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Beyond transaction, relating to God intimately and reverently
I think in contemporary worship, as I have argued before, Christians have overemphasized and sometimes prioritized praising a holy and admirable God over a relatable one. We don’t create a intimate relationship, but instead distance ourselves from him. But I think that’s how believers, specifically, have been trained to worship.
For those of us who have been trained by the postmodern culture, we might have a different problem. Ours is not that we prefer to praise a high and mighty God, in fact, it seems like such admiration and holiness is a violation of our individualistic principles. Nor do we prefer an intimate, interdependent, communal relationship. The relationships we create are transactional. We aren’t isolated—in fact, it seems like we are globally connected—but for our own benefit and our own ends. Not for the sake of others, but for the sake of ourselves. That is how we are trained to relate to one another, in a transactional fashion, in our own alleged self-interest. Even if that way of relating resulted in alleviating poverty and improving the so-called quality of life for everyone involved, I’m not sure that what transactional relationships do to our souls is ultimately good for us.
When we evaluate our relationships with others based on “what we get out of them,” I think we, in fact, get less out of them. Even tonight, you might be wondering if you are “getting enough” out of this blog post and evaluating if it might be worth your time. You might wonder why, say, church worship is not invigorating or making you feel good.
I actually think all of this is worth your time and I want to do something with you that is worth all of our time. If it’s too transactional, though, the benefit is ultimately denuded. In other words, if we obsess about what we are getting in return for our investment, our return, ultimately, is lessened.
The postmodern problem is that we fail to be intimate and reverent. We are just interested in our benefit in a relationship. I want us to learn how to relate to God in both ways. Let's observe how Mary, the mother of God, does it.
The scripture we are using is commonly associated with Christmas, which is appropriate since next week marks the start of Advent, the season of hopeful anticipation of our Savior and Messiah’s birth. In this particular passage Mary has just found out that she is going to bear God—she is going to give birth to Jesus incarnate. She is a little startled but she gets through it and then she breaks out into song. It’s like a musical, think: Frozen or The Little Mermaid.
Mary’s filled with so much raw emotion that singing a song might be the only thing that can express it! You can imagine her anxiety and excitement, her worry and her anticipation, how fortunate she feels, and still how much of a burden it can be.
Mary has the most intimate relationship with God—she gives birth to him! And on the other hand, she is reverent because she’s submitting to his will. She raises him and he her. She’s listening to the will of the baby growing inside of her. Not only is she emotionally confused, she probably is just plain confused. She’s expressing herself by song because she can’t explain herself. To this day, the idea is still inexplicable.
She knows what a great mysterious honor this is—and indeed we are a generation right now that is calling her blessed. She receives the affirmation and calls God "mighty." Again, she is relating to him in reverence. In some ways, she perfectly bridges relationship and reverence.
To those who come to him empty, and hungry, he fills them up. But the rich, who just don’t have room for Jesus, they get sent away. This is why it’s so hard for the rich man to follow God, and why Elijah fills up the empty jars with olive oil. If we are full of our sense of entitlement to get filled, we might leave empty too.
I suppose that brings us back to the first part of the discussion. If we are too full, which is almost inevitable for the postmodern person, we might not make room for Jesus. We might not be able to praise him, not relate to him, nor sing this song to someone else in order for them to follow him too if we are too full of life, expectation, and entitlement.
Mary gets it and so let’s mimic her posture. How do we position ourselves to best worship our creator? Mary does a lot of things in this passage to prepare herself to serve and worship God. I’m just going to list out three.
First, she’s grateful. She is aware of the opportunity that’s before her, even if she is confused. She thanks God because he thought of her. I think our posture for worship should be a grateful one, not one that is littered with obligation. I don’t think you should come to a public meeting if you don’t want to be. You shouldn’t worship if you don’t want to. You shouldn’t sing this song if you don’t want to. But I think you want to and you want to work toward something if you're reading this blog. Honestly, if you don’t want to worship, change your mind. I know that is easier said than done, but you should really reflect on your reticence if you exhibit it.
Second, Mary’s self-aware. She is conscious. Again that matches what we were just saying. She knows she is a servant of God and she’s unafraid to sing it. She knows what her task is and she knows she can do it.
Our reticence to worship, to praise God, and to relate to him might have to do with the fact that we don’t think we are good enough. When we relate by deconstructing, we relate to God that way too. Mary doesn’t do that. She is more aware.
Finally, she obeys! She’s humble and she responds to God. I’m hesitant to even use the word "obey" because we are sick of obeying. Our leaders are so inept, they force us to follow through a threat of violence. I don’t think God does that, I think he compels us to follow him down a alternative path, but I think we have to follow him. So if we aren’t interested in being led, I’m not sure we’ll be able to worship, nor will we be fit to lead.
Praising God and relating to Him is not necessarily something that will come easy to what amounts to a perverse generation. I think it can be easy for us to privatize our faith and hide it from the world. But I challenge you today to worship unabashedly and to declare the truth to the whole world. Sing it because saying it doesn’t always make sense. Sing it because the revolution is on the tip of your tongue.