Wineskins Archive

January 21, 2014

The Sounds of Worship (Aug 1992)

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by Jeff Berryman
August, 1992

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

It has become proverbial that modern people think less clearly than their “good ol’ days” ancestors. It is common knowledge that rulers of democracies and commonwealths are determined by the effectiveness of sound-bite techno-strategies.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Our eyes are dull with the glaze of prime-time pabulum and sitcoms. Our fingers are numb with grasping petty cash and goods, numb with touching forbidden flesh, numb with meaningless twiddling of time and thumbs. Our taste is filmy, a left-over grunge of spirits and goblins, indulgences that leave us fat and unsatisfied. And our ears – oh, our ears – what do they hear in this cavernous, swallowing world of spiritual and human noise?

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

And so we come to worship, we believers. We who are not of the world. We come to by holy (as if!), to praise (it’s a fad), to pray (to whom?), to wait (for what?), and perhaps – God help us – to hear a word from the regions of forever.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

One of the final, dominant phrases of the Book these words come to me, echoing through the centuries like a keening cry for help, like a call to war I want no part of. I listen, I hear … nothing. Unlike John, I have no great desire to fall on my face. (That’s especially true because I have a lunch date after worship service.) Imagine – a king comes to see me, stars in his fist, sword sticking out of his mouth, whacking out these words, this roaring command, this clarion call to listen, and I grab a song book and belt ’em with the best. Imagine – a Creator’s ocean voice shriveling into a subtle whisper nestled somewhere in the back of a pew.

What is there to hear in worship?

“Excuse me, what number did he say?”

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

What is there to hear in worship? What are the sounds of a Sunday morning in the midst of what we typically think of as worship?

At 9:00 a.m. (starting time), it’s the quiet “Mornin’s” and “Lookin’ sharp todays” that the worshippers offer to their Blest-Be-the-Tie-That-Binds brothers and sisters. There are songs to be heard (if the acoustics are good), prayers to be “amened,” and sermons to be sat through and impressed by. Radical churches may even have clapping (“This ain’t supposed t’be entertainment, Marge. I ain’t comin’ back!”). Then there are the children, noisemakers that they are, easily the biggest distraction on a Sunday. (“I don’t know why I come. Kids and worship just don’t mix.”) Some of my personal favorites include the little clinkigs of bread trays, the occasional clatter of a tray and its contents dropped, and the easy swishing of cash into plates. And you can’t forget the mass grabbing of song books (zzripp! zzripp! zzripp!) on the invitation cue.

That’s on the surface. If that’s all you hear, you are what musicians call monophonic. You can’t hear anything but the melody line. And a symphony is more – much, much more – than a tune.

Let me ask the question again:

What is there to hear in the worship of God?

The beat of our own hearts, perhaps? How about our reluctance to sing a particular song because it isn’t (in our view) appropriate? Other attitudes? Thoughts? If our inner musings became audible, what would be heard? Over heavy sighs stuffed with self-pity and disguised pride? Greedy slurpings because “they” came in a new Cadillac? Bored snores of dull disinterest, too tired to care whether or not God is around?

And what about the sounds in the people around you? What’s the sound of the silent tear staining the life of the girl over there in the red dress? What is the noise of a new mom’s joy? Of new Christian’s release from sin and death? Of dreams crackling, lives splintering, hope shattering? What sound does hurt make?

That’s the seen world. How about the noise of the unseen?

What are the sounds of cherubim’s wings? Seraphim singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”? Angels matching voices with ours as we call the heavens to join our praise? Would we recognize the sound of the Spirit’s groaning for us? What is the clamorous noise of raging, soulful battle over the souls of God’s children?

What s the sound of 1,247 prayers easing through a Sunday ceiling? Are we open to the vibrations of praise that soar from “all ye hills and mountains high”? What is the sound of God’s joy, his pleasure, his revelry in his people? What might it be like to hear him laugh? Would we know the voice of God even if it came?

In worship and praise, and n fact, throughout our entire lives with Christ, there is much to hear. Voices, calls, songs, mournings, laughs, and a thousand other sounds. Some are to be relished and grasped, helpful and thrilling as they are. Some are to be imagined, dreamed over, longed for. Still others are hellish, to be ignored and rejected, killed on the first note. But Scripture is emphatic about one sound. And if there is one sound to be surrounded by and lived in throughout eternity, it would be the one that Job says “thunders in marvelous ways.”

It is the sound of the voice of God.

Frankly, whenever God’s word is read, I get a little nervous, especially if the words are something like “You are my people. I am your God. Listen to me.” It’s as if he is speaking now, in space and time, with his own vocal chords, and saying something to me, something new, something to stop me dead in my tracks. I sneak a look around at the congregation behind me. Yawns. Shifting body weight. People reading bulletins. Teenagers passing notes. Someone stares into space, then looks at his shoes. I turn back to the podium. The scripture reading is over, and I wonder if we heard what God just said.

But, is the voice of God simply the Word read? I think not. If you’re like me, it makes you nervous too hear people talking about “hearing a word from the lord.” But I’m increasingly convinced of the logic to the idea that, if God is present here and now, and his children gather in his presence to seek him, he just might say something! And why would he speak, if not to be heard?

The voice of God is a mystery, and the hearing of it is his to give. When I praise him, consider him, seek him, I feel an awareness opening. In such moments of true worship, of true inner bowing down, of true adoration and thoughtful and God-filled devotion and sacrifice, the voice of God is there to be heard.

I pray for such moments.

Oh, God, our ears are dull. We are a deaf people. Our senses are deadened, satiated by a constant barrage of dark noise and meaningless hum-drummings. Where has our stillness gone? Where is your stillness, the quiet trickle of life’s river? Lord, hush us. Silence our tongues, even as we praise. Break our prideful shouts. Shut up our self-pity and pretentiousness. Lead us again to calm, so we can hear the truth in the world’s noise. Let the cries of the people haunt us. Let the weeping of your lost children move us to prayer and action. May you live in our praises, even as they form in our mouths, and may we hear in every word of Scripture a marvelous thunder. Your voice is a mystery whose secret we would learn. In our assemblies, O God, as we pray, as we sing, as we praise, and as we preach, open our ears. Teach us to listen to the reality of every sound in the place and time of worship filled with truth and spirit. Father, give us ears to hear, and let us hear.

In the name of Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, Amen.Wineskins Magazine

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