Excerpt Chapter 3: Smaller—A Failure of Focus

< 3: Smaller—a Failure of Focus

The element of “what I like or don’t like about it” is this second

core failing of a smaller worship. We have maintained that there are

a variety reasons for this posture, many with good motives.

But we never said that those good motives also produced

correspondingly good things in us and the world around us.

Unfortunately, they don’t.

As honorable as the underlying values may be,

the outcomes are less than healthy and cause us to step

significantly away from the true center of worship.

Here’s why.

Worship is for and about God. He alone is its object and destination. Anything else begins to walk the slippery-slope spectrum of idolatry. You may consider this a strong statement. I would agree, but given that the very first directive from God to His people on Sinai was a call to singularly worshiping Him, and the Fall was essentially a mis-ordering of the question: are you really God, or am I?—this might not be too far out of line.

The grave caution on the mountain was in direct proportion to His unique knowledge of our predispositions toward a diluted concentration of our worship. We naturally lean this way, toward ourselves and away from God. In this sense it really is a question of worship focus. And the two possible categories within which to answer this question of focus are pretty straightforward: either it is about God, or it is about ourselves.

A Holy Viewfinder<

When I put my eye to the viewfinder on a camera, sizing up the field of vision, I have choices to make about what the primary focus will be in the resulting image. Will it be the beautiful red barn or the field of wild grasses and flowers out front? Maybe all of that only serves as foreground material for the blazing sunset descending on the horizon? As I make these choices, adjusting the lens, the visual material outside of the focal point takes lesser prominence. These parts of the subject begin to fade in detail, sharpness, and presence. That’s what we’re talking about here. God must always, by choice and intentionality, be the ever-present, prominent, and focused One in our worship.

There is a primary humility that comes into play here as we force ourselves to move away from a smaller worship. It’s simply that we say, “You are God, and I most certainly am not.” Consider then where a preferential evaluation (“what we like or don’t like”), even with good motives, gets us. It places us in the focal point; a place where we don’t belong. Even well-reasoned, seemingly Scripturally-based opinions about worship, still bring the focus to us in some fashion and not onto whom it uniquely and permanently must rest.

Are we saying then, that our thoughts about worship don’t matter? Are we maintaining that any opinions that we may have, even if they have some underpinnings in the Bible, don’t count toward anything bigger? And what about the things we appreciate in worship, connect powerfully with—are we just to set all of this aside?

The answer here would be a qualified yes.

In our camera metaphor, the barn and flowers don’t disappear, just because we choose to make the sunset our focal point. They have value in the broader image and its context. This isn’t just any sunset. It’s the sunset on that day, in that place, with a beautiful red barn and wildflowers adding meaning and detail to the scene. Yet still, they are not the sunset itself.

Frequently engaging in the exercise of what we “like or don’t like” about worship is nothing less than a foundational shift in focus, leading us away from the gravitational center of all things, God Himself. Every small step in this direction is a significant step.

Here’s what this looks like in very practical, yet subtle terms: it’s the shift in thinking and communication from what “might happen” in worship, to what “should happen” in worship. As opinions, even thoughtful ones, morph into dictates, this is where an evaluative posture in worship crosses the line from innocuous to dangerous. This is where bad fruit, often unintended, begins to grow on the vine. The tighter-grip end of the worship spectrum directs us onto a dangerous path we can’t see at the moment from our level-ground position. We assume that the rest of the road is like this as well. It’s not. And the stakes in traveling it are higher than we realize.

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