giftwrapped.or.naked

At Thrive we ask that people come to worship in spirit and in truth. To us, that means that as we approach the throne of God, praising Him, we allow the Holy Spirit to penetrate our body, mind, soul and heart, allowing Him to guide our expression of worship (with body, mind, soul and heart) as a truthful representation of His presence in our lives. We do not care if you stand, kneel, shout, clap, raise hands, cry – as long as that expression is a true representation of your heart of worship as nurtured by the Holy Spirit. Nearly every week I restate this sentiment to reinforce the essential nature of worship that is spirit and truth led.

As I try to evaluate how well we live up to this idealistic sentiment, I am driven to acknowledge a shift that has taken place, that some of us “old-folks” (yes, I count myself among the ‘”old”) may have overlooked. In order to set the stage for exposing this shift, let me first describe the mindset that I spent most of my life living with as a worshiper.

When I first became a Christian, there was an enormous emphasis placed on appearance. I am not going to spend time debating whether that was good or bad. I will simply say that in some ways the emphasis on appearance was an appropriate approach and in others it was not – but all of that is beside the point. For good or bad, there was great emphasis placed on appearance.

I would like to detour for a moment in order to point out that as we move further into the post-modern age (or as some call it the post-Christian age), we sometimes fall prey to the temptation to look at the motivations and methods of our predecessors without due respect, and certainly without a probing eye that seeks to understand rather than to judge. So before we move further, let’s make sure we are of the right mindset.

OK, now back to the way it was.

I remember the fuss made over how one dresses for church. I remember even the poorest folks finding some way to “dress-up” for church. At the time, I really did not think anything of it – I just went along with the way it was. I came to church as nicely as I could dress myself – just like everyone else. When someone came in who was not up to par with the prevailing dress-code, they were often avoided and stared upon (from the corners of the eyes). Again, do not read judgment into my words.

Why did we do that? Was it because we somehow felt that dressing up made us feel more Christian? Was it because we wanted to look good compared to other people? NO – OF COURSE NOT! Sure it is easy to look back and roll our spiritual eyes at those poor folks who had no clue. But that is an unfair and narrow-minded approach. Hypocrites notwithstanding, our motives were quite sincere. So, then – with open minds – why did we do that?

I think I know why. Even if we may not have realized it at the time, we felt this inner compulsion to “present” ourselves to God. My mind races back to the story of Jesus’ birth when the magi came and lavished gifts upon Him. We all have this vision of flowing, majestic, ornate wardrobes, with jewel-encrusted turbans. They knelt before the child-king with expensive gifts – undoubtedly in fine, ornate containers. They presented gifts appropriate to a king.

Presenting ourselves as a gift to God – that is what we were doing – at least I am sure that is what I was doing. I dared not come to church in tattered clothes – not because of what others might think – but because of the underlying motive behind what they might think. I was compelled to present myself to God as an exquisitely wrapped gift – after all, He is worth all my best efforts. One does not enter the court of the King while in rags.

In my view, this idea of presenting oneself as an exquisite gift is quite virtuous. If the accountability of “spirit and truth” is maintained, this approach is a valid one. However, as the post-Christian age marches on, this mindset is being replaced – a shift is underway (and has been for some time). I am just coming to a place to be able to put my finger on the nature of this shift – and to be able to verbalize it.

Millions of devout and earnest followers of Jesus Christ are moving away from that mindset. They are approaching the throne of God in an altogether different way – a way that is just as valid and just as virtuous. To these, of whose number I presently count myself, the notion of gift-wrapping oneself seems an anathema – nearly perverse.

Why would we approach God with shallow and pretentious adornment? We want nothing to come between us and the God of the universe! We come throwing off our shoes – for this is HOLY ground. We come throwing off our masks – for this is the ONE who sees past our facades. We throw off our self-concern, as we willingly and passionately submit to the Almighty God. Our hearts dance before Him as if we were David himself in nothing but an undergarment – naked (or nearly so) before the Lord. We worship with abandon – with our voices, with our eyes, with our arms, with our hands, with our legs, with our minds – our whole being – because we are overwhelmed by the profoundness of a Mighty God who loves people.

So, to which approach do we offer praise, and to which do we banish to the sands of time? Gift-wrapped worship or naked worship? Answer: we forsake neither – and seek to explore both. I have been party to both approaches, and while I find myself in agreement with this shift, I have to battle the temptation to discount the former mindset. In fact, I think revisiting that mindset from time to time can produce spiritual growth.

Final thought – it is my hope that at Thrive we will continue to allow both approaches to flourish without either approach suffering any type of prejudice. Whether gift-wrapped or naked, come in spirit and in truth.