Perhaps seeing me live this way in relation to Christ will cause my children’s only preconceived notion to be that it is all for CHRIST and CHRIST ALONE in ALL of LIFE. How so very sweet it is.