On Sunday evening when I was about to preach in Portadown, we were led in singing an old, simple, but profound chorus: ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus.’ It has a line about the things of earth growing strangely dim ‘in the light of his glory and grace.’
It’s good to sing. Often our minds are all over the place, even when we are sitting in corporate worship. Ireland had just lost narrowly to Wales in rugby’s Six Nations: I don’t know how many of the congregation were still trying to figure out the fairness of the two yellow cards! And, for the footballers, Manchester United had just completed a remarkable come-back against Chelsea. You’d hardly argue with those “things of earth” growing strangely dim. Beyond that I don’t know how many people were thinking about getting back to work on Monday morning, or were still running replays of a row with their spouse from the middle of the previous week, or were wondering if their doctor was going to increase their tablets, or if their son would pass his driving test. And so on!
Sometimes before church services, someone will pray along the lines of that little chorus. That we’d be able to forget all that is going on in our lives and just focus on Jesus.
I understand it. As I said, I like that chorus and what it stands for. And there is always Colossians 3, and seeking the things which are above, not things that are on the earth.
Might we be missing something? Are we really to park our lives outside the door of the church while we focus on Jesus for an hour, only to pick them up again as we find them waiting for us when we leave? I am reminded of another chorus from a few decades ago that urged us to forget about ourselves, concentrate on him, and worship him. How easy is it to do that? Easier to sing than practice, probably!
It is true that worship is about God and not about us. Who on earth got us discussing whether the worship was good or not in a particular service? Or, worse, whether or not we enjoyed it! As if that was the point. As if we were meant to be worship connoisseurs, delivering marks out of ten.
Corporate worship has to lead us to being preoccupied with God: who he is and what he has done. It has to lead us to renew our allegiance to him (worship is a statement of allegiance).
But the God we worship wants to connect with who we are and the lives we live. Yes, he wants to so fill our vision that other things become smaller and take their rightful place. And perhaps that’s where ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus’ comes in. But do we need to leave our lives outside the building? No. For one thing we come to present them to him, with all their ups and downs. And for another thing, we come with the hope that we will discover how Jesus and his gospel connect with what happened last Tuesday, or what will happen next Wednesday. Didn’t Paul connect the gospel with things like marriage, with handling anger, with race relations?
Therein lies a challenge for preachers. To present Jesus in a way that the things of earth grow strangely dim; but demonstrate him as relevant to the lives that people live with their joys and sorrows, hopes and fears.
I love what Steve Brown includes in his prayer before he speaks:
May we hear the soft sound of sandalled feet.
It’s certainly poetic, but it is also what makes the difference. I heard a well-known preacher say that his wife told him the difference between one of his ‘good’ sermons and one that really stood out was that there were times when Jesus showed up. That made the difference.
So next Sunday, bring all that you are with you as you go to worship. Listen for the sound of sandalled feet. And be prepared to take off your own sandals as you realise that the ground on which you stand is holy ground.