Worship in the Waiting

While all of Scripture serves as revelation, there are some narratives allowing us to see more than we’re often comfortable with. In Job, for example, we’re shown “the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them” (Job 1:6 NLT). What the… ?! This seriously messes with my clean, tapered concept of Heaven and the presence of the Lord.

Then there’s the Garden of Gethsemane, where we see Jesus with higher levels of anxiety than I’ve ever felt. In this He cries three times, “Dad, don’t make me do this.” Yet He concludes in submission, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” Our theology is then faced with the Father and the Son having opposing wills. How in the… ?!

No less disorienting is the memoir of Daniel as he heard from a Heavenly being after three weeks of anguish and mourning. “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request had been heard in Heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way” (Dan.10 NLT). Aahhh…?!!? I’ve admittedly spent too much time wrestling with the idea of how this works, what it could mean, and how much this might look like Keanu Reeves in Constantine. But there is a much simpler application to understand for now.

For three weeks Daniel’s anguish and mourning would not subside. The context and circumstance surrounding him were still in tact. And from his perspective, Heaven appeared to be silent, preoccupied, or simply uninterested. For three excruciating weeks. But we soon discover, the Heavenly being was dispatched the very day Daniel made his original petition. And for the next twenty-one days, Heaven was on its way.

I don’t know what context or circumstance you’re crying from. I don’t know the depth of your anguish and mourning. But I encourage you to worship in the waiting. May we, as Daniel did, humble ourselves before God and pray for understanding. Whether it be days, weeks or months – let us be content to know Heaven is on its way.

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Moving Today’s Church from Loneliness to Solitude

 

Moving Today’s Church from Loneliness to Solitude

A paper written for worship schooling.

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Born of an era in which godly reverence and reservation stifled Christian liberty and declaration, a trend of transparency has charmed the American church in escaping an age of opacity. As the patterns of a pendulum, the Bride reacts to her former movements by listing hard in the opposing direction. This is true of the Church because it is true of the individual hearts with which she is comprised. In recognizing “a just balance is of the Lord,” the course is corrected with sincere severity. The unfortunate consequence of momentum, though, is its independent nature. What begins as a leading of the Spirit garners velocity beyond its intended target, thus the oscillation. This trend of transparency, then, is sure to drift beyond its original call, to which Nouwen refers to as a “false form of honesty” in which “nothing should remain hidden […] everything should be said, expressed, and communicated.” This is a ring in the Church today in which loneliness is found in the blue corner and solitude in the red.

False forms of honesty promise grandeur of acceptance in illusions of value. Under masks of maturity and cloaks of confidence, souls are laid bare complete with compulsive confessions and daring depravity. Yet both transparency and opacity are often wrapped in the same insecurities — each a scheme for the affirmation of others. This is the lot of loneliness. It is both a dependency and expectancy of fulfillment from the relationships within grasp. Solitude, however, frees the heart and makes room for fellow beings. In its sufficiency, solitude expands its view of community from resources to be tapped toward reservoirs to be poured into. It is the deeper well within, quenching the parched need for satisfaction from others. For it is in solitude the heart can become “present to others by reaching out to them, not greedy for attention and affection, but offering our own selves”. Indeed, it is the only way the overflow of true fellowship is even made possible.

Solitude must not be misunderstood as a recluse personality or state of isolation, as that would render the pursuit incompatible with the mission of the Church, but rather an inner calm and collection that can be had and offered in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Solitude is celebrated free of external influence and therefore free of fear. There is nothing to guard against or watch for. When a satisfied soul engages opposition, it is neither throttled nor threatened, but instead able to love — sincerely and selflessly love. It is the reason Jesus was able to recline with rabble, sing with sinners, and dine with the debased. This movement from loneliness to solitude enables the Church to convert her “fearful reactions into a loving response.” While loneliness generates an anxiety and frustration toward a dissatisfying dialogue, solitude enables a careful contemplation and generosity toward a continued conversation.

All too soon, though, the pendulum patterns endanger the lessons learned. For by the impetus of inner solitude being both fearless and unthreatened, the Church will soon swing just beyond her aim, growing calloused, unresponsive, and often fatalistic. Wars, famines, and moral atrocities are not meant to roll down the raincoat of the redeemed, but rather summon the saints to unprecedented depths of compassion. And this compassion is born not of a religious obligation, but of an arresting realization that the human condition is one of loneliness longing for solitude. The Church will begin to grow into health and harmony as she begins to recognize and recover from her trends and tendencies.

Indeed, this movement from loneliness to solitude is pregnant with promise and eternal implications as it begins within, then reaches out, and finally reaches up. When the heart encounters the Spirit’s leading, it longs for explicit instruction in as much as it longs for independence. It also avoids muddled ideas in as much as it avoids dependency. For it is not the known, but the unknown that keeps the Bride on her knees. The restless heart of loneliness demands clarity of calling in exchange for continued trust while the restful heart of solitude is content to “cease striving and know that [He is] God.”

By Matthew Ouellette
This is my summation and digestion of reading Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out.
Quotes are from Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out and the New American Standard Bible.
Photo credit.