August 25, 2008

by Glenn R. Molina

“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer.  From the end of the earth I call to you, when my heart is faint.â€? (Psalm 61:1-2a)
I’ve lived in Southern California for most of my life, and I have to say that we are particularly blessed with an abundance of amusement parks. Two of the biggest include Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain. I have to admit, my preference has always leaned towards Disneyland. It was the first theme park my family visited when we moved to California from the Midwest; it was also the first “famous placeâ€? I had a chance to parade through with my high school marching band (there’s nothing like playing drums as you march past the Matterhorn!). It was even where Shanti and I went for our honeymoon. And even now, decades after my first childhood visit to the Magic Kingdom (which was a mostly positive experience, besides losing my first Mickey Mouse hat as it fell into the Tomorrowland Lagoon—thirty years later, and I’m still recovering from that), I still find myself getting excited going through those opening turnstiles and walking into the park.

On the other hand, Magic Mountain is an entirely different story for me. I could say that the atmosphere (“themed lands,â€? etc.) is less developed than that of Disneyland; I could tell you that the layout of the park is awkward; but the truth is that most serious roller coasters terrify me. Yes, I’m a roller coaster wimp. I can ride them, and can usually even boast that I enjoyed them after each ride is over; but the anticipation of waiting in line, staring at those ridiculously high tracks, the endless drops, the insane loops…my stomach churns just writing about them.

Of course, which park did I visit for most of my junior high and senior high school outings? Magic Mountain. Yuck. For many years, I politely and contentedly waited at the exit of the various rides, while my classmates took their lives into their own hands. Fortunately, a few key friends from high school devised a strategy to get me acclimated to these evil metal monsters. Over the course of several trips, they prepared me by first starting me on the milder rides, then slowly introducing me to faster and more intense rides as time went by. It was much easier to ride on Colossus (note to today’s youth; once upon a time, Colossus was the BIG ride) after going on less stressful coasters such as the Goldrusher (few dips) and Revolution (more dips). After those rides, I felt much more prepared to ride the really big ones. (I still cried like a baby on Colossus, though, during my first ride in 1987. Not that anyone can prove it.)

When we gather together on Sunday mornings to worship together, some of us arrive after having highly emotional or stressful weeks at home, work, or school. Trying to switch gears from coping with all of the baggage of the week into the active, corporate worship of our God can be a disorienting and jarring experience. It isn’t easy for some to “leave everything at the doorâ€? when we begin to worship together; some things that happen to us during the week often leave us reeling for several days or weeks. And it is perhaps unrealistic to think that we can—or even should—separate out the circumstances of life when we begin our Sunday services.  Our worship of God is very much connected to how He is working in the details in our lives, including all of those stressful and emotional moments. In fact, our communal prayers on Sundays are often driven by our need to lay our burdens before God, in recognition of our humility and his lordship.

However, the short time we have together each Sunday is so unique and special in our lives as a community; it is our central meeting time as a church family, where we unite to meet with God, celebrate His goodness, cry out to Him with our concerns and needs, and learn from His Word. We can do this individually any time of the week, but to do so in the presence of other believers is an opportunity that is rarely duplicated from Monday to Saturday.

In order to assist those who need a little more help with that transition into our time of corporate worship, we’ve been slowly trying to set a new precedent in the sanctuary during the minutes leading up to our 11:00 AM services. We desire to provide a place and a space for individuals to prepare their hearts and minds to be centered as we enter into corporate worship. We understand that fellowship is also a key value of meeting together on Sundays, and we would never want to discourage the chance for people to catch up with one another. But we are hoping, for those 5-10 minutes before the service begins, that we can encourage individuals to use the foyer or patio for pre-service fellowship, as we use the sanctuary to allow people to prepare to worship both individually and corporately. For those who join us during this time, you can use these moments in different ways.  You can spend time in prayer, allowing for a chance to unpack some of your emotional and/or spiritual baggage before the service begins. You can join others in singing, a way of easing into the context of worshipping as a group. We bear one another’s burdens as a church family, and corporate worship is a weekly reminder of our communal bonds. Or, you can spend some time in quiet meditation, focusing on the God who desires to be in relationship with His children, even in the midst of the circumstances and the dips and turns of everyday life.

We do hope that people will be respectful and gracious towards those who do need an extra bit of help transitioning into our worship time. But even more than that, we hope that all of us will come together as we reexamine our entry into worship before our service “officiallyâ€? starts each week. May God continue to teach us, stretch us, and guide us as we learn how to honor Him as a community of believers.