Have you ever had this kind of experience? As you chat over coffee, your friend says, “That confession really spoke to me this morning”. You smile sweetly and agree, while on the inside you think to yourself, “Did we even say the confession this morning?” Or in the middle of a hymn when everyone else seems caught up in praise and wonder, you realise you are still thinking about what happened on Strictly last night.
We all worship on automatic from time to time. We say or sing the right words, but our heart and our mind are elsewhere. Even and especially worship leaders do this. Now some would say this is the fault of having a set liturgy. Doesn’t having the same words to say each week simply encourage mindless repetition? I admit there is some truth in the argument, which is why I believe our orders of service should flexible and change with the seasons. There’s nothing worse than saying exactly the same thing week in, week out without encouragement to think about what you are doing.
But I also know from experience that it’s quite possible for your mind to wander even when the service is the most lively and the most spontaneous imaginable. The question of focus is our responsibility, not just that of the person up front. I also know that sometimes without any set words it can be quite impossible to follow exactly where the service leader is going, and that too can be a major incentive to switch off.
So how do we focus? I think the answer lies in expectation and engagement. First of all, expectation. Put it simply, do we really want the Lord to show up this morning? I am constantly amazed at the number of people who seem to come along to church, just because it is their turn on the rotas, or they found they weren’t busy that day. If that really is their attitude, it’s hardly surprising that the worship of the whole church becomes flat and dull, although sometimes the Lord does decide to show up whether we like it or not! It may sound incredibly obvious – but the reason we go to church is that we have a divine appointment with our Creator and our Redeemer, and surely we should do whatever lies within our powers to be ready.
And then there’s engagement. I was struck on Sunday by a line from our first hymn – Take away the love of sinning. That’s quite a major request, if you mean what you are singing. Perhaps one drawback of having all the songs on the projector is that we do not have the time to stop and read the words in front of us. Or again, may I urge you to take some time to go through the words on the service card – maybe even take a copy home (if you promise to bring it back!). Send us out in the power of the Holy Spirit – wow, what would happen if the church really left the building filled with and renewed by the Holy Spirit?
There’s something here about loving the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind. I’d love to hear from other people what helps them focus on worship – and maybe, just maybe, we’ll all be able to hear a little better what the Lord is saying to us as a church. Over to you!