What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt. [1 Corinthians 11:25-26 (MSG)]
I admit to having left some church services feeling like I just “mailed it in” and that’s not the way to worship our wonderful glorious God. It’s been said that familiarity breeds contempt. In the case of familiar gospels, epistles, songs and liturgy, while familiarity may not breed contempt it may breed boredom. We’ve listened to the Benediction, Consecration or Absolution so often that we don’t even hear them and we’ve said the Lord’s Prayer, recited the Apostle’s Creed, or sung certain hymns so many times that the words exit our mouths without needing to pass through our hearts or minds.
When I studied theater, my instructors spoke about the “illusion of the first time.” Although the lines had been memorized, rehearsed and performed countless times, the audience was to feel that the actors were saying and hearing those words for the very first time. I’ve watched a young man at our mountain church who always sits in the front row. New to Christ, he worships with fervor and joy. Of course, it really may be the first time he’s heard that verse or sung that song. For those of us who may have heard, said and sung the same words thousands of times, sometimes it’s harder to stir up that sort of passion in our church experience. Perhaps we need to think about recreating that “illusion of the first time” during services so that our worship is as passionate today as it was when we first knew our Lord.
Knowing we have little choice over the service itself, how do we reignite the passion in our worship? Just like good acting, it takes a fair amount of effort and begins with our mindset before the show begins. Instead of getting into the inner workings of our character, we need to set our hearts and minds on God before the service starts. Most of us, upon settling into our seats, probably peruse the program, visit with our neighbors, or check out the attire and hairdos of our fellow worshipers. Although I was taught to pray as soon as I sat down, I often don’t (nor do the people around me). But, when I start with a prayer of thanksgiving for the opportunity to be at church and then ask God to clear my mind of the day’s concerns and open me to His presence, my worship is more enthusiastic and meaningful. Instead of chatting or checking our email before service, perhaps we should prepare the way of the Lord with prayer and by reading the words of the day’s hymns, part of the day’s liturgy, or a few Psalms from the Bible.
The audience is cheated when an actor just walks through his role and God is cheated when we wearily listen to or repeat words rather than putting our heart into His worship. Every time we worship Him, He should experience the “illusion of the first time.” To do that, we must listen, speak and sing with such passion, excitement and joy that it seems as if it is the first time we’ve ever heard, said or sung those words! The more we give Him, the more we’ll get from our worship!