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At the Heart of Worship

At the Heart of Worship

by Kenneth Tanner
http://www.patheos.com/
April 2016

You can don ancient vestments, light candles, and chants prayers amid clouds of incense; you can preach like Martyn Lloyd-Jones, sing great hymns accompanied by pipe organ, and love the dappled rainbows the stained glass throws; you can put up the largest LED screens, hire musicians that rock, get the stage lighting just right, and kill it with a genius Powerpoint.

You can meet in an arena or a tiny rural clapboard or in the North Korean underground, or in a storefront or a living room or under a tree outside your African village or near the fountain in a suburban park.

You can think you worship Jesus best or in the most authentic way or place or with the right kind or amount of people--from a crowd to a small group, from a cathedral to skid row to your back porch around a fire pit--but if the people of God do not show up alive with gratitude for the breath that the Spirit grants them in every waking moment, ready to adore the presence of the resurrected Jesus in their midst--wherever they meet, however they worship, no matter what the numbers--you're just going through the motions, just spinning wheels.

What makes the Spirit glad is a people of calm joy and humble wisdom with contrite hearts and compassion for all, gathered because of a spring of gratitude that wells up within them, a community of servants ready to get to work on the beautiful tomorrow Christ calls the kingdom of heaven, ready to offer the sacrifice of praise to the Father who forgives them before they knew they even needed forgiveness.

Joy is what is present when Christ is present and joy is not a respecter of places or people or the trappings of our worship--and we all have trappings, don't we? Joy favors gratitude. Joy favors mercy. Joy favors forgiveness. Joy favors peacemakers and the charitable. Joy favors the authentic heart that desires above all else to give thanks for the inexplicable mystery of this world.

Prayer. Fellowship. Teaching. Meal. These are the things that matter no matter what the ornamentation and lighting, these are the spaces--intercession and petition, bread and wine, what the apostles had to say about the Christ, belonging to something greater than the self--in which matter's Maker who became flesh for us shows up every time and every where and anytime two or three are gathered together in his name with--I will say it again--an exuberant Pentecostal gratitude for the humility of God in Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Kenneth Tanner is pastor of Church of the Holy Redeemer in Rochester Hills, Michigan. His writing has appeared in Books & Culture, Huffington Post, Sojourners, National Review, Christianity Today, and Real Clear Religion.

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