So. I just got a tattoo. I was going to keep it to myself and just let people see it as and when but I feel compelled to write about it. And the reason? Well before getting it done I did a bit of research via the power of google for Christian designs. I found some great things, but I also found a whole load of judgemental claptrap from people claiming to be the authority on Christian sin as to why you are pretty much going to hell if you get one.
Ok, slight exaggeration, but only slight. If you google ‘what does the bible say about tattoos?’ you get a load of posts taking one Old Testament scripture and using it to justify the view that it is wrong. Note, Old Testament, not new. Pre-new covenant, pre-Jesus – the fulfilment of the law. Hysterically I love how one bloke noted in his diatribe on the sin of tattooing, piercing and numerous other things, that ‘When I was a young Christian, I had numerous sins that I had to deal with. Two of them were smoking and criticising others…’ Clearly God hasn’t dealt with the criticising others bit yet then…
So if you are a Christian considering getting a tattoo, here’s two things people will undoubtedly say to you and some responses. And if you have the time read this post which is the best I’ve read, along with a load of comments which are also worth reading
1. The Bible says tattoos are wrong.
Yes, it does, in one verse in Leviticus 19:28
Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.
Two responses here. Firstly, this is under the Levitical law. Jesus came to fulfill the law which is why as Christians we don’t adhere to these laws anymore. The law was about the people having a relationship with God, all of the laws were about keeping people holy and pure, free of sin so they could have a relationship with God. However now, we have Jesus to facilitate our relationship with the Father. It is through him and because of what he did on the cross that we get to call God our Father.
Jesus, on the wall in the tattoo shop. He’s even doing a blessing, what more can I say?
Anyone suggesting that a Levitical law is valid today is living under the old covenant, ie: forgetting about what Jesus did for us. In fact this is so fundamental I honestly don’t know why people keep bringing up OT scriptures for specific things today and saying we need to adhere to them. My OT biblical studies tutor once said that everything in the OT points to Jesus. So we have to view it through that lens, you cannot read the OT without him in mind.
However, if you must do that, then I fully expect you to follow all the commands in Numbers and all the Levitical laws not just picking those that suit you.
For example, your son has fallen over and gashed his knee and you clean up the cut – you must sacrifice a lamb or goat to make up for your sin of uncleanliness (Leviticus 5). Or, have you ever worn a Polycotton shirt? Wool blend jumper? (Leviticus 19:19) then you are sinning against the Lord. Enjoy a nice rare steak? (Lev 19:26) Yup that too. Cut your hair, shaved (Lev 19:27), said something bad about your parents (Lev 20:9) and frankly what teenager hasn’t? – bad news for you, you get the death penalty… and on the list goes. In actual fact there isn’t a specified punishment for getting a tattoo according to the OT anyway.
Now, look I’d be lying if I said I had never taken a scripture out of context to make a point, we all do it to some extent, but seriously, do your homework people! Whether it’s on this issue or any other, you need to know what the bible actually says and why.
2. Your body is a temple.
Hurrah a New Testament scripture! (1 Corinthians 6:19)
Well yes this is true, however I would point out that this is another scripture taken out of context as it’s actually referring to sexual immorality, and as one of Paul’s letters is addressing something of relevance specifically to the church at Corinth.
However, yes this is a good principle to live by, if Jesus lives within us, then we should treat our bodies well, we should recognise that we are holy too. But some of the most famous and holy temples or churches are decorated with stunning and beautiful artwork and adornment and it’s all for the glory of God. I mean going back to the OT, just look at some of the descriptions of how God wanted the temple to be. In Exodus 25 we read how the tabernacle was to be made and in 2 Chronicles 3 on the building of the temple. Beautiful descriptions of detail, precious stones, carvings, details, all for the glory of God…
So if it’s ok for God…
And in addition, how do we take this anyway? Do we never drink caffeine or alcohol? do we refuse to wear make up? Do we only ever eat super healthy food that cannot possibly harm us?
So there you go, two points on why I think tattoos are ok.
But adding to that, here’s why I had mine done. I have been thinking about getting one for a long time, like years, I’ve prayed about it, had different ideas, drawn things out. I really wanted something Godly, something biblical and I wanted a mark that said I am his. But I also wanted something personal to me.
In the end I went with the word Selah, which I have written about several times. Selah is important to me as it’s a reminder to take time to rest and to seek God, to reflect on Him. I wanted something where I could see it as a daily reminder to me to do just that. not that I need reminding to seek God but I do reminding to seek rest and rest in him. So I had that put on my wrist in a place where I will see it every day and be reminded.
It’s not that big or amazingly creative but I didn’t need it to be, I just wanted something simple as I said, to remind me.
I’ve just finished reading Ian Paul’s new Grove booklet ‘Evangelical Leadership: Challenges and Opportunities’ having been sent a copy to review.
He starts out by looking at whether the notion of ‘leadership’ is biblical, an interesting question certainly. It’s a label that has been so important in wider society for decades but only really in recent years within the church. He takes the reader through some biblical concepts from both Old Testament and New in order to unpack this, which I found really helpful, as well as touching on some of the recent reports written on leadership in the church.
In fact throughout the guide Paul refers to other writers and looks at their approaches, which brings a wider viewpoint to what is essentially a short guide, as Grove booklets are. Something I like about Grove books in general is that you can read them in one sitting but that there is lots of meat if you want to explore a bit further, and this one is no different. It left me wanting to go back and start again and really get into the nitty gritty of what he is saying. In fact though I was sent the guide digitally for free to review, I will be buying my own hard copy so I can add notes and scribble on it to my heart’s content!
The title notes ‘challenges and opportunities’ and that’s exactly what it does, highlighting some of the key issues and needs for evangelical leaders today. Paul doesn’t shy away from the tough stuff, in fact he openly embraces it and rather insightfully I feel, notes how we can deal with it. For example noting how the rise of the evangelical tradition, and a significant number of evangelicals in senior leadership positions in the church, means that we now have more of a voice and need to learn to embrace that and use it.
He also looks at what it means to be an evangelical in a tradition that is about as broad in it’s understanding as the CofE itself, with some interesting notes on the variations in what the label means.
Being a Mission Pastor, I was particularly drawn to the chapter on ‘Being Missional’ which highlights some key ways in which churches can enter into mission whilst also noting the potential difficulties. Really helpful especially for those who don’t know where to start or what ‘mission’ even means today!
Each chapter also has helpful questions and points of reflection to take the reader further and to encourage them to look at both their own faith and style of leadership but also that of the congregation.
Who is it for?
If you are starting to think about leadership as an evangelical, or perhaps you are a leader but haven’t given it much thought, this guide is a really great starting point. It is both interesting and yet useful (not always an easy match to make), theoretical without going too deep, and touches on both the individual and corporate.
Who is Ian Paul?
I first came across Ian via his blog. I don’t always agree with what he writes but I do always appreciate the thoroughness of his posts and the challenges he poses – go check it out! However, aside from that he is also Associate Minister at St Nic’s, Nottingham and Honorary Assistant Professor at the University of Nottingham and tweets at @Psephizo amongst other things.
Where do I get it?
It’s available now, from Grove books here for just £3.95 – what a bargain! You can either download it or get sent a paperback copy. If you want to know a bit more about it before you part with your hard earned cash then Ian writes about it on his blog here.
This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my word for the year). This month we have Ali Campbell from ‘The Resource’.
“Find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss joy is to miss all.” Robert Louis Stevenson
My eldest daughter, Hannah, was 4. It was a hot day in June and she begged me for a ride on the bike. At this time, although going great guns on a tricycle, “a ride on the bike” meant sitting behind me on a seat attachment while I pedalled.
We set off. Heading out of our road and off in to Lindfield, it was pretty much downhill all the way. There were squeals from behind me as we freewheeled our way to the park. We chained the bike and messed about in the park, climbing, swinging, running, hiding and jumping… all the usual stuff. Then came the time to head home. I’d been run ragged and was not looking forward to trudging back up the hill we had freewheeled down!
If I was tired, this was nothing compared to 4 year old legs on a hungry and worn out Hannah. I plonked her in the bike seat and began pushing the bike. Now, in my head this conversation started… I’m ashamed to remember it, but it went something like this, “Man, we need to get back… I’m shattered.” “I wish I was 4 and someone was pushing me up a hill… AND, we haven’t even GOT to the hill yet!” “Flip, I’m unfit!”…
When I say “conversation” as I said, it was in my head. One of those internal dialogues with myself I do. Maybe you do that? Anyway… there I am “monologuing” away to myself, now beginning to feel the burn in my calfs as I pushed up the incline.
I turned round for a moment. There. On my daughters face. A great big beam! She was grinning. She was chuckling away to herself. She was WAVING to the cars and pedestrians from her throne as I sweated and strained with the bike.
My internal dialogue would have shifted to a shout if It had been out loud. “WHAT does she think she is doing?” “THIS isn’t fun, if she could swap places with me for 5 seconds she wouldn’t be grinning and waving!” I think at this point my internal grumbling might have become an audible muttering under my breath as I continued to push and heave us up the hill.
From behind me my daughter suddenly exclaimed,
“I’m so happy!”
Boom. My internal voice of dissatisfaction, frustration, selfish and silly nonsense was stunned in to silence.
I felt tears prick my eyes.
Here we were, sharing a precious afternoon on this beautiful day – the same experience, the same time, seeing the same things, doing the same things (well, apart from the pushing from me and all the sitting from Hannah!)…
My daughter was full of joy and delight. That exclamation was unbidden, I hadn’t asked her how she was, if she had enjoyed the afternoon… it was just a natural response to what was happening, our time together, the fun of watching the world go by as her Dad pushed her up a hill!
I began to feel it. I began to feel a bit of the overspill of joy from my daughter. A different internal conversation began, “This is amazing!”, “What was wrong with me? I nearly missed this!” “How wonderful… !” Physically, I was not feeling wonderful (good grief my calves are burning!) but, suddenly I looked at our time together and the day completely differently.
I started above with a quote, “to miss joy is to miss all”. Did you know that kids laugh and smile about 400 times a day? Adults might hit 20 times on a good day.
Joy for me is found, increasingly, in delighting in what is right in front of me. As a dad I just don’t want to miss magic moments with my kids, and what that story showed with Hannah was, even though I was THERE – actually spending time with my amazing daughter, I nearly missed how special and precious that time was. It took my 4 year old to express her feelings in three simple words – I’m so glad I heard them and responded.
There is joy in the mundane, the ordinary, the regular, the usual moments of life. For a child there is a joy and wonder that overflows and creates those 400 laughs and smiles a day. I don’t want to become childish, but I do want to become more childlike. I want to regress and rediscover laughter, fun and joy at the heart of the everyday – EVERY day.
Ali runs “The Resource” which is aimed at equipping, supporting and encouraging those who work with children, young people and families in the church and community. Ali is passionate about seeing this generation reached with the Good News and equipped to live life to the full – John 10:10!
This morning’s preach from 2 Samuel 6 looking at worship, God’s presence and going to the next level with God… Text below:
This morning we are continuing our series on David and we are looking specifically at Worship. Which is why I am preaching before we go into our time of sung worship. Because I’d love us to really learn from David’s experience this morning and perhaps take some of that with us as we sing and worship God.
So, our chapter starts as David has been made king. We know that he was, the bible says, was ‘a man after God’s heart’, a man of great faith, although not without his own mistakes of course as we have heard about in this series. But one thing I really love about this passage is how we see David putting God front and foremost of his new kingdom, he wants God at the centre of his new reign and he wants everyone to know about it. And we see him making a very public show of this when he attempts to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem after it had been taken during battle. We truly see David as a ‘man after God’s heart’
Ark of the Covenant
So let’s just start by taking a quick look at the Ark of the Covenant – why was it so important to David? Well, in Exodus we can read how God told Moses to make the Ark of the Covenant, (Exodus 25:22) and said to him it would be the place he would meet with him. So that’s pretty amazing right? A place where the living God would meet with one man.
It was part of the tabernacle, or tent, like a traveling temple that went with the Israelites in the wilderness, and God said he would dwell among them there.
So as a result of this the Ark of the Covenant, symbolised God’s presence, God dwelling among his people.
It was also used to keep the tablets of the 10 commandments and according to Hebrews 9:4, Aarons rod that budded and a pot of manna. So there’s a lot of symbolism here, the tablets symbolising Gods law, or instruction; Aarons rod = symbolising new life, or life out of death, resurrection even; and the manna – God sustains, the bread of life.
On the ark was the ‘mercy seat’ where God was said to be, and on the Day of Atonement in Jewish law, the High Priest would sprinkle blood from the sacrifices over the mercy seat to atone for the sins of people, so they could be right with God. A symbol of forgiveness.
And this is important, al this symbolism and meaning, I will come back to that…
So… when David wanted to bring the ark to Jerusalem, this was hugely significant, for him, and for the people. The Ark symbolised God’s presence. Something that David wanted to be with him in all things.
However I think in his enthusiasm he has maybe got little bit carried away and not thought it all through. I bet we’ve all done that right?
Well I definitely have, I’m always coming up with crazy things to do (well I think they are amazing obvs) and then throwing myself into them without thinking through what it means or the consequences. I once ripped a hole in the wall of our house, convinced there was an old fire place behind it (there wasn’t) and another time I painted an entire room of our house bright red when my husband was away on business (I think it looked amazing, had to convince the husband!), and I am sure Phil, can fill you in on many of my hair brained schemes.
That I think is what David has done here, filled with enthusiasm, he’s thought yes I want God at the centre of my kingdom (admirable of course) let’s go get the ark, come on chaps lets go…. And David is a very prayerful man, we often see him enquiring of the Lord, or seeking God though interestingly we don’t here…
And then we see the results, a man dead, David living in fear.
Not quite what he had planned. Doesn’t sound very Godly does it?
Well there’s two things I really want to highlight here. Firstly this is all about God’s presence, but secondly we also see God teaching David something new here, David, a faithful worshipper, being taken to the next level, as it were.
So firstly lets look at God’s presence – When God is present, things are revealed, the light shines into the darkness and shines on things that are hidden. So let’s look at how that impacts a few of our key characters…
Uzzah, we have to look at him, I mean poor chap, it seems a bit rough doesn’t it, he was just trying to help, wasn’t he?
Well actually God gave specific instructions for the Ark and other holy items, about holiness, reverence and care, (Numbers 4) which said amongst other things that only specific people were to carry the ark, using poles attached to it, and were not allowed to touch it or he says they would die.
Now we know that Uzzah was one of the sons of Abinadab in whose house the ark had been kept prior to this. I wonder if he really got it, what the ark was about. After all it had just been in his home for some time, perhaps just like any other bit of furniture. Perhaps he had been told to do this by his Father, you can imagine, Dad do I have to… begrudgingly going along.
He didn’t recognise the holiness of it, he didn’t respect God.
So there it was the holiest thing on earth and it’s on a cart (admittedly a new cart there was some thought…) and when Uzzah reached out to support it, just like any other piece of furniture, in God’s presence was revealed his apathy, and lack of reverence and respect for God.
And David, was does God’s presence reveal in David?
I think it’s pride. He thinks he’s doing the most amazing thing, but when it goes wrong, what’s his reaction? V8: anger
This was not what he had planned, a big triumphal entry, celebration, and instead it’s all gone wrong and a man is dead. Of course he’s angry, but he’s angry because of his pride and God’s presence reveals that.
Where was God in his planning?
I wonder, have you ever experienced that? That your plans have gone horribly wrong? Maybe people have got hurt?
Cut if need!
Years ago I ran an art gallery and it came to a point where I needed to sell it. Now I have to be honest I’m not sure I really consulted God on it all. I just knew it had to go and got on with dealing with it. And because of my lack of care and thought what happened was the people who worked for me pretty much went into revolt, and I was angry about their response.
I didn’t consider them in it all, I just forged ahead with my own plans. I know it seems so obvious and I certainly wouldn’t do it now, but then I just thought I was doing what I had to do.
And you know what made me realise? When God sent a Christian friend to talk to me, and I realised how foolish I had been. She brought God’s presence into the situation and for me, it revealed my own selfishness and pride.
God’s presence reveals… but we usually have a choice what we do with that revelation (well apart from Uzzah…)
What does David do? he’s angry then fearful. I think he was worried about himself.
After all what would the people think? David has brought this God into the kingdom and someone had died? Not a great start right? Would the people rise up against him? And sends the ark off to Obed-Edoms’ house. And that I think is what rugby players call a ‘hospital pass’ – ie: you get thrown the ball just as some massive winger is about to thrown themselves at you. What on earth was Obed Edom thinking. Some poor chap has died just touching this ridiculous golden box and the king wants me to have it in my home? Er. No thanks!
But actually his family is blessed by the presence of the ark, probably I think because they treated it with reverence and fear. I mean wouldn’t you..?!
And David could have remained angry and cross and full of pride. I could have remained cross and angry at my staff and think I was in the right. But he sees he’s in the wrong and he chooses to do it all again, properly this time…
So the ark is carried as it should be, there are sacrifices after just 6 steps!! David was dressed in a linen ephod, which was a priestly garment, so he was joining with the other Priests in order to fully enter this ceremony with holiness. ( 1 Chronicles 15:27)
But basically it’s a full on party with much celebration, I bet there was some great Dad dancing going on!
And what about Michal, what do we see revealed in her through the presence of God? Hate and Pride. Hate is revealed. V 16 says she ‘despised David’ in all her heart when she saw him dancing. And she absolutely lays into him. Can you imagine, David must have come in from all that celebrating, totally elated, on a spiritual high – you know what is like, you’ve been in a really amazing service, just felt so close to God, you feel amazing! Ever experienced that?
And she just stuck a pin in it! ‘Do you know what you looked like? what an idiot! ‘ And that can happen to us too, people who have not experienced the presence of God for themselves, not understood what it means to follow Jesus, they can do the same to us too.
Michal is a spectator here too, have you noticed, she’s watching him from inside, from a window in the palace. Why wasn’t she joining in with the celebration like anyone else?
What is it that she doesn’t like? I think it is her own pride that is revealed. Perhaps she feels that she is reduced to the level of the servants, as his wife?
In God’s presence her pride and hate is revealed and she too has a choice. To be part of God’s kingdom with David, or stand with the old guard, the old kingdom, Saul her fathers kingdom the one that went against God and resulted in death.
This is Michal’s moment to choose, does she repent like David has and change her ways? Well we don’t know for sure.
But there is an interesting line right at the end v.23 and I want to highlight this because it says that she had no children until the day she died. That can be a difficult thing to read, is there an assumption that God struck her because of her attitude? Well let me say right now, no! We do not believe that God strikes people down like this, we do not in any way think that childlessness for any reason is a curse from God.
In fact there could be other reasons for this line, for example it could be as simple as David was so annoyed with her that he never slept with her again (don’t forget he had several wives and concubines, he had options!!),but I think it is actually highlighting something different here because barrenness in the bible can symbolise spiritual barrenness.
The contrast between her and David here is vast. David, totally sold out on worshipping God and Michal criticising him. She is spiritually barren, unable to see God, unable to experience his presence, we don’t know why but one reason possibly is to remember she was the daughter of Saul, the previous king who tried so hard to kill David, and who went against God so many times. Perhaps she has just turned against God?
But we do see that David has changed – his response to her outburst?
Fresh from worship here he is revealed in God’s presence as he should be, a faithful servant, and he stands firm – ‘I will be even more undignified than this! (v.21-22)I will be humiliated’, he doesn’t care, because he knows he is worshipping God.
It is the presence of God that highlights things and can change things.
The presence of God that shines light into the darkness that reveals, that invites, that restores.
Another interesting thing…
So usually (not always) we think about coming to worship God, in order to encounter him don’t we? It’s through our praises that he is attracted to, that we get to encounter him. But here I actually think it’s the opposite, it is the presence of God through the ark of the covenant that looses David into such free and abandoned worship. It’s like it’s the opposite way round, does this make sense?
So, as David encounters God’s presence, is changed as a result, and renewed, his response is in utterly abandoned worship. Totally engaged in it, focussed on God, let go.
David Watson said that worship is a delight not a duty and it seems like here we see the delight in David’s worship.
I think what we see here is God taking David to another level of worship, of faith and of relationship with him. We know David is an amazingly faithful man, we know he is a man after God’s heart, we know he is prayerful and focussed on God, but here we are seeing something new. He made a mistake and there were consequences, but he put them right and he sought God in worship in a new way. And so often I find when we have dealt with something, or have been through something tough, or God has revealed himself to us and we respond to that, often that’s when God takes us onto something new, a new level of encounter with him.
In fact I have experienced that for myself, there was a time in a service where I was (not here I should say). Like Michal, feeling overly critical about some things that were going on, when I really felt God correcting me for my attitude. I saw that I was being judgemental and full of pride. I began to say sorry and at that moment someone came over and prayed for me. As they prayed there was a huge release of the Holy Spirit that touched me in ways I have never experienced before. And I believe that was through correction, and then my willingness to reach out to God and repent that he then took me to another level. Since then I have felt so much more released in worship, able to let go more and just be led by him.
And for us, what does all of this mean? Can we truly have the presence of God with us? Can we encounter God like David did?
It’s all about Jesus!
Well the thing is, we don’t need the Ark of the covenant to meet with God of course, because Jesus means we can meet with him whenever we like! We carry the presence of God within us, in Jesus. How amazing is that?! We don’t need to sacrifice before the mercy seat because Jesus has already done it for us. Jesus fulfils all that the ark signifies: the meeting place of God with his people, the symbol of atonement, of forgiveness, the taking of our sins, now it’s all in Jesus.
He is the fulfilment of the law (in the 10 commandments tablets), he is the resurrection, bringing us new life from death, he is our bread of life… he is all that we need…
And so, what is Jesus revealing in us? As we come into God’s presence, whether now in worship or in times of prayer, in fellowship times, what does he highlight in us?
Because we too have a choice – Do we want a life of apathy and lack of care like Uzzah? Or do we give in to a life of bitterness, criticising and hate like Michal? Or do we want a life of choosing Jesus, a life being abandoned to God like David (whatever that looks like for us?)
We have a choice too…
lead into worship/ministry time…
And as we go into worship now I would love us all to be truly seeking God’s presence and asking for a fresh revelation of who he is,
to give to him those things that might be holding us back from abandonment to him, for him to take us, all of us, to the next level…
So, continuing my journey into liturgy you may wonder why I am looking at praying in tongues… Well let’s go back a bit…
Like many people I grew up attending traditional village churches, so I also grew up reciting formal liturgy, which, as many find, quickly becomes second nature. I found myself from a relatively early age reciting the words, not needing a book in order to know what to say. For many this is a huge comfort but for me over the years I have found it really difficult. I would often find myself drifting off as I recited the words and not really thinking about what I was saying. Perhaps that is partly why I now find myself more comfortable in a charismatic church with more of a sense of freedom in that respect (although it is fair to say The Point does have it’s own style of liturgy).
Now I should note that my faith then was not what it is now, and I accept that had it been I may have felt differently. However over the last few years, going through discernment and studying, I have experienced and worshipped with many variations of liturgy, have undertaken daily prayer and encouraged myself to try new forms of more formal liturgy. At times this has actually been a joy as I have found new words that I have prayed right from the heart, but at others the old tensions have arisen again and I find myself frustrated. It has been a journey of, to be honest, love and hate.
Recently, I had a chat with my Vicar about this who noted a conversation he had once had in which it was suggested that formal liturgy could take the same role as praying in tongues. So just as the liturgical words we repeat become second nature so that we don’t really know what we are saying on occasion, when we pray in tongues we equally are not aware of what we are saying. In that sense with both, we are simply being obedient to God and his presence within us.
Challenged…? I was.
Of course our formal liturgy has developed over the last 2000 years in the life of the church, but the origins of current Anglican liturgy are found in Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer which was a seminal work, aiming to enable the average person on the street to meet with God without distraction. The Bishop of London notes that it offered the:
‘possibility of an approach to God which is hard or impossible to express in the language of the street’
Interesting… couldn’t we say exactly the same of praying in tongues?
In fact 1 Corinthians 14:2 notes
For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God
a prayer language focused from the pray-er towards God. Of course this is less corporate than formal liturgy, it’s a personal, heart cry to God alone.
From my own and others experience of praying in tongues, often people don’t know what to pray, but that they feel God’s guidance into what he wants them to pray. In this sense then there is an element of being removed from the prayer itself, but a willing obedience to pray as God leads.
When joining in the liturgy in a church service, we are also acting in obedience, using the prescribed words to reach out to God, both personally and corporately. There can also be a level of removal from the prayer, as the mind is not engaged in thinking of words to say, but simply in repeating them or reading them.
Let me clarify, I’m not trying to argue for one over the other, it’s more an exploration into prayer that has helped me…
Both aim to enable an encounter with God. A friend recently told me that he attends a BCP service every week and has done for years. Of course after so long, he knows the liturgy for this service very well and says that that it enables him to enter into meeting God without distraction as he doesn’t need to read the words or hold a book. The very thing that I find frustrating!
I was very fortunate recently to have the opportunity to meet up with David Pytches to talk about liturgy and prayer. We talked over this subject and he was an absolute mine of information. Something that particularly stood out, and I suppose it’s obvious, was that he talked of the importance of intention. He noted that whenever we come to worship we do so with the intention of worship, our hearts turned towards God. Perhaps that is a key role of liturgy: to enable our intention to worship? When I turn to prayer, it is usually without prepared words, but with an openness to being led by God. There are of course times when words fail me, when I feel unable to pray, perhaps when burdened or anxious. It is then that words of liturgy can be vital, enabling us to enter intentionally into prayer or worship when our own minds fail. Likewise, can the words of praying in tongues, in a different way of course, be perhaps just as vital, when we cannot find words for ourselves? For me, yes, absolutely vital!
I wrote about intention last year when I was thinking about prayer doodling. Could it be that my creativitiy was a prayer to God? I believe that if we give all to God – in whatever form our prayer takes – that’s what counts. So whether we are praying words we’ve spoken 1000 times (or more), going off in some crazy language, just uttering a few basic words, or colouring on a page, I think God is more concerned with the heart, not the thing itself. After all 1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that God is more interested in the heart, not the outward. And I love this from The Message version:
Humans are satisfied with whatever looks good;
God probes for what is good. Proverbs 16:2 (MSG)
So then, where do I end up? Perhaps with no more answers than to say again, that all our prayers are valid! We are all different and I think then it’s understandable that we should reach out to God in different ways. And more and more we are finding ‘church’ done in different ways, so perhaps it’s important to keep asking questions like these as the traditions change and the church embraces new ways of worship.
As always would love to know peoples thoughts, do comment or drop me a message on the Facebook page or via Twitter…
So, in continuation of my avoidance of addressing ‘how I’m actually feeling’ I’m catching up on some posts I’ve been wanting to write for a while.
As part of my course we get sent on a church placement and then write an assessed portfolio, which includes various elements. One of these is an essay, which by some random twist I ended up writing on liturgy. This was a surprise to me, a raving charismatic, but throughout my placement I found myself fascinated by formal liturgy and actually chose to write about it (yeah I know, I was as shocked as everyone else…). Anyway, the essay itself looked at how charismatic worship and formal liturgy mirror each other, but I could have written several different essays as I found myself drawn into many themes. So I’m going to do a few posts on the subject. The first is based on the essay itself (which hasn’t been marked yet so who knows if it’s a load of old tosh). Then I am also going to look at praying in tongues and liturgy; and finally, what might be missing from a church that does not use formal liturgy…
So, this fascination with liturgy all started with something my placement supervisor said:
where there is a thick curtain between heaven and earth
our role is to remove that to peer in…
He comes from a different style of churchmanship to myself and yet I really loved this line, I could agree with him on it. Whilst ‘divine worship’ (as opposed to worshipping possessions money, fame etc) is maybe waning in popularity in the UK, research shows that many people are still seeking the spiritual and mysterious (See Mobsby’s book below). So both within and outside the church, as ministers, we have to find ways to enable people to encounter God, or as he put it, to peer into heaven and encounter God for themselves. It’s not a new idea of course, even Archbishop Cranmer recognised it, with his view of the ‘spiritual presence’ of God in the Eucharist underpinning his remodelling of the prayer book. There is more to liturgy than just the Eucharist of course, but that’s what I focussed on in my essay as it formed a common point between informal charismatic worship and more formal liturgy for me to write on.
Just as the Christian life is a journey, the Eucharistic service is itself a journey, one that is repeated regularly. As, throughout life, Christians aim to become more Christlike and leave behind the sin and baggage, so each service enables a smaller ritual version of this. And it requires a journey. A journey from our seat, from our own state of mind – towards God, and to encounter him whether through the Eucharist itself or throughout the service. In a more charismatic environment, this journey may be less formal, perhaps more noisy or messy, even allowing the encounter at a different point, but the destination is the same: to encounter God.
And it’s actually amazing how similar the journeys are in different styles of worship. The journey to encounter begins gathered together, preparing one’s heart for worship. In the liturgical approach (according to the patterns of Common Worship in the CofE) this journey is divided into sections: Gathering, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of the Sacrament and Dismissal; each one with it’s own elements. It is often assumed that in more charismatic worship these elements are thrown out the window, but in many cases the format itself is surprisingly similar.
For example, hymns and songs in worship were originally used to share doctrinal statements and biblical truths in gathered worship. Now, as liturgical prayers take the worshipper on a journey largely in word format, much of the role of the formal liturgy in the charismatic church is now taken by music, with perhaps the most well known part of a charismatic service being a block of songs sung together. They are usually sung in a flowing order that takes the worshipper from a place of approaching God, through to a closer more intimate place. In some cases specific prayers are replaced with songs in charismatic worship like Hillsong’s version of The Apostles Creed or Matt Redman’s ‘Benediction’ which takes the words from Numbers 6 Priestly blessing and puts them to music. In fact just as much of our liturgy is based on scripture, so in fact are many modern worship songs.
This idea of journey also varies as we move at different speeds through the service, but even the words of one song can act as a prayer to take us as worshippers from one place to another, like a formal confession might do. Some think (as I have written about before) that the familiarity of words in formal liturgy enables the congregation to engage with worship more readily as they join with the familiar, regardless of their own condition, but this is equally so in the charismatic as this an be played out through the singing of songs that are familiar and sometimes repetitive.
I’m focussing a lot on the music I know, but I really feel it mirrors the role of formal spoken liturgy. In fact as I’ve also been thinking about sacraments, I find it really interesting that Bono has talked, possibly controversially, of music as a Sacrament. Perhaps that is for another post but bearing in mind that in more formal worship the encounter with God is often at the point of the Eucharist (a sacrament) it is too much to ignore! For some the action of receiving communion is an encounter in itself, whilst for others it is something more individual: a sense, a feeling, a prayer.
This post is I recognise in a different tone to my usual style, coming as it does from academic study, so perhaps it’s time to close and leave you with something to think about. Solet me leave you with this thought from Nick Drake who suggests that modern (musical) worship leaders could be ‘the new liturgists’. If this is the case, are worship leaders also the new ministers? Are they leading the church in a liturgical way? Should they be recognised, ordained even? Just something to ponder on…
This is clearly a blog post and not an academic piece so I haven’t included references, but here are some of my sources (below) which I would thoroughly recommend and I’m more than happy to share the original essay with citations, if anyone is remotely interested. Just drop me a message with your email address.
Anderson, E.B. (2003) Worship and Christian Identity: Practicing Ourselves Collegeville : Liturgical Press
Dix, D.G. (1945) The Shape of the Liturgy London : Dacre
Drake, N. (2014) A Deeper Note: The ‘Informal’ Theology of Contemporary Sung Worship Cambridge : Grove
Forrester, D. McDonald, J. & Tellini, G. (1983) Encounter With God Edinburgh : T. & T. Clark
Gittoes, J. Green, B. & Heard, J. (2013) Generous Ecclesiology: Church, World and the Kingdom of God Kindle Edition London : SCM Press
Gray-Reeves, M. & Perham, M. (2011) The Hospitality of God London : SPCK
Lathrop, G. (1998) Holy Things Minneapolis : Augsburg Fortress
MacCulloch, D (1999) ‘Introduction’ in The Book of Common Prayer London : Everyman
Mobsby, I. (2006) Emerging and Fresh Expressions of Church, How are They Authentically Church and Anglican? London : Moot Community Publishing
Pytches, D. (1985) Come Holy Spirit London : Hodder & Stoughton
Pytches, D. (2015) The Way They Pray (privately published)
It’s a funny old place to be at the moment with one thing ending and a new one not yet begun. I know I wrote about being in transition recently, but this is worse. I had told myself I wouldn’t begin to process it all until after my Easter study week. Unfortunately for me Easter Study Week is now a memory and my own enforced deadline is here, well in fact it has passed. Cue melt down…
But for now there will be an interlude, my kids are still off school and I really need time to think and pray through things. I had a little wobble at the end of Easter School but I felt myself putting the lid firmly back on it all for now. I simply haven’t the time or energy to think through the enormity of what is about to happen.
Because it is flippin’ enormous, let’s face it.
I know a few others have been feeling the same at this stage, which is in some small part a comfort. At least it’s not just me on the verge of losing it every 5 minutes. And I’m not the only one saying: I can’t get ordained, I won’t get ordained, I don’t believe in ordination – and everything in between.
So for now I’m in ostrich mode, head in the sand, deal with what’s in front of me only. My prayer walks, usually my time to engage with God, seem to be rather bland, and whilst frustrating I feel it’s a necessary place. It’s me of course, holding him at arms length but I can’t face the open and honest prayer time that I really need right now.
I’ve been away in Canterbury at Vicar School all week and have so much to process and reflect on, plenty of blog fodder coming up soon but for now just this. This photo was taken on the first evening of the week and I love how the rainbow seems to end at the pot of gold, the cathedral.
And this was just one scripture that really stood out to me one day at Morning Prayer. Such an amazing thought, isn’t it – that God would incline his ear towards anyone, let alone me. You know those times when you can’t quite hear someone, you lean in closer, wanting to hear what they are saying. It’s like that – God leaning in, cupping his ear maybe, not wanting to miss a word. Even when I am not saying anything at all, he’s there, inclining towards me…