Half my life ago, once a month, I would go to a young people’s worship celebration. For me it was a monthly opportunity to ‘experience’ the ‘presence of God’, it became what could only be described as a monthly ‘fix’.
In the years that followed, thankfully, my understanding of worship and the presence of God matured as it broadened and deepened. I now, like most of my peers, have a ‘proper’ theology of worship, as something that’s about the whole of life. And of course, every time I hear a prayer at the beginning of a church service inviting God to be present, I’m shocked that I’ve somehow managed to visit the only part of the universe where God is not already present.
But I have a confession to make. I’ve slipped back into old habits. I now once again look forward to my monthly worship ‘session’.
However, nowadays my ‘worship session’ looks a little different. They last about the same length in time – two hours, although I think they’ve doubled in price. But now they take place sitting down, eyes open, usually on a train, sometimes on my sofa, occasionally on a plane.
I get to read my National Geographic magazine.
And every time I do so – without fail – I’m blown away with feelings of wonder and awe and thankfulness. I praise my Creator at this staggering planet He has created for us. I recognise my King as I reflect on the joys and the sorrows that exist side-by-side in the world. And in all of this I’m overwhelmingly aware of His presence: in the world, and in my life.
I’m so grateful that once month I have this experience.
Now, please don’t get me wrong. That’s not to say I’ve returned to a dodgy theology of worship – I still recognise that worship is a whole-life activity and I do my best to participate in the presence of God all day every day. And I also enjoy ‘meeting with God’ as I pray, read my Bible, read Christian books and go to church services.
But a few years ago, I did begin to ponder about whether I had thrown the baby out with the bathwater – in embracing ‘whole-life worship’ had I lost the wonder of those ‘special experiences’? (Particularly those regular ones that you can be proactive about.) And with that, I was beginning to feel bad, because too be honest, the time in my week I found that I was least likely to ‘experience God’ (whatever exactly that means) was when I stood up in a church service to sing a song – and I went to a charismatic church with 30 minutes of straight singing at the beginning of the service – so I felt like a misfit.
Then I discovered National Geographic.
And it’s true, I’ve realised – perhaps remembered – that these (regular) experiences are faith-enriching in themselves, and faith-preparing for whole-life worship. I am reminded of my days at university (not quite half my life ago) and these – slightly taken out of context – words near the beginning of theologian John Calvin’s Institutes: “No one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God, in whom he ‘lives and moves’.” Each month as I open my copy of National Geographic – as I look at the world and myself – my thoughts are immediately turned to the contemplation of God, and it helps me keep my thoughts there over the weeks to come.