Our Health is in Our Hands
We’re obsessed with fitness. I write this sitting in a coffee shop after working out, frantically exercising to try to keep the heart strong and the fat down. I chose granola instead of a muffin. Yay for me. If you want to be fit, you have more resources at your disposal than ever before—books, videos, online helps, diet plans. You can even rent a fitness expert to become your new BFF for a month or two! Everything about our fitness culture says that our health is in our hands. If we want to be healthy, we can do it. We bring our own fitness to the table. Good enough. But what happens when we actually need to bring the exact opposite sentiment to the table of worship?
Every once in a while, it’s good for worshipers and worship leaders to pause and take inventory. I find that weeks, months, and years of being a week-in, week-out worshiper can dull the senses to simple truths, and when the senses are dulled, the soul can begin to atrophy. And when the soul atrophies, in the words of hymn writer William Cowper, “self-applause creeps in.” Another hymn writer, Joseph Hart, is one of my best pastors in such moments. My favorite verse from his hymn, “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” reads:
Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requires
Is to feel Your need of Him.
I actually find more often, that my conscience gets dulled, and I don’t linger into worship. I come brazenly, circumventing the ancient path of the Gospel. I deceive myself into thinking I’ve come with a lot of “fitness.” “I’ve had a pretty good week,” I say. “I’ve been a decent pastor, my wife and I didn’t fight, and my kids think I’m dad of the year,” I boast. “I avoided my pitfall pet sins pretty well, and I even gave a homeless man a couple dollars on the street.” Elder Brother is my name.
Some of us come from the younger brother’s perspective, and our conscience actually does make us linger. “I really messed up this week. How could God even stomach my presence in worship? I need to clean up my act before I’m worthy.” In such an instance, Pastor Hart says you’re unproductively “dreaming of fitness” you’ll never have.
For both the law-keeper, self-righteously smug, and the law-breaker, hopelessly fearful, the remedy is one and the same. Our only “fitness” required for worship is to feel our need of Him. This is counter-intuitive for those of us drowning in fitness culture.
What Qualifies Us to Worship
C. FitzSimons Allison, in Fear, Love, and Worship, says it beautifully:
Worship…should be designed to make us vulnerable to the contagion of this spirit of love. There is, of course, a complex “mixedness” about our wills and our spirits. We are not totally afraid, although there is in each of us a measure of unrest and uneasiness about ourselves. In respect to almost everything important in our lives there is an ambivalence, a mixed feeling, one both positive and negative. We want both to stop and not to stop smoking; we want to be different and yet we do not want to change. We want to be less afraid, but not enough to be less afraid. This restlessness, uneasiness, and dissatisfaction with ourselves is the only qualification for worship.*
If God were to require an entry ticket to worship, what should it read, by way of explanation? It should say, “Unfit, Restless, Weary,” to which God would respond, “Come on in! You’ve got what it takes.” Because it’s in the moment when we recognize that we don’t need to earn a place at the worship table that we realize that Jesus already has, once and for all.