Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Worship: Taking God's Name in Vain?

Most parents go through several phases of correcting inappropriate language their children have picked up somewhere--never from home, of course.

A former pastor of mine, trying to reframe his four-year old daughter's undesirable vocabulary, admonished her that whenever she used the word "God," she'd better be ready to pray…or else.  

One day she was riding with him in the car, and he again heard her exclaim, "O, God!"

Immediately catching his accusing glance out of the corner of her eye, she quickly bowed her head, closed her eyes and intoned, "Thank you for …," listing several of her favorite things, followed by "Amen."

He couldn't help but chuckle at her resourcefulness.

My first college roommate and I were both raised in devout Southern Baptist homes. As I look back, we were pretty conservative even for the late 1960s.

At the Christian-based college we attended there were many students who shared similar values as ours. There were also a lot of students who either rebelled at their fundamentalist upbringing and sowed wild oats during that tumultuous era, or who came from families barely recognizable as Christian.

One day my roommate and I were having a discussion about the preponderance of swearing on campus--there was a whole lotta cussin' goin' on.

True to our conservative upbringing, we believed that having a "dirty mouth," while undesirable, was not as bad as swearing, i.e., using God's (or Jesus') name as an expletive.

Since childhood, we'd been admonished that taking God's name in vain was a "thou shalt not" from The Ten Commandments. In other words, don't do it…or else.

Part of our discussion that day centered around the meaning of the phrase "taking God's name in vain." My roommate said that her dad once told her it meant to use God's name "insincerely." That definition has stuck with me through the years.

Not that every word that has ever poured from my lips has exactly been worthy of broadcasting, but generally I am not prone to using salty language (probably due to lack of usage during my formative years) .

The list of society's "bad" words is still evolving, but those words don't come to my mind very often, even when I'm angry or upset.

However (lest I appear annoyingly pious), according to my roommate's definition, I am definitely guilty of taking God's name in vain. This sometimes happens during worship, most often when I am singing.

Now, as a musician who has been "churched" all my life, I could probably be a successful contestant if there were ever a church music version of the old TV game show, Don't Forget the Lyrics.

I can sing verse after verse of dozens of hymns and gospel songs, sacred solos and oratorios, mostly from memory.

The problem is, it's too easy to sing only notes and words. To sing without engaging voice with mind and heart. To sing glibly or insincerely. To "take God's name in vain."

This is not just a "musician's curse"; it happens to non-musicians, too. In order to worship authentically, worshippers must focus on God, not just on matching notes and words correctly.

Author Gary Thomas (Sacred Pathways) reflects, "It amazes me how casually I can sing songs of deep, almost heroic commitment. It's as if I think, 'As long as I'm singing, the words I say don't really matter. God knows it's just a song.'

While my mind wanders I promise to bow before the Lord, to proclaim His name, …to go so far as to die to express my faith. Yet these words may be sung with scarcely more emotion than I feel when I'm ordering a hamburger."

Singing words glibly or just going-through-the-motions on Sunday mornings is not worship at all. Worship, like being Christian, involves much more than just showing up at church.

Authentic worshippers can't simply walk into a church building and slide into a pew with an indifferent attitude toward God: "Hey, I'm here, aren't I? What else could you possibly want?"

True worship is akin to active listening vs. passive listening. True worship requires intentionality and sustained effort--and God is worthy of our true worship.

Matthew 22 says to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." We are to offer our whole selves to God as an acceptable sacrifice during worship. To do less is to dishonor God.

"You are worthy, Father, Creator; You are worthy, Savior, Sustainer. You are worthy, worthy and wonderful; Worthy of worship and praise."*

See you in worship this Sunday - Naomi

*from Worthy of Worship, in Celebrating Grace Hymnal

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