For a long time (meaning until the last couple of months), I didn’t get much from the “corporate” nature of worship at church. If I’m honest, the primary benefit was that being in a room full of people allowed me to sing louder than I normally would. To a certain degree that allowed me to connect with the lyrics more.
But, in reality, corporate worship wasn’t much different from private worship with a live band for me. I could be equally moved by a worship song on the radio or CD as I drove from one place to another. I don’t think that is necessarily bad, but I do think it reveals that I was missing something significant about what God intended for us to experience / learn from our time together in corporate worship.
Recently during corporate worship I looked around the room. It wasn’t that I was being distracted by the people around me. Instead I was marveling that this many people, with so many various backgrounds and struggles, could connect with the same lyrics / message that I was.
I began to listen to the lyrics in a less self-centered way. I began to see in the word “sin” more than my own failures, in the word “suffering” more than my own hardships, and in the word “Savior” more than my own deliverance from life to death.
No longer did the congregation feel like a choir merely in the sense that it was a large number of voices singing the same song at the same time. The congregation felt like a great movement of people who were telling the same story of the gospel from countless number of experiences.
I thought about the person struggling with chronic pain, the shame of sexual sin, remembering the slavery of addiction, grieving the waywardness of a child, struggling to connect with their spouse, uncertain about a career decision, feeling like an idiot over losing their temper again, and other struggles.
I saw there were people who already looked like they had been through Hell in their life, and people who had to admit their “good life” could never satisfy the deepest cravings of their soul.
I also thought about the person new to the Christian faith who is singing line after line and being hearing / seeing these life giving truths for the first time. I thought about the wayward Christian coming back to the faith freshly allowing these truths to penetrate their hearts after months or years of resisting. Hearing these lyrics as water to a dry and thirsty soul.
I imagined God the Father listening to this chorus of people, knowing each person and each story individually. God doesn’t hear, at least He isn’t interested in, our vocal quality. God sees His children identifying with one another as family by being willing to become vulnerable enough to proclaim the gospel in song as their life story.
As I realized that this was what I was participating in, it made the voices around me much more than a sound-shield for my own vocal deficiencies. As I sang, I was adding my story to the tapestry of redemption in that room. By singing I was identifying with everyone in the room.
They were not just singing truth so that I could hear it louder. By their singing they were adding new dimensions to what it meant to say “Christ is better,” “Jesus in my place,” and “God is enough.” As an individual I can only know those aspects of God’s redemption that touch my life. As I know my fellow church members and here them sing the truths that changed my life, I can get a vision for redemption in a thousand different colors, flavors, textures, histories, and stories.
With that in mind my experience of corporate worship has been much richer. No longer are the people around me a shield for my own vocal insecurities. Instead, my fellow worshippers become new lenses through which I can savor the grace of God found in the gospel.