Occasionally, when I'm up on stage, I have a really hard time holding it together and not bursting into tears right there in front of everybody, runny mascara and all. God uses the worship team to lead in music and to share testimony. Often music speaks to the people in the congregation, drawing them close to God; it teaches them about the nature of our relationship with Christ, and gives them the opportunity to come before Him and experience His love in a very real and tangible way. But many times what is being said or sung is as much for our hearts, as leaders, as it is for the hearts of the congregation.
One of the Sundays in October was such day. Pastor Tim came up to the front and instead of launching into communion, he started by talking about the lyrics from a song we had just sung, "Only You". The bridge to this song talks about it being just you & God as you worship: "It's just you and me here now". It's fairly ironic in a corporate worship setting, but Tim talked about the paradox that it is to worship as a part of the church body and, at the same time, as an individual who has a personal and intimate relationship with God.
It's not too tear jerking a subject, I'll admit. But it is a topic that God has been working on in my heart during this season of my life: a season where He has seriously challenged my understanding and the way I view my personal relationship with Him versus my position as a member of the "bride" of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-33).
The Bible is full of beautiful imagery describing humanity’s relationship to Christ and to God and I often find myself, in my thoughts and my study, dwelling on those images and celebrating what Christ has done for us. I frequently think of myself as "we", the collective church, and put a lot of thought and energy into what we, as a church, are doing and how God is moving and using “us”. And while this isn't altogether an unhealthy view, it is incomplete. Like Peter, when Jesus calls him out onto the water (Matthew 14:22-33), when I take my eyes off of my Savior, I leave myself vulnerable to the wind and waves of this world and I sink.
This started a few weeks ago as I struggled to memorize 1 Peter 3:18: "For Christ died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body, but made alive by the Spirit." One of the mistakes I kept making was to say "to bring us to God" instead of "you". The first time I realized I was making the mistake I sat there pondering if there was really enough of a theological difference to merit trying to correct my poor memorization and was stopped abruptly with an overwhelming sense of, "No. I died for you. I died with you in mind. It is written "you", therefore memorize it "to bring you to God"." Wow.
A few days later, I got into my car and the radio fired up in the middle of a live, in-studio concert/interview with Christian music artist, Natalie Grant, and they were taking questions from the audience in a Q & A segment. The next question she was asked was, "What encouragement could you give to someone who struggles to feel loved?" She went on to talk about the very personal and intimate ways that the Bible tells us Christ knows us and cares for us, that we are so important to Him and that He longs for us. This time I was in tears. It's not that I struggle with feeling loved, but when you consistently view yourself only as a member of the body and don't regularly take the time to intimately look into the eyes of the One who gave everything just to love you, it can, and should be incredibly overwhelming!
And I definitely think that this is a trap we, as Christians, fall into if we're not careful. If we think of ourselves only as "the body", we can think of our sins simply as being apart of the collective sins that nailed him to the cross. When I fail to look my Savior full in the face and celebrate what He has done for me, I don't feel the sting of Him dying for my sins, my short-comings.
I want to challenge you: take time, make an effort to come before Christ, imagining even, the conversations you would have with Him if He were standing in front of you; our imagination is a gift from God, created by Him just as He created any other part of you. Do this regularly. He does want our worship: He wants us to make a priority of learning more about His Word, to share in fellowship with the church body, to reach out to a dying world and to serve others. These are undeniably good things. But He also longs for a relationship! For friendship! I urge you, embrace the love of the One who made you, who died to keep you, and whose heart is tender and compassionate and full of grace towards you! Only here can we find the strength and courage to do what we've been called to!